The Los Angeles Lakers claimed their first win of the season after outlasting Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies 121-118 in the NBA on Sunday.

LeBron James and the Lakers had lost back-to-back games to open the 2021-22 campaign but finally had something to celebrate at home to the Grizzlies.

Anthony Davis posted 22 points and eight rebounds, while team-mate James finished with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Lakers (1-2).

But it was Lakers veteran Carmelo Anthony who led the way with 28 points (on 10-of-15 shooting) from the bench.

Anthony passed Moses Malone for ninth place on the all-time NBA leading scorers list.

Morant excelled with 40 points and 10 assists, but it was not enough for the Grizzlies (2-1), who lost for the first time.

 

 

Curry brothers star as Steph makes history

Stephen Curry was at it again to lead the Golden State Warriors to their first 3-0 start to a season since 2015 after a 119-107 victory against the Sacramento Kings. The two-time MVP put up 27 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals to fuel the unbeaten Warriors. With his fifth assist, Curry became the first player in franchise history to dish out 5,000 career assists.

The Philadelphia 76ers topped the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder 115-103. Seth Curry maintained his red-hot form, going seven-of-10 from three-point range for a team-high 28 points. Curry was six of seven from beyond the arc for 23 points in the opening quarter – a new career-high for a single period. He is the fourth 76ers player with at least 20 points in a quarter since 2010, joining Joel Embiid (four times), Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams. Embiid had 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists against the Thunder.

Jalen Green enjoyed a breakout game, despite the Houston Rockets going down 107-97 to the Boston Celtics. Green became the first rookie in Rockets history with 30-plus points and eight three-pointers in a game after finishing with 30 points – including eight threes, four rebounds and three assists.

The Charlotte Hornets are off to their first 3-0 start to the season thanks to a 111-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets behind Miles Bridges' 32 points. Kevin Durant led the Nets with 38 points in Brooklyn.

 

Harden struggles from the floor in Nets loss

James Harden was far from his best against Hornets, going just six-of-16 shooting from the field for 15 points in 33 minutes, while he also finished with eight turnovers.

Evan Fournier was three-of-11 shooting from the field – making just two of seven three-pointers – as the New York Knicks were stunned 110-104 by the Orlando Magic.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid made an impassioned plea for fans to support team-mate Ben Simmons amid his continued absence.

Simmons is yet to feature for the 76ers this NBA season, sitting out Friday's clash with Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets, having been suspended for Wednesday's opener against the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team".

The three-time All-Star has sought a trade away from the 76ers following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks, while he was reportedly ejected from Tuesday's practice as head coach Doc Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

After a meeting between Simmons, Embiid and the rest of the team, last season's MVP runner-up threw his support behind the former number one pick prior to tip-off against the Nets in Philadelphia.

"I urge you guys to continue to support us and our team-mate Ben, because he's still our brother," Embiid said as he grabbed the microphone on court.

Following the meeting, ESPN reported Simmons notified the 76ers he was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

"I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change," Rivers told reporters pre-game.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

 

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks 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, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was 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.

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey says the Ben Simmons saga could be drawn out for four years as he remains unflinching in the standoff.

Simmons was suspended by the Sixers for conduct detrimental to the team before failing to appear at an individual workout on Thursday, following the side's season-opening 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Three-time NBA All-Star Simmons has demanded a trade amid criticism following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks. He was absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.

The situation has not improved internally with team-mate Joel Embiid admitting he would not "baby-sit" Simmons, while head coach Doc Rivers said the predicament was not fun.

Morey added on Thursday that the Sixers would not trade Simmons as they were not satisfied what they could get in return would help them win an NBA title with their window open now. As a result, Morey said the icy situation could drag on.

"You're going to think I'm kidding, I'm not, this could be four years," Morey told the Mike Missanelli Show. "The conditions I'm pointing out to you don't change.

"People should buckle in, this is gonna go a long time because my only job is to help give us the best chance to win the title.

"Unless Ben Simmons is traded for a difference-maker, we're in the prime of Joel [Embiid]'s career. We have to get back either Ben Simmons playing well for us, who helps us win the championship, or we have to get back a difference-maker for Ben Simmons. Or this could be four years from now, and we're still like, 'Hey, we took the best shot at it we could'.

"This could be four years. This is not day-to-day. Every day, we're going to expect Ben Simmons to be back here, or we're trading him for a difference-maker.

