Joel Embiid has taken to social media to deny a reported rift between him and Philadelphia 76ers team-mate Ben Simmons who has been linked with a trade away from the franchise.

The 76ers topped the Eastern Conference with a 49-23 record across the 2020-21 season but crashed out of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks 4-3 in the Conference semi-finals.

Simmons was widely criticized for his role in the 76ers' early demise, struggling from the free-throw line in the playoffs, leading to speculation about his future.

That speculation has intensified in the off-season, with reports of a rift between Embiid and Simmons suggesting that the franchise needed to let one depart.

The 2021 MVP runner-up vehemently denied those rift reports, insisting he loves playing with the Australian former number one NBA Draft pick.

"Stop using my name to push people’s agendas," Embiid tweeted. "I love and hate drama. I love playing with Ben. Stats don’t lie.

"He’s an amazing player and we all didn’t get the job done. It’s on me personally. I hope everyone is back cuz we know we’re good enough to win."

Embiid's tweet was in relation to a report from USA Today that the 'rift had been escalating'.

He added: "From my own experience, y’all have no idea how much this media makes up stuff for followers and shame on you for believing them."

The 27-year-old Cameroonian also tweeted about his displeasure at the 76ers' fans treatment of Simmons, who skipped the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to continue to develop his game this off-season.

"I haven’t forgotten but 2 years ago, I got booed, people in Philly wanted me to be traded. I even shushed them," Embiid tweeted.

"Only the real ones didn’t but I just put the work in that offseason to be better cuz I knew I wasn’t playing up to my potential. Philly fans, y’all also gotta be better.

"For clarity, I love the criticism, I love when I’m told I can’t do something. It makes me work harder to prove everyone wrong but not everyone is built like that."

Danny Green believes the Philadelphia 76ers without Ben Simmons might cause defensive issues amid uncertainty over his future with the NBA franchise.

Simmons' future in Philadelphia is up in the air after struggling in the 76ers' shock Eastern Conference semi-final exit at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA playoffs.

The three-time All-Star – an elite defender whose shooting problems were laid bare during the postseason – has been at the centre of trade rumours involving the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland are a team of particular interest, given reports the 76ers are eyeing their All-Star Damian Lillard.

Green, who signed a new deal to return to Philadelphia for the 2021-22 season, was asked what a Simmons-less 76ers would look like.

"That's going to be tough to say man because we don't know what we're going to get back for him," Green told Howard Beck on the Crossover podcast.

"We may get a point guard, we may get wings. That may change a lot: I might be playing with a different type of point guard, I might be playing with different types of wings, I might be coming off the bench. I don't know who we’re going to get."

Former number one draft pick Simmons had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star.

 

After four seasons in the league, there has been no improvement from the 24-year-old Simmons in one fundamental area – shooting.

An elite defender and creator, debate around Simmons centres on his offence or lack thereof, with the 76ers handicapped by his unwillingness to shoot.

Simmons' field-goal percentage has regressed, dropping from 58.0 in 2019-20 to 55.7 this season – he only managed worse in his 2017-18 rookie campaign (54.5).

He averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It is the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

Despite those liabilities, Green said losing Simmons would force some adjustments. 

"And also defensively, I probably become the primary defender," he said. "Not saying it's an issue or a problem for me, but we have one less wing defender with him.

"Now it's me and Matisse [Thybulle]. Not saying that the other guys don't play defence, but you talk about our main defenders. That was a big part of that and a big part of our defence. … Ben, you know, was DPOY [Defensive Player of the Year] for us this year. …

"We thought Ben was able to guard one through five and set the tone for us. If he's gone, that changes a lot not just offensively but defensively as well for me."

"Trust the Process", but for how long?

That mantra – after tanking out and starting from the bottom eight years ago – has become synonymous with the team's culture and identity since former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie started a drastic rebuild of Philadelphia's roster and psyche in 2013.

The long-term vision, in pursuit of a first NBA championship since 1983, has delivered All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, however the 76ers have not progressed beyond the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Doc Rivers was brought in to replace Brett Brown and deliver the long-awaited title, yet the same old issues and questions remain after the top-seeded 76ers were sensationally eliminated by the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the second round.

While Embiid narrowly missed out on the MVP award, Philadelphia's latest failure has only amplified pressure on shot-shy Simmons amid growing speculation over his future at Wells Fargo Center following a forgettable playoff campaign.

With president of basketball operations Daryl Morey tasked with turning the contenders into champions, will he blow it all up or run it back in 2021-22

Embiid excels but there's more to come from Philly's unofficial MVP

His own harshest critic, Embiid sets the bar high, demanding the absolute best from himself and the 76ers in pursuit of a coveted championship. A cornerstone of the franchise, the 27-year-old soared to new heights in 2020-21, leading Philly to their first Eastern Conference title since 2000-01.

A knee injury proved costly in the MVP race; he finished second to Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic. If he had featured in another 10-15 games, Embiid may have become the first 76ers player since Allen Iverson 20 years ago to be crowned Most Valuable Player. Accolade or not, there was no denying Embiid's impact on his team and the league last season.

