Al Horford

Back home, Philadelphia wins again, beats Brooklyn behind 34 from Tobias Harris

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Tobias Harris scored 34 points, including two big baskets in the final two minutes that proved to be the difference, as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Brooklyn Nets 117-106 on Wednesday night.

Ben Simmons had 20 points and 11 assists for the 76ers, who improved to 19-2 at home.

On the road, the 76ers are 7-14 and have lost six straight games – a slide that has caused them to fall to the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn has lost nine of its last 11 overall and six straight away from home. The Nets were led by Spencer Dinwiddie‘s 26 points and eight assists. Jarret Allen had 17 points

Neither side was able to gain complete control of the game, with the largest lead being a seven-point Brooklyn advantage late in the first half.

Harris, however, gave the Sixers offensive life in the second half, scoring 24 points. With the score 106-104 with two minutes to play, Harris hit a leaning 3-pointer that rattled in just as the shot clock ran out.

Josh Richardson had 15 points and Furkan Korkmaz added 15 off the bench. Al Horford had 14 points and eight rebounds for the Sixers.

 

Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis will re-sign with Lakers, but don’t expect five years

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Anthony Davis will re-sign with Lakers but don’t expect five years. Wednesday’s “big” NBA story out of Los Angeles was the Lakers offered Anthony Davis a max extension of his current contract — four years, $146 million — and Davis turned it down. Except that wasn’t a surprise. As most stories on the issue explained, if Davis becomes a free agent this summer and re-signs with the Lakers he can get five-years, $202 million.

That is true. That is also not how this is going to go down.

Davis unquestionably will re-sign with the Lakers. I know zero sources around the league who think otherwise. That is why the league’s free agent/trade focus is now on Giannis Antetokounmpo (who probably signs a five-year super-max extension with the Bucks this summer, but there is more wiggle room than with Davis) and how unhappy Karl-Anthony Towns is in Minnesota.

Just don’t expect Davis to sign for five years with the Lakers. Expect a three-year contract with an opt-out after two.

This is right out of the LeBron James/Rich Paul playbook (Paul is Davis’ agent, too) and it works for two reasons. First, it keeps pressure on the Lakers organization to put a contending team on the court, something that will be a challenge once LeBron decides to step away (whenever that comes). Second, after two more seasons Davis will reach 10 years of service, making him eligible for a full 35 percent of the salary cap. In the summer of 2022 Davis could opt-out, then re-sign an even larger five-year contract with the Lakers.

All of which means a lot of “nothing to see here, move along” with the story of Davis passing on the Lakers’ extension offer, just know what comes next is not what a lot of pundits were selling.

2) Tristan Thompson led Cleveland to a feel-good win amidst controversy. As trade speculation swirled around Tristan Thompson last month, the Cavaliers put out word they want to keep him because they value his leadership that much.

They might have never needed it more than yesterday.

The Cavs spent the day at the forefront of the national sports conversation, because their coach – John Beilein – called his players “thugs” then said he meant to say “slugs.” The story was the right mix of sensational, serious and silly to capture attention. Even for a team accustomed to drama, this provided plenty.

Enter Thompson.

The center scored a career-high 35 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, made the game-tying free throws in the fourth quarter, slammed the dagger dunk in overtime and finished a game-high +10 in a 115-112 win over the Pistons last night.

Did Thompson know his 35 points set a personal best?

“Uhhh,” Thompson said, seemingly deliberating how to answer a question that could make him look vain.

“Hell yeah!” Kevin Love, who had been exchanging friendly obscenities with Thompson throughout the interview, shouted across the locker room. “I was reminded by the bench!”

“Hell yeah!” Thompson said. “They was telling me on the bench, and s—, I ain’t stupid. I know!”

Love continued to rile up Thompson.

“I know what I’m talking about! I ain’t stupid! I’m a basketball savant! I know everything!” Thompson said, becoming increasingly profane and then comparing himself to The Schwab.

At the end of a long day, Beilein clearly appreciated his team’s enthusiasm.

“Go into a college locker room, and everybody is jumping around. Pro locker room, everyone is chilling after win,” Beilein said. “That locker room is hopping around right now.

“If they’re excited, then the coaching staff is really excited. Because we want to have fun. And the way you have fun is you win, and we won tonight.”

—Dan Feldman, from the Cavs/Pistons game in Detroit

3) Joel Embiid will miss a couple of weeks following finger surgery, but even without him Philadelphia’s defense locks-up Boston. Is it really a surprise that Joel Embiid needs surgery — did you see what happened to his finger earlier this week? The ring finger on his left hand was bent in a way fingers are just not meant to bend. At the time Embiid had it popped back in, taped up, and returned to the game (a win against Oklahoma City).

