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Best of NBA: Magic embarrassed by Celtics before Sixers game

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Best of NBA: Magic embarrassed by Celtics before Sixers game

BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving scored 17 of his 30 points in a blistering first half and the Boston Celtics jumped to an early lead and coasted to a 118-103 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

One game after ending their streak of 16 consecutive victories, the Celtics scored 40 points in the first quarter and 73 by halftime -- both season highs -- to send the Magic to their seventh straight loss. Aron Baynes finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Al Horford had 10 assists.

Still wearing a mask after breaking a bone in his face on Nov. 10, Irving was 9 for 15 from the floor and sank all 10 of his free throw attempts, many with the sold-out crowd chanting "M-V-P!"

Orlando scored the first four points of the game and trailed by just four with less than four minutes left in the first before Boston scored 16 of the next 20 points to take a 40-24 lead. Leading 42-30 early in the second, the Celtics went on an 11-2 run and later got back-to-back 3-pointers from Rozier to open a 28-point lead.

Rozier had a career-high 23 points for Boston, which also topped its season-high for points.

Jonathon Simmons scored 14 points for Orlando, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 11 rebounds (see full recap).

James has triple-double, Cavs beat Hornets for 7th straight
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James had 27 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists, J.R. Smith made the tiebreaking free throw with 48 seconds left, and the Cleveland Cavaliers extended their winning streak to seven straight with a 100-99 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

James had season highs in rebounds and assists in his 57th career triple-double. He's 41-6 in the regular season against Charlotte and the Cavaliers have won 12 of 13, including eight straight against the Hornets.

After Smith split a pair from the line, both teams missed 3-point attempts and Charlotte called time with 11.1 seconds left. Jeremy Lamb missed a 3-pointer after the Hornets inbounded at midcourt and the rebound was tapped out to Kemba Walker, but his 3-point attempt fell well short.

For Black Friday, the Cavaliers wore black uniforms. Cleveland also wore black jerseys when it won the first championship in franchise history, but the current edition is minus the sleeves from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

James also switched from yellow to black shoes after scoring six points in the first half.

Smith had 16 points, while Kevin Love had 11 points and 13 rebounds for Cleveland (see full recap).

Pistons overcome 15-point deficit to beat Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Andre Drummond had 17 points and 14 rebounds and the Detroit Pistons overcame a 15-point deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 99-98 on Friday night.

Russell Westbrook had his sixth triple-double of the season for Oklahoma City with 27 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds. He missed a long 3-point attempt on the final possession to finish 1 of 10 from 3-point range and 10 of 29 from the field.

Down 10 at the half, the Pistons took their first lead on Ish Smith's jumper in the fourth and expanded it to four on Luke Kennard's only basket of the night, a 3-pointer that made it 88-84.

Oklahoma City had numerous chances, missing three shots on one possession in the final minute. The Thunder had the final possession and Westbrook's 26-footer bounced off the rim.

It was the eighth double-digit lead given up by the Thunder this season on their way to a loss (see full recap).

Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Criticism by analyst of Joel Embiid's opinion on NBA plan is well off the mark

Joel Embiid on Tuesday gave a thoughtful and detailed explanation for why he initially “hated” the NBA’s plan to resume the season in Orlando and still does not believe it is safe enough.

Wednesday, Kendrick Perkins reacted to Embiid’s comments on ESPN’s “First Take,” and his stance was not as well-reasoned. 

In part, Perkins said, “To me, this is just an excuse. If they get knocked out, this is going to be an excuse because their superstar was halfway in. … Man, go down there and hoop. I ain’t trying to hear that, man. It’s a billion-dollar bubble.”

Perkins’ response evades the substance of Embiid’s remarks. Among Embiid’s primary points were that he is concerned about consequences the coronavirus might have for himself and his family, that basketball isn’t the only thing which should define him, and that he is skeptical other players will adhere to the NBA’s health and safety protocols intended to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure. (Embiid noted he doesn’t do much outside of basketball besides playing video games and will personally do everything necessary to mitigate risk.) What Perkins said addresses none of those issues.

Instead, he focused on the notion of Embiid somehow being weaker than other superstars who committed to resume play without publicly voicing any concerns. To express worry about doing one’s job in these circumstances — playing basketball, in Embiid’s case — does not suggest a lack of character or toughness. It is a logical sentiment, and there is nothing wrong with Embiid being candid on the subject. 

… If you told me that the current trend is that people are getting sick and a lot of people are dying,” Embiid said, “obviously you don’t know what's going to happen and you don’t want to be in a situation where you put your life at risk ... and all that stuff, just for what? The money and all that stuff. At the end of the day, basketball is not all that matters. I've got family, I've got myself to look out for. That's all I care about.

Coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Florida, to the extent that many hospitals in the state have maxed out their ICU capacity. Embiid, who’s donated $500,000 to coronavirus relief efforts, has every right to say he is “not a big fan” of playing in Orlando. 

Familiar cliches in sports about sacrifice for the sake of the team and adversity over obstacles do not apply to a pandemic. This is a different category from Embiid shifting how he plays to accommodate teammates, and a topic that should be approached seriously. 

Perkins is allowed to criticize Embiid, of course, but his viewpoint is lacking in empathy and perspective.

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What to make of Joel Embiid's answers to big on-court questions

What to make of Joel Embiid's answers to big on-court questions

Since March, Joel Embiid has played a little under 27 minutes of competitive basketball.

He was impressive in that time on the floor, recording 30 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Pistons on March 11 after a five-game absence with a left shoulder sprain.

However, the most notable part of Embiid’s conversation with reporters Tuesday did not have to do with on-court matters. He said that he “hated” the NBA’s plan to resume the season in Orlando and does not believe it is safe enough. As Embiid said, he is more than just a basketball player. It is certainly valid to be critical of the idea of playing in Orange County, where ICU beds are at full capacity in several hospitals because of a spike in coronavirus cases. 

Still, we’re obligated to discuss Embiid the player, a three-time All-Star starter. 

Embiid didn’t volunteer many specifics about his fitness but said on multiple occasions he “feels good.” Over the last week, Brett Brown and Josh Richardson have praised his conditioning.

“I don’t think my weight is an issue,” he said. “The only thing to always watch is my body fat, and I feel good. Like I said, I’ve been chilling. Just doing what I have to do.”

He acknowledged Tuesday he did not always play at full intensity this season. 

“During this year, there were a lot of times when I was not into the offense and I was just basically going through the same motions and all that,” he said. “But with the playoffs coming, I’ve just gotta be more assertive and just be that guy — just demand the ball and do what I do.”  

Though no major statistic that might signify aggression — usage rate, free throw rate, post-ups, three-point attempts per 36 minutes — dropped significantly this year for Embiid, he feels he’s capable of more. In 44 games, he’s averaged 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists, playing 30.2 minutes per game. Brown said last Wednesday he’d ideally like to have Embiid play 38 minutes a game in the postseason. 

I know what I’m capable of, and I know what my teammates think of me. I know I’m capable of carrying the team,” Embiid said. “It’s all about me being assertive. If I feel like I'm not getting the ball, I've just got to talk to them and do what I have to do, but at the end of the day, I should never be in a position to complain about not getting the ball, just because of who I am. 

“I believe I can carry the team. I believe that by being able to do that, I’ve just got to take matters into my own hands. … Obviously I need to be in positions where I feel comfortable, and I'm sure my teammates are going to help me.

Embiid’s partnership with Al Horford was a prominent storyline for the Sixers before the hiatus, mostly because it hasn’t worked as the Sixers hoped offensively. Among regular Sixers duos, the team has the worst offensive rating when that pair is on the floor together, and by a three-point margin

In Embiid’s mind, the pairing isn’t doomed to fail, though he thinks the players surrounding himself and Horford are an important factor. 

I don’t believe there is a problem,” he said. “It’s just a matter of everybody buying in and being able to play their role. The pairing with Al, I feel like it has been fine. At times it could be better but then again, everyone on the court has a job and with that type of pairing you need to have shooters around or you need to have people or guys ... wanting to take that shot, especially, when you’ve got two inside presences like me and Al. 

“He can post up, I can post up and then around, you’ve got to be able to have guys that are willing to shoot and that are going to shoot the ball. I think that's what needs to happen, but I don’t think there’s a problem. I think we're fine. I like him, great guy. We've got to keep on working together. … We are better suited for the playoffs. We’ve got about eight games to get back into it ... so I’m excited.

Horford and Embiid have not played together with a cast of willing and able shooters very often this season. The Sixers as a team are 22nd in three-pointers attempted (31.6) and 14th in three-point percentage (36.2 percent). The duo has shared the floor most often with Tobias Harris, who’s taken the most threes on the team, but the Sixers only have a 101.0 offensive rating when those three play together.  

Embiid seems to think an intuitive understanding of how to play the game — when to take open shots, how to accommodate each other, when to feed the dominant big man in the post — can override what we saw in the first 65 games.

More than anything, he trusts his own abilities when he’s determined to attack. 

“We didn’t get the chance to see it as much this year,” he said, “but you can go back and look at last year’s regular season and what I did, and that’s the mindset I need to have — and even better — if I really want to achieve that goal, which is to win the championship.”

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