Embiid's improvement was evident as he went from averaging 23.0 points per game in 2019-20 to 28.5 this time around. His +5.5 increase ranks sixth all-time among All-Star centers for largest increase in points per game from one season to the next, only behind Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain (+12.0 with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962), Jokic (+6.5 in 2021), David Robinson (+6.4 with the San Antonio Spurs in 1994), Los Angeles Lakers great Shaquille O'Neal (+5.9 with the Orlando Magic in 1994) and Patrick Ewing (+5.9 with the New York Knicks in 1990).

Embiid posted impressive numbers for field-goal percentage (51.3), three-point percentage (37.7 which increased to 39.0 in the playoffs) and free-throw percentage (85.9), as well averaging 10.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists (which improved to 3.4 in the postseason).

Only scoring leader Stephen Curry (32.0), Bradley Beal (31.3) and Damian Lillard (28.8) – all guards – averaged more points per game than Embiid.

 

The heart and soul of this Philly team, it is clear when Embiid steps onto the court. In 2020-21, the 76ers held a 45-17 win-loss record with their big man involved but that 72.6 winning percentage dropped to 50.0 without him as they slumped to 11-11.

Philadelphia regressed in almost every single category in Embiid's absence – points per game (115.4 to 110.2), field-goal percentage (48.6 to 46.1), three-point percentage (38.7 to 34.9), assists per game (24.3 to 22.7), blocks per game (6.3 to 6.0) and fast-break points (15.6 to 13.4). At the other end of the floor, rival teams benefited as their points per game (107.6 to 109.8), field-goal percentage (44.7 to 46.9), three-point percentage (36.7), rebounds per game (42.8 to 43.3) and points in the paint (45.4 to 47.9) all rose.

His exploits earned a fourth All-Star selection, with Embiid now eligible to sign a four-year, supermax extension after being selected to the All-NBA Second Team. While there has long been question marks over his health and fitness, his form merits a monster pay rise.

Worryingly for the rest of the league, Embiid is not a player who rests on his laurels. The Cameroonian is determined to deliver a title to the city of Brotherly Love.

"Losing, obviously, it's gonna take a toll on me, and it does and it's doing it, but it’s also on me," said Embiid after Philly's playoff exit. "I gotta be better. I gotta take another step when it comes to taking care of my body and my game as a whole, because I still feel like I have a lot of untapped potential that people haven't really seen."

How do you solve a problem like Ben Simmons?

"I love being in Philly. I love this organisation," Simmons said after he was subjected to boos by Philly fans after their Game 7 loss to the Hawks. "The fans are great, great people. I had a bad series. I expect that. It's Philly."

Former number one pick Simmons, however, may not have a choice on the matter amid intensifying trade talk.

The 24-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star.

Fresh off elimination, Rivers was asked if he thought Simmons could be a guard on a championship team, and he told reporters post-game: "I don't know the answer to that right now."

Since then, Rivers has said he wants the player to remain as the 76ers have a plan for the Australian star, who will skip the Olympic Games in Tokyo to focus on his skillset.

But after four seasons in the league, there has been no improvement from three-time All-Star Simmons in one fundamental area – shooting.

An elite defender and creator, debate around Simmons centres on his offence or lack thereof, with the 76ers handicapped by his unwillingness to shoot.

 

Simmons' field-goal percentage has regressed, dropping from 58.0 in 2019-20 to 55.7 this season – he only managed worse in his 2017-18 rookie campaign (54.5).

He averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It is the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

Simmons' unwillingness to shoot – he passed on a wide-open dunk during the closing stages against the Hawks, instead passing to Matisse Thybulle – who was fouled and made just one of the two free throws, irked Embiid.

"I'll be honest," Embiid said after the game. "I thought the turning point was when we - I don't know how to say it - but I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot and we made one free throw.

"We didn't get a good possession on the other end and Trae [Young] came back and he made a three and then from there down four, it's on me. I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point."

Having reportedly considered the idea of using Simmons as part of a deal to prise James Harden from the Houston Rockets in January before the former MVP eventually joined the Brooklyn Nets, Morey has a decision to make with the 76ers in the win-now window.

Doc's Game 7 woes continue

Is Rivers the man to complete the process for the 76ers?

A proven winner with Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics, Rivers landed on his feet following his exit from the Los Angeles Clippers, named All-Star coach after guiding the 76ers to a 49-23 record atop the east, ahead of the star-studded Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.

With Doc on the sidelines, Embiid vaulted himself to within a whisker of the MVP as the 76ers clinched the easiest path to the Conference Finals. After a humiliating series sweep to the Celtics in the opening round inside the bubble at Walt Disney World Resort the previous year, things looked on the up for Philly.

 

However, it was an all too familiar story for Rivers. His team collapsed.

Rivers suffered a fourth consecutive Game 7 defeat to tie the longest streak ever by an NBA head coach, after former Sacramento Kings and Rockets coach Rick Adelman also lost four in a row from 2002 to 2009.

The 76ers blew an 18-point lead in Game 4 against the Hawks before surrendering a 26-point advantage at home to Atlanta in Game 5. That came after Doc's Clippers somehow squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets in 2020.

"Listen, this team last year got swept in the first round. We had a chance to go to the Eastern finals. I'm not gonna make this into a negative year,” Rivers said.

