Joel Embiid’s flagrant foul nearly ended Philly’s season, his 50-point eruption saved it

PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid almost ended the Philadelphia 76ers’ season on Thursday. Then he saved it.

In the first quarter of Game 3 of Philadelphia’s first-round series against the New York Knicks, Embiid earned a flagrant foul for grabbing Mitchell Robinson’s legs (from the floor) as the Knicks center went up for a layup. After a replay review, the officials determined it was a flagrant 1, meaning he would not be ejected. Down 2-0 in the series, Embiid played the remainder of the game as if he had seen the Sixers’ collective life flash before his eyes.

In the third quarter alone, Embiid had 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting, including a 59-second second stretch in which he made a 3-pointer on three consecutive possessions. The Sixers outscored the Knicks 43-27 in that frame, with an offensive rating of 204.8.

“He’s catching and shooting, he’s firing it with no hesitation,” Sixers guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s playing the game on one leg right now, and he’s manipulating the game to make sure he’s helping us win basketball games. You just gotta tip your hat to a guy who’s going out there and playing his butt off for us.”

Embiid scored 33 points on 8-for-10 shooting in the second half and finished with 50 points, a career playoff high, on 13-for-19 shooting (5-for-7 from 3-point range, 19-for-21 from the line), in the 125-114 win. He got Isaiah Hartenstein and Robinson, the Knicks’ starting and backup centers, in foul trouble, and, when third-string center Precious Achiuwa entered the picture in because of Robinson’s sprained ankle, Embiid gave him the business, too.

For months, Embiid’s health status has been hanging over Philadelphia’s season. He had surgery to address a meniscus injury in his left knee in February, returned to the lineup in April and had an injury scare in the playoff opener. Although he put up huge numbers in both games in New York, he appeared to be laboring in crunch time. Making matters worse, Embiid has been dealing with Bell’s palsy since before the series began. This time, with the Sixers’ season effectively on the line, Embiid got better as the game went on.

“He’s always a fighter for the group and wants to win and wants to contribute,” Philadelphia forward Tobias Harris said. “I’m not in the man’s body, so I don’t really know what he’s going through, but as anybody in this locker room would say, just excited and happy to have him out there with us.”

Embiid said that, a day or two before the Sixers’ Play-In game against the Miami Heat last week, he had “bad migraines,” which turned out to be a symptom of Bell’s palsy. “That’s why. that Miami game, my body was just — I was just not feeling it,” he said.

“It’s pretty annoying,” Embiid said, “with my left side of my face, my mouth and my eye. It’s been tough, but I’m not a quitter.”

On the subject of his flagrant foul, Embiid said he was trying to make sure that Robinson didn’t land on him, as he “kind of had some flashbacks” about Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga landing on his leg in late January.

“It’s unfortunate,” Embiid said. “I didn’t mean to hurt anybody. In those situations, I gotta protect myself because I’ve been in way too many situations where I’m the recipient of the bad end of it.”

Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo called the foul “dirty” and wing Josh Hart said it was “something that can put a guy out for a significant amount of time, so we’re lucky [Robinson] didn’t get seriously hurt.”

Embiid said that he “got lucky” in the third quarter and “made a few shots.” He emphasized, however, that he can’t rely on making 3s moving forward and must “keep pushing myself to put myself in better positions to succeed.”

On one set play in the first quarter, Embiid, was stationed in the left corner, then came off a down screen from Lowry, caught a pass from Kelly Oubre Jr. in the paint and got himself an easy layup. This action was “tough to guard,” Philadelphia coach Nick Nurse said, back when the Cleveland Cavaliers ran it for Kevin Love and Channing Frye.

Embiid’s many other buckets — and trips to the free throw line — came on his usual assortment of post-ups, isolations, rolls to the rim and pops to the perimeter.

“The first conversation that I had with Coach Nurse when he got in, the word was unpredictability,” Embiid said. “Just being unpredictable and just putting me all over the floor: Handle, corner, top of the key, paint, posting up. So, yeah, we’re just trying to be unpredictable as much as we can, and that’s how I love to play.”

He may or may not be banned from the Empire State Building now, but Embiid’s performance immediately entered the pantheon in Philadelphia. It was the fifth time a Sixer has scored 50 points in a playoff game; Allen Iverson, seated front row on the baseline at Wells Fargo Center, did it three times, and Billy Cunningham did it once.

The Sixers needed a superhuman performance from their franchise player. After holding Knicks star Jalen Brunson in check at Madison Square Garden, the All-Star guard erupted for 39 points on 13-for-27 shooting. New York scored 123.9 points per 100 possessions, made 43.3% of its 3-point attempts — Hart made four 3s for the third consecutive game — and took care of the ball, but had no answer whatsoever for Embiid on the other end.

“I just love playing the game,” Embiid said. “I just want to be on the floor as much as possible. I want to play as much as possible. I only got about maybe eight years left, so I gotta enjoy it as much as possible.”

Why Wolves are in the driver’s seat, plus Pacers-Bucks action

Now that the 2024 NBA postseason has begun, the basketball betting market is hotter than ever. CBS Sports will be providing daily picks for the duration of the postseason. Sam Quinn will make at least one pick for every game between now and the NBA Finals.