However, it should be no surprise he needs surgery for a torn ligament in that finger. Embiid is having surgery and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. He, averaging 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds a game for the Sixers, but his bigger impact is on the defensive end, where the Sixers are 8.2 points per 100 possessions better when Embiid is on the court.

Except against Boston on Thursday night. With Al Horford as center — and after an early-game adjustment playing more aggressively out high on the pick-and-roll, rather than Embiid’s drop coverage — the Sixers shut down the top-10 Boston offense and got the win, 109-98. Philly got a spark from Josh Richardson’s 29 points, and Ben Simmons added 19, but it was mostly the Philly defense that stole the show.

We’ll see if the Sixers can sustain this level of defense with Embiid out, but this was an impressive start.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: They still love Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook returned to the franchise where he played the first 11 seasons of his career, where he grew up in a lot of ways, where he won an MVP-award and racked up triple -doubles. To say Thunder fans welcomed him back with open arms is an understatement.

First, there was a video tribute.

Then came the raucous standing ovation.

Then Westbrook went through his traditional pregame routine — fist bumps for the stat crew, shooting arrows, a sprint to the corner — to the joy of the crowd.

That crowd also loved the way Chris Paul and the rest of the Thunder played that night, spoiling Westbrook’s return and raking up a 113-92 Thunder win.

Even with Joel Embiid out injured, Sixers rally in fourth to knock off Celtics

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PHILADELPHIA — Brett Brown gathered his team in the locker room to ring the postgame victory bell when the 76ers coach noticed a familiar face on general manager Elton Brand’s phone. There was Joel Embiid on FaceTime, calling in from New York where he’s set to have surgery Friday to repair a torn ligament. Embiid had to like the view — a Sixers team that gutted out a win hours after learning the All-Star center was out indefinitely.

“We’re going to miss Joel for however long it is,” guard Ben Simmons said, “but tonight was a good start.”

Josh Richardson scored 29 points, Simmons had 19 and Philadelphia won without Embiid, beating the Boston Celtics 109-98 on Thursday night.

Embiid will have surgery for a torn ligament in a finger in his left hand and will be evaluated in one to two weeks. Embiid, averaging 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds in 31 games this season, tore the radial collateral ligament in the ring finger Monday night in a victory over Oklahoma City.

“I’m putting a blow torch, a bullet, many bullets into what we used to do,” Brown said. “Really. It doesn’t fit. So it’s on me to make it fit. We don’t have Joel Embiid. So when I say, ‘blow torch and bullet,’ I mean it.”

Mike Scott slid into the starting rotation, along with Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Richardson and Simmons. Simmons, an All-Star point guard, played center at times and drew a charge on Enes Kanter with 1:45 left in the first quarter.

“I’ve always been curious of what that could look like,” Brown said. “I thought he was good. I don’t know what the numbers bear out but it’s something we tried. I have wanted to try Ben at five, we did, and I suspect we’ll see it again.”

With Embiid out indefinitely, even the deep reserves are going to have to contribute to keep them afloat until he returns. That included Furkan Korkmaz, who buried a 3 late in the fourth that stretched the Sixers’ lead to 91-87. Horford, who left Boston in the offseason to sign a four-year deal with Philadelphia, converted a three-point play for a seven-point lead. The Celtics pulled within two, but the Sixers used a 9-0 run to put the game away and improve to 18-2 at home.

“It’s two big sports cities that really get behind their teams, so you appreciate that,” Richardson said. “I feel like everybody’s almost ready to fight about that game when it comes up.”

The Celtics had their own injury scare when Kemba Walker, ejected for the first time in his nine-year NBA career a night earlier, sprained his left thumb. Walker ran into Scott and instantly clutched his hand late in the second quarter. Walker, who scored 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting, tried to shake it off but left for the locker room shortly before the Celtics took a 55-48 lead into halftime.

Walker, wearing a wrap in the locker room, said he jammed his thumb and didn’t think he would need additional tests.

“When he first went down, we were worried about ligaments,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Right now, in a lot of ways, it feels like we dodged a bullet.”

Walker looked fine when he returned to the lineup. Jayson Tatum and Walker hit back-to-back 3s to tie the game at 69-all in the third and wipe out a hole caused by the Sixers’ 11-0 run to start the half.

“We just have to close out games better,” Walker said. “You can’t win ’em all, obviously. But we’ve got to be better.”