Rivers has 29 losses with a chance to clinch a playoff series – the most defeats by a coach in NBA history. His 34.1 win percentage is the worst ever among coaches with 20-plus games.

The 59-year-old is under the microscope on the back of this latest failure, having not progressed past the second round of the playoffs since the 2012 postseason in Boston.

Verdict: Revolution

Morey and general manager Elton Brand have their work cut out this offseason, with Simmons' future at the top of the list.

Despite a horrendous playoff series, there is still plenty of value around Simmons. A host of teams are already reportedly circling, and there is a general consensus that it is time for player and franchise to go their separate ways.

Simmons could do with a change of scenery and the 76ers could use a legitimate shooter/scorer. Now it is up to Morey to weave his magic and supplement Embiid's MVP-calibre ability. Damian Lillard, perhaps? What about Bradley Beal?

Then there is Philadelphia's bench and depth. The 76ers ranked 13th in the NBA for points per game from their reserves (37.3). It remains to be seen whether the likes for Furkan Korkmaz will still be around come tip-off in 2021-22, so boosting the team's bench and three-point shooting is paramount if Philly are to get beyond the second round and complete the process.

The United States are always favourites at the Olympic Games – and rightly so. In 18 entries to the men's basketball event, Team USA have collected 18 medals, 15 of them gold.

But those three defeats serve as a warning for Gregg Popovich's side.

And any remaining complacency heading to Tokyo 2020 – in pursuit of a fourth straight title – should have been shifted by their initial pre-tournament exhibitions.

The United States lost to Nigeria last Saturday and then to Australia two days later, their third and fourth defeats in exhibitions since first fielding NBA players with the formation of the 'Dream Team' in 1992.

"It was better," as Popovich said, in Tuesday's win over Argentina – "bit by bit, every day, I hope," the coach added – but the pressure is still on, as consistent results must follow when the real action begins.

 

TOUGH START FOR TEAM USA SUPERSTARS

Of course, Team USA have never failed to advance from the preliminary round and that spotless record is highly unlikely to change this year. A kind draw has thrown up only one true test, but it comes first up: against France.

Indeed, Les Bleus dealt the United States their humiliating quarter-final exit at the FIBA Basketball World Cup two years ago.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert – the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year – put up a game-high 16 rebounds in that France victory and his size is a real problem for familiar opponents.

Gobert led the league with 2.7 blocks and 10.1 defensive rebounds per game in 2020-21, snaring 33.5 per cent of defensive boards while on the floor for the third-best mark in the NBA.

Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green might be versatile but, as the two preferred American options at the five, finding joy in the middle seems unlikely, while Team USA might also struggle to stop 7ft 1in Gobert on defense. His 67.5 per cent shooting was another benchmark.

However, the talent elsewhere in the Team USA lineup should ensure they have enough to win most matchups.

Kevin Durant shot 52.3 per cent from the midrange and 45.0 per cent from beyond the arc in the regular season; only two players made more threes than Damian Lillard (275), who then broke Klay Thompson's record with 12 makes from deep in a single playoff game against the Denver Nuggets.

The opener could either see Durant and Co lay down a marker for the rest of the tournament or provide other contenders with a blueprint for beating the United States.

 

BOOMERS BANG UP FOR MEDAL PURSUIT

Australia are far from the biggest team at the Games, but they have already shown the joy that can be found in the paint against Team USA, scoring 44 points from inside the key in their exhibition win.

The Boomers' effective, well-executed gameplan was all the more impressive given the unsettled nature of their team.

They have changed coach three times since the World Cup, and star name Ben Simmons is absent – working to "develop that skill package and improve in a couple of areas", Brian Goorjian said, after averaging an awful 9.9 points per game in the playoff series defeat to the Atlanta Hawks.

But Philadelphia 76ers team-mate Matisse Thybulle is still on hand to provide defensive energy, having led the NBA in steal percentage (3.9), while Patty Mills remains more reliable at international level than for Popovich's San Antonio Spurs.

Four times beaten in the bronze medal game, Australia will expect to finally secure some hardware, yet Group B also contains a dark horse in the form of Nigeria, who followed up their own victory against the United States by dominating Argentina.

Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent had 21 points against the country of his birth, a total he has only once topped in his NBA career to date.

Nigeria have chemistry, talent and, in Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown, coaching experience. They have also played so far like they have a point to prove.

 

DONCIC DRAWN INTO GROUP OF DEATH

Second and third pool games against Iran and the Czech Republic respectively should see that there is no jeopardy for the United States early on, but Group C shows how tough this tournament can be.

There will be a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final between Spain and Argentina, while hosts Japan will hope to make some noise. Then there is Slovenia, led of course by Luka Doncic.

One of the most exciting young talents in the world, Doncic has already shown himself capable of dragging a team to against-the-odds victories single-handedly.

The 22-year-old, whose 36.0 per cent usage rate led the NBA this year, was unsurprisingly named the MVP at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas just three weeks after forcing the Los Angeles Clippers to go to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.

Doncic has averaged 33.5 points across his 13 career postseason games – all of which have come against the Clippers. No player in NBA history has played 13 playoff games or more and averaged more, with Michael Jordan second on 33.4.