Indiana Pacers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton’s injury makes this a complicated game to bet on. But now that the series has shifted to Indianapolis and we have two games of data, it seems as though the faster pace Indiana wants to play with has set in. Middleton’s potential absence won’t hurt in that regard given his slower, isolation-based game, and if the Bucks lean more heavily on their shooters like Malik Beasley and A.J. Green, then all the better. Whether or not these teams shoot as well as they did in Game 2, the track meet style of this series is what’s informing this bet. The Pacers want to run. The Bucks have no way of preventing them from doing so. The Pick: Over 221.5

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks
P.J. Washington scored 18 points in Game 2, and that wasn’t an accident. With Tim Hardaway Jr. injured, Dallas does not have many offensive role players to turn to. Washington has to play significant minutes because he is one of their few role players who is somewhat reliable on both ends of the floor. The Clippers have thrown a ton of doubles at Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving coming off of screens in this series, and that creates easy looks for teammates. Washington is the player best equipped to take advantage of them. The Pick: Washington Over 11.5 Points

Phoenix Suns vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota has dominated the first two games, and it hasn’t done so through unsustainable means. The Timberwolves have won the first two games by 37 combined points despite shooting a lower percentage on 3-pointers (32.8% for them vs. 34% for Phoenix). The problems for Phoenix are the sort of things that don’t shift from one building to another. The Timberwolves are +22 in rebounds. Their shot selection is significantly better. With Grayson Allen out, the Suns aren’t even at full strength. Phoenix might win because their superstars are talented enough to swing games if they get hot, but nothing that has happened in this series suggests that the Timberwolves should be four-point underdogs no matter where the games are played. The Pick: Timberwolves +4

Pascal Siakam is off to a historic start in playoffs, but his leadership is just as important for Pacers

MILWAUKEE — In the middle of the second quarter of Game 2 on Tuesday night, Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle sensed momentum had swung the Milwaukee Bucks’ way and called a timeout to settle his team down. Coming out of the break, Pascal Siakam took it from there.

Siakam, who said later that he didn’t even remember that huddle, scored or assisted on 13 points in the next 5:08, as the Pacers ripped off an 18-10 run to take the lead at the half. They never trailed again, and Siakam finished with a playoff-career-high 37 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in a 125-108 win that evened the series at 1-1.

“Special talent, he really is,” TJ McConnell said. “Trading for him, the plays he’s making in those moments, that’s why you trade for a guy like that. He’s been unbelievable in Game 1 and Game 2 and pretty much willed us to get this one. It was a group effort, but he was spectacular.”

In the process, Siakam became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967 to open the postseason with back-to-back games of at least 35 points and 10 rebounds. No one would have predicted Siakam as the next member of that exclusive club, whose only other member is Elgin Baylor, but he has looked legitimately unstoppable so far against the short-handed Bucks.

As the Pacers head back to Indianapolis, they do so with homecourt advantage in hand and a real belief that they can win their first playoff series since 2014.

Not only because Siakam has arguably been the best player on the floor, but due to his experience and leadership, which has “100%” rubbed off on his teammates, according to Andrew Nembhard. “Since he’s got here he’s been a great voice in the locker room, he really understands it and he has a calm, cool demeanor about him that lets everybody else be calm,” Nembhard added.

The Pacers acquired Siakam from the Toronto Raptors in January in a three-team blockbuster that cost them Bruce Brown, Jordan Nwora, Kira Lewis and three first-round picks. While the steep price raised some eyebrows, the Pacers were confident that Siakam was just the addition they needed. So far, they’ve been proven correct.

“He’s been to the mountaintop and won at the highest level,” McConnell said, which adds a gravitas to the wisdom he imparts. No one else on the Pacers has a ring, and Aaron Nesmith and Jalen Smith are the only other players who have been to the Finals, though Nesmith only played sparingly and Smith didn’t see the floor.

“His experience in the playoffs is so valuable,” Carlisle said. “He’s not a guy that’s gonna get rattled by anything. Never has once since January since we got him.”

Getty Images
While Siakam has often been the teacher since arriving in Indiana, he admitted that he’s had to do some learning of his own. He spent most of his career playing with veterans such as Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard and Fred VanVleet. As that crew departed Toronto one-by-one, Siakam had to take on a bigger role. But as someone who describes himself as “not a talkative person,” he preferred to lead by example. The Pacers pushed him out of his comfort zone.

“I thought I was challenged a little bit with this group to continue to talk, and I think it feels better when it feels like your voice is received well,” Siakam explained. “Like the guys when you talk are looking and hearing you and it feels like they want to get whatever information that you have. That makes you feel even better, especially for a person like me, like that’s not what I do.”

The two-time All-Star has enjoyed taking on this added responsibility and wants to continue to grow as a leader. His play on the court will only make that easier, as his preferred method of influence never goes out of style. “The stuff he’s talking about, he’s going out there and doing,” Myles Turner said.

Siakam averaged 21.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 54.9% shooting from the field with the Pacers after the trade to help them clinch the No. 6 seed. He is at 36.5 points, 12 rebounds and four assists on 64.6% shooting in the playoffs so far.

His versatile and unselfish game is a perfect fit for Indiana’s offense. Though happy to keep the ball moving and able to knock down open shots, he gives the Pacers a legitimate one-on-one option who can create his own shot when necessary. His back-to-back mid-range jumpers in the fourth quarter of Game 2 that put the Pacers up by double-digits were perfect examples.

On the other end, his length and mobility allows him to guard multiple positions, and he’s willing and able to take on tough assignments. The Pacers’ defensive rating pre-trade was 119.6, and dropped to 115.5 after Siakam arrived. There were a few factors at play there, but his impact was a major one.

In just a few short months, Siakam has already become a “mentor” and “a guy that people confide in and look up to,” Carlisle said. There was perhaps no better indication of the respect Siakam has earned than his teammates’ refusal to divulge what he said to the team between Games 1 and 2.

“Yeah [he delivered a message],” Nembhard said. “But I’m not gonna tell you guys.”

Full list of NBA stars who are ineligible for awards and All-NBA teams with new 65-game policy in place

The NBA introduced a new player participation policy ahead of the 2023-24 season aimed at reducing load management and “reinforcing that we’re an 82-game league,” commissioner Adam Silver said. “If you’re a healthy player in this league, the expectation is that you’re going to play.”

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the new rules is that in order for players to be eligible for major awards, they have to appear in at least 65 games. For a game to count, a player must have registered at least 20 minutes. Said honors include:

Defensive Player of the Year
Most Improved Player
All-NBA team
All-Defensive team
With the All-Star Game behind us, here’s a look at which stars are either in the danger zone or already eliminated from contention for missing too many games.

