Joel Embiid

Celtics-76ers preview: Sweeping Sixers means limiting Joel Embiid

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Celtics-76ers preview: Sweeping Sixers means limiting Joel Embiid

BOSTON – Joel Embiid is Philadelphia’s starting center. 

And when it comes to the team’s play, he wants to be the center of attention. 

Well big fella, you’ll get your wish tonight as the Boston Celtics (34-11) go for the season sweep against the Philadelphia. 

But for the Sixers (20-20) to win in Boston for the first time since 2014, they’ll have to do it without J.J. Redick (out with left fibula injury) who had a game-high 22 points when the Celtics and Sixers played last week in London. 

That means Embiid will have the ball in his hands quite a bit, as Philly tries to make up for the absence of Redick who is one of the best long-range shooters in the NBA. 

“We know they’ll go more inside to (Ben) Simmons and (Joel) Embiid,” said Celtics forward/center Daniel Theis. “It’s gonna be a team job to … focus on defense again.”

When the two met last week in London, defense was an afterthought for Boston in the first half, struggles that allowed Philadelphia to pull ahead by as many as 22 points before the Celtics regrouped, re-focused and played with a re-energized vigor in the second half before pulling away for a 114-103 win. 

Doing so tonight will once again require them to limit the impact of Embiid who will have the offense flow more through him, something that did not happen in the early goings of last week’s game, something Embiid didn’t mince his words about following the loss. 

“I started off really frustrated by the way everything was set up,” Embiid said following the loss in London. “And if I’m not having fun … kick someone’s ass or talking trash, if I’m not doing that, usually I have bad games.”

Embiid had a double-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against the Celtics, but he shot just 6-for-17 from the field and turned the ball over four times.

“I didn’t do a good job of letting my teammates find me,” Embiid said at the time.

While Embiid believes his struggles in London had more to do with what he didn’t do rather than what the Celtics did, the Celtics have done a good job defensively on Embiid all season. 

In the two games Embiid has played against the Celtics this season, he is averaging 13.0 points while shooting just 30.3 percent from the field. Both serve as Embiid’s lowest scoring average and shooting percentage against teams he faced more than once this season. 

 And his career average of 16.3 points per game against Boston is his lowest career scoring average against any team that he has played against at least three times. 

One of the keys to the Celtics defensively has been Aron Baynes, whose 94.9 defensive rating is tops among all NBA players who log at least 18 minutes of action per game.

Baynes has size, strength and has better lateral quickness than one would expect for a 6-foot-10, 260-pound center. 

But preparation is also key for his success defensively. 

“We have great coaches here and watch so much film,” Baynes told NBC Sports Boston. “They tell you their tendencies, whatever you need to do for the upcoming game, they put you in great position. As long as you stay within the system, you’re usually in a pretty good spot. That’s what I try and do.”

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Blakely's 2018 All-Star Game selections

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Blakely's 2018 All-Star Game selections

WALTHAM -- The NBA has tweaked the rules a bit this year for All-Star voting, including a component in which a select number of media members are included in the voting process.

I am fortunate to be among the voting media members this year. 

And while the league won’t reveal exactly who each media member voted for, I have no problem publicly announcing who my starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, would be this season. 

But before I do that, I need to explain my criteria for picking the starters. 

First and foremost, they have to be players who clearly impact winning and their team’s success. 

Most of the time, this is pretty apparent when you look at the numbers they post on a night-in, night-out basis. 

But every now and then, there’s a player whose numbers don’t speak to their impact on the court (yes, I have one guy in my starting five who falls under that category).

While most of the selections were relatively easy picks, the Western Conference was tricky because of the insanely elite depth in the backcourt.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook are all worthy of having all-star starter status. 

But because only two guards can be picked, one of them will continue to be left off until All-Star selections become position-less picks akin to the way the game is being played these days. 

 In addition, you have players like Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, who would have been a starter on my ballot if it wasn’t for the fact that the 6-foot-8 Butler is listed as a guard and not in the frontcourt.

And with that, here are my All-Star selections for the Eastern and Western Conferences which includes my honorable mentions (aka likely all-star reserves).

EASTERN CONFERENCE

GUARDS

Kyrie Irving, Boston: A four-time All-Star, Irving has been the ultimate difference-maker for a Celtics team that has been among the NBA’s top teams most of this season. 

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: One of the best scorers in the NBA, DeRozan’s play has elevated him to being in the league MVP conversation this season.

Honorable mentions: Victor Oladipo, Indiana. Bradley Beal, Washington. Kemba Walker, Charlotte. John Wall, Washington.

FRONTCOURT

LeBron James, Cleveland: At 34 years young, James seems to be getting better with time. Now the rest of the Cavs … that’s an entirely different story.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee: The Greek Freak train has slowed down some, but he’s still one of the best stat-stuffers in the NBA.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia: There are a handful of players on the cusp of being named to their first All-Star team. You would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving than Embiid this year.

Honorable mentions: Al Horford, Boston. Kevin Love, Cleveland. Kristaps Porzingis, New York.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

GUARDS

James Harden, Houston: A hamstring injury has him currently sidelined, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that he ranks among the league’s top 10 in scoring (32.3), assists (9.1) and steals (1.8) per game.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: Tough call between Westbrook and Curry. But ultimately, it was Westbrook tallying 13 (and counting) double-doubles to include at least 20 points scored, and Curry missing 14 games this season that ultimately tipped – just barely – Westbrook ahead of Curry. 

Honorable mentions: Stephen Curry, Golden State. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota. Klay Thompson, Golden State. 

