NBA

Embiid's near miracle as Suns edge 76ers, while Knicks extend their winning streak

By Sports Desk April 21, 2021

Joel Embiid almost pulled off a miracle on the buzzer as the Philadelphia 76ers went down 116-113 to the Phoenix Suns in the NBA on Wednesday night.

The 76ers, top of the East, hosted the Suns, second in the West, and Phoenix appeared home when up by six points with 13 seconds to play.

But Philadelphia stayed alive after Furkan Korkmaz's three-pointer, before Chris Paul missed a free-throw, with Embiid grabbing rebound and firing off a long-range shot immediately which came remarkably close only to rim out.

Earlier, Embiid had scored 38 points and collected 17 rebounds for the 76ers, while Suns guard Paul had 28 points and eight assists.

The Suns improve to 41-16 while the 76ers are 39-18 but remain top in the Eastern Conference after the Brooklyn Nets lost 114-103 to the Toronto Raptors.

Still missing their star pair Kevin Durant and James Harden, the Nets relied on Kyrie Irving with 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

However, the Raptors all contributed led by Pascal Siakam with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists, as they reeled in a 36-23 quarter-time deficit to win by 11.

 

Curry streak ends, Knicks streak extends

Stephen Curry's 11-game streak of 30-plus points came to an end at the hands of the Washington Wizards who won over the Golden State Warriors 118-114.

Russell Westbrook produced another triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists and an outstanding 20 rebounds, while Bradley Beal had 29 points. Curry could only manage 18 points for GSW.

On the topic of streaks, the New York Knicks extended their winning run to seven games with a 137-127 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks after Bogdan Bogdanovic forced over-time with a clutch three.

Julius Randle was exceptional with 40 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, including six three-pointers, while the Hawks lost Trae Young to a sprained left ankle.

The Utah Jazz reinforced top spot in the Western Conference with a comfortable 112-89 win over the Houston Rockets with Rudy Gobert having 19 points and 18 rebounds.

The Los Angeles Clippers kept up the pressure with a 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, with shooting guard Luke Kennard adding 28 points and seven rebounds.

 

 

Curry covered at every turn

Curry was not afforded any time or space against the Washington Wizards and subsequently shot two-from-14 beyond the arc.

 

OMG from OG

Up by two in the third, OG Anunoby made a big statement for the Toronto Raptors with a block down one end and then a monster right-hand dunk over Joe Harris after Fred VanVleet's assist down the other in the same play.

 

Wednesday's results:

Toronto Raptors 114-103 Brooklyn Nets
Indiana Pacers 122-116 Oklahoma City Thunder
Washington Wizards 118-114 Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns 116-113 Philadelphia 76ers
Cleveland Cavaliers 121-105 Chicago Bulls
Utah Jazz 112-89 Houston Rockets
New York Knicks 137-127 Atlanta Hawks
Miami Heat 107-87 San Antonio Spurs
Dallas Mavericks 127-107 Detroit Pistons
Denver Nuggets 106-105 Portland Trail Blazers
Sacramento Kings 128-125 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Clippers 117-105 Memphis Grizzlies

 

76ers at Bucks

Joel Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers (39-18) will look to bounce back from Wednesday's loss to the Phoenix Suns when they travel to Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (35-22) in a bumper East clash.

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  • Dallas Mavericks: A new era starts but Luka Doncic the undoubted cornerstone Dallas Mavericks: A new era starts but Luka Doncic the undoubted cornerstone

    A decade ago, the Dallas Mavericks stood atop the basketball world after Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and company won the NBA Finals over a heavily favoured Miami Heat team that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their first season together.

    With the Heat dynasty clearly on the rise and with the Mavs fielding a veteran roster already, Dallas decided not to make an earnest title defense and traded defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

    The Mavericks have yet to win a playoff series since those 2011 NBA Finals.

    Despite postseason appearances in six of the past 10 seasons and the acquisition of a generational talent in Luka Doncic, owner Mark Cuban decided change needed to come in the 2021 offseason.

    Gone is Donnie Nelson, who had been the general manager since 2002 and was the architect of that title team a decade ago.