Joel Embiid, Sixers: Ineligible
The reigning MVP will not be going back-to-back. Embiid was diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his left knee and underwent surgery in early February. No official timeline for his return has been announced, but no matter when he returns — if he does at all this season — he’s already been ruled ineligible for postseason awards.

Kyrie Irving, Mavericks: Ineligible
Irving has played well for the Mavericks, though with the elite young guards in the league nowadays he was always facing an uphill battle to make the All-NBA cut. In any case, he’s now ineligible. A fluke foot injury kept him out for nearly all of December and after a thumb problem, he’s now missed too many games.

Bradley Beal, Suns: Ineligible
Beal’s first season in the desert has been stop-and-start due to various injuries. A back problem that began in training camp prevented him from making his debut until November, then almost immediately forced him back to the sideline for another three weeks. Upon his return from that issue, he sprained his ankle and was ruled out a further two weeks. All told, he’s already far surpassed the maximum number of games he could miss.

LaMelo Ball, Hornets: Ineligible
The youngest Ball brother was off to an incredible start this season before suffering yet another ankle injury in late November. He has since returned, but not before missing 20 games over nearly two months. As a result, he has missed too many games to be considered for any postseason honors.

Ja Morant, Grizzlies: Ineligible
Morant recently suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery, but he was ineligible for any awards before play even began. That, of course, was because the league suspended him for the first 25 games of the season due to multiple instances of brandishing a firearm on social media. Injuries and off-court matters kept him off ballots last season as well, so this will be two consecutive seasons without any honors for the 2022 Most Improved Player and All-NBA Second Teamer.

Jimmy Butler, Heat: Ineligible
For someone who claims that he doesn’t start “playing for real” until after the All-Star break, Butler has made an All-NBA team five times, including three of the last four seasons. He won’t be making the cut this season, as he’s already missed too many games, due in large part to a calf and foot problems.

Kristaps Porzingis, Celtics: Missed 17/17 games
The Celtics are once again an elite defensive team, thanks in large part to the Latvian big man, who arrived in a blockbuster trade during the summer. It’s extremely unlikely that he’ll be in the mix for an All-Defensive honor, though, as he’s already missed the maximum number of games allowed. If he sits out one more, which is all but guaranteed, he’ll be ineligible.

Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers: Missed 14/17 games
The NBA’s assist leader this season has missed 14 games due largely to a hamstring strain he suffered on Jan. 8 against the Celtics. Ahead of his return to the lineup, also against the Celtics, he called the league’s 65-game rule “stupid.” The requirement could have major financial implications for Haliburton, as the value of the max extension he signed last summer will hinge on whether he makes an All-NBA team.

Ranking every team’s chances of landing the King as Lakers try to fend off suitors

LeBron James and his camp have done their best to dull the rumors that he might find a new team in the near future. He himself said he is “happy” as a Laker during his Sunday media availability and added that he hopes that continues. Rich Paul claimed that James is “committed to the Lakers” before praising their partnership with Jeanie Buss. By all accounts, James would prefer to retire as a Laker. By all accounts, the Lakers plan to try to be aggressive in improving the roster this offseason.

And yet the rumors just won’t die. There are plenty of reasons for that. At a minimum, the following three things are true:

James has stated his desire to play with his son Bronny in the NBA. If Bronny remains in school, that’s a problem to be solved later. If he enters the 2024 NBA Draft, the Lakers may not have a first-round pick. The Pelicans control their fate on that front, as they can decide to take the Lakers’ 2024 pick or defer that obligation to 2025. The only second-round pick the Lakers have was originally from the Clippers and would currently fall at No. 57. That’s 56 chances for a team other than the Lakers to draft Bronny in an attempt to potentially entice his father.
The Lakers will reportedly go star-hunting with three first-round picks at their disposal. That sounds like more ammo than it really is in a league in which the Nets, Knicks, Jazz, Spurs and Thunder all have between eight and 12 first-round picks to deal. If the Lakers are going to land a star, they not only need to find the right player, but they also need to hope that those other teams aren’t interested.
James has a player option for next season. He has not publicly committed to exercising it. When he was last directly asked if he knew whether or not he would do so, he answered, simply, “no.”
Right now, the signs are pointing to James remaining in Los Angeles for at least one more season. But these rumors have gotten louder than ever, and if nothing else, teams are reportedly starting to believe that he is gettable even if that isn’t actually true.

So let’s game this out. There are 30 teams in the NBA. Where do each of them rank on the “how likely are they to employ LeBron James on opening night of the 2024-25 season” scale? His possible movement could come through free agency, a sign-and-trade, or an opt-in-and-trade depending on what the circumstances of the specific team demands. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.

Bronny would have to insist, and still probably no

  1. Charlotte Hornets
  2. Portland Trail Blazers
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Atlanta Hawks
  5. Chicago Bulls

Here we have five teams that range from “mostly uncompetitive” to “entirely uncompetitive.” The only one slated for cap space this offseason is the Hornets, but that space only materializes if they renounce Miles Bridges, and he swatted away trade overtures at the deadline for the sake of preserving his Bird Rights. Only one of them plays in a marquee market, and that team, the Bulls, is the former employer of Michael Jordan. Odds are, James doesn’t want to spend his twilight in Jordan’s uniform. The only thing that could feasibly get James to any of these teams in 2024 would be Bronny, and honestly, the destinations are so undesirable based on James’ past preferences that he’d likely just look at them and think “eh, I can do a retirement tour there a few years from now if I have to.”

Interesting fit, inadequate market and assets

  1. Indiana Pacers
  2. Memphis Grizzlies
  3. Sacramento Kings
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves

These four teams present relatively interesting basketball fits, but check no other boxes. The Pacers could create significant cap space this offseason, but only if they lose Pascal Siakam. The other three teams will be fighting off tax issues. Minnesota is the only market of the four to rank in the top half of the league in terms of size, but it’s so interminably cold that very few stars would ever willingly seek it out. Most importantly, neither the Pacers nor the Kings have first-round picks. The Grizzlies do, but it will be very high in the lottery. In other words, none of them are particularly well-suited to scooping up Bronny as a recruiting weapon unless Memphis is prepared to use a top selection on a prospect most grade as a second-rounder at this point. Minnesota does have its first-round pick, currently slated to come in at No 29 overall, so it tops this group be the slimmest of margins.

