Rob's Rants — LaVar Ball's slippery slope

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Rob's Rants — LaVar Ball's slippery slope

Here's the latest edition of Rob's Rants in which NBC Sports Philadelphia's Rob Ellis does just that about the hottest topics in Philly sports.

Big blowhard brand
In news that ranks right behind the sun rising in the East and the Cleveland Browns stinking, LaVar Ball is once again popping off. The latest episode surrounding the carnival barker/helicopter dad comes from his comments to ESPN regarding his son Lonzo's coach, Luke Walton. 

"You can see they're not playing for Luke no more," LaVar said. "Luke doesn't have control of the team no more. They don't want to play for him." 

At this point, you would just chalk this up to a guy begging for attention and who doesn't care in the least that said attention does nothing but make life more difficult for his rookie son. The same father who in the last year has also pulled his 16-year-old out of high school because he didn't like the coach and removed his freshman son in college because his school had the audacity to suspend his son for allegedly shop-lifting in a foreign country.

But Ball's latest diarrhea of the mouth has brought about a very interesting reaction from some of Walton's fellow NBA coaches. Namely Rick Carlisle, Stan Van Gundy and Steve Kerr. Carlisle, also president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, and Van Gundy were highly critical of ESPN for writing the story and giving Ball the platform to say what he said. They went as far as threatening non-cooperation with the network when it comes to access, interviews, etc.

This is a slippery slope. Networks, including this one, pay big bucks for the rights to broadcast games. The players and coaches are paid handsomely, in part because of those deals. So there is a partnership. But that pact does not give the coaches or the owners or the leagues the right to tell networks what stories they can or cannot do. You may disagree with Ball, you may be sick of him and the whole circus that follows him, you may hate the TMZ-ization of sports, and I would agree with you. But the reality is, sports are covered differently in 2018 than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Gone are the days of highlight, postgame soundbite, next highlight. For better or worse, debate, controversy, salaciousness sells. 

The leagues do not have the right to dictate content. And Ball has every right to his opinion, even if it is stale and not in the best interest of his kid.

No flow
Let me get this straight, the Flyers and the entire Metropolitan Division have a mandated bye this week? The orange and black last played Sunday and won't play again until Saturday. Keep in mind, the NHL all-star break is coming up later this month and they are off again for five days? The Flyers finally appear to be gaining some consistency, having won three in a row and four of their last five and they're being shut down for six days. Awesome.

The Sixers last played Friday and next play Thursday in London. Granted this is not your typical flight or travel game — the Sixers are considered the home team — but six days in between? Then they don't play again until Tuesday. Two games in the span of nine days in January?   

Timing is everything
Monday night's national championship game between Alabama and Georgia lasted 3 hours and 50 minutes. It ended at 12:10 a.m. I know the argument about the West Coast and splitting your audience when it comes to start times, but Alabama's overtime win over Georgia was a classic and it's a shame that most kids and folks who have to get up early for work missed it.

Sixers swag flying off the shelves this season

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Sixers swag flying off the shelves this season

Don’t be surprised if you are seeing more and more people wearing Sixers gear.

This season Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have burst onto the list of the top 15 most popular NBA jerseys, according to NBAStore.com sales from October-December 2017.

Embiid ranks sixth, one spot ahead of the reigning league MVP, Russell Westbrook, with Simmons close behind at No. 8 as both of the Sixers make their debut on this list:

1. Stephen Curry
2. LeBron James
3. Kevin Durant
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
5. Kristaps Porzingis
6. Joel Embiid
7. Russell Westbrook
8. Ben Simmons
9. Kawhi Leonard
10. James Harden
11. Lonzo Ball
12. Kyrie Irving
13. Klay Thompson
14. Damian Lillard
15. Jimmy Butler

The Sixers rank No. 3 in most popular team merchandise, their first time in that position since the 2003-04 season. They trail only the Warriors and Cavaliers:

1. Warriors
2. Cavaliers
3. 76ers
4. Lakers
5. Knicks
6. Bucks
7. Celtics
8. Spurs
9. Bulls
10. Thunder

Even Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz got his own Sixers jersey this season:

A real fight (not an NBA one) breaks out in Magic win

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A real fight (not an NBA one) breaks out in Magic win

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Evan Fournier scored a season-high 32 points to help the Orlando Magic break a seven-game losing streak with a 108-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

D.J. Augustin added 11 points and three assists in the fourth quarter, when the Magic scored 35 points after trailing by two through three.

Jimmy Butler had 28 points and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who had won five straight games by an average of 18.8 points.

Bismack Biyombo had 16 rebounds for the Magic, leading the team with the NBA's worst rebound percentage to a 51-37 advantage.

Fournier and Augustin hit 3-pointers during a 14-4 fourth-quarter run that put Orlando ahead to stay, and Augustin's three free throws with 2:10 left gave the Magic a nine-point lead, the biggest of the game for either team.

Jeff Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns answered with 3-pointers to keep the Timberwolves (29-17) in it, but Biyombo scored five straight Magic points to regain an eight-point lead with 50 seconds left.

A loss would have dropped Orlando (13-31) to the worst record in the NBA.

Magic guard Arron Afflalo and Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica were ejected with 7:58 left in the second quarter when they got into a fight while the game was being played.

Afflalo threw at least one punch in the fight, which came four minutes after both players had been assessed technical fouls (see full recap).

Davis scores 45 as Pelicans top C’s in overtime
BOSTON -- Anthony Davis had 45 points and 16 rebounds to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a 116-113 overtime victory over Boston on Tuesday night, ending the Celtics' seven-game winning streak.

Davis, who scored 48 on Sunday in an overtime win in New York, had four points in overtime and blocked two shots for the Pelicans, who overcame a sluggish start to the fourth quarter and erased a five-point deficit in the final few minutes of regulation.

DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Jrue Holiday added 23 points and seven assists. Ian Clark added 15 points for the Pelicans, whose size inside ended up prevailing in overtime when Boston's barrage of 3-pointers stopped falling.

Kyrie Irving led Boston with 27 points and Al Horford had 14 points and nine rebounds. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown added 16 points apiece for the Celtics, who attempted a season-high 50 3-pointers.

Rather than challenge Davis and Cousins inside, the Celtics lived outside and it cost them in overtime when they went just 1 for 4. Horford's 3-pointer early in OT gave Boston a 107-106 lead and Boston went up 113-110 before the Pelicans away put the game.

A jumper by Cousins cut the lead to 113-112, then Holiday added two more field goals and Boston couldn't catch up from there (see full recap).

Jokic’s big night helps Nuggets slip past Mavs
DENVER -- Nikola Jokic scored 29 points and grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds, Gary Harris hit two late free throws and the Denver Nuggets led by as many as 23 points before holding on for a 105-102 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Harris finished with 25 points and Will Barton added 22 for the Nuggets, who won for just the second time in six games.

The Nuggets led 82-59 with 4:04 left in the third before Dallas staged a massive comeback. The Mavericks cut the deficit to one on a three-point play by Dennis Smith Jr. with 10.4 seconds remaining. After Harris made two free throws, the Mavericks had a chance for a last-second shot, but Dwight Powell couldn't corral a long pass as the buzzer sounded.

Smith had 25 points for the Mavericks, while Harrison Barnes contributed 17.

Trying to address the issue of slow starts, Nuggets coach Michael Malone tweaked the starting lineup by inserting Barton and sending Mason Plumlee to the bench. The change worked as Denver led at halftime. That's significant because it halted a streak of seven straight games in which the Nuggets trailed at intermission (see full recap).