Embiid takes one last shot at Simmons: ‘Winning not the biggest factor’

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PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid dispatched Ben Simmons off to Brooklyn with one final parting shot.

“It’s unfortunate winning was not the biggest factor,” Embiid said of Simmons, his former Philadelphia 76ers teammate. “It’s unfortunate that for him having his own team and, I guess, being a star was more his priorities.”

That Nets-76ers game on March 10 should be a spicy one.

That is, if Simmons even plays in his professional homecoming. The player he was traded for? Well, Embiid said he talked to James Harden since the trade that landed Philadelphia the 2018 NBA MVP and they are raring to get going.

“It’s James Harden. One of the best players in the league. MVP,” Embiid said Friday night. “It’s pretty exciting. You add someone like that, your chances to win the championship are bigger.”

The Sixers expect Harden’s arrival to be worth what they paid in talent, salary and draft picks – things needed to shoot them toward their first NBA championship since 1983. The question is, when?

Harden did not play in Philadelphia’s win over Oklahoma City on Friday night and won’t play Saturday against Cleveland. His debut is on hold until he’s evaluated this weekend by the team’s medical staff.

The earliest that Harden, who is being paid $44.3 million this season, could play for the 76ers is at home Tuesday against Boston. The Sixers also play Thursday at NBA champion Milwaukee before the All-Star break.

Embiid, who said his wrapped right wrist felt sore following Friday’s win when he scored 25 points, had no love lost for Simmons after his trade ultimatum broke up what had been a successful All-Star pair.

“It’s unfortunate everything happened,” Embiid said. “We didn’t get it done as far as winning in the playoffs. But look at the history of being on the court, what we did in the regular season, we were dominant.”

Sixers coach Doc Rivers was once recruited by Harden to coach the three-time scoring champion when he played for the Houston Rockets. The duo talked three times since Thursday, when the Sixers acquired Harden from Brooklyn for Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, but none of the conversations involved his potential debut.

Harden has been out with a hamstring injury.

“I want to make sure he’s right before we get him on the floor,” Rivers said.

The Sixers wasted no time decluttering team headquarters in New Jersey – the oversized Simmons magazine cover that hung inside the 76ers’ training complex was gone – and at the Wells Fargo Center, well, goodbye, Curry banners.

Harden’s 76ers jerseys were stitched to order on the concourse for fans who could not wait until he had even played a game. They also plunked down $164.99 for Harden’s No. 1 jerseys in red and in blue that lined racks next to Embiid’s No. 21 inside the team store.

The Harden jersey price is a steal compared to what the Sixers will pay the real deal to wear the uniform this season.

Another new era is set to begin soon with the superstar pairing of one-time MVP Harden with Embiid, this season’s MVP front-runner. Embiid leads the league in scoring at 29.4 points and has scored at least 25 points in 30 straight games.

The pressure was on in Philly not to waste a season of his prime. And the clock is ticking for Harden to win a championship. He has averaged 25.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists in his career with Brooklyn, Houston and Oklahoma City. But none of his 12 seasons ended with a championship.

Rivers plans to quickly catch Harden up to speed.

“He literally just said the practices and the shootarounds now are going to be more intense just because we’ve got a limited amount of time to figure it out,” guard Tyrese Maxey said.

Harden and Simmons were both unhappy with their roles with their old teams. Simmons demanded an offseason trade as the pressure of playing in Philly got to him, and Harden has now forced his way onto a new team for the second straight year.

Harden could have left this summer as a free agent. The Nets decided it wasn’t worth the risk to wait, ending their Big Three experiment of Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving after the trio played only 16 games together.

And Simmons had few fans left in Philly after he decided to sit out the season. Philadelphia’s local ABC affiliate opened Thursday night’s broadcast with the top story, “The man who refused to make a layup, and then refused to play a season, is now a Brooklyn Net.”

The Simmons saga is over for the Sixers, and Rivers said: “I’m glad it’s behind us.”

Maxey, the second-year player who took over for Simmons at point guard, was close with Simmons but had yet to speak to his former teammate. He’s ready to get going with Harden.

“It’s kind of crazy, just because he’s one of the guys you play as in 2K when you’re a younger kid,” the 21-year-old Maxey said. “One of my best friends that I had throughout high school, he’s like the biggest James Harden fan when we were growing up. So I texted him last night, we talked about it a little bit, and he’s like, it’s crazy.”

Sixers President Daryl Morey made the deal with a championship this season in mind, and now it’s up to Rivers to make it work after he failed to get the top-seeded Sixers out of the second round last year.

“I think the reason we did this deal is so we could jump into the fray,” Rivers said.

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”

Watch Bam Adebayo score 38, lift Heat to win over Wizards

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MIAMI — Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 38 points and the Miami Heat beat the Washington Wizards 110-107 Friday night.

Caleb Martin added 20 points and Kyle Lowry finished with 13 points while Tyler Herro had 11 points and 10 assists for the Heat, who won their second straight at home against Washington after their 113-105 victory Wednesday.

Adebayo’s two free throws with 1:37 remaining put Miami ahead 105-104 lead then extended the advantage on a short jumper with 38 seconds left.

“It was one of those things where my teammates gave me the ball and I was taking advantage of the mismatch,” Adebayo said. “They were shots (Washington) let me have.”

Adebayo has scored in double digits in all 18 of his appearances this season. He’s had double-doubles in half of those games; Miami is 6-3 in those contests.

“He had a lot on his shoulders, really the last several games with a lot of different lineups and everything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You need that stability from your leaders. I think at some point we’ll print up these shirts, `Mr. Reliable,’ and I’ll wear them, probably.”

Lowry also had eight assists, seven rebounds and a four-point play with 3:15 left for a 103-102 lead – the 11th of what would be 13 lead changes on the night.

And it was another close game for the Heat, who are already 4-3 in games decided by three points or less this season.

“That’s what’s happened really for, it seems like several weeks,” Spoelstra said. “It just feels like every single one of these games is going down to the last possession.”

The Wizards cut the deficit on Bradley Beal‘s dunk before Martin made two free throws with 12.5 seconds for the final margin, then hounded Beal defensively on the game’s last possession and forced the Wizards’ All-Star into a miss to end the contest.

“I take pride in trying to make stops,” Martin said. “Those are the types of situations you dream about, game on the line against a guy like Bradley Beal with the ball late shot clock. I just tried to make it as tough as possible.”

Beal and Kyle Kuzma finished with 28 points Kristaps Porzingis added 18 points for the Wizards.

“We did enough throughout the course of the game to put us in position to win,” said Beal, who returned from a one-game absence because of a quadriceps contusion. “We had several leads and ended up giving up those leads late. It was a matter of us getting stops at the defensive ends.”

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler (right knee soreness) missed his fifth straight game because of right knee soreness while shooters Max Strus (right shoulder impingement) and Duncan Robinson (left ankle sprain) also sat out.

The Heat rallied from a 12-point deficit late in the first quarter and cut it to 59-56 at halftime.

“Obviously, we had shots late that were makeable to keep them at bay,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.