At least they have cap space

  1. Detroit Pistons
  2. Utah Jazz
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Orlando Magic

Look, if nothing else, these teams all have feasible paths to paying James a max salary. It’s not much, but it’s a start. James hasn’t taken less than his max since 2014, when he mandated to all free-agent suitors that he would not leave money on the table any longer. If that’s an absolute requirement, we should at least acknowledge the teams that could create the space to give him that money. But… yeah… James won’t be a Piston in 2024. This list does give us a fun chance to reminisce on the moment in 2008 when there was real speculation that he’d choose the Pistons in 2010, though. For the younger crowd, the Pistons wound up spending that cap space a year early on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.

Utah edges out Detroit here just for having a proven front office, a promising coach and a decent young roster. Toronto beats Utah because of the marketing opportunities that would come out of being Canada’s only basketball superstar. Orlando takes the cake for its warm weather, burgeoning young roster and lack of a state income tax. But again, these aren’t James destinations.

Better than above, worse than below

  1. Milwaukee Bucks
  2. New Orleans Pelicans
  3. Houston Rockets

There’s no easy way to categorize these teams, so here goes. Add James to the Bucks and they’d be instant championship favorites. They’d also be in one of America’s coldest cities, a tiny NBA market that only has a minimum salary to offer. Not happening. The Pelicans are a bit more tempting. They’re facing a salary crunch as well, but have younger assets to send to Los Angeles in a possible sign-and-trade (how does a Brandon Ingram reunion sound, Laker fans?) and more than enough draft capital to land Bronny. But New Orleans is the NBA’s second-smallest market, and the Pelicans probably aren’t too eager to go all-in for a soon-to-be-40-year-old anyway, so they’re out. The Rockets are absolutely the sort of team that would make a major push for James on the basis of fame alone. They’re supposedly star-hunting, but they’re too far away at the moment to realistically get James back into the title picture next season, and if he wasn’t gonna go to Houston in 2018 when they had Chris Paul and James Harden, odds are, he won’t be interested now.

There’s (probably) too much bad blood

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Denver Nuggets

If all that mattered was basketball fit, these might be our winners. You know who would solve Boston’s late-game shot-creation issues in the playoffs? LeBron James. You know who would love to play alongside a basketball genius in Nikola Jokic? Another basketball genius: LeBron James. He could sleepwalk through the regular season and still rack up rings on these teams. If hunting for championships was all that mattered, the Nuggets and Celtics would be near the top of the list.

Of course, there’s far more going on here. Yes, they are hampered by the fact that they will both only have minimum salaries to offer for the foreseeable future, but there is also quite a bit of bad blood here. James’ rivalry with the Celtics goes back nearly two decades. He’s faced them in seven different playoff series. The Nuggets rivalry is newer but nearly as fierce. Both sides have beaten the other in the Western Conference Finals. James and Denver coach Michael Malone exchanged some jabs after Denver’s recent championship parade. He might want more rings, but not like this.

Right place, wrong time

  1. Brooklyn Nets
  2. Phoenix Suns
  3. Los Angeles Clippers

Remember when Brooklyn was LeBron’s “favorite borough?” There’s a certain appeal to going to New York, but forging your own path away from the world’s most famous arena. There’s a reason Kevin Durant tried it, after all. But the Nets are still a year away from cap space (thanks Ben Simmons), and while Mikal Bridges is the sort of role player that tends to work well with James, there isn’t another marquee star here yet. They’re just too far from winning to make a real push yet, and considering what it would cost to trade for James, they might not have the assets leftover to go get that plausible co-star.

Phoenix has all of the star power it needs, Durant included. What it doesn’t have is cap space and assets. The Suns spent all of that landing Durant and Bradley Beal. The Suns would gladly take James for the minimum, but that obviously isn’t happening yet.

The Clippers are a nice option to have if James ever gets truly desperate to leave the Lakers. They won’t share an arena next season, but at least they share a city, and even if they somehow lost James Harden and Paul George in free agency, they still have Kawhi Leonard under contract to play with James. But the Clippers are happy with their team and should be a luxury-tax team for years to come. This is another “minimum only” destination, and that’s not going to be enough.

Small-market sleepers

  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder

Both the Spurs and Thunder have the capacity to create significant cap space this offseason. The Thunder are already a contender. Based on the rate at which Victor Wembanyama is developing, the Spurs will be soon enough. James has shared his admiration for the leaders of both figures. He once called Thunder GM Sam Presti “the MVP.” His respect for Gregg Popovich, after three Finals battles, runs deeper. “Pop is definitely one of my all time favorite people that I’ve crossed paths with in my life,” he said in 2018.

Should we expect James to suit up for either of these teams? No. But both of them theoretically check every box except for market. They can pay James. They have more than enough picks to maneuver for his son. And perhaps most importantly, they can win with him.

The best friends club

  1. Dallas Mavericks
  2. Golden State Warriors

Kyrie Irving tried to recruit James to Dallas last summer. Draymond Green may or may not have tried to get James to Golden State within the last month. The appeal on both fronts is obvious. Not only would James be joining possible Western Conference contenders, but he’d be uniting with players he has relationships with. His partnership with Irving gave Cleveland its only championship. Green and Stephen Curry faced James in the Finals four different times, and James has spoken openly about how much he’d love to play with Curry. James thinks Luka Doncic is so promising that he tried to develop a Nike offshoot similar to the Jordan Brand based around him.

The hangups here are about acquisition more than fit. The Mavericks are down to two tradable first-round picks this offseason and lack enticing young talent beyond likely untouchable center Dereck Lively. Would the Lakers want to take back a bunch of pricey role players on multi-year deals? Because that’s the matching salary Dallas has, and they’d need to shed plenty of it to make this trade legal under the new second apron rules.