"There's no other outcome that doesn't materially hurt our chance to win the championship in Joel Embiid's prime.

"We would want him to play and be back starting tomorrow. But if he chooses to take some other path, that's his choice."

The 76ers had the best record in the Eastern Conference regular season at 49-23 before losing to the Hawks in the Conference semifinals.

Joel Embiid praised the Philadelphia 76ers' team spirit following their 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans despite the absence of wantaway star Ben Simmons.

Simmons was ejected from practice prior to the game due to issues with his conduct as the 25-year-old guard seeks a trade, but the 76ers did not miss him en route to a comfortable victory.

Embiid, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds, noted the healthy atmosphere in the rest of the squad following a team dinner ahead of the opening fixture.

“We've been practicing hard,” Embiid said. “It was good to kind of get off to a good start, get a win and kind of forget about the off-the-court stuff.

"[The spirit on the bench] - that’s us. That’s how we’ve been this whole summer. That’s the attitude everybody has had. That’s the definition of us. Being together, having fun together, doing stuff with each other. I think it goes a long way.

"It's good to just go out and kinda not talk about basketball and talk about life. That's also an evolution for me, because usually, when I used to go on the road, I'd just like to stay in my room and be on the phone and play video games."

Simmons' replacement in the team, Tyrese Maxey, managed 20 points, with seven rebounds and five assists and agreed with his team-mate, explaining that the squad's chemistry is a crucial factor in their success.

“Everybody's capable,” Maxey said. "At the end of the day, basketball's a team effort. You need an entire team to be able to win. I felt like the focus was there from shoot-around, probably even from when we got on the plane yesterday.

“The chemistry is really [good]. Guys like playing with each other, guys like being around each other. Sometimes adversity makes you stronger, makes the bond closer and we got to just keep building.”

Head coach Doc Rivers insisted that Simmons' antics have not disrupted the rest of his players, and praised their collective development as a team.

"[The players] have been normal, the only abnormal part is when they have to talk to the media afterwards and they're asked questions [about Simmons]," Rivers said.

"It's about playing basketball and growing together, and they've done a great job of that."

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid hit out at Ben Simmons, insisting he is "not here to babysit" after his wantaway team-mate was banned by the NBA championship-chasing franchise.

The 76ers suspended disgruntled All-Star Simmons – who has demanded a trade out of Philadelphia – for their season-opening clash with the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

It came after 76ers head coach Doc Rivers tossed Simmons from Tuesday's practice session.

Simmons sought a trade amid criticism following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks and was absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.

Speculation over Simmons' future is now set to intensify amid reported interest from the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers.

Embiid, however, is not interested in Simmons – who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – as the 2020-21 MVP runner-up took aim at the former number one draft pick.

"I don't care about that man honestly," Embiid told reporters. "He does whatever he wants. That's not my job. That's those guys' jobs. I'm only focused on trying to make the team better. Win some games. Play hard every night.

"I try to lead all the guys that we have here and I'm sure that I feel the same way because our chemistry has been excellent. Despite everything that's been happening in the last few months. So like I said, I don't I don't really care.

 

"But at the end of the day, our job is not to babysit somebody. We're here and we get paid to produce on the court. Go out, play hard, and win some games. That's all we get paid for. We don't get paid to come out here and try to babysit somebody. That's not our job and I'm sure my team-mates feel that way.

"Like I said, I'm not here to babysit. I'd be willing to babysit if someone wants to listen, but that's not my job. That's out of my control. I'll focus on what's here and try to win some games."

Simmons – an elite defender – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks 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, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was 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.

"I just thought he was a distraction today," Rivers said. "I didn't think he wanted to do what everybody else was doing and it was early, it wasn't a big deal. Just told him you should leave man and we went on with practice.

"I'm going to give like every day, every single moment, I'm going to give Ben a chance to join the team and be part of the team. He's under contract to be part of the team and so that's not going to change.

"Sometimes it happens quick and guys join back in, sometimes it doesn't. I've been in both situations and I'm fine with that. But at the end of the day, as a coach, I have to protect the team. The team first and then we get to the other part and so today, I just thought it was more important to focus on the team."

The NBA and its leading stars will hope the coming regular season is exactly that: regular.

The past two have not been. In 2019-20, the season was paused for the coronavirus pandemic and resumed in Orlando, in a bubble and without crowds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was at least able to put forward his claims for a second straight MVP honour prior to that point.

