Friday NBA Roundup: Joel Embiid Has 76ers Easy to Root For, Playoff-Bound or Not

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 27: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets talks to Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on January 27, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Rockets defeated the 76ers 123-118. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)Mitchell Leff/Getty ImagesJosh MartinNBA Lead WriterJanuary 28, 2017

Joel Embiid didn’t waste any time announcing his return from a three-game absence. On the Philadelphia 76ers‘ first possession Friday night (in front of a national audience), he drove to the hoop and dunked all over Houston Rockets center Nene:     

  1. The NBA’s Biggest Social Media Stars Take the Court at Halftime

  2. Howard Beck’s Rant on the All-Star Voting Process

  3. This Night in the NBA

  4. Alternative NBA Facts with Howard Beck

  5. Howard Beck Predicts His Western Conference All-Star Reserves Team

  6. Howard Beck Predicts His Eastern Conference All-Star Reserves Team

  7. ‘We Came Up in the Struggle’: NBA’s Zach Randolph Gives $20K to Keep Lights On

  8. Celebrate This Year’s Oscar Nominees with the NBA’s Best Actors

  9. Philadelphia 76ers Are on a Roll with #RaiseTheCat Victory Celebration

  10. Joakim Noah Makes an Embarrassing Free-Throw Attempt Versus Pacers

  11. Dion Waiters Drills the Three to Win the Game Against the Warriors

  12. Giannis Antetokounmpo Drains the Three

  13. Westbrook Scores Game-Winner and Earns Another Triple-Double to Defeat Jazz

  14. LeBron James Nails a Clutch 3-Pointer to Tie the Game vs. Spurs

  15. LeBron on Ice? Blue Jackets Coach John Tortorella Calls Out King James

  16. Eleven Years Ago Today, Kobe Bryant Dropped 81 Points on the Raptors

  17. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: Top 5 Question Marks at the Halfway Point

  18. Howard Beck and Ric Bucher’s 1st-Half Disappointments

  19. KD Has His Best Game of the Season vs. Thunder

  20. Was the NBA Right or Wrong to Reduce Fan Influence on All-Star Starters?

  21. Who Should Star in the Remake of ‘White Men Can’t Jump’?

  22. The Greek Freak vs. the Beard: Harden and Giannis Face Off in Houston

  23. Joel Embiid Rises and Denies Cody Zeller at the Rim

  24. Joel Embiid Posterizes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

  25. Allen Iverson Will Reportedly Coach Former NBA Stars in 3-on-3 Tournament

  26. Mr. December: See John Wall Once Again End the Year as NBA’s Player of the Month

  27. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: the Top 5 Trade Targets in the NBA

  28. Jordan Clarkson Fouls Goran Dragic James Johnson Isn’t Having It

  29. Irving Drives, Spins and Passes It to Liggins for the 3

  30. Joel Embiid Dunks on the Celtics Frontcourt

  31. Top 3 Landing Spots If the Chicago Bulls Move All-Star Jimmy Butler

  32. Giannis vs. Porzingis: Battle of the International Unicorns

  33. James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook: Who’s the Real MVP?

  34. Ric Bucher’s NBA Power Rankings: New Year Sees a New Team at #1

  35. Bucher Buzz: the Reason the Hawks Are Likely to Trade Paul Millsap and Others

  36. Bucher Buzz: League Sources Say Bulls Have Begun Shopping Jimmy Butler

  37. Who Will Grab the 8th Seed in the Western Conference?

  38. Howard Beck Predicts the NBA All-Star Teams in Each Conference

  39. Is Rondo’s Relationship with the Bulls Beyond Repair?

  40. What’s Wrong with the New York Knicks?

  41. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: Who Has the Most to Prove in 2017?

  42. James Harden Connects with Montrezl Harrell with the Between-the-Legs Dime

  43. Jrue Holiday Dunks on Kristaps Porzingis

  44. Isaiah Thomas Scores Career High 52 Points Versus the Miami Heat

  45. Tommy Heinsohn Goes Nuts After Isaiah Thomas Scores His 50th Point

  46. Giannis Antetokounmpo Blocks the Two-Time Slam Dunk Champ

That was just the beginning of the battle of Embiid and the big Brazilian, one that would end with a 123-118 win for the Houston Rockets.