The Warriors could entice the Lakers with Jonathan Kuminga… but Green himself shot that idea down during the All-Star Game. Would the Lakers take Brandin Podziemski and a package of future picks? Would they accept the long-term contract of Andrew Wiggins in the deal? Because he’d be necessary for salary matching purposes. And what kind of roster would James be joining? Warriors owner Joe Lacob has said he hopes to get below the tax line this offseason. They’d likely make an exception to land James, but Klay Thompson and Chris Paul are both free agents James would probably want to play with. Would Golden State go deep into the tax (but again, below the second apron due to the rules) for his sake? Maybe. Probably. But constructing a trade without Kuminga seems unlikely.

Neither of these teams have first-round picks, so the Bronny route would be difficult for them. Combine that with the acquisition concerns and they’re on the outside of the top five looking in.

I’m not flirting, you’re flirting

  1. New York Knicks
    You all saw the Knicks towel. James is not subtle. While he was likely trying to put pressure on the Lakers to make a trade, there’s an undeniable fit here on just about every level. Brooklyn may be his favorite borough, but New York is his favorite city (or at least was back in 2008). He’s a well-known Madison Square Garden devotee. The off-court benefits of the NBA’s biggest star moving to the NBA’s biggest market have been discussed for years.

Constructing a trade would be simple enough. Julius Randle is, at worst, inoffensive matching salary that the Lakers could probably flip elsewhere for something. The Knicks have nine tradable first-round picks. They have dedicated shooting (Donte DiVincenzo), perimeter defense (OG Anunoby), rim-protection (Mitchell Robinson and a possibly re-signed Isaiah Hartenstein) and ball-handling (Jalen Brunson) to put around him. It may not be quite as star-studded as his best rosters have been, but it would probably be the most balanced overall roster James has been a part of. Getting Bronny wouldn’t be a problem considering their draft capital. The lengthy feud between James consigliere Rich Paul and Knicks head Leon Rose has seemingly been squashed.

If there’s a way to dismiss the Knicks here, it would be on their end, not LeBron’s. They’ve spent years accumulating these assets. It’s possible that they’d prefer to spend them on someone younger. But if James is at all open to a move this offseason, the Knicks are almost certainly going to be on the shortlist.

I’m coming home

  1. Miami Heat
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers

Look, it’s common sense. Instinct usually pushes us in familiar directions. James has already returned to Cleveland once and hinted at interest in doing so again. Pat Riley has claimed he “would leave the key under the doormat” for James should he ever want to return to the Heat. Both have traded away multiple future first-round picks… but notably held onto their 2024 selections. Neither will have cap space for the foreseeable future, but neither will need it.

Cleveland has the assets to make a trade, it’s just a matter of whether or not they’d be willing to. They’d have to give up Donovan Mitchell or Darius Garland to match dollars. Would that be the worst thing? They know what’s going through Mitchell’s mind better than we do, but there’s been plenty of reporting suggesting that he’d prefer a bigger market. New York might be at the top of his list, but how would he feel about Los Angeles? If he wants to stay in Cleveland, might James be a better fit next to him than Garland? The Cavaliers just went 15-4 during Garland’s 19-game absence, so there’s an argument suggesting that splitting up the two smaller, offense-centric guards might make sense. If nothing else, imagine a scenario in which Mitchell makes it clear he wants out. Would Cavs fans prefer a package of Knicks or Nets picks… or LeBron James?

The Heat don’t have quite the same caliber of centerpiece to send back, but they can offer a deeper package. Tyler Herro and Jaime Jaquez would both surely appeal to the Lakers. Miami will still have two tradable first-round picks this summer as well, and the Heat are so good at developing cheap depth that a top-heavy balance sheet would appear to be a solvable problem. All a James-Jimmy Butler-Bam Adebayo trio would really need is shooting.

The Heat and Cavaliers are in the same position as the Knicks. If James is set on the Lakers? There’s nothing they can do. If he’s considering other options? They’re in the hunt.

They have everything they need

  1. Philadelphia 76ers

New York, Miami and Cleveland are ultimately passive observers here. They can do nothing until James indicates to the Lakers that he’s considering other teams, and they’d all need the Lakers to cooperate in a trade. But the 76ers? They can be the aggressors, and that’s a role Daryl Morey knows all too well.

He’s known to have pursued James at least three times: as a free agent in 2014 and 2018 as well as recently at the 2024 trade deadline. Odds are, he’s done so several more times. He’s just never been better-positioned to actually land him. Unlike the Knicks, Heat and Cavaliers, his 76ers are set to have well beyond a single max slot’s worth of cap space this offseason. They can generate that space with Joel Embiid, a better player than any of the other serious suitors can muster, and Tyrese Maxey, an ascending star that would fit with James like a glove, still in place. The James Harden trade gave them more than enough draft capital to go and get Bronny if needed. Philadelphia may not be a glamour market, but it boasts a storied enough history to be viable for James.

I’ve covered Philadelphia’s possible fit for James in more depth here. Barring a surprise run to the Finals with their current roster, you can bet that Morey’s goal this summer will be adding a third head to his superstar hydra to replace James Harden. James will be one of the targets, and if any general manager is creative enough to lure him out of Los Angeles, it’s Morey.

The favorite

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

I told you from the start they were the favorite. We don’t know by quite how much yet. They might be 95% favorites or they might be 70% favorites. The answer likely depends on how well the end of the season goes for the Lakers and how the offseason star market shakes out. James is probably staying put, but the Lakers can clinch it in a variety of ways.

The easiest would probably be drafting Bronny. They are reportedly open to the idea. Of course, if the Pelicans have their first-round pick, that might be out of their hands. Klutch can try to help their cause. James is one of the few draft prospects for whom a threat not to sign might be feasible. His father is a billionaire, after all, so it’s not as though he needs the income. There’s no telling how the NBA would respond to rumors of a prospect and agency attempting to ward off 29 teams. There would surely be complaints.

