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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Where things stand heading into final month

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Where things stand heading into final month

In this edition of our Eastern Conference power rankings, we look at the impact of Joel Embiid's return and how things stand heading into the final month of the season. 

1. Bucks (51-17) Last ranking: 1
The Bucks are beatable — they had a hiccup in San Antonio Sunday — but they sure look like a difficult team to top in a seven-game series. Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t shot worse than 50 percent from the field in a game since Jan. 27.

2. Raptors (49-20) Last ranking: 2 
Monday was not a pleasant night in Cleveland for the Raptors, who lost to the Cavs by 25 and lost Serge Ibaka for three games after his fight with Marquese Chriss. Ibaka’s suspension should mean more playing time for Marc Gasol and a chance to further develop his chemistry with his new teammates, writes Lori Ewing of The Globe and Mail.

3. Sixers (43-25) Last ranking: 3 
After going 4-4 since the All-Star break without Joel Embiid, the Sixers are 2-0 since their big man returned. They understandably weren’t satisfied with their performance Tuesday in the second and third quarters vs. Cleveland, but they’ll take the win and hope to build a little cohesiveness now that the rotation is finally intact again. 

Brett Brown said after practice Thursday that the Sixers are “not even close” to where he wants them to be, but “there is time, in my opinion. There is time to have as perfect vanilla as we can have and use it as a launching pad to ride the wave of playoff emotion, momentum. You hear me talk about let’s land the plane, let’s keep everybody in the boat, let’s keep the spirit, let’s grow the structure, let’s understand rotations. … That’s the plan.”

4. Celtics (42-27) Last ranking: 4
Down as many as 17 points Thursday night, the Celtics came back to top the Kings. Boston has now won four of five, with games vs. Atlanta and Denver up next before Wednesday’s matchup in Philadelphia.

5. Pacers (44-25) Last ranking: 5
Surviving these next seven games will be critical for the Pacers if they hope to hold onto the No. 3 seed. In a brutal stretch, Indiana plays the Nuggets twice, the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Warriors and Celtics. Oh, and six of those seven games are on the road.

6. Nets (36-34) Last ranking: 6
The Nets crushed the team right behind them in the standings on Monday, holding the Pistons to 75 points on a season-worst 27.8 percent mark from the field. D’Angelo Russell has cooled off slightly as of late, but he still has a good shot at averaging over 20 points per game for the first time in his career. 

7. Heat (32-35) Last ranking: 8 
Detroit followed up that 75-point effort against Brooklyn with a 108-74 loss Wednesday in Miami. That victory gave Miami six wins in seven games, and the Heat find the growth of the Justise Winslow/Josh Richardon/Bam Adebayo trio especially encouraging, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.

8. Pistons (34-33) Last ranking: 7
To be fair to the Pistons, they were due for a clunker or two after a five-game winning streak. Detroit still has a 3.5-game edge over the No. 9 seed Magic and, barring a bad collapse, should be a playoff team.

9. Magic (32-38) Last ranking: 9 
Since the Markelle Fultz trade, Orlando has the best defensive rating in the NBA — by almost two points.

10. Hornets (30-37) Last ranking: 10 
There’s still a chance the Hornets manage to earn the eighth seed, though their odds aren’t great given the way they’re currently playing. Charlotte has won one of its last five games and has important matchups coming up Friday in Washington and Sunday in Miami. Meanwhile, Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer reports the Mavericks are the top threat to sign Kemba Walker this summer.

11. Wizards (29-39) Last ranking: 11
To make the playoffs, the Wizards are probably going to need their first four-game winning streak of the season. Their current streak is at two following a nice win over Orlando on Wednesday. 

12. Hawks (24-45) Last ranking: 12 
Altanta, following decisive wins over New Orleans and Memphis, has the third-highest scoring average in the NBA since February.

13. Bulls (19-50) Last ranking: 13 
The Bulls say they “aren’t prioritizing draft lottery positioning this season,” according to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, and you believe it. Zach LaVine is probable for Friday’s matchup against the Clippers after missing the past two games with a right patellar tendon strain.

14. Cavs (17-52) Last ranking: 14 
A 25-point win over the Raptors; a close contest in Philadelphia; a 29-point loss to the Magic. That final result best captures the Cavs team we’ve seen all season.

15. Knicks (13-55) Last ranking: 15 
In each of their past four games, the Knicks have been held under 100 points. The Sixers have scored under 100 points in a game only five times all season. 

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Reebok is dialing up the nostalgia in latest release with Allen Iverson

Reebok is dialing up the nostalgia in latest release with Allen Iverson

I’m the question and the answer like Iverson.  — Jay-Z

Not many athletes evoke the immediate vibe and aura that comes to mind when you hear the name Allen Iverson. Reebok is hoping Bubba Chuck induces all the feels for consumers to cop the latest release in his signature shoe line, the Question 4 Mid "Double Cross."