The fact that the Sixers kept pace at all with Space City’s scoring machine was just the latest piece of proof The Process is proceeding as planned, turning Philly into the feel-good NBA story that these dark times demand.

In years past, the Sixers’ resistance would’ve been futile against a transcendent star like James Harden. Granted, The Beard didn’t have much trouble slicing and dicing his way to 51 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists, making him the first player in NBA history to log multiple 50-point triple-doubles in a season.

 

But Houston needed every bit of Harden’s brilliance and Nene’s support in the middle to stave off the Sixers, thanks in no small part to Embiid. The 7’2″ sensation packed 32 points—one shy of his career high—seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks, including a chase-down swipe on Harden, into his team-prescribed 28 minutes:

  1. The NBA’s Biggest Social Media Stars Take the Court at Halftime

  2. Howard Beck’s Rant on the All-Star Voting Process

  3. This Night in the NBA

  4. Alternative NBA Facts with Howard Beck

  5. Howard Beck Predicts His Western Conference All-Star Reserves Team

  6. Howard Beck Predicts His Eastern Conference All-Star Reserves Team

  7. ‘We Came Up in the Struggle’: NBA’s Zach Randolph Gives $20K to Keep Lights On

  8. Celebrate This Year’s Oscar Nominees with the NBA’s Best Actors

  9. Philadelphia 76ers Are on a Roll with #RaiseTheCat Victory Celebration

  10. Joakim Noah Makes an Embarrassing Free-Throw Attempt Versus Pacers

  11. Dion Waiters Drills the Three to Win the Game Against the Warriors

  12. Giannis Antetokounmpo Drains the Three

  13. Westbrook Scores Game-Winner and Earns Another Triple-Double to Defeat Jazz

  14. LeBron James Nails a Clutch 3-Pointer to Tie the Game vs. Spurs

  15. LeBron on Ice? Blue Jackets Coach John Tortorella Calls Out King James

  16. Eleven Years Ago Today, Kobe Bryant Dropped 81 Points on the Raptors

  17. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: Top 5 Question Marks at the Halfway Point

  18. Howard Beck and Ric Bucher’s 1st-Half Disappointments

  19. KD Has His Best Game of the Season vs. Thunder

  20. Was the NBA Right or Wrong to Reduce Fan Influence on All-Star Starters?

  21. Who Should Star in the Remake of ‘White Men Can’t Jump’?

  22. The Greek Freak vs. the Beard: Harden and Giannis Face Off in Houston

  23. Joel Embiid Rises and Denies Cody Zeller at the Rim

  24. Joel Embiid Posterizes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

  25. Allen Iverson Will Reportedly Coach Former NBA Stars in 3-on-3 Tournament

  26. Mr. December: See John Wall Once Again End the Year as NBA’s Player of the Month

  27. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: the Top 5 Trade Targets in the NBA

  28. Jordan Clarkson Fouls Goran Dragic James Johnson Isn’t Having It

  29. Irving Drives, Spins and Passes It to Liggins for the 3

  30. Joel Embiid Dunks on the Celtics Frontcourt

  31. Top 3 Landing Spots If the Chicago Bulls Move All-Star Jimmy Butler

  32. Giannis vs. Porzingis: Battle of the International Unicorns

  33. James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook: Who’s the Real MVP?

  34. Ric Bucher’s NBA Power Rankings: New Year Sees a New Team at #1

  35. Bucher Buzz: the Reason the Hawks Are Likely to Trade Paul Millsap and Others

  36. Bucher Buzz: League Sources Say Bulls Have Begun Shopping Jimmy Butler

  37. Who Will Grab the 8th Seed in the Western Conference?

  38. Howard Beck Predicts the NBA All-Star Teams in Each Conference

  39. Is Rondo’s Relationship with the Bulls Beyond Repair?

  40. What’s Wrong with the New York Knicks?

  41. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: Who Has the Most to Prove in 2017?