There’s a reasonable chance someone takes the plunge anyway. It might not even be one of the top teams on this list. There are owners all across the league willing to risk a draft pick on the tiny chance it eventually lands them an all-time great. That’s not even a basketball proposition. The financial ramifications of hosting a possible James retirement tour would be enormous.

Bronny might not be an immediate necessity if the roster is suitably upgraded. That’s going to be trickier than it seems. D’Angelo Russell, currently playing the best basketball of his career, has a player option for next season. That makes him significantly harder to trade, and the Lakers can’t afford to lose the asset for nothing. The rest of their matching salary is probably more valuable to them than the market. Austin Reaves will have plenty of suitors on his below-market deal, but Rui Hachimura, Gabe Vincent and Jarred Vanderbilt are all niche players on multi-year contracts whose value is uncertain.

Who is the viable star here? Certainly not Mitchell. The New York teams have far more to offer. That’s not a bidding war the Lakers can win. Trae Young appears slightly more realistic. His stock around the league is lower. But all it takes is one asset-rich team to take him off of the market. The Spurs hold a major advantage if they are at all interested in that they can give the Hawks their own first-round picks back from the Dejounte Murray trade. In a rebuild, no picks are more valuable than your own. Are there sleepers here? Possibly. Remember, only one team hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. That leaves 29 teams disappointed. Some of their stars will get restless. Maybe there’s a surprise name we’re not thinking of yet.

Do the Lakers need to pursue another star? Honestly, they might be better off rounding out their supporting cast, especially if Russell can maintain his current play. Three first-round picks take you a lot further on the role-player market than they do in big-game hunts. The Lakers haven’t had a truly reliable 3-and-D wing since… Kentavious Caldwell-Pope? Wouldn’t someone like that be nice? They could solve the backup center problem permanently, ideally with a shooter that can defend a bit. There are simply more options available here. The Lakers are known for star chases. Realistically, they should be preparing to go the role player route. James and Anthony Davis, at least today, remain a championship-caliber duo.

For all we know, James has already decided to retire a Laker and has only allowed these rumors to fester to prove a point. As a possible free agent, he has the leverage to dictate roster moves. Maybe he’s trying to do so in a way that will make the end of his career in purple and gold more to his liking. We’re still months away from knowing his plans for certain. The Lakers are out front today. They probably will be in June as well. But the league believes James is gettable, so until he isn’t, it’s worth wondering who might try to steal him away.

Suns’ Kevin Durant believed his 2019 NBA Finals Achilles injury would end his career

Kevin Durant has enjoyed nearly two decades of success as one of the most dangerous players that the NBA has ever seen. However, when Durant suffered a torn Achilles during the 2019 NBA Finals, he thought that his NBA career might be over.

“That’s when I knew, I’m like ‘I’m probably wouldn’t go back to the Bay again.’ It’s 20,000 people in there and I heard a pop. So I’m like ‘oh my gosh,’ and my whole basketball career flashed before my eyes,” Durant said during a conversation with Boardroom.

Durant suffered the devastating injury in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals while playing for the Golden State Warriors. This came after Durant had suffered a right calf strain during Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets earlier in the postseason. Durant missed nine games due to the calf strain, but made his return in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. He made it just two minutes into the second quarter before suffering the season-ending injury.

That ended up finishing up his career with the Warriors as he signed a four-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets that summer and teamed up with Kyrie Irving. Durant sat out the 2019-20 season then spent the next three seasons with the Nets before being traded to the Phoenix Suns before the 2023 trade deadline.

Several years later, Durant is still one of the top shooters in the league and has rebounded in a big way. The Suns are currently the fifth seed in the Western Conference and Durant is leading the team with 28.2 points per game.

2024 NBA picks, Jan. 15 best bets by proven model

The NBA MLK Day schedule spans from 1 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ET, and the penultimate game of the day features the Utah Jazz (21-20) hosting the Indiana Pacers (23-16) in a battle of squads battling for playoff positioning. The Jazz are ninth in the Western Conference standings, while the Pacers are sixth in the East. Tyrese Haliburton (hamstring) is out for Indiana, while Aaron Nesmith (shins) sat out Sunday night’s loss to the Nuggets.

Tipoff is at 9 p.m. ET at the Delta Center in Utah. For this game, SportsLine consensus lists Utah as the 7-point favorite, while the over/under, or total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, is 245 in the latest Jazz vs. Pacers odds. Before making any Pacers vs. Jazz picks, you need to see the NBA predictions and betting advice from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 12 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 112-62 roll on all top-rated NBA picks dating back to last season, returning well over $4,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Jazz vs. Pacers and just locked in its picks and NBA predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see the model’s picks. Now, here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Pacers vs. Jazz:

Jazz vs. Pacers spread: Jazz -7
Jazz vs. Pacers over/under: 245 points
Jazz vs. Pacers money line: Jazz -278, Pacers +225
Jazz vs. Pacers picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Jazz can cover
Utah comes into this matchup playing extremely well. The Jazz have won five straight games and covered in all of them, usually with ample room to spare. The Jazz were underdogs of at least 6 points in three of those wins and slight favorites in the others, so the lines have not properly valued how well Utah is playing recently.

While Utah lacks a bonafide superstar, the Jazz have a solid core that includes nine players who average at least 8.0 points per game. Lauri Markkanen leads the way in points (23.7 ppg) and rebounds (8.8 rpg), while Jordan Clarkson (17.9 ppg) and Collin Sexton (16.5 ppg) are big contributors on the offense end. See which team to pick here.

Why the Pacers can cover
Indiana is coming off a loss to the Nuggets last time out, though the Pacers did stay within the 10.5-point spread despite the setback. Prior to that loss, Indiana had won nine of its last 10 and also was 9-1 ATS during that span. The Pacers have been great to bettors most of the season, going 23-15-2 ATS overall with an 11-7-1 ATS mark on the road. Additionally, Indiana has already picked up a win and a cover against the Jazz this season, beating Utah 134-118 at home on Nov. 8.