But Doncic has lost both of those series to date and is now faced with some hugely experienced players at this level. Argentina's Luis Scola and Spain's Pau Gasol – who moved to Barcelona specifically to prepare for the Games – are both in their 40s.

Should Doncic guide his country into the knockout stage, though, Team USA would undoubtedly be wary of taking on the two-time All-NBA First Team selection.

Philadelphia 76ers veteran Danny Green urged Ben Simmons to take more risks as he provided an honest assessment of the beleaguered star's woes following a disappointing end to the NBA season.

Simmons' future in Philadelphia is up in the air after struggling in the 76ers' shock Eastern Conference semi-final exit at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks.

All-Star Simmons was subjected to boos as the top-seeded 76ers crashed out of the NBA playoffs, Philadelphia fans venting their frustration after the Australian attempted just four shots for five points in the series-deciding Game 7.

Simmons – who will skip the Olympic Games to focus on his shooting – also passed on a wide-open dunk during the closing stages against the Hawks, instead passing to Matisse Thybulle – who was fouled and made just one of the two free throws.

While 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said the franchise have a plan to address Simmons' shooting problems, talk of a trade has intensified.

Green – a three-time NBA champion – discussed team-mate Simmons via his podcast 'Inside the Green Room', saying: "Off the court with his family things back home, and he doesn't necessarily discuss it with us in private, but I knew he was going through a lot.

 

"He had some things going on during the season. It might have come all at once during this time but you can tell, Ben's the type of kid, if he's not encouraged, and he's not pushed or forced to do it, he's not the type to take that risk.

"Obviously, he's a high IQ guy. You can tell, he gets a lot of assists and pushing the pace and he gets paid to do what he does, because he’s so good at it, but he doesn't step outside that box because he knows well enough 'I'm good at this. I don't need to step out. It's not like I'm encouraged to do this, or I'm kind of afraid to do this kind to do this' type of thing."

The debate around Simmons – an elite defender and creator – centres on his offense or lack thereof, with the 76ers often handicapped by his unwillingness to shoot.

Simmons' field-goal percentage has regressed, dropping from 58.0 in 2019-20 to 55.7 this season – he only managed worse in his 2017-18 rookie campaign (54.5).

The 24-year-old only averaged 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It is the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career low 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

From free-throw line, Simmons finished with a career-worst 34.2 per cent average in the playoffs, having made just 25 of 73 in the past postseason.

Green added: "I think they need encouragement and some type of push to do that to not be scared to fail at trying something new because he's one of those guys 'I know what I'm good at and I don't need to do anything else'.

"When the things that he's doing that he's good at isn't working as well even though he played defense as well as he could for us and gave us dynamic of assists in the ball, and finding guys and pushing the pace, we did need him to attack the rim and be more aggressive.

"But he felt like he was not getting his touch right and also the free-throw line, it kind of crept on him mentally to where he wasn't able to get the rhythm you wanted. … At the same time, he still fought, he showed up, he still played, he still worked hard, he still tried to give us his best chance for us to win with doing what he does with screening, rolling, rebounding, defending, and he did to the highest capability could. Just offensively he wasn't the Ben Simmons we needed him to be at the time."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said the franchise have a plan to address Ben Simmons' shooting woes as speculation over the embattled All-Star's future intensifies.

Simmons was subjected to boos after the top-seeded 76ers crashed out of the NBA playoffs in the Eastern Conference semi-finals following a shock 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 on Sunday.

Philadelphia fans vented their frustration after Simmons attempted just four shots for five points in the series decider, while tallying 13 assists and eight rebounds against the fifth-seeded Hawks.

Simmons also passed on a wide-open dunk during the closing stages against the Hawks, instead passing to Matisse Thybulle – who was fouled and made just one of the two free throws.

Amid trade rumours after Simmons was reportedly at the centre of Philadelphia's attempts to acquire James Harden in January before the former MVP was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets by the Houston Rockets, Rivers discussed the Australian.

"I believe, without going into detail with what we're doing, I believe we know what the right work is, and the right type of work, and the right way to do it," Rivers told reporters on Monday when asked why this offseason will be different for Simmons.

"You can do the work all the time. But if it's not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve.

"After being here for a year, I really do believe we've identified what and how, and now we have to do the do part.

"We have to work to do it. It's not going to be an easy job. But it's definitely a job that Ben can do."

It comes after Rivers casted doubt over Simmons' future with the 76ers following another failed run at a first NBA championship since 1983.

The debate around Simmons – an elite defender and creator – centres on his offense or lack thereof, with the 76ers often handicapped by his unwillingness to shoot.

Simmons' field-goal percentage has regressed, dropping from 58.0 in 2019-20 to 55.7 this season – he only managed worse in his 2017-18 rookie campaign (54.5).

The 24-year-old only averaged 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It is the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career low 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Asked if he thought Simmons could be a guard on a championship team, Rivers told reporters post-game: "I don't know the answer to that right now.

"I don't know. He struggled from the free throw line and that became a factor in the series. There's no doubt about that. Still believe in him.

"But, we have work to do. We're gonna have to get in the gym, put a lot of work in, and go from there."