  42. James Harden Connects with Montrezl Harrell with the Between-the-Legs Dime

  43. Jrue Holiday Dunks on Kristaps Porzingis

  44. Isaiah Thomas Scores Career High 52 Points Versus the Miami Heat

  45. Tommy Heinsohn Goes Nuts After Isaiah Thomas Scores His 50th Point

  46. Giannis Antetokounmpo Blocks the Two-Time Slam Dunk Champ

 

He encouraged the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena during his trips to the free-throw line (6-of-6 at the stripe). When the Rockets threatened to run away and hide to start the fourth, Embiid pulled the Sixers in again with back-to-back threes. If not for Nene’s block on his opposite number’s step-back three with 18 seconds to go, the Sixers would’ve had a realistic shot to win with a bit of fouling in the final moments.

Embiid did it all while battling through discomfort from an injury that, after the game, he revealed to be more serious than previously understood.

“It’s a little bit sore…but that’s to be expected,” he said, per Philly Mag’s Derek Bodner. “That’s a bone bruise, it’s supposed to take at least two or three weeks to heal.”

As Embiid led, his young teammates followed. Fellow rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored six of his 12 points (on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field) during a 10-0 run in the first quarter that put Philly ahead and added a couple of layups in the second—one on a bounce pass in transition from (who else?) Embiid and another from T.J. McConnell (13 points, eight assists).

Dario Saric, another of the Sixers’ 2014 draftees, added 12 of his own off the bench. Robert Covington (10 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals) and Gerald Henderson (13 points on 5-of-5 shooting) rounded out six Sixers in double figures.

Together, that group—along with up-and-comers like Nik Stauskas (nine points, three assists) and Nerlens Noel (five points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks)—gave Philly more than a puncher’s chance of landing its third straight win and 11th in 14 games since Dec. 30. A victory would’ve pulled the Sixers within 3.5 games of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann noted, they owe much of their recent success to a defense that, prior to the Houston loss, had been the league’s best in January:

The key improvements have come in forcing turnovers and opponent effective field-goal percentage. In January, the Sixers have protected the rim better and have kept their opponents from shooting from 3-point range as much as they did in the first two months of the season.

Embiid has had a heavy hand in that turnaround. According to NBA.com, the odds-on Rookie of the Year favorite has been the Association’s most effective rim protector as measured by opponent field-goal percentage at the hoop:

 

Tweet as he might, Embiid faces an uphill climb dragging the Sixers into the postseason. Philly has four teams to leapfrog, with 10 out of its next 15 games on the road—and three of those home dates against the San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards and Golden State Warriors.

Help could soon be on the way, too. According to ESPN.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk, Ben Simmons’ recovery from foot surgery is going smoothly. The No. 1 pick in 2016 is still without a timetable for return, but if he’s fit to play before the end of the campaign, he could give Philly the jolt it will need to jump into the East’s top eight.

Even if Simmons doesn’t make his debut in 2016-17, and even if the Sixers fall short with or without him, this season can already be marked as a rousing success in the City of Brotherly Love. The Process is in progress, and this might just be the beginning.

 

C’s See Vooch in the Flesh

Nikola Vucevic isn’t yet a member of the Boston Celtics, but after watching them demolish his Orlando Magic, 128-98, he probably wouldn’t mind a move to Beantown—if only to avoid landing on another of Jaylen Brown’s posters:

  1. The NBA’s Biggest Social Media Stars Take the Court at Halftime

  2. Howard Beck’s Rant on the All-Star Voting Process

  3. This Night in the NBA

  4. Alternative NBA Facts with Howard Beck

  5. Howard Beck Predicts His Western Conference All-Star Reserves Team

  6. Howard Beck Predicts His Eastern Conference All-Star Reserves Team

  7. ‘We Came Up in the Struggle’: NBA’s Zach Randolph Gives $20K to Keep Lights On