While the loss of Haliburton and possibly Nesmith certainly impacts Indiana’s offensive upside, the Pacers do have plenty of capable scorers. Myles Turner (17.3 ppg), Bennedict Mathurin (14.6 ppg), Buddy Hield (12.7 ppg), Bruce Brown (12.1 ppg) and Obi Toppin (11.8 ppg) are all capable of helping carry the load in the meantime. See which team to pick here.

How to make Pacers vs. Jazz picks
SportsLine’s model is leaning Under on the total, projecting 243 combined points. The model also says one side of the spread hits in well over 60% of simulations. You can only see the model’s picks at SportsLine.

‘Dame Time’ officially begins in Milwaukee as Damian Lillard hits buzzer beater to lift Bucks over Kings

MILWAUKEE — As the season approached the mid-way point, Damian Lillard’s Milwaukee Bucks teammates had a gripe with their new All-Star point guard: There was not enough wrist tapping. Late on Sunday night, they finally got their wish. Not only did they get to see Lillard’s iconic celebration, they got to join in on the fun as “Dame Time” officially arrived in Milwaukee.

“I kept telling them,” Lillard said. “I do it when it’s necessary. Tonight, it was necessary.”

With 5.2 seconds remaining in overtime, the Bucks trailed by two and had a chance to go for the tie or the win. Lillard chose the latter. After inbounding the ball to Brook Lopez, he took a handoff from the big man near half-court, dribbled four times and side-stepped into a 30-footer.

Ball game. Bucks 143, Sacramento Kings 142.



BUCKS WIN 143-142 IN OT. #YourTimeDefinesYourGreatness

— NBA (@NBA) January 15, 2024
Fiserv Forum erupted, players on both teams put their hands on their heads in disbelief and Lillard was mobbed by his overenthusiastic teammates.

“When I saw the clip of it, [Giannis] started tapping his wrist when he was running towards me, and then he almost choked me out,” Lillard explained.

“I think I grabbed him, but I grabbed him hard,” Antetokounmpo confessed. “I don’t know if I was suffocating him. I was grabbing him really hard. I was doing [Lillard’s “Dame Time” wrist tap] and [Lillard’s wave]. I went out of character.”

To get to Lillard’s heroics, you first have to go back to the unlikely sequence of events that brought him and the Bucks to that point. After blowing a double digit lead in the fourth quarter, the Bucks trailed by six almost immediately in overtime, battled back to take the lead, then fell behind again by four with 30 seconds to play.

When Lillard missed something of a desperation attempt on the ensuing possession, it seemed like that would be a wrap. Instead, Malik Monk, an 87.5% free throw shooter, missed both foul shots, which won fans free chicken and gave the Bucks a lifeline. Brook Lopez seized it by draining a 3-point shot from the corner to cut the deficit to one. Again the Bucks fouled, and, again, the Kings couldn’t get it done at the line. This time, De’Aaron Fox made one of two, which opened the door for the Bucks to steal the game back.

Ironically, Lillard had been having a tough night. He had already missed two 3s in the final minute of overtime, and finished the game 9-of-23 from the field and 5-of-13 from behind the arc. Yet, there was never a doubt that he was getting the ball in that situation, nor was there any doubt that the ball was going in once it left his hand.

“I was in the corner, just in case, ready to go,” Malik Beasley said. “And I saw him slow down, actually, with five seconds to go, so I was like, ‘OK, this is definitely Dame Time.’ And it was Dame Time. And the rest is history.”

Lillard’s ability to play at his own pace in a situation where everyone else would be trying to go as quickly as possible played a key role in the shot. As did his comfort in letting it fly from well beyond the arc, and the space he was able to create with a side-step. Add it all up and you have a remarkable feat of athleticism and coordination.

At least to everyone besides Lillard.

“For me, I train and work on these type of things, so when I do it, it doesn’t feel as difficult as it looks,” Lillard said. “When I see it, it does look really difficult, but I’ve got a lot of reps at shots like that. So when it looks a certain way to the person that’s watching, it doesn’t feel that way to me.”

Count Antetokounmpo among the people watching.

“This was the toughest shot I’ve ever seen anybody make to win a game up close,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was tough.”

2024 NBA picks, January 15 predictions from proven model

We’ve got another exciting Southwest Division matchup on the NBA schedule this Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the New Orleans Pelicans and the Dallas Mavericks are set to tip at 2:30 p.m. ET on Monday at American Airlines Center. Dallas is 23-17 overall and 12-9 at home, while New Orleans is 24-16 overall and 12-8 on the road. The Pelicans have won and covered the spread in three of their last four head-to-head meetings with the Mavs, including a 2-1 record already this season.

However, both teams have been profitable against the spread in 2023-24, with New Orleans going 23-16 against the number and Dallas going 22-18. This time around, New Orleans is favored by 4 points in the latest Mavericks vs. Pelicans odds, and the over/under at 236 points. Before entering any Pelicans vs. Mavericks picks, you’ll want to see the NBA predictions from the model at SportsLine.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 12 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 112-62 roll on all top-rated NBA picks dating back to last season, returning well over $4,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

The model has set its sights on New Orleans vs. Dallas. You can head to SportsLine to see its picks. Here are several NBA betting lines for the game:

Mavericks vs. Pelicans spread: Pelicans -4
Mavericks vs. Pelicans over/under: 236 points
Mavericks vs. Pelicans money line: Mavericks: +144, Pelicans: -171
Mavericks vs. Pelicans picks: See picks here
What you need to know about the Mavericks
Dallas has been without Luka Doncic for the last two games because of an ankle injury and after defeating the Knicks on Thursday without the superstar guard, cracks began to show against the Pelicans on Saturday. The Mavericks lost 118-108 at home against New Orleans and now the franchises will run it back in the same building just two days later as part of today’s NBA on MLK Day action. Doncic is listed as doubtful for this one.

Kyrie Irving had 33 points, six assists and five rebounds in the defeat while Tim Hardaway Jr. and Derrick Jones Jr. both scored 24 points for Dallas. However, the Mavericks were hammered 44-34 on the glass and gave up 14 offensive rebounds to an incredibly short-handed Pelicans roster.