The matchups are set for the NBA's Conference Finals – and few would have predicted these four teams would still be in the running at the start of the year.

In the East, the Brooklyn Nets' superstars fell to the Milwaukee Bucks while the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers.

Western Conference leaders the Utah Jazz became the latest team to give up a lead to the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the Clippers on Sunday lost Game 1 of their series with the Phoenix Suns, who had been resting since sweeping the Denver Nuggets.

So, which big names were key to deciding these unpredictable battles? Stats Perform takes a look in the latest edition of NBA Heat Check...
 

RUNNING HOT...

Paul George

Clippers superstar George understandably took a lot of criticism for his playoff performances last season, when he shot 39.8 per cent from the field and scored 10 points or fewer as many times as he reached 30.

But just as Kawhi Leonard went down against the Jazz with a knee injury, for which he has no return date, George found his scoring touch again.

Across four straight wins over Utah – three were last week – George contributed 31, 31, 37 and 28 points. His 37, along with 16 rebounds, came on the road in Game 5, putting the Clippers up for the first time in the series while Leonard sat out.

Even as a surely tired LA team lost to Phoenix on Sunday, George kept them in contention with 34 points to end the week averaging 32.5 per outing, as well as 9.5 rebounds (up from 23.3 and 6.7 respectively in the regular season).

Khris Middleton

Middleton is another impressive regular season performer who has been scrutinised for his postseason displays – and far more recently than last season.

Across the first five games of the Nets series, the wildly inconsistent Bucks forward shot 38.1 per cent from the field. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 but had gone six-for-23 in Game 1, making none of his five three-point attempts.

Yet Middleton's 38 points won Game 6, as he and Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal as the only team-mates in NBA history to each have 30 points and 10 rebounds in the same game twice in the same playoff campaign.

With a key role again in the series decider, Middleton became the first player to record at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in consecutive postseason games since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

Devin Booker

Booker played just once last week but put in a performance that cannot go unmentioned. Without veteran Chris Paul to help him, the sixth-year guard weighed in with a 40-point triple-double against the Clippers (also 13 rebounds and 11 assists).

Only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age in the playoffs than the 24-year-old, while Steve Nash – another Hall of Famer – was the previous Suns player to score a postseason triple of any kind back in 2005.

Kevin Durant

Another player whose contributions must be highlighted, even with his team now out of the playoffs, is Durant. With 43.0 points per game last week, he showed the greatest improvement in the league from his regular season performances – up 16.1 on 26.9.

His 12.3 rebounds per game put the two-time Finals MVP second in improvement in that regard, too, but it was not quite enough.

A toe on the three-point line meant Durant's late leveller in Game 7 against the Bucks was not a game-winner, before the Nets lost in overtime despite his 48 points – one short of a heroic Game 5 tally and two shy of his career postseason best.
 

GOING COLD...

James Harden

That Durant was asked to do so much was due to injuries to both the other members of Brooklyn's 'Big Three'. Kyrie Irving did not play after Game 4 against the Bucks due to an ankle sprain, while Harden returned in Game 5 after missing the previous three.

To anyone watching, though, it was clear Harden was not healthy.

One of the league's great scorers, he made one of 10 field goals in his first game back, with five points in 45 minutes. Harden had never previously scored as few as five in half an hour of play or more.

His form did improve slightly with returns of 16 and 22 points, but Milwaukee won both, with Harden shooting 29.4 per cent from the field as he proved more of a hindrance than a help to Durant with their season on the line.

Ben Simmons

When Harden moved to Brooklyn, Philadelphia was seen as the potential alternative destination, although that would likely have meant the 76ers reluctantly giving up Simmons. After the defeat to Atlanta, Simmons may now leave regardless.

An outstanding defender, the guard's offense has long been a concern and so it proved again as he averaged 7.5 points last week, significantly down on his modest regular season (14.3).

Simmons made single figures in three straight games, twice shooting only four times from the field despite being on the floor for 38 and 35 minutes respectively.

His eight-point effort on Wednesday included going four-of-14 when shooting from the foul line.

Rudy Gobert

This is the first time since 1994 that both top seeds have failed to make the Conference Finals. The Jazz, just like the Sixers, needed more from their second star.

Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year but looked a liability as the Clippers went small in Game 6, when his plus/minus was a dismal -24.

The Frenchman's output was down in all three defeats last week as he averaged 9.3 rebounds per game, having put up 13.5 in the regular season.

Doc Rivers said he is unsure whether Ben Simmons can play point guard on a championship team as the Philadelphia 76ers head coach casted doubt over the embattled All-Star's future following Sunday's NBA playoff exit.

Simmons and the 76ers were subjected to boos following their shock 103-96 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, who won Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

After another failed run at a first NBA title since 1983, Simmons was particularly in the firing line having attempted just four shots for five points in the series decider, while tallying 13 assists and eight rebounds.

The debate around Simmons – an elite defender and creator – centres on his offense or lack thereof, with the 76ers often handicapped by his unwillingness to shoot.

Asked if he thought Simmons could be a guard on a championship team, Rivers told reporters post-game: "I don't know the answer to that right now.

"I don't know. He struggled from the free throw line and that became a factor in the series. There's no doubt about that. Still believe in him.