In 2020-21, a rapid turnaround from the playoffs appeared to catch some leading men out, before the brutal 72-game December-to-May calendar saw a number of top performers face spells on the sidelines.

As a result, Nikola Jokic was the clear MVP candidate, outstanding for the Denver Nuggets but crucially also one of just 11 players across the league to play in all 72 games. His 2,488 minutes trailed only New York Knicks pair Julius Randle (2,667) and RJ Barrett (2,511).

With a proper preseason to plan – and the Nuggets hurt by Jamal Murray's injury – it seems unlikely Jokic will defend his title.

But which players are most likely to follow his lead and move clear of the rest in the coming months? Stats Perform breaks down the chances of the MVP favourites.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Having claimed back-to-back MVP Awards, Antetokounmpo entered preseason last year as the favourite again and threatened for a time to contend, averaging 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. A six-game lay-off in April, immediately after scoring 47 points in Portland, put paid to those hopes.

However, it would have been tough for voters to justify again picking Antetokounmpo regardless. At that stage, he had won only three playoff series in his entire career. By contrast, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird – the three men previously honoured three years in a row – each celebrated at least one championship across the first two seasons of their respective runs.

It is very different now, though. Although Antetokounmpo would become only the ninth player to take the Maurice Podoloff Trophy on three occasions, there is less daunting historical precedent with the lean year in between. Crucially, too, the 'Greek Freak' is now himself a champion.

 

Antetokounmpo was the Milwaukee Bucks' Finals MVP as they won their first title in 50 years. Rather than regress in the playoffs – his points average had dipped from the regular season in four of his five prior postseason campaigns – the 26-year-old forward scaled new heights, taking more responsibility with a career-high 20.9 field goal attempts per game and being rewarded with 30.2 points.

Now embracing his strengths, taking only 3.3 shots from three-point range in the postseason and shooting 73.6 per cent at the rim, Antetokounmpo should have the confidence to kick on again.

Luka Doncic

It is Doncic, not Antetokounmpo, who has been installed as the early favourite this year. The Slovenian is only entering his fourth season, but it feels about time he truly established himself as a future great.

Doncic was one of those who acknowledged he was "not in my best shape" as the 2020-21 season promptly got under way, and the Dallas Mavericks were an underwhelming 8-12 at the end of January, although the point forward still averaged 27.4 points over that slow early period. He then weighed in with 30.3 points across 12 games in February.

Only four players bettered Doncic's 1,830 points come the end of the year, yet he could still be a little more consistent in pursuit of a regular-season award. The 22-year-old has set an astonishing standard on the biggest stage. While waiting on a first series win, his 33.5 playoff points are the most by any player to feature in at least 13 career games. Doncic's 143 points at the Tokyo Olympics led the tournament.

If Dallas can be competitive from the outset, Doncic's game is certainly a good fit for individual recognition, his 2020-21 usage rate of 36.0 per cent the highest among players with 500 or more possessions. Similarly dominant for Slovenia, his 57 assists and 196 minutes also topped the charts at the Olympics.

New coach Jason Kidd will ask "young Picasso" Doncic to share the ball around a little more this year, though, saying: "As a coach, I don't know if anybody told Picasso that he had to use all the paints. But I just want to remind Luka that he can rely on his team-mates, and his team-mates are going to be there to help him."

He added: "We know that it's easy to get the ball to Luka, but the one thing we do want to get accomplished is other guys as playmakers so come the fourth quarter Luka is fresh and is ready to deliver." Some more big moments – Luka's 93 clutch points ranked 21st last year – would certainly help Doncic's cause.

Stephen Curry

The Los Angeles Lakers' new 'big three' – we will come to the Brooklyn Nets shortly – is likely to help title hopes but hinder MVP bids. Russell Westbrook's relentless regular-season efforts, averaging 34.4 per cent usage over the past seven seasons, might take some of the shine away from LeBron James. Curry does not have that problem.

As last year, when he had the next-most first-place votes after Jokic (albeit just five to 91), the Golden State Warriors are set to be hugely reliant on Curry – at least until fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson is back from injury.

In his first full season since Kevin Durant left and Thompson went down, Curry set his stall out early with 62 points against the Portland Trail Blazers but saved his best for the end of the year, averaging 36.9 points after a tailbone injury in March to take a second scoring title. The two-time MVP could not quite do enough to carry the Warriors through the play-in round.