Kevin Love says viral reaction was about coaching call, not Collin Sexton

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Kevin Love wants to play for a contender or the Trail Blazers. Instead, he’s stuck on the Cavaliers (because he took a giant contract extension, so don’t feel too badly for him).

Love’s discontent was particularly evident during Cleveland’s loss to the Thunder on Saturday. Late in the second quarter, Love raised his arms in frustration in the paint, marched toward Collin Sexton dribbling near halfcourt, demanded the ball from Sexton and whipped a pass at Cedi Osman.

As attention swirled around the play, Love posted to Instagram that he loves his teammates and highlighted a photo of him wrapping his arm around Sexton. Love also called out the “non truths” being shared.

How could Love say all that after seemingly trying to show up Sexton?

Maybe because he was actually trying to show up Cavs coach John Beilein.

Love, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“I think you’re talking about the play with Chris Paul on me. Yeah, I felt we were making a play call and at the end of the second half we were in the bonus and I had Chris Paul on me,” Love said after the 121-106 loss. “Felt swing it to me and try to throw it in the post, see if they double-team me and get a shot out of that, but that’s not what we did. Yeah, I was frustrated.”

OK, great. So, Love is upset with just his coach and general manager – not his teammates. No problems there.

Except Love also frequently appears upset with his teammates. Even if this wasn’t an example, Love’s body language toward Sexton in particular often seems poor.

Playing with Sexton can be frustrating. He’s a ball-dominant youngster with tunnel vision. Cavaliers veterans – including Love – have made little effort to hide their displeasure.

So, forgive anyone who thought Sexton was the root of Love’s outburst Saturday.

Rather than let speculation into Love’s source(s) of anger continue, Beilein just took responsibility. Beilein, via Fedor:

“That was my mistake,” Beilein said. “I was trying to get us to slow down and try to get, not the last shot, but close to the last shot. He had Chris Paul posted up and I didn’t see it. It was on me. I called something else.”

Beilein is probably wise not to pick a public fight with Love. The coach already has enough problems.

But this didn’t look like a ridiculously wrong coaching decision.

Love casually walked into the paint. He made no effort to seal Paul and create a lane to receive an entry pass. If he wanted a post touch so badly, Love didn’t show much desire.

Even if he had, it wouldn’t have necessarily been a good play.

Of the 14 players with at least 100 play-ending post-ups this season, Love is tied (with Al Horford) for last in points per possession. Love isn’t always defended by a smaller player like Chris Paul, but Paul is an adequate post defender. Post-ups just generally aren’t that fruitful.

But Love can move forward believing – with his coach’s blessing – that he was right. Maybe that will soothe some tension.

Probably not much, though. After all, Love is still stuck in Cleveland. That’s the underlying issue.

Three Things to Know: Lakers’ offense flat in the clutch, Clippers exploit that in win

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers’ offense flat in the clutch, Clippers better in final minutes and overall right now.

Alex Caruso grabbed the rebound with 19 seconds left and got the ball to LeBron James, the Lakers down three with a chance to tie up the marquee game on Christmas Day. Frank Vogel kept his hands at his sides, trusting his best player to make the right play and not calling time out.

LeBron walked the ball up the court and the Lakers wasted 16 seconds lollygagging around to set up the final shot. That shot was a contested LeBron stepback three — a distance from which he as 2-of-11 shooting at that point on Christmas Day, and from an area on the floor LeBron is shooting 28.6 percent for the season. This was not a great shot choice, but that was moot because Patrick Beverley blocked it, it went out off LeBron (after a replay), and the Clippers won 111-106.

There are multiple reasons the Lakers lost this game (start with Kawhi Leonard‘s 35, he was a force), but there’s one critical area that’s concerning heading into the trade deadline, and potentially in the playoffs:

The Lakers’ crunch-time offense is not good.

It’s slow and predictable — “live by LeBron or die by LeBron” — and the best teams can exploit that. The Clippers — now 2-0 against the Lakers this season — are one of those teams.

In the final 4:30 of this game, the Lakers were outscored 8-3 as the Clippers cranked up their defense. That’s not an isolated issue — the Laker have an offensive rating of 100.7 in the clutch this season (final five minutes of a game within five points, stats via NBA.com). That’s 20th in the league. The Lakers are still 12-4 in those tight games because their defense has been elite in the clutch, but the best teams — and the Clippers are one of those, with all their stars getting to the line in the final 4:30 — are going to find a way to get points.