"But, we have work to do. We're gonna have to get in the gym, put a lot of work in, and go from there."

It remains to be seen whether Simmons – who had at least eight assists in a half for the third time in his career, the most such performances by a 76ers player since 1996-97 – will still be in Philadelphia for the 2021-22 season.

Simmons was reportedly at the centre of trade talks in January as the 76ers tried to acquire James Harden from the Houston Rockets before Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets prised the former MVP to the Barclays Center.

Booed by 76ers fans, with videos circulating on social media of some supporters burning Simmons jerseys, the Australian said: "I love being in Philly. I love this organisation.

"The fans are great, great people. I had a bad series. I expect that. It's Philly."

Philadelphia team-mate Joel Embiid (31 points and 11 rebounds) also appeared to aim a jab at Simmons following the postseason elimination.

Simmons passed on a wide-open dunk during the closing stages against the Hawks, instead passing to Matisse Thybulle – who was fouled and made just one of the two free throws.

"I'll be honest," MVP runner-up Embiid said. "I thought the turning point was when we—I don't know how to say it—but I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot and we made one free throw.

"We didn't get a good possession on the other end and Trae [Young] came back and he made a three and then from there down four, it's on me. I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point."

Asked whether he would like to see the 76ers run it back next season, Embiid replied: "That's a tricky question".

The Philadelphia 76ers' crashed out of the NBA playoffs amid a chorus of boos after the top seeds were sensationally upstaged by the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Back on home court for the series decider, the 76ers were tipped to close out the matchup at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, but the fifth-seeded Hawks had other ideas following a stunning 103-96 victory.

Despite Trae Young's off night (21 points on just five-for-23 shooting), the Hawks still managed to conquer Joel Embiid and the 76ers thanks to unheralded guard Kevin Huerter.

Huerter had a team-high 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists as the Hawks returned to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2015, setting up a showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was a topsy-turvy battle in Philadelphia, where the 76ers trailed 76-71 at the start of the fourth quarter before rallying to lead by as many as four points in the final period.

However, the Hawks refused to surrender and pounced on the sloppy 76ers, who finished with 17 turnovers en route to bowing out of the postseason.

Double-doubles from MVP runner-up Embiid (31 points and 11 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (24 points and 14 rebounds) were not enough for the 76ers, with Ben Simmons (five points, 13 assists and eight rebounds) the subject of boos in his home arena after attempting just four shots throughout.

With Atlanta's victory, it is the first time since 1994 both number one seeds in the playoffs failed to make the Conference Finals after the Utah Jazz were ousted by the Los Angeles Clippers, according to Stats Perform.

Earlier in the day, the Phoenix Suns were 120-114 winners over the Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Devin Booker recorded his first career triple-double, posting 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the second-seeded Suns in the absence of Chris Paul (COVID-19 health and safety protocols).

Booker – in the midst of his maiden NBA playoffs campaign – became the first Suns player to register a triple-double in the postseason since Hall of Famer Steve Nash in 2005.

The 24-year-old also became the third youngest player in NBA history to record a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs – only Luka Doncic and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson have achieved the feat at a younger age.

The Clippers – featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in their history – were without star Kawhi Leonard for a third consecutive game due to a knee injury.

Paul George (34 points) and Reggie Jackson (24 points) tried to inspire the fourth seeds on the road in the series opener.

 

Clippers at Suns

After a day off, the playoffs resume with the Suns hosting the Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers admitted Joel Embiid is playing through pain after leading his side to a 127-111 Game 3 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in their Conference semi-final series.

Embiid scored 27 points, with nine rebounds and eight assists for the 76ers who claimed a 2-1 lead in the series with a crucial road win.

The 2021 NBA MVP runner-up has been battling knee soreness for the latter part of the season and suffered a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in Game 4 of the series against the Washington Wizards, missing Game 5.

"He's playing hard. He's giving us everything," Rivers said during his post-game video conference.

"What he's doing is incredible. He is going through a lot, I'll tell you that. It's been great to watch."

Rivers added praise for the 27-year-old Cameroonian, who defensively also had three blocks and a steal, to go with his 27 points in Game 3 against Hawks center Clint Capela.

"He was great. He was patient," Rivers said. "They were going to send two-three guys on him all night.

"I thought overall he kept his patience. We've got to do a little better job on our spacing so he can see guys better but overall I thought our movement, 10 turnovers for the game, told the story."

The Sixers lost starting forward Danny Green after only four minutes to injury and Rivers said the outlook was not positive for the 33-year-old who won NBA titles in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors and 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I have no idea [of the extent]. It's a calf injury," Rivers said. "My doctors will tell you calf injuries aren't great."

Rivers also offered praise to Australian guard Ben Simmons for his role in nullifying Hawks guard Trae Young who scored 28 points, shooting at 52.9 per cent from the field.

"It's been big. It's exhausting when you think about what we're asking Ben to do, follow Trae around and push the ball up the floor with pace," Rivers said.

"It's tough, he's young, he has endurance, he's been good for us."

Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert has been voted the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the third time, the league announced Wednesday. 

The France native received 84 first-place votes from a global media panel, easily outdistancing Ben Simmons of the Philadephia 76ers for top honours. 

