Joel Embiid makes everything better

Joel Embiid makes everything better

When the folklore is passed down from generation to generation about the Philaelphia 76ers' preseason victory over the Brooklyn Nets on a Wednesday night at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, it will probably go unmentioned how the game started as the rest of this preseason has for the Sixers: poorly, very poorly. It was 17-7 in a blink, with the Nets hitting threes from everywhere and the Sixers coughing the ball up like they were Julianne Moore in Safe. It seemed like we were on our way to having a long night on Long Island. 

And then Joel Embiid checked into the game. 

OK, that's only sorta how the game turned around. First off, the reversal of fortune really started when T.J. McConnell entered, quickly hitting two of his trademark mid-range leaners and steadying a previously unsteady offense. And second off, Embiid had already been in the game for a three-minute stretch, hitting his first jumper and grabbing a couple boards before being replaced by Amir Johnson — and rolling his eyes so hard at the quick substitution he popped a couple blood vessels. 

But wow. JoJo. 

Embiid checked back in with 3:53 to go, meaning he played under seven minutes total in the first half. Before the buzzer sounded on the quarter, he'd scored 11 points and been to the line eight times, collected four boards and swatted one gigantic block — and the Sixers were up 30-22, never to trail again. They went on to win 133-114 — in a game that really wasn't even close to being that close — with Embiid ultimately racking up 22 points, seven boards, three assists and that huge block in just 15 minutes of game action. Suddenly, everything makes sense with the Sixers again. 

So you still want to know why the Philadelphia 76ers gave Joel Embiid $148 million, perhaps? Well, let's start with this: Last season, there were just 16 players in the entire league who drew at least 18 free throws in a single game — two of whom were put on the line intentionally, and one of whom was JoJo himself. Well, Embiid did that last night, and he did it in just 15 minutes. There was simply no keeping him off the line last night, with the undersized Nets woefully unprepared to handle the size, athleticism and craftiness of the supposedly rusty Joel Embiid. (Lest we forget, The Process hadn't played competitively in over eight months — he should still need, like, an adjustment period, or at least a ramp-up quarter, come on.) 

But no — Embiid was dominant all game, also hitting fadeaway jumpers, top-of-the-arc nearly-threes, and wing bankers. He even had a nice run in the third of allowing teammates to play off him, punctuated by a beautiful two-man game with Simmons that led to Jo feeding Ben on a baseline cut for an easy dunk. He wasn't quite as spirit-crushing on D as he is at his uppermost brutality, but soon the Sixers were running the score up with such giddiness that it wouldn't matter anyway. JoJo checked out for good with just under nine minutes left in the third, and Philly had already posted 87 by that point — just two fewer than they managed in a full 48 against the Grizzlies a week earlier. 

The only downside of his performance was that every time he made physical contact with another player and/or the ground, you nearly doubled over out of nausea. But that's just kind of how it is with The Process: He gives you basketball play like you never thought possible in a Sixers uni, and in return you feel like you're being dropped in the Tower of Terror 20 times a game. It's not an unfair tradeoff, really. 

Simmons, in his first start alongside Embiid, was hardly as immaculate, but also not without his own electricity. It's not his lack of a jumper that's so concerning — although when he's given a wide-open six-footer in the lane and seems to have a panic attack deciding what to do, that's certainly not great — it's his total lack of touch around the basket, his inability to manipulate angles or even impose with brute force. But he jumpstarted the Sixers' offense in this one nearly as much as JoJo, finding Dario Saric for a couple clean early second-quarter threes that got him rolling in a major way. And get dude in transition and he is trouble: There was one look-ahead dish to J.J. Redick for an easy, open corner triple in transition that seems like it should be good for about six points a game, 82 games a season for this team. The possibilities are really breathtaking. 

But remarkably, the team right now doesn't run best with Simmons at point, or with Fultz, who sat this one out, or even with Jerryd Bayless, who had a decent game in this one but has still yet to really impress this preseason. Nah, it's with grizzled vet Timothy John at the helm: barking out directions, squirming his way into the lane for weird jumpers, finding his guys behind the arc and at the basket. He had 10 points and seven dimes in just 20 minutes in this one, totally changing the team's temperature when he checked in midway through the 1st, giving 'em a fluency and coherence they just don't have with anyone else manning the one right now. There may be some games when Bayless starts ahead of Fultz in the team's first five this season, but there may also be some when T.J. displaces Simmons.

As crucial as T.J. looks to this team right now, just about the exact opposite could be said for his good buddy Nik Stauskas. Poor Sauce just can't get it going right now, seemingly growing more exasperated with every reverse layup that spills off the rim, every triple that clanks off the back iron, every no-look pass that caroms off the intended target's fingers. Will he be good someday? I still have to believe yes for our long-suffering Sauce, but he's really running out of time in Philly, especially with so many of our other wings — TLC, Korkmaz, maybe even James Blackmon — seemingly passing him on the wing utility depth chart. A good Nik game would go a long way at this point. 

And we should probably take a second to make more than a passing reference to Dario Saric's hot night. Dario's play in EuroBasket this summer had fans hoping that he'd managed to extend his shooting range, but a flat start to his preseason had dampened expectations a little. Then in the second quarter, he drilled four triples in a row, on his way to a team-high 26-point night, along with nine boards and three steals. This upcoming season, Saric will almost certainly have plenty of both games like last night and games like Monday's more bricktastic affair against the Celtics, but as long as he can be that X-factor-type player for the Sixers, who can swing a game when he really gets going, that's a huge weapon off the bench for a team that's been too lacking in starting-five excellence to even worry about having that kind of depth in recent years. 