What you need to know about the Pelicans
The Pelicans were missing Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum in Saturday’s win in Dallas but still had seven players in their nine-man rotation reach double-figures in scoring and got an uplifting performance from Jordan Hawkins. The rookie out of UConn scored 34 points and New Orleans won comfortably as 5.5-point underdogs.

Williamson (quad), Ingram (Achilles) and McCollum (ankle) are all listed as probable to return to the lineup on Monday. That trio for New Orleans is averaging 63.1 points per game this season and should give the Pelicans a significant boost.

Key Betting Info
With Doncic (ankle) out, the Mavericks will be looking to replace 33.6 points, 9.1 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game from their lineup. Irving (25.1 ppg) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (17.6 ppg) are the only other two players on the roster this season averaging more than 11 points per game.

Some of the betting trends to consider are:

The Pelicans are 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 games when the spread was between -5.5 to -2.5.
The Pelicans are 13-8-1 against the spread in their last 22 games vs teams that win more than 55 percent of games.
The Mavericks are 3-3 against the spread in their last 6 games as a home dog.
How to make Mavericks vs. Pelicans picks
The model has simulated Mavericks vs. Pelicans 10,000 times and the results are in. The model is leaning Over, and it’s also generated a point-spread pick that is hitting in almost 70% of simulations. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

Kings coach Mike Brown goes on epic postgame rant complete with video breakdowns after ejection vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE — Earning an equal share of the spotlight on a night when Damian Lillard hits an overtime buzzer beater from 30 feet against your team is a difficult feat, but Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown pulled it off with a fiery ejection and a never-before-seen postgame press conference performance.

Minutes after his team had its collective heart broken by Lillard’s heroics, Brown walked into the visitor’s media room ready to put on a show, props and all.

“I just wanna show you guys why I got kicked out of the game,” Brown said as he opened his laptop.

What followed was part rant, part film session and part performance art. For well over five minutes, Brown opined about the lack of consistency in officiating, broke down clips and pantomimed players’ actions.

Mike busted out the film to break down why he got ejected tonight 😂

— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) January 15, 2024
If a fine comes his way, it will have been well-earned.

With just under 10 minutes to play in regulation of his team’s 143-142 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Brown was ejected for an on-court tirade that saw him accidentally collide with Bucks forward Pat Connaughton and get face-to-face with an official before he was pulled away by Malik Monk.

Mike Brown had to be held back by Malik Monk after he was ejected from tonight’s game 😬

— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) January 15, 2024
The inciting incident was a play where Brown thought his point guard, De’Aaron Fox, had been fouled. His frustration had been building all night long, however.

“This is in third quarter with 1:28 left,” Brown explained. “Go back and watch. Fox barely puts his hand on Dame’s hip. Incidental contact. He didn’t push him or anything. He barely puts his hand there, and they give him three free throws.”

“At the half, I think we were down 19-5 in free throws, 19-5,” Brown remarked. “I know that happens sometimes, but it’s very frustrating — when at the end of the half, from what I get told all the time, Malik drives and Lopez comes over and goes vertical with the forearm down here.”

While this was initially called a foul on Lopez, the Bucks successfully challenged the play and the call was overturned.

“From what the NBA tells me the rule is, when you go vertical, you’ve got to have two hands up,” Brown said. “Because [Domantas Sabonis] has his hand down [in the mid-section] a lot and they call him for it every time and they always tell us, ‘Well you got a forearm [in the mid-section].’ And tonight, they said the forearm could be [in the mid-section] as long as it’s not extended, so I don’t know what the rules are in this situation. I need clarification, because, again, two hands up is what the rule is on verticality, but they were here [hand up) and they said Lopez could do this. That’s a five-point swing. They take away the two free throws and then Milwaukee goes down and hits a three.

“And to end the half at 19-5, that’s tough to deal with, especially when you’re getting told different interpretations on rules. So now, I go back and they call this foul, they call this foul again on Fox. And then, he didn’t push him. They said it’s supposed to be incidental contact, and they give him three free throws.”

At this point, Brown again showed the foul on Fox from the third quarter.

“Now, watch this right here,” Brown said. “Fox comes off a pick-and-roll. The kid, [Cameron Payne], hooks him, hooks Fox’s arm. Look at Fox’s arm when he spins off of this. Hooks his arm. He almost falls. No incidental contact. He hooks his arm and almost falls, and there’s no foul. To me, as a coach … look again, he almost falls. And that’s in the fourth quarter at the 9:32 mark.”

This is the play that got Brown ejected:

“The referees are human, and they’re going to make mistakes, but you just hope that A) there’s some sort of consistency and B) there’s some sort of communication between the refs,” Brown added. “And the refs tonight, they were great, they communicated with me all night. But in terms of consistency, you guys saw it right here. Dame coming off the pick-and-roll and Foxy getting hooked and almost falling coming off the pick-and-roll.

“And, on top of that, if you get communication and you get some form of consistency in the game, OK, then you can live with some things. But the consistency that I [saw] tonight — wasn’t in my opinion — there. And then, I don’t understand the rule, if the rule is you’ve got to go vertical both hands up, how can you take away two free throws with a guy with his forearm down here? If they’re going to change the rule on me and say, ‘OK the forearm can be down here, and another one can be up there,’ then all right I know that going forward. But that’s not what the rule is, because we get called on [Sabonis] all the time and they tell us he’s got to have both hands up if you want to go vertical. That’s why I got kicked out.”

The Kings were down by 10 at the time of Brown’s ejection, and seemed to be spurred to life. They came all the way back to force overtime on a clutch layup by Fox in the final seconds of regulation, and should have went on to win in overtime had they not missed three key free throws at the end of the extra frame.

Instead, they watched as Lillard and his patented “Dame Time” celebration ended the game at the buzzer. The loss puts the Kings, who are 6-4 over their last 10 games, at 23-16. Sacramento currently holds the final guaranteed playoff spot in the Western Conference, and is just one ahead in the loss column from the Dallas Mavericks (23-17), owners of the first Play-In Tournament position.