Gobert previously won the award in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and is the fourth player to win the award at least three times, joining Dikembe Mutombo (four), Ben Wallace (four) and Dwight Howard (three).

Gobert's Jazz team-mates surprised him with the award, putting the trophy on his chair in the locker room and erupting in cheers when he walked in. 

A 7-foot-1 presence in the middle, the Frenchman led the NBA with 10.1 defensive rebounds per game and his 13.5 total rebounds per game were second only to Clint Capela of the Atlanta Hawks (14.3). Gobert also finished second in the league with 2.7 blocked shots per game.

Gobert earned 464 points in the voting, while Simmons had 287 with 15 first-place votes. Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors was third with 76 points, Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat was next with 31 points, including one first-place vote, and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks placed fifth with 12 points. 

 

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers issued a warning about Joel Embiid's health despite his injury return, insisting "we're still not out of the woods" as the Eastern Conference top seeds look to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks.

Embiid returned from a meniscus tear in Philadelphia's shock 128-124 loss at home to the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the NBA Eastern Conference semi-final opener on Sunday.

MVP finalist Embiid sat out the series-clinching win over the Washington Wizards due to the right knee injury, which he sustained in Game 4 of the opening-round matchup.

The 76ers outscored the Wizards by 31.6 points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the court but were outscored by 7.5 points per 100 possessions when he went to the bench (excluding Game 5), according to Stats Perform.

Embiid led all scorers with 39 points on 12-for-21 shooting, while he also had nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal against the visiting Hawks in Philadelphia.

Gearing up for Tuesday's Game 2 at Wells Fargo Center, Rivers provided an update on All-Star Embiid following Monday's practice, telling reporters: "He looked pretty good.

"Obviously, we didn't do much today, but just my observation, without being a real medical doctor, is that he looked pretty good. We were happy with everything."

Embiid has been averaging 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game in this season's playoffs, while he boasts career highs in field-goal percentage (61.6), three-point percentage (43.8) and free-throw percentage (90.5).

In 2020-21, Embiid has averaged a career-high 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

"I think we always have to worry," Rivers added. "I don't think we're out of the woods, I'll put it that way. I think after each game he's gonna be evaluated for a while.

"I don't know how long that lasts, there may be three or four or five games, but we're still not out of the woods, I guess, would be the best way to describe it."

The 76ers were blown away by Trae Young and the Hawks, who led 75-54 at half-time. According to Stats Perform, that is the highest first-half point total by a road team in a postseason series opener in history.

Young had 25 of his 35 points in the first half as the Hawks outscored the 76ers 42-27 in the first period.

Philadelphia's Ben Simmons (17 points and 10 assists) had a double-double but it was a disappointing outing for the 76ers, who are eyeing their first championship since 1983.

However, All-Star Simmons remains upbeat, adding: "The confidence has always been there. I think it's just more so we got to lock in and be ready for whoever comes in the building because it's not going to be easy.

"It's the playoffs and this is a good team we're facing right now. They play the right way. They share the ball, and they play together. We got to come together and play the right way."

Donovan Mitchell led the way as number one seeds the Utah Jazz progressed to the Western Conference second round, while the top-ranked Philadelphia 76ers also booked their spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Mitchell posted 26 of his 30 points in the first half to fuel the Jazz to a 126-110 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, sealing a 4-1 series victory in the NBA playoffs on Wednesday.

The Jazz All-Star tallied 10 assists and six rebounds, joining Deron Williams and John Stockton as the only Utah players with 30-plus points and 10-plus assists in a postseason clash.

With five three-pointers made, Mitchell also became the first jazz player in franchise history to finish with 30 points, 10 assists and five threes in a playoff encounter.

Mitchell was assisted by Jordan Clarkson (24 points) and Rudy Gobert (23 points and 15 rebounds) as the Jazz await the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Dallas Mavericks matchup.

Grizzlies sensation Ja Morant impressed again with 27 points and 11 assists as he finished his first playoff series averaging 30.2 points and 8.2 assists while shooting 48.7 per cent from the field – the highest ever points per game average by a Memphis player in a single postseason.

All three teams that had a chance to clinch a series midweek, won by 14-plus points following the success of the Jazz, 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. According to Stats Perform, it is the first time three franchises have claimed a series with double-digit victories on the same day since May 1, 2003.

 

Simmons flexes muscles as 76ers advance without Embiid

Despite the absence of MVP finalist Joel Embiid due to a meniscus tear, the 76ers still reached the second round thanks to a 129-112 rout of the Washington Wizards. Ben Simmons inspired the 76ers in Philadelphia, where he had a triple-double of 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. It was Simmons' third career playoff triple-double, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to move into second place on the all-time list in Philadelphia history – behind only Wilt Chamberlain (eight). Seth Curry (playoffs career-high 30 points) and Tobias Harris (28 points) also starred as the 76ers defeated the Wizards 4-1. Wizards pair Bradley Beal (32 points) and Russell Westbrook (24 points and 10 assists) combined for 56 points, however, it was not enough at Wells Fargo Center.