When the final buzzer sounded last night, though, all that really mattered was Embiid. He came, he cackled, he conquered, and he left the floor without suffering any obvious career- or life-ending injuries. Feels good to get our first win of the preseason, obviously — one against a division rival with an improbable 3-0 record this preseason going into Wednesday — but at this point, you have to say that any game that ends with JoJo smiling as wide as he did before tip-off Needs be considered a W for the Sixers. Having more points than the other team as well is just a bonus.

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

You can't really fake it at an All-Star Game, especially one where people are actually trying. There's no lucking your way into a couple open shots and a couple generous foul calls and all of a sudden rolling your way to a 30-plus-point game; there's no isolating one defensive mismatch and exploiting it to make yourself look like '01 Shaq. Generally speaking, an All-Star Game shakes out as it should: The best shine the brightest, and those who aren't ready yet fade into the periphery with extra motivation to step things up for next year. 

And that's why it's so awesome that Joel Embiid, a mere 75 games into his NBA career, unquestionably belonged on the biggest stage with the biggest names last night. Playing for Stephen Curry's squad, JoJo posted 19 points on 8-13 shooting, with eight rebounds and two blocks, and a +5 rating for the night — the only positive plus/minus for the Steph starters. 

Out of context, those numbers may not sound particularly impressive for an All-Star outing, considering the final score of 2017's game was 192-182. But thanks to increased financial and personal motivation in this year's game, the competition was ratcheted up, and though the final score was still a robust 148-145 — Team LeBron emerging victorious — no one player really went off in this one, with Team Stephen being led in scoring by DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard (21 each). Consider that JoJo's 19 outpaced both teammates James Harden (12 points on 5-19 FG) and Curry himself (13 on 4-14 FG) — only two of the greatest scorers in NBA history. 

And what's more, down the stretch it was Embiid who seemed most ready to rise to the moment. With minutes remaining and his team up one, Embiid posted up LeBron James — LeBron James!! — for an easy bucket, and with the score tied and under a minute left, he got stuck isolated on the perimeter against Paul George, and still ended up blocking George's shot to win the possession back for his team. Had his squad been able to hang on in this one, he would've been able to mount a fairly compelling case for MVP, which would've made him the first player since at least the 20th century to win top honors in his first All-Star appearance. 

Of course, it didn't happen that way, and Team Stephen coach Mike D'Antoni might get most of the blame as to why. With his squad up one and Team LeBron inbounding out of a timeout, D'Antoni opted for some incomprehensible reason to bench Embiid, his best defensive player — which, somewhat unsurprisingly, resulted in LeBron scoring quickly and easily at the basket to go up one, and then DeMar DeRozan throwing the ball away at the other end. Embiid entered for the final possession, with his team needing a three to tie, and he had a chance to hoist one, but understandably passed to Curry, who drove his way into traffic and ended up not even getting a shot off. Team LeBron won, and James took home his third MVP. 

Frustrating finish, but it can't ruin what came before: Joel Embiid squaring off against the best the NBA has to offer, and proving himself a factor. (Also nailed a three and then blocked a Russell Westbrook drive at the other end, btw, so that beautiful random feud lives on.) He got as good as he gave — LeBron drilled a triple in his face immediately after JoJo took him down low — but he was in the mix, and a crucial part of his team's successes and failures. It should be the first of many such All-Star starring roles for Embiid, and hopefully the last for some time that doesn't also include him being flanked by Process Truster in Arms Ben Simmons. 

But even if it isn't — even if nothing good ever happens again with Joel, and we look back at this All-Star Game 25 years from now as the high point of this career — it still would have all been worth it. It was worth it when the team went 10-5 two Januarys ago. It was maybe worth it when Embiid gave his first-ever post-game interview following a Sixers win. 

That's what people will never understand about The Process, and that's what makes nights like this so gratifying. Franchises go decades, entire generations, without getting a moment to feel this way about one of their players, and even getting the chance to feel it about one of ours is worth seasons of sacrifice. JoJo lives, and somewhere in the bowels of the Staples Center last night, Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie had to be there and be smiling. Hope he enjoyed the Fergie national anthem as much as I did, as well. 

JJ Redick responds to video in which he allegedly used racial slur

SB Nation/Twitter

JJ Redick responds to video in which he allegedly used racial slur

Updated at 12:50 a.m.

Early Sunday, a video surfaced on social media that appeared to put Sixers’ guard JJ Redick in an extremely poor light. Redick has since responded to clear up the situation.

Here’s what happened:

At about 8 a.m., a post appeared on Reddit showing a screenshot and caption alleging that Redick said a racial slur during a video from NBA players wishing Chinese fans a Happy New Year. The video caused a huge uproar on social media. If you wish to see the video, it is located here, at the top.

On the surface, without a response, it looked odd from the start. Redick, who we have come to know as a well-spoken individual who is typically very appreciative of basketball fans, isn’t someone you’d expect this from, let alone with a camera pointing directly at his face with an NBA microphone in front of his lips.

He offered this response on his official Twitter account, saying he was tongue-tied and had no intentions of saying what he did on the video.

Fans reacted on both sides of the issue, some still asking for an apology and others taking Redick for his word. 

On Sunday night, Redick followed up with a longer statement on his Twitter and Instagram, where he further explained himself and indeed issued an apology.

Please read. Thank you.

A post shared by JJ Redick (@jjredick) on

Early Monday, Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin tweeted a statement saying that he spoke with Redick and believes the Sixers' guard didn't say a racial slur.

With the All-Star Break going on, Redick won’t be available for a few more days for the media to ask him about this. There’s a chance this story will continue into next week.