Once the Clippers cranked up their defense, the Lakers scored 20 points in the fourth quarter on 8-of-22 shooting. Los Angeles needs a better offensive flow late.

The Lakers had that flow in the first half because they are a good transition team that got out and ran, getting buckets before the Clippers’ defense got set. The Lakers led by 12 at the break (the Clippers’ halftime comeback from was the biggest on Christmas Day of any team since the Mavericks in 2003). Kyle Kuzma was the third scorer the Lakers needed for much of the game, scoring 19 in the first half and 25 on the night.

The Lakers need a consistent third scorer, games like this one on Christmas make you think Kuzma can be that guy. However, he’s not consistent and he needs to be — or be traded for someone who can be — by the time the playoffs roll around.

Another concern for the Lakers: LeBron is 16-of-43 against the Clippers this season (37.2 percent). Granted, LeBron looked slowed by his injury in this one and then got kneed in the groin in the first half. But if you’re out there, then you can play. The Clippers have the length and a multitude of defenders they can throw at LeBron, and it has worked.

The Clippers also can roll out a lineup late in games where they trust all five guys and do not need to hide anyone. Do the Lakers feel that way about Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?

While this game had the hype and feel of May, not December, both teams afterward were quick to play some variation of the “just one of 82” card. They’re right, both of these teams will evolve and look different by the time the playoffs roll around.

But if the Lakers don’t fix their clutch offense, the outcome will not be any different.

BONUS THING TO KNOW:

The best line of the night goes to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, when asked pregame about what he got for Christmas: “Yeah, I bought myself terrific presents, and I drank it all.”

2) Can Philadelphia keep shooting its way from deep past the Bucks?

It’s a difference in defensive philosophy:

Philadelphia allows the fewest three-point attempts against in the league, 27.5 per game. The Sixers chase teams off the arc.

Milwaukee allows 38.4 threes per game, second most in the league, they pack the paint, drop their bigs off pick-and-rolls, and try to take away anything at the rim. Milwaukee has the best defense in the NBA, it works for them, but coach Mike Budenholzer’s philosophy opens them up to teams willing to take, and who can make, from deep.

On Christmas, the 76ers shot 21-of-44 from three (47.7 percent) and handled the Bucks comfortably, 121-109.

The question becomes, is that level of shooting sustainable for the Sixers? Philly attempts an average of 30.2 threes per game, fifth-lowest in the league, although they hit 36.8 percent of them (fifth-highest percentage in the league). Can Philly shoot like they did on Christmas through a playoff series against Milwaukee?

What is sustainable is the way Joel Embiid’s and Al Horford’s defensive energy can make Giannis Antetokounmpo work for his points. The Greek Freak was 8-of-27 shooting for the day, and while in future matchups Antetokounmpo will score better, he’s always going to have to work very hard for his buckets against the anchor of the Philly defense.

Philadelphia, when at home or in a big game, are so much more engaged and play with a different energy than other nights. On those off nights, there seems to be no good fit with Joel Embiid and Al Horford, and they don’t hit from three at the same pace. Brett Brown and the Sixers argue they are a team built for the playoffs (and playoff-like games, such as this one).

Maybe so, but Philadelphia needs to think about playoff seeding, too. Right now, they would face the Bucks in the second round (a 1-4 matchup), then have to play one (or two) series after that. Can the 76ers find enough regular season focus to get past Miami or Boston for the two or three seed? They need to make that path to the Finals a little easier with the higher seed if they can. (The Bucks will be the top seed, they already have a four-game cushion.)

3) Sleeper games? Not so fast, my friend. Warriors, Pelicans pull off Christmas Day upsets.

Christmas Day belonged to the dogs in the NBA — the underdog covered four of the five games (Boston ran away from Toronto and covered that spread).

The two biggest upsets were the Warriors and Pelicans as outright winners.

Golden State beat Houston by playing great defense on James Harden. Sure, the Beard still had 24 points in 9-of-18 shooting, but he only took one free throw all game. Golden State used Glen Robinson III as the primary defender but had Draymond Green (usually helping off Russell Westbrook) to challenge and crowd Harden before he could get a shot off. Make anyone else beat them. The Rockets couldn’t and lost 116-104.

New Orleans got 31 from Brandon Ingram, have a much better offensive flow with Derrick Favors on the court, and knocked off the Nuggets 112-100. Denver had been red hot coming into the game with six straight wins, but they laid an egg on the big stage (don’t read too much into that, but it’s not a great sign). Jrue Holiday had 20 points, played good defense, and his trade stock went up even higher with this win.