Next up for the 76ers are the fifth-seeded Hawks, who saw off the New York Knicks 4-1 behind a 103-89 success. Trae Young silenced fourth seeds the Knicks with a postseason career-high 36 points in New York. Julius Randle's 23 points and 13 rebounds were not enough for the Knicks.

Luka Doncic put on a show as the Mavericks withstood the Clippers 105-100 for a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference first-round series. Doncic went off for 42 points and a playoff career-high 14 assists to take down the Clippers in Los Angeles. The All-Star became the second player in NBA history to record a game with 42-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and 14-plus assists in the postseason, joining LeBron James (2018).

 

Rose struggles

In the starting five, veteran and former MVP Derrick Rose failed to make an impact. In 27 minutes, Rose was three-for-11 shooting for only six points as the Knicks bowed out.

While Kawhi Leonard had 20 points, it was not an efficient display. The Clippers star finished seven-for-19 shooting – making just one of his seven three-point attempts. He also had five turnovers.

 

Ice Trae!

Young bowed to the Madison Square Garden crowd, happy after putting the icing on the cake with a long-range three as the Hawks sent hosts the Knicks packing.

 

Wednesday's results

Utah Jazz 126-106 Memphis Grizzlies
Philadelphia 76ers 129-112 Washington Wizards
Atlanta Hawks 103-89 New York Knicks
Dallas Mavericks 105-100 Los Angeles Clippers

 

Suns at Lakers

It is make or break for defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers, who will host the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 on Thursday. The Lakers trail the second-seeded Suns 3-2 in the Western Conference first round and face elimination.

The Washington Wizards took advantage of Joel Embiid's early departure, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 122-114 to avert a sweep in their NBA playoff series. 

The top-seeded 76ers started strong Monday but faltered when Embiid injured his knee late in the first quarter of Game 4 and saw the Wizards come alive. 

While Bradley Beal led Washington with 27 points and Russell Westbrook recorded another triple-double, it was Rui Hachimura playing a key role at the end to seal victory for the home side. 

The Japan native, playing in his first playoff series, had a dunk and a three-pointer in a 30-second span to give the Wizards a 118-112 lead in the final minute. 

Hachimura finished with 20 points on eight-of-12 shooting from the field and added 13 rebounds. 

Westbrook, meanwhile, had 21 rebounds and 14 assists to go with his 19 points despite making only three of 19 shots from the field. 

Westbrook's triple-double was the 12th of his career in the playoffs, breaking a tie with Jason Kidd and putting the Wizards star third on the all-time list behind Magic Johnson (30) and LeBron James (28).

Game 5 of the series is Wednesday in Philadelphia. 

 

Mitchell, Jazz take 3-1 lead

Donovan Mitchell had 30 points and eight assists to lead the top-seeded Utah Jazz to the brink of the conference semi-finals with a 120-113 win away to the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The Jazz survived another spirited effort by the eighth seeds to take a 3-1 series lead and can advance with a win in Game 5 on Wednesday. 

Ja Morant scored 23 and had 12 assists but made just one of seven three-pointers for Memphis, who were 10 of 35 from distance as a team. 

 

Simmons' free-throw struggles continue

Ben Simmons made his first free throws of this year's playoffs in Monday's loss, but the 76ers guard is now just five-for-20 from the line in the series. 

 

Gafford's emphatic follow

Daniel Gafford was four-of-four from the field in the Wizards' win, thanks in part to high-percentage shots like this.

 

Monday's results

Washington Wizards 122-114 Philadelphia 76ers
Utah Jazz 120-113 Memphis Grizzlies

 

Celtics at Nets

Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics need to win to stay alive as their series against the Nets shifts back to Brooklyn. 

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers insisted the team "have accomplished nothing" as they eye the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The top-seeded 76ers lead the Washington Wizards 2-0 in the opening round of their NBA playoff series following Wednesday's 120-95 rout.

Philadelphia – eyeing their first championship since 1983 – are in a commanding position as they head to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday.

The 76ers have not advanced to the NBA Finals since 2001, with Philadelphia failing to make it beyond the Conference semi-finals in 2003, 2012, 2018 and 2019, while they were swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics last season.

Rivers – a championship winner during his time in charge of the Celtics – is taking nothing for granted, with the 76ers desperate to end their title drought this season.

"We have done nothing," Rivers told reporters after Friday's practice.

"We have won two games, you don't get anything until you win four, so we have accomplished nothing as far as we're concerned."

The 76ers are featuring in the playoffs for the fourth successive season – the franchise's longest streak since making the postseason in five straight campaigns from 1999-2003.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (22 points apiece) combined to guide the 76ers past the Wizards in Philadelphia midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019, while it was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019 – the streak tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

Tobias Harris has also been a key contributor for the 76ers against the Wizards after backing up his playoff career-high 37 points in Game 1 with 19 points and nine assists on Wednesday.

"They have grown and that’s key for us," said Rivers. "I think, through the year, you just see so many different coverages on how they're going to defend Ben. Every night, they're going to defend Ben in a different way."

Rivers also attempted to allay fitness concerns over Harris and Seth Curry.

"Tobias, I think he'll be good," added Rivers. "He went through most of the stuff today. Seth didn't go through anything, but we think he'll be good, but we just don't know."

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