A young supporting cast is now another year older, however, meaning Golden State should be competitive enough to keep Curry in the limelight without having enough talent to distract from his displays.

Only Thompson's return is likely to alter the pattern of play after Curry set career highs in points (32.0), rebounds (5.5), field goal attempts (21.7), three-point attempts (12.7), foul line visits (6.3) and usage rate (34.7). He scored a league-high 24.6 per cent of the Warriors' points.

 

Kevin Durant

Durant, like James, was set to merely be the biggest star on a team of stars until the complications around Kyrie Irving's status arose. As it stands, Irving will not feature for the Nets due to his refusal to get a coronavirus vaccine that would allow him to play home games.

Of course, Brooklyn also have James Harden, who briefly flirted with the MVP picture last year prior to a hamstring injury, but Durant will be the team's go-to as long as he stays on the court.

Although Durant made only 32 starts in 35 games in 2020-21, he led the Nets in points per game (26.9) and usage rate (31.1). Irving ranked second in both categories (also 26.9 points per game, 30.5 per cent usage).

The former Warrior is now another year on from his awful Achilles injury and gave an indication in the playoffs of the player he can still be. Playing in all 12 games, unlike Harden and Irving, Durant scored an outstanding 34.3 points – a league best among those to play 10 or more games. Only a borderline call on a Durant shot in Game 7 against the Bucks ended Brooklyn's campaign.

With or without Irving, the Nets are expected to contend for the title this time. Durant was Finals MVP in his two championship triumphs in 2017 and 2018 but has only a single regular season award, back in 2013-14. If he is back to his best, as would appear to be the case, the 33-year-old could dominate the coming season from start to finish.

Joel Embiid

Should, as this list suggests, voters look for players who are capable of putting their teams on their backs, Embiid's case has only got stronger.

The big man was already the Philadelphia 76ers' key performer, evidenced by their 39-12 record with him in the team last year compared to 10-11 when he was missing. Indeed, had Embiid not been absent for such a number of games, he might well have pipped Jokic to the top individual award.

Jokic clearly had the edge as a creator, his 8.3 assists per game allowing him to tally 16 triple-doubles, Embiid actually averaged more points (28.5 to 26.4) and his prowess on defense (including 1.4 blocks per game) contributed to far superior numbers in terms of plus/minus (7.9 to 5.3) and defensive rating (103.1 to 109.2).

 

Ben Simmons, the Sixers' second man, was already underwhelming last year, and Embiid's responsibilities on both ends of the floor are set to increase due to the uncertainty surrounding his team-mate.

Even if Simmons sticks around, as is now a possibility, this is clearly Embiid's team. He felt it had not been previously, responding to reports Simmons was unhappy with the dynamic by saying: "I feel like our teams have always been built around his needs." Those claims were "disappointing" and "borderline kind of disrespectful", Embiid added.

He will certainly not be lacking motivation now to put his injury woes behind him, enjoy another outstanding season and claim the MVP award that evaded him last year.

A report Ben Simmons no longer wants to play alongside Joel Embiid and his absence from the Philadelphia 76ers are "borderline disrespectful", according to the All-Star center. 

The 76ers this week began training camp ahead of the new NBA season without Simmons, who is holding out for a trade following the fallout from the team's shock Eastern Conference semifinals elimination at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks last season. 

A report in The Athletic citing anonymous sources on Tuesday claimed Simmons wants to leave because he does not think trying to fit in alongside Embiid is right for his style of play. 

Embiid believes the information has come from his team-mate's camp. While he is frustrated by Simmons holding out, he admitted the 76ers remain a better team when he plays. 

"I saw it. I don't know if it came from him or whatever, but over the past few months stuff has been put out there, looking at the reaction of him not being here. I feel like it's fair to assume it's coming from his agent or his people or whatever," said Embiid when asked about the report. 

"I feel like our teams have always been built around his needs, so it was kind of surprising to see. [Simmons was] The reason we signed Al [Horford]. We got rid of Jimmy [Butler], which I still think was a mistake, [because] he needed the ball in his hands, and that's the decision they made. Like I said, it's surprising. 

"But I'm really focused on the guys that are here. The situation is disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for their lives. Some guys rely on the team being successful to stay in the league and make money. Because if you're on a winning team, you're always going to have a spot in the league because you contributed to a winning team.

 

"Obviously we're a better team with him, we're not a better team without him, that's for sure. We still hope he changes his mind, but I owe it to these guys to worry about what we have here. 