  8. Celebrate This Year’s Oscar Nominees with the NBA’s Best Actors

  9. Philadelphia 76ers Are on a Roll with #RaiseTheCat Victory Celebration

  10. Joakim Noah Makes an Embarrassing Free-Throw Attempt Versus Pacers

  11. Dion Waiters Drills the Three to Win the Game Against the Warriors

  12. Giannis Antetokounmpo Drains the Three

  13. Westbrook Scores Game-Winner and Earns Another Triple-Double to Defeat Jazz

  14. LeBron James Nails a Clutch 3-Pointer to Tie the Game vs. Spurs

  15. LeBron on Ice? Blue Jackets Coach John Tortorella Calls Out King James

  16. Eleven Years Ago Today, Kobe Bryant Dropped 81 Points on the Raptors

  17. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: Top 5 Question Marks at the Halfway Point

  18. Howard Beck and Ric Bucher’s 1st-Half Disappointments

  19. KD Has His Best Game of the Season vs. Thunder

  20. Was the NBA Right or Wrong to Reduce Fan Influence on All-Star Starters?

  21. Who Should Star in the Remake of ‘White Men Can’t Jump’?

  22. The Greek Freak vs. the Beard: Harden and Giannis Face Off in Houston

  23. Joel Embiid Rises and Denies Cody Zeller at the Rim

  24. Joel Embiid Posterizes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

  25. Allen Iverson Will Reportedly Coach Former NBA Stars in 3-on-3 Tournament

  26. Mr. December: See John Wall Once Again End the Year as NBA’s Player of the Month

  27. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: the Top 5 Trade Targets in the NBA

  28. Jordan Clarkson Fouls Goran Dragic James Johnson Isn’t Having It

  29. Irving Drives, Spins and Passes It to Liggins for the 3

  30. Joel Embiid Dunks on the Celtics Frontcourt

  31. Top 3 Landing Spots If the Chicago Bulls Move All-Star Jimmy Butler

  32. Giannis vs. Porzingis: Battle of the International Unicorns

  33. James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook: Who’s the Real MVP?

  34. Ric Bucher’s NBA Power Rankings: New Year Sees a New Team at #1

  35. Bucher Buzz: the Reason the Hawks Are Likely to Trade Paul Millsap and Others

  36. Bucher Buzz: League Sources Say Bulls Have Begun Shopping Jimmy Butler

  37. Who Will Grab the 8th Seed in the Western Conference?

  38. Howard Beck Predicts the NBA All-Star Teams in Each Conference

  39. Is Rondo’s Relationship with the Bulls Beyond Repair?

  40. What’s Wrong with the New York Knicks?

  41. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: Who Has the Most to Prove in 2017?

  42. James Harden Connects with Montrezl Harrell with the Between-the-Legs Dime

  43. Jrue Holiday Dunks on Kristaps Porzingis

  44. Isaiah Thomas Scores Career High 52 Points Versus the Miami Heat

  45. Tommy Heinsohn Goes Nuts After Isaiah Thomas Scores His 50th Point

  46. Giannis Antetokounmpo Blocks the Two-Time Slam Dunk Champ

According to CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely, the C’s have kicked the tires on Vucevic in trade talks with the Magic, though no deal is imminent.

Boston could use a big man of his interior talents. According to NBA.com, the Celtics rank among the league’s bottom 10 in points-in-the-paint percentage and rebound percentage. Vooch, meanwhile, has been a superb finisher from 16 feet and in and has nearly as many double-doubles (19) as Boston’s entire roster combined (21).

Not that any of that mattered Friday. The Celtics hammered the Magic on the boards (47-37) and in the lane (54-34) despite playing smaller than usual with Al Horford nursing a groin strain.

Vucevic did well enough during his audition in front of a potential future employer. The USC product poured in 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and dished two assists in 23 minutes. Had Orlando kept things closer, he might’ve had a more noteworthy night.

Either way, Vucevic figures to be the apple of many eyes leading up to the Feb. 23 trade deadline. There aren’t many 26-year-old 7-footers with his skills—let alone ones under contract through 2018-19 at an average of $12.5 million per season.

The Celtics have the goods to make a deal and now have a close-up look to help them decide.

 

Kings Implode in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 27:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings is fouled by Myles Turner #33 of the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on January 27, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agreesAndy Lyons/Getty Images

The Sacramento Kings had set themselves up for a strong week. Back-to-back road wins in Detroit and Cleveland pulled them even halfway through a grueling eight-game trip.