The sneaker will be released exclusively through Foot Locker and all of its entities but debuted in a limited roll out Oct. 11 at two select locations in New York City.  

The kicks drop nationwide and online to coincide with the start of the NBA season on Oct. 23.

What’s special about this shoe? Reebok is dialing up the nostalgia by mixing the red and blue-toe colorways that A.I. rocked on the Question Mid’s during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1996-97. The “Double Cross” name stems from Iverson’s legendary ability to “cross up basketball culture with the style and sounds of his life off court."

The shoes will set you back $150 with a few dope accents like a "96" on the left blue sock liner and a "97" on the red liner for the right shoe.

For more details on the shoe, check out the video above with Sixers guard and Allen Iverson mentee Trey Burke unboxing the Question 4 Mid Double Cross. Thanks to Foot Locker for providing the footwear. 

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Will Joel Embiid live in the paint? How Brett Brown wants to help his ‘unicorn’ build a legacy

Will Joel Embiid live in the paint? How Brett Brown wants to help his ‘unicorn’ build a legacy

Two days before the Sixers’ regular-season opener vs. the Boston Celtics, Brett Brown was thinking big.

The Sixers' head coach reflected after practice Monday afternoon on his “huge” team, his All-Star big man, Joel Embiid, and the big picture of Embiid’s career.

I think he’s going to have a year that puts us in a position to win a championship. … I feel a tremendous responsibility to help him define his legacy. And legacies start with championships. And I didn’t take an ‘s’ off that word on purpose — it’s championships.

“I feel a role and a responsibility to help him. Him owning the paint is as good a place to start as any. It’s where my mind has been centered all summer. It’s the messaging that we’ve discussed as a team and with him. We’ve admitted we’re huge; what does that look like? What can we do to exploit our team? And with Joel especially, I think he’s going to have a fantastic season. … I’m really excited to help him improve and grow.

Brown has spoken on both Embiid’s legacy and the desire for him to “live in the paint” more this season multiple times over the past few weeks. He’s determined to get more out of Embiid beyond the fundamental tenets of conditioning and health

Embiid was second in the NBA with 8.1 post ups per game last season, per NBA.com/Stats, and it sounds like Brown wants that number to increase. 

For his part, Embiid has said he wants to be the “greatest to ever do it.” And he was clear during training camp that his preference is to be stationed more down low and less outside of the three-point line. 

“Like I’ve always said before, I don’t like shooting threes,” Embiid said on Oct. 4. “But this year since we’re going to have Ben [Simmons] willing to take those threes, maybe it’s going to put my game more inside. I’m hoping that he will shoot them, so I do my job, what I do inside.”

Brown had no doubt Monday when asked if Embiid will be more of a low-post force this season.

I don’t think it, I know it. When you look at him, he is a unicorn. When we say who is Joel Embiid like, or who is like Joel Embiid — Joel can score in a variety of ways. Is he [Shaquille O’Neal]? He’s got a little bit of that in him. Is he Arvydas Sabonis? That was a pretty multi-dimensional player. Is he Hakeem [Olajuwon]? [Tim] Duncan was a good low-post player and could step out at the elbow or foul line and make a jump shot. 

“When you start trying to put him in a box and say, ‘This is all you are,’ it’s a huge, naïve mistake. It’s a really naïve mistake. Where is he at his best? We get where it is, and we have to center our gravity more in that area of where it is. I think it’s going to equal free throws and kick outs and all of that. But to think that’s the only floor spot where he lives is really recklessly naïve. You go Shaq, Shaq, Shaq — it’s deeper than that. It’s on me as his coach, and on him, to better understand how do I best impact the game, help this team win championships, take off like I want to take off at the start of the year.

Sabonis, Olajuwon and O’Neal are all enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Duncan, who Brown knows well from his time as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, will surely be inducted in 2020. Brown told NBC Sports Philadelphia last March that the Sixers’ post offense around Embiid “replicates what we did with Duncan for 12 years in San Antonio.” 

While assistant coach Kevin Young said at Brown’s coaches clinic on Sept. 23 that the Sixers plan to run more “Explosion” this season, the free-flowing, improvisational movement off a player in the post that often enabled Simmons to find cutters in 2018-19, the emphasis with Embiid has generally been on having players set at specific starting spots, surrounding the 25-year-old with outlets. 

Embiid said at media day that decision-making out of double teams was one of his focuses during the offseason. He did improve in that area last year, turning the ball over on 13.1 percent of his post-up possessions, the lowest rate of his career. 

Brown and Embiid’s larger ambitions of championships, legacies and the like might sound outlandish to some in isolation. In context, though, there are tangible steps they can take toward those goals.

Both Brown and his big man hope many take place in the paint.

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