"To figure out what's going to happen, that's not my job, I'm not the GM, I'm not an owner, so that's none of my business." 

Simmons only attempted one shot in the fourth quarter of the final six games of the series against the Hawks, while he passed up a layup to tie the game last in the fourth quarter of Game 7. 

Doc Rivers said he did not know whether the 76ers could be champions with Simmons as their point guard, though he has since attempted to backtrack in a bid to convince the Australian to stay in Philadelphia. 

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."

Joel Embiid will sign a four-year, $196million supermax extension with the Philadelphia 76ers following his near-MVP efforts in 2020-21.

Widespread reports detailed the deal on Tuesday, which rewards an outstanding season for the All-Star center.

Embiid became eligible for the extension after finishing second in the MVP voting and making the All-NBA Second Team.

But for injury, the big man might have scooped the top award, for which he was the favourite until a knee problem in March.

The 76ers were only 10-11 without Embiid, but their 39-12 record with their outstanding star on the floor was enough to finish first in the Eastern Conference.

Embiid's 28.5 points per game were a career high and ranked fourth in the NBA despite the ongoing knee issue – a torn meniscus, which he played with into the postseason – limiting the former third overall pick to 31.1 minutes.

Per 75 possessions, his 32.9 points led the league, boosted by improvement in field-goal percentage (51.3), three-point percentage (37.7) and accuracy from the foul line (85.9 per cent).

Embiid's new deal, which runs through the 2026-27 season, reportedly includes a player option for the final year, although the Sixers do not have the same protection in case of further injuries.

Embiid is yet to play more than 64 games in a regular season in the NBA, with the start to his career delayed by two years due to foot surgery.

"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.

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.

Joel Embiid said the Philadelphia 76ers' ball movement was the key to avoiding another late collapse and elimination from the NBA playoffs after the top seeds beat the Atlanta Hawks 104-99.

The 76ers let slip double-digit leads late in both Game 4 and 5, but held their nerve in Game 6 on Friday to force a series decider in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, despite pressure from the Hawks and All-Star guard Trae Young – who finished with a game-high 34 points.

MVP runner-up Embiid was important for Philadelphia down the stretch, with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while 76ers team-mates Tobias Harris and Seth Curry both scored 24 points.

The 76ers rallied behind a 12-0 run early in the third quarter, eventually winning by five points to force a decider in Philadelphia on Sunday.

"There was a bunch of stuff, we moved the ball a little better," Embiid told reporters in a media conference after the game when asked what was different in Game 6.

"In Game 5 the rhythm was messed up because they kept fouling. In those situations when you lose your rhythm, it's on me to figure it out too… you're not getting possession offensively and you need to play defense, you don't get to share the ball, tonight we just moved the ball.

"Whether it was Ben [Simmons] when he came back in with two minutes left, Tyrese [Maxey] at the point, Tobias, as a team everybody did their job."

Two years ago, Philadelphia's Conference semi-final series against the Toronto Raptors went to a decider, eventually losing Game 7 by two points on the road in a significant moment in Embiid's career reminiscent of Sunday's upcoming game.

"This time around it's at home," Embiid said. "That's why we worked so hard this year, to get that home court advantage."

He added: "I know we blew that lead last home game, which we should never have done. Tonight we kept telling each other, 48 minutes, we've gotta be focused for 48 minutes. That's what we have to do."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers was expressive post-game when he spoke to Embiid and later explained what he said to his star center.

"I told him 'we'd win'. I said 'I told you'. I kept saying that," Rivers told the reporters via a post-game video conference.

"These guys are young, they need to believe that. I don’t know if they did or didn't. I thought they did, you can tell in the way they played.

"But we have another game. It was more about getting his head ready for the next game. That's what I talked about. I said 'I told you, but we're not done'. and we're not."

Rivers earned his 98th career playoff victory, tying former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan for the sixth-most postseason wins in NBA history.

Philadelphia's Rivers added he felt his side handled the early pressure from the Hawks and saw out the win strongly after their recent late fades.

"They just hung in there," Rivers said. "You lose two leads, the lead the other night was such a tough loss.

"For them to jump on us, honestly I anticipated that, I believed if we could weather the storm a lot of energy would be spent. From that point on, we controlled the game."

The Los Angeles Clippers overturned a 25-point deficit to sensationally eliminate the Utah Jazz en route to their first Western Conference Final, stunning the top seeds 131-119 on Friday.