Those good times must seem like another season right now.

On Thursday, ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz dropped a scathing expose in which he revealed not only the one-man quagmire that is DeMarcus Cousins, but also the organizational rot and managerial incompetence that surrounds him.

“You would think that after making an ass of yourself, whether it’s 4-on-5 or one bad hire after another, that you’d become more collaborative and seek out help,” a source told Arnovitz of Kings owner Vivek Ranadive. “Vivek has done just the opposite. Instead of putting together a brain trust, he’s his own brain trust—he and whoever the last person he talked to is.”

On Friday, Ranadive had Kings general manager Vlade Divac in his ear courtside while they watched Sacramento succumb to the Indiana Pacers in overtime, 115-111. The Kings led by as many as 16 points in the second half and owned an 11-point edge with eight minutes to play in the game.

From that point on, Sacramento gave up 19 points—11 at the free-throw line—while scoring just eight for itself, with Boogie coming up empty on three straight late possessions. The All-Star center finished with 26 points (none in the extra period), 16 rebounds, five assists and six turnovers, and the Kings, at 18-28, fell another step further from playoff contention. 

 

East’s Beasts Bounce Back

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 27: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers warms up before the game against the Brooklyn Nets on January 27, 2017 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloDavid Liam Kyle/Getty Images

You could’ve spilled bottles of digital ink describing the disarray surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors this week. Four letters would’ve also sufficed: T-G-I-F. Both of the East’s top seeds stabilized their respectively rocky ships with much-needed wins Friday.

The Cavaliers set aside a stretch of six losses in eight games—not to mention the public sniping between LeBron James and the team’s front office—long enough to build a 23-point lead against the league-worst Brooklyn Nets.

Cleveland’s bench held on down the stretch to secure a 124-116 home win, with James pacing all participants in points (31) and assists (11) before exiting at the 4:48 mark of the fourth quarter. Kyrie Irving followed suit with 28 points and six dimes of his own, Kevin Love (13 points, 14 rebounds) and Tristan Thompson (10 points, 10 boards) both logged double-doubles, and Kyle Korver contributed 14 points off the pine.

Up in Toronto, the Raptors took the Milwaukee Bucks to task, 102-86, to end a five-game slide. All-Star reserve Kyle Lowry notched 12 of his 32 points and five of his six assists during the opening frame to help the home team build a 19-point cushion. Norman Powell added 19 points and six rebounds while subbing for injured All-Star starter DeMar DeRozan.

“It’s like the first win of the year right now,” Lowry said earlier in the day, per the Toronto Star‘s Doug Smith. “Let’s just try to get that first win.”

The Raptors needed it more than Cleveland. The Cavs still have a three-game lead as the No. 1 seed in the East. Toronto, on the other hand, sits just a half-game up on Boston in the race for second place.

 

Melo (Not) Out

Carmelo Anthony can’t seem to get any love in his hometown these days.

Phil Jackson wants to move him out of Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks fans seem fine with the idea if their chants of “Trade Carmelo” before Friday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets were any indication.

But Anthony was as defiant as ever during the Knicks’ 110-107 win. He missed 18 of his 26 attempts but made his last one to put New York up 109-105 with 13 seconds left. That got the home crowd cheering for its former hero and Anthony stepping into the role of heel, telling all who would listen “I don’t want it.”

  1. The NBA’s Biggest Social Media Stars Take the Court at Halftime

  2. Howard Beck’s Rant on the All-Star Voting Process

  3. This Night in the NBA

  4. Alternative NBA Facts with Howard Beck

  5. Howard Beck Predicts His Western Conference All-Star Reserves Team

  6. Howard Beck Predicts His Eastern Conference All-Star Reserves Team

  7. ‘We Came Up in the Struggle’: NBA’s Zach Randolph Gives $20K to Keep Lights On