    Also gone is longtime head coach Rick Carlisle, who had been in place since 2008 and amassed a record of 555-478. Nonetheless, Cuban decided to change things up.

    "The league has changed in the 21 years since I've been here," Cuban said. "Players have changed. How you build a championship team has changed. Sometimes you just have to look to have a different tool set."

    Who is in charge?

    Doncic and Nelson have a famously close relationship and the 22-year-old star was disappointed to see his longtime friend replaced by former Nike executive Nico Harrison as general manager.

    While training with Slovenia in preparation for the Olympic Games, Doncic admitted he was less than thrilled by the move:  "It was kind of tough to me. I really like Donnie. I know him since I was a kid and he was the one that drafted me.

    "It was tough for me seeing that, but I'm not the one making decisions there."

    This indicates that Cuban, who has long held the reputation as one of the most involved owners in American sports, was asserting his view of what the Mavs' leadership team should look like.

    Yet moving on from Carlisle, long considered a leading NBA coach, appears to be a move targeted at appeasing Doncic. The young star had openly shown his disapproval with some of Carlisle's coaching decisions and substitution patterns, becoming increasingly prone to on-court displays of frustration.

    Doncic may not quite wield the sway of someone like LeBron James, who has become the face of the "player empowerment era" in the NBA, but Cuban has wisely taken Doncic's input into consideration.

    And as much as the hiring of a new leadership team represents a new era for the Mavs, Cuban is clearly trying to revive some of the magic of the 2011 squad.

    Jason Kidd was named the team's next head coach, with it also announced that Dirk Nowitzki would begin a formal role as a front office advisor – two moves that also surround Doncic with mentors to help him progress into a champion.

     

    The cornerstone

    Doncic's career is off to an unprecedented start, and Dallas clearly intends to build around its multi-talented superstar well into the future. Doncic was the fastest in NBA history to reach 5,000 points, 1,500 rebounds and 1,500 assists, hitting those marks in 195 career games.

    LeBron James took 228 games to reach those numbers. Michael Jordan needed 282 games.

    Doncic has also improved every season since entering the league in 2018. Already a triple-double machine, he posted career-high efficiency in 2020-21 by shooting 47.9 per cent from the floor and 35.0 per cent from three-point range.

    His game has started to mature, as well, especially as a scorer. Doncic is a child of the shot-efficiency era, and he has always gotten shots from the most efficient areas on the floor – at the rim, behind the 3-point line and at the free throw line. Those shots remain valuable, but Doncic has diversified arsenal of mid-range options by developing a variety of floaters and pull-ups. He shot 51.5 per cent from mid-range last season – better than mid-range maestro Devin Booker (51.2 per cent) – after shooting around 41 per cent in his first two seasons.

    This bodes well as an indicator of future success in the postseason, when opponents' defenses are geared toward taking away the most efficient shots.

    Doncic's numbers are virtually unassailable and make him almost a lock to win an MVP – if not more – at some point in his career. It can be hard to forget, though, that Doncic has only played three years in the NBA.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo, although a less refined prospect when drafted, needed until his sixth season to win his first MVP and became a champion in his eighth season only after suffering heart-breaking losses, sanding away some rough edges in his game that made him vulnerable in the playoffs and evolving into a true leader.

    Doncic's numbers may remain steadily impressive over the coming years, but he can still grow and develop in subtle ways as he matures. Kidd, a dynamic triple-double threat in his own playing days, will be responsible for overseeing Doncic’s growth.

    "My job is to give him answers to the test," Kidd said of Doncic. "His imagination is at the highest level, which is a great thing to be a part of. I (as a young player) tried a lot of things, and I know I drove a lot of my coaches crazy. I won't get mad because I've been in those shoes."

    Do the pieces fit?

    With a .362 usage rate last season, Doncic shouldered the largest offensive burden of any player in the league. Kidd has already said publicly that the superstar will need more help from his team-mates going forward.

    "Not having to bring the ball up every time and start the play," Kidd said. "When you look at the fourth quarter, he wears down at times."