Despite the absence of star Kawhi Leonard and a large third-quarter deficit against the Jazz, the Clipper produced a miraculous comeback to advance to a Conference Final for the first time in the franchise's 51-year history.

The Clippers had trailed 2-0 in the NBA playoff series but rallied to close out the second-round matchup 4-2 against the side with the best regular-season record in 2020-21 as the Phoenix Suns await, starting on Sunday.

Seeded fourth, the Clippers – who also rallied from 2-0 down against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, having squandered a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets' in last season's Western Conference semi-finals, were fuelled by Terance Mann.

Terance Mann posted a career-high 39 points with seven-from-10 three-pointers, including five in the second half.

Mann had never scored more than 25 points in an NBA game previously. According to Stats Perform, the last player to have 14-plus points in a playoff game than his previous career high was Hall of Famer Michael Jordan in his NBA-record 63-point game in 1986.

Paul George was outstanding with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Reggie Jackson finished with 27 points and 10 assists to guide the Clippers.

It was a disappointing end for the Jazz, who were excellent throughout the regular season and had started strongly in Game 6, leading 72-50 at half-time.

Donovan Mitchell scored 39 points, with nine rebounds and nine assists for Utah as the Jazz became the first team in NBA history to win a postseason clash by double digits after trailing by 20-plus points at half-time, per Stats Perform.

Earlier on Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers responded after letting big leads slip in Game 4 and 5 to force an Eastern Conference semi-final decider with a 104-99 win away to the Atlanta Hawks.

Seth Curry, who made six of his nine three-point attempts, and Tobias Harris both scored 24 points for the top-seeded 76ers – who levelled the second-round series at 3-3, forcing a Game 7 in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Atlanta had started strong to compound the pressure on the 76ers, but Philadelphia withstood the early storm, with a 12-0 run after half-time before holding their nerve in the last quarter.

All-Star and MVP runner-up Joel Embiid finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while rookie Tyrese Maxey had an influential final quarter, scoring 16 points for the game, after Ben Simmons was benched plagued by his shooting woes.

Hawks All-Star Trae Young had a game-high 34 points, shooting five-from-10 from three-point range, along with 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals.

 

Bucks at Nets

The gripping Eastern Conference semi-final series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks will be decided at Barclays Center on Saturday. Hosts the Nets will be missing Kyrie Irving due to an ankle injury as James Harden battles for mobility after re-injuring his hamstring in Game 1.

After trailing nearly the entire game, the Atlanta Hawks completed a staggering comeback to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 109-106 and take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semi-final series. 

Hawks star Trae Young led all scorers with 39 points and added seven assists, making 17 of 19 from the free-throw line to offset a 10-of-23 showing from the field. 

Though Atlanta trailed by 22 with one minute remaining in the third quarter, the Hawks shot their way back into the game as just about every 76ers player but Seth Curry went cold in the final quarter. 

Philadelphia still led by 10 after Ben Simmons made a pair of free throws with 4:23 to play, but the 76ers made only one shot the rest of the game -- a meaningless jumper from Curry just before the buzzer. 

In between, they came up empty on all six attempts from the field and Simmons and Joel Embiid missed two free throws each. 

Embiid finished with 37 points and 13 rebounds, while Curry scored 36 as they were the only two 76ers to score from the field in the second half.

According to Stats Perform, this is the first time in the last 15 postseasons two players have made all of their team's baskets in one half. 

A second-half rally was also on the cards in Salt Lake City as the Los Angeles Clippers withstood an early onslaught of three-pointers from the Utah Jazz and returned home with a 119-111 victory and a 3-2 series lead. 

Bojan Bogdanovic made six three-pointers in the opening quarter and Utah had 17 threes in the first half, one shy of the NBA record for the most in any half of a playoff game, to give the Jazz a 65-60 advantage at the break. 

But the Clippers, playing without the injured Kawhi Leonard, out-scored the Jazz 32-18 in the third quarter and held on for the win as Paul George scored 37 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. 

Marcus Morris added 25 points and Reggie Jackson 22 for the Clippers, who can close out the series at home on Friday. 

Bogdanovic finished with 32 points and Donovan Mitchell 21 for Utah, though Mitchell made only six of 19 shots from the field.

Utah made just three of 24 three-pointers in the second half. 

 

Nets at Bucks

The Brooklyn Nets will look to close out their Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks as they take a 3-2 lead into Game 6.

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