  8. Celebrate This Year’s Oscar Nominees with the NBA’s Best Actors

  9. Philadelphia 76ers Are on a Roll with #RaiseTheCat Victory Celebration

  10. Joakim Noah Makes an Embarrassing Free-Throw Attempt Versus Pacers

  11. Dion Waiters Drills the Three to Win the Game Against the Warriors

  12. Giannis Antetokounmpo Drains the Three

  13. Westbrook Scores Game-Winner and Earns Another Triple-Double to Defeat Jazz

  14. LeBron James Nails a Clutch 3-Pointer to Tie the Game vs. Spurs

  15. LeBron on Ice? Blue Jackets Coach John Tortorella Calls Out King James

  16. Eleven Years Ago Today, Kobe Bryant Dropped 81 Points on the Raptors

  17. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: Top 5 Question Marks at the Halfway Point

  18. Howard Beck and Ric Bucher’s 1st-Half Disappointments

  19. KD Has His Best Game of the Season vs. Thunder

  20. Was the NBA Right or Wrong to Reduce Fan Influence on All-Star Starters?

  21. Who Should Star in the Remake of ‘White Men Can’t Jump’?

  22. The Greek Freak vs. the Beard: Harden and Giannis Face Off in Houston

  23. Joel Embiid Rises and Denies Cody Zeller at the Rim

  24. Joel Embiid Posterizes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

  25. Allen Iverson Will Reportedly Coach Former NBA Stars in 3-on-3 Tournament

  26. Mr. December: See John Wall Once Again End the Year as NBA’s Player of the Month

  27. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: the Top 5 Trade Targets in the NBA

  28. Jordan Clarkson Fouls Goran Dragic James Johnson Isn’t Having It

  29. Irving Drives, Spins and Passes It to Liggins for the 3

  30. Joel Embiid Dunks on the Celtics Frontcourt

  31. Top 3 Landing Spots If the Chicago Bulls Move All-Star Jimmy Butler

  32. Giannis vs. Porzingis: Battle of the International Unicorns

  33. James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook: Who’s the Real MVP?

  34. Ric Bucher’s NBA Power Rankings: New Year Sees a New Team at #1

  35. Bucher Buzz: the Reason the Hawks Are Likely to Trade Paul Millsap and Others

  36. Bucher Buzz: League Sources Say Bulls Have Begun Shopping Jimmy Butler

  37. Who Will Grab the 8th Seed in the Western Conference?

  38. Howard Beck Predicts the NBA All-Star Teams in Each Conference

  39. Is Rondo’s Relationship with the Bulls Beyond Repair?

  40. What’s Wrong with the New York Knicks?

  41. Greg Anthony’s Starting 5: Who Has the Most to Prove in 2017?

  42. James Harden Connects with Montrezl Harrell with the Between-the-Legs Dime

  43. Jrue Holiday Dunks on Kristaps Porzingis

  44. Isaiah Thomas Scores Career High 52 Points Versus the Miami Heat

  45. Tommy Heinsohn Goes Nuts After Isaiah Thomas Scores His 50th Point

  46. Giannis Antetokounmpo Blocks the Two-Time Slam Dunk Champ

Anthony finished with 18 points—tying Kristaps Porzingis for team-high honors—and 11 rebounds while pulling New York within two games of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That might not stop the Zen Master from selling off his biggest name for spare parts by the trade deadline, though it can’t hurt ‘Melo’s chances of leaving the Big Apple on good terms if that’s how his future unfolds.

 

Otto-Matic

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 27: Otto Porter Jr. #22 of the Washington Wizards handles the ball against the Atlanta Hawks on January 27, 2017 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Washington Wizards are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, thanks in no small part to Otto Porter Jr.

The former No. 3 pick continued his rampage with a team-high 21 points to accompany his 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks during the Wizards’ 112-86 smackdown of the Atlanta Hawks. All five Washington starters scored in double figures, though Porter hit as many threes (five) as the other four combined.

The Georgetown product has been on an absolute tear since Christmas. Over his last 17 games, Porter has poured in 15.9 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 53.2 percent from the field and a blistering 51.1 percent from three. Numbers like those all but guarantee that Porter will get paid in restricted free agency this summer.