    Further evidence that Doncic will need more help is that he has exploded for more than 40 points in five of his 13 career playoff games, yet the Mavericks are just 2-3 in those games.

    Kristaps Porzingis has been tabbed as the second option in Dallas but could end up in trade rumours sooner rather than later after a flaccid playoff performance, averaging just 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

    Despite largely considered a disappointment for not recapturing his peak form, Porzingis still plays an important role as a floor spacer on offense while defending bigger players. And while his numbers fall short of what is expected of a second option, his presence on the court makes Doncic better.

    Porzingis spaces the floor and gives Doncic room to penetrate opposing defenses, allowing him to be more efficient while both scoring and assisting, while also shooting much better from any range with Porzingis on the court compared to when he sits.

    Dallas' depth got worse last offseason with a disastrous trade that sent Seth Curry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Josh Richardson, who has failed to live up to his reputation as a defender and who is yet to match his 17-4-4 averages from his breakout season with Miami in 2018-19.

    After a disappointing regular season, Richardson played just 13.4 minutes per game in the Mavs' first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 4.9 points and shooting under 40 percent.

    Curry, meanwhile, exploded in the postseason for Philadelphia, averaging 18.8 points and connecting on over half of his three-pointers on 6.8 attempts per game.

    Richardson's defensive prowess also appears to be a farse, as the Mavericks allowed 113.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the court last season and only 107.7 with him on the bench.

    Richardson appears to be a failed experiment, and Dallas will need to look elsewhere to find something resembling a third star.

    Evolution or Revolution? Verdict: Evolution

    The organisation has already undergone a massive transformation by ousting their longtime general manager and head coach in favour of a new direction, so it is fair to say that anything resembling a "revolution" has already taken place in the front office.

    The Mavs' roster is far from a finished product, however, and Harrison will need to hit the ground running in his first general manager job. Dallas did not own the rights to any of its picks in the NBA draft, so he will have already assessed the need to look elsewhere to upgrade the roster around his young superstar.

    The postseason failures and frequent injuries of Porzingis could lead the Mavs to the trade market, but opposing teams have also seen those weaknesses and have adjusted their assessments of him as well. Dallas may be better served by displaying some patience with a player who is still only 25 and has averaged over 20 points per game in three straight campaigns.

    Milwaukee's 2021 title demonstrated that teams can still build patiently while developing players and Dallas may be one acquisition away – as the Bucks were with Jrue Holiday – from becoming contenders once again.

  • Tokyo Olympics: Team USA make it 51 and counting as China snatch last-gasp win Tokyo Olympics: Team USA make it 51 and counting as China snatch last-gasp win

    A'Ja Wilson led the way for the United States as they saw off host nation Japan 86-69 at the Tokyo Olympics, while China and Belgium booked their places in the quarter-finals.

    Team USA are six-time defending champions, though they were made to work by their opponents in Saitama before their height proved decisive.

    Now on a 51-game winning streak at the Olympics, Team USA top Group B on four points from their two games so far at the Games.

    Wilson was the top scorer with 20 points, while she also contributed 10 rebounds and three assists. Support arrived from Breanna Stewart (15 points) and Brittney Griner (15 points).

    It was by no means a comfortable victory, however, having edged out Nigeria 81-72 in their first match.

    "Just communication. One, we're getting used to the ball. And then two, just working on making sure we're just all in for each other and understanding the personnel a little bit better," explained guard Jewell Loyd when asked how the team were looking to improve as the tournament goes on.

    "Taking a breath. We've played a little fast in other games so just trying to get a rhythm for us, take it slow and play our basketball."

    Only Wilson scored more points than Japan's Maki Takada, but the hosts were simply physically outmatched.

    "[Team USA] are really superstars," said Evelyn Mawuli. "They know how to play and they're tall and we're small, so we have to run faster than them. So that was a bit difficult, but it was fun."

    CHINA SNATCH LATE WIN TO SEAL QUARTER-FINAL SPOT

    China and Belgium are sure of their places in the last eight.

    That is because of a last-gasp win for China against Australia, avoiding overtime in dramatic fashion to clinch a 76-74 triumph in Group C.