FRONTCOURT

Kevin Durant, Golden State: In what will be a ninth straight All-Star selection, Durant is having a pretty standard season of elite play, averaging 26.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists along with a career-high 2.1 blocked shots per game. 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The Pelicans are winning and definitely on the rise, and part of that certainly has to do with Davis being a more efficient scorer. He averages 26.7 points per game while shooting career highs from the field (56.6 percent) and 3-point range (36.1 percent).

Draymond Green, Golden State: Easily the toughest call of all my selections, my preference was to have 6-8 Jimmy Butler of Minnesota here. His leadership, versatility and presence have been at the heart of Minnesota’s resurgence into a legitimate playoff contender this season. But Butler is listed as a guard and there’s no way I could have him start and have Westbrook or Harden come off the bench. Butler’s teammate Karl-Anthony Towns is a logical option to be the fifth starter, and I went back and forth between him and Green. There’s no question that Towns has the better statistics. And if it were only about stats, then you would have to throw New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins into the mix as well. I’m a big believer that every All-Star game should have at least one guy in it who is being rewarded for being an ultimate glue-guy, a player whose statistics consistently come up short when compared to his impact on winning. You can find better players talent-wise than Green, but those who impact winning? Not so much. And as much as the All-Star game is a celebration of the NBA’s most talented players, there should always be room for at least one player who significantly impacts winning. And as you look around the NBA, that talent sets Green apart from most. 

Honorable mentions: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio. Nikola Jokic, Denver. Paul George, Oklahoma City.

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How did the game in London impact All-Star aspirations?

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How did the game in London impact All-Star aspirations?

LONDON – As much as players for both Boston and Philadelphia wanted to win their Thursday afternoon matchup, there was more at stake for a number of players with all-star weekend aspirations.

A number of players are in the hunt to be named to the all-star team, while others are under consideration for other events such as the Rookie-Sophomore game and the 3-point shootout.

So how did Boston’s 114-103 win over Philadelphia impact their all-star weekend chances?

KYRIE IRVING

He is a four-time all-star and all signs point toward him making a fifth all-star appearance next month. He was a media magnet during his time in London and his play on Thursday did nothing but cement his place among the top players in the NBA. And the most recent fan poll had Irving tops among Eastern Conference guards with 1,370,643 votes.

“That would be great,” Embiid said. “Every time I play I feel like, this is a business, I want to win, I’m a winner, I’m competitive. But at the same time, this is also for the fans. I want to have fun. I always do have fun on the court. And I play better when I have fun.”

JAYSON TATUM

The Tatum bandwagon seems to get bigger and stronger as this season progresses. While he’s most likely to be named to the league’s Rising Stars Challenge (aka the Rookie/Sophomore game), the 6-foot-8 Tatum is getting some surprisingly strong all-star voting love. He is currently seventh in the voting with 213,499 votes.  And his play on Thursday can only help his chance of being in Los Angeles for all-star weekend. In the win, Tatum had 16 points which included 11 in the third quarter. He was 1-for-3 on 3’s and is currently shooting 45.9 percent on 3’s which is second in the NBA to Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic (46.5 percent on 3’s).

JAYLEN BROWN

While one of the league’s most improved players, Brown’s likely all-star weekend plans will include a spot in the Rising Stars Challenge. Brown’s versatility at both ends of the floor has stood out. It was on display Thursday night when he led the Celtics with 21 points. His play has been so good, he has cracked the top-10 among guards in all-star voting. The 6-7 wing has received a total of 103, 222 all-star votes.

AL HORFORD

Horford’s All-star weekend plans are likely to include a trip to Los Angeles for the all-star game with Horford once again getting in by being selected by the coaches. Their role is so vital in selecting all-stars whose contributions may get overlooked by fan voting. And the job he did on Thursday was yet another reminder of how important Horford has been to Boston’s success of late. He had 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but the real key to his play was his defense which limited Joel Embiid to 15 points on 6-for-17 shooting with most of his points coming while being guarded by Daniel Theis.

DANIEL THEIS

Speaking of Theis, the 25-year-old has no shot at being an all-star, but he might squeeze his way into all-star weekend as a potential participant in the Rising Stars Challenge game which is now divided up into games with American rookies and sophomores taking on international first and second-year players. Embiid was a tough cover whenever Theis was on him, but still had a decent game against the Sixers by finishing with seven points and five rebounds while making all three of his field goal attempts. It was a good performance, but not good enough to move the needle one way or another when it comes to having something to do during all-star weekend.

JOEL EMBIID

Embiid has emerged as one of the more engaging international players in the NBA. And it only helps that he’s an extremely dominant player most nights. And while the Celtics delivered yet another defensive masterpiece against him, there’s little doubt about Embiid’s status as a likely all-star next month. And most likely, he’ll be a starter. The top-3 frontcourt players after all the various voting groups are tabulated, will be named to the all-star team. Embiid is currently third among frontcourt players in the East with 784, 287 votes.

BEN SIMMONS

The runaway leader for Rookie of the Year is a lock to be named to the Rising Stars Challenge game. But he’s making a strong push to be named as an all-star as well. Simmons is currently third among Eastern Conference guards, with 397,942 fan-based votes. Like Embiid, his performance on Thursday (16 points, three assists) did not help or hinder his all-star weekend plans.

J.J. REDICK

Redick has been one of the better 3-point shooters for as long as he’s been in the NBA, so it would come as no surprise if he’s among those invited to compete in the 3-point shootout. If so, it would be his third time competing. In 2015, he finished seventh out of the eight-man field, and came back the following year to finish fourth. Based on how he lit up the Celtics defense in the first half, you can understand why he’s always in the conversation when talk centers around the best pure shooters. He led all scorers on Thursday with 22 points which included 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range.

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