Before then, his emergence could nudge the Wizards into the East’s top four. Porter’s post-holiday tear has coincided with a run of 13 Washington wins in 17 outings to pull D.C.’s team within a half-game of the fourth-place Hawks.

 

Bulls Dragged Down by Drama

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 25: Dwyane Wade #3 and Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls look for a referees call during a game against the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on January 25, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Hawks defeated the Bulls 119-114. NOTE TJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s all well and good that the Miami Heat have now won six in a row, but they’re still about a mile from postseason contention in the East. The bigger story was the team on the other end of Miami’s 100-88 win: the Chicago Bulls.

The Windy City’s wayward squad punished Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade for publicly throwing their teammates under the bus by bringing its two best players off the bench Friday. Their starting replacements, Doug McDermott and rookie Paul Zipser, combined for 23 points on 17 shots with 10 rebounds.

Wade responded to his temporary demotion with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting. Butler couldn’t quite shake it off. Chicago’s lone All-Star scored just three points on 1-of-13 from the field—a terrible performance, to be sure, but not quite as bad as his one-point output against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 9.

As bad as the Bulls have been, they’re still hanging on to the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. That won’t last long, though, if they keep it up, what with Central Division rivals in Milwaukee and Detroit nipping at their heels.

 

Spurs Squashed Inside by Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 27:  Terrence Jones #9 of the New Orleans Pelicans goes to the basket against the San Antonio Spurs on January 27, 2017 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tLayne Murdoch/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t just expose the San Antonio Spurs’ soft spot in the middle; they tore it wide open.

With David Lee starting in place of the injured Pau Gasol, the Spurs ceded a 60-30 gap in paint scoring and 54-44 disparity on the boards during a 119-103 loss in New Orleans.

Anthony Davis dominated up front to the tune of 16 points and 22 rebounds. Terrence Jones came through with 21 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Jrue Holiday sliced and diced San Antonio’s vaunted defense for 23 points and 11 assists.

Not even a 17-point explosion from Davis Bertans off the bench could help the Spurs offset a combined 12-of-36 shooting night from Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Nor could those efforts obscure San Antonio’s struggles stopping New Orleans. The Pelicans punished the Spurs by shooting 51.6 percent from the field (43.3 percent from three).

With its five-game streak in the rear view, Gregg Popovich’s crew will look to get back on track during a four-game homestand that starts against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

 

Dame Reclaims His Fame

PORTLAND, OR - JANUARY 27: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots the ball during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 27, 2017 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Another season, another All-Star snub for Damian Lillard. This time, the Portland Trail Blazers star responded with 33 points and six assists to boost his squad to a 112-109 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Like clockwork, Lillard did much of his damage down the stretch. He scored 13 points during a three-minute spurt in the fourth quarter, including triples on three straight Portland possessions.

Four other Blazers followed Lillard into double figures. Allen Crabbe chipped in 23 points off the bench. Mason Plumlee (13 points, 10 rebounds) logged a double-double up front. C.J. McCollum (18 points) closed out the scoring on a floater with 1:13 to go in the game.

Portland needed every ounce of those efforts at home to outlast strong outings from Marc Gasol (32 points, eight rebounds, five assists), Mike Conley (17 points, 10 assists) and Zach Randolph (17 points, 13 boards).

The win moved the Blazers back within a half-game of eighth place out West. And if you don’t think Dame was miffed about missing out on a trip to New Orleans, think again, per Portland sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam.

 

Friday’s Final Scores

  • Indiana Pacers 115, Sacramento Kings 111 (OT)
  • Boston Celtics 128, Orlando Magic 98
  • Houston Rockets 123, Philadelphia 76ers 118
  • Cleveland Cavaliers 124, Brooklyn Nets 116
  • Toronto Raptors 102, Milwaukee Bucks 86
  • New York Knicks 110, Charlotte Hornets 107
  • Washington Wizards 112, Atlanta Hawks 86
  • New Orleans Pelicans 119, San Antonio Spurs 103
  • Portland Trail Blazers 112, Memphis Grizzlies 109

 

All stats via NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook, and listen to his Hollywood Hoops podcast with B/R Lakers lead writer Eric Pincus.

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