    China, who were led by 20-point Wang Siyu, were 11 ahead at one stage in the final quarter, but that deficit was cut down by a resurgent Australia.

    However, with 0.6 seconds left, Li Yueru was fouled under the basket. She made both free throws to seal victory and progression into the quarters.

    In the process, Belgium's progress was also secured. They beat Puerto Rico 87-52 in the first of Friday's matches.

    GARNIER PROUD OF FRANCE REACTION

    Elsewhere, France bounced back from an opening defeat to Japan with an 87-62 victory over Nigeria in Group B.

    Five players made into double figures for points for the French team, with Sandrine Gruda topping the charts with 14, adding nine rebounds and three assists.

    "It was necessary after the defeat against Japan to have a good reaction. I am proud of my team because they did and they all played very hard defence," France coach Valerie Garnier said.

    "This is necessary against Nigeria because they fight a lot. After we did this very good job, we tried to make the biggest gap possible, so 25 points was a good result for us."

    There were no excuses for Nigeria coach Otis Hughley Jr, who said: "We just got beaten really bad. Offensively we were flat and we couldn't score. You can't play that way against the number five team in the world."

  • LeBron welcomes Westbrook to L.A. - but can the trade help Lakers challenge again? LeBron welcomes Westbrook to L.A. - but can the trade help Lakers challenge again?

    Russell Westbrook is preparing for life on a fourth different team in as many years, with LeBron James welcoming his new running mate to the Los Angeles Lakers following a blockbuster trade.

    The Lakers overshadowed the NBA Draft by completing a deal to get Westbrook from the Washington Wizards, who receive Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in return.

    The Wizards also got the 22nd pick in Thursday's first round – Isaiah Jackson was taken at that slot, then traded to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for point guard Aaron Holiday – while the Lakers gained two second-round selections in future drafts, according to reports.

    For Westbrook, it means yet another fresh start. The 32-year-old ended his long association with the Oklahoma City Thunder when reuniting with James Harden at the Houston Rockets in 2019, only to then leave for Washington a year later.

    Despite only spending one season with the Wizards, Westbrook declared his appreciation for all connected with the franchise in an Instagram post after news of the deal had emerged.

    "Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one," he wrote.

    "Everyone from the front office to the training staff, the coaches, my team-mates, and the fans. I’m grateful y'all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way.

    "I'm blessed to have been a part of such a stand-up organisation. It didn't take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organisation. Thank you."

    LeBron, meanwhile, used his Instagram account to put up a picture of himself and fellow Lakers star Anthony Davis standing either side of the team's latest recruit, along with the caption "Brodie", which is Westbrook's nickname.

    The addition is a move aimed at getting the 2019-20 NBA champions back into contention. The title defence did not go to plan last term, long-term injuries to their two stars leading to a struggle just to make the postseason. While they did qualify, the holders were knocked out in the first round by the Phoenix Suns.

    As for Westbrook, his year with the Wizards included a key role in a late charge to make the playoffs via the play-in tournament, though they were beaten 4-1 in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers, after which it was announced head coach Scott Brooks would be leaving his role.

    Westbrook had broken an NBA record that had stood for 47 years during the regular season, moving beyond Oscar Robertson to top the list for career triple-double games.

    He led the league for assists with 11.7 per game, as well as shooting 31.5 per cent from three-point range - his best return from deep sine the 2016-17 season. It will be fascinating to see how he fits into the Lakers' current roster, though it remains to be seen if they are finished making offseason moves just yet, considering free agency is around the corner.

    There was speculation L.A. were also in negotiations to bring in Buddy Hield from the Sacramento Kings. The 28-year-old would add some much-needed outside scoring, seen as he is a career 40.6 per cent shooter from deep.

    The Lakers finished at 35.4 per cent as a team from three-point range, ranking them 21st in the entire league. Caldwell-Pope was one of their more successful players when it came to taking aim from distance, finishing up at 41.0 per cent, but he has been moved on in order to add a new playmaking presence.

    Westbrook, who is from California and played at UCLA during his college career, will earn $44.2million in 2021-22, then has a player option worth $47m for the following year.

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