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Joel Embiid – Sixers offense should go through him

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Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid says there “should not even be a question” about how the team’s offense should work when the league restarts: It should go through him.

“I know what I’m capable of, and I know what my teammates think of me,” Embiid said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “I know I’m capable of carrying the team, so it’s all about me being assertive. If I feel like I’m not getting the ball, I 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 getting the ball, just because of who I am. I believe I can carry the team, and I believe being able to do that, I just got to take matters into my own hands. And obviously, I need to be in positions where I feel comfortable, and I believe my teammates are going to help.”

Among the many ups-and-downs the Sixers went through yet again this season before it shut down, questions about the team’s offense were at the heart of most of them. There was the ongoing chatter about Ben Simmmons’ reticence to shoot 3-pointers. There was the awkward fit between Embiid and Al Horford, the team’s marquee free-agent signing. And there was Embiid himself saying he wasn’t playing with fire at times.

At different points in Embiid’s 20-minute media session Tuesday, all of those topics came to the fore. And, in typical fashion, Embiid addressed them all colorfully.

As for his fit with Simmons, Embiid said that the two of them have “got to be ourselves.”

“We’re going to need him,” Embiid said. “It’s a team game. I’m going to do my best to keep helping him and create some space for him, and we all got to do the same thing just to help each other. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning a championship, and I feel like he has the right mindset, that’s what he wants to do. I know one thing about him, he wants to win, and he’s going to do what it takes to win. So whatever we’re going to need him to do, that’s what he has to do.”

Meanwhile, Embiid’s fit with Horford — his nemesis the past couple of seasons while starring for the Boston Celtics — has been a constant topic of discussion in Philadelphia. On a team already lacking in spacing, Horford and Embiid have had difficulty successfully co-existing on the court. Horford has also found himself with the ball far less than he’s used to, making his transition even tougher.

Embiid downplayed the concerns about their fit, though, saying that things will be fine between them once Philadelphia officially gets back on the court in Orlando — though he again pointed out the team’s chronic lack of shooting around him as part of the reason they have struggled.

“I don’t see any problems,” he said. “You need to figure out if something is going on, and I don’t believe it is a problem. I think it’s just a matter of everybody buying in and being able to play their role. I mean, the pairing with Al I feel like has been fine.

“At times it could be better, but then again, everybody on the court has a job, and with that type of pairing you have to have shooters around. You need to have people or guys being, like, wanting to take that shot. Especially when you got two inside presence 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 that’s a problem.”

When the subject of trying to restart the season in the first place was broached, Embiid also answered in his typically frank manner.

“I hated the idea,” he said. “I feel like, with everything going on, it’s unfortunate what’s been going on in the world. Obviously, people look at it a different way, there might be some other reasons behind everything going on. But to me, that part never mattered to me, all I want to be is, you know, stay healthy, and stay safe, keep the people around me safe.

“I want to make sure I’m able to live for a long time and not have any sort of I don’t know, consequences in the future. Some type of, I don’t know, from this, if I ever were to be in a situation of getting the virus. But like I said it’s unfortunate. I’m not a big fan of the idea, but then again, I’m going to do my job, I’m not going to let the city down, I’m going to go represent my city, that’s what I’ve always done, my family, and my teammates. So you just gotta, the mindset doesn’t change.”

Embiid said repeatedly that he isn’t worried about the possibility of putting himself in a bad position during the restart because “all I do is play video games and stay in my room on the road.”

He did say, however, that he has concerns about what other players inside the bubble will do and, like Damian Lillard recently, expressed doubts others will be willing to follow the rules the NBA has laid out for those taking part.

“There’s some guys like to go out, there’s some guys like to do stuff, there’s some guys that like adventure, so that’s the way I’m thinking,” Embiid said. “I know myself, I know I’m not going to put everybody else at risk.

“But the question is ‘Is everybody else going to do the same?’ And I surely, just being around this business, I surely don’t think so.”

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Carmelo Anthony’s vintage effort for Blazers elicits strong reaction from Damian Lillard

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As the first question came his way, Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic squirmed in his chair.

“Uhh, he’s right there,” he said with an uncomfortable smile, “I don’t know if I can talk.”

Carmelo Anthony was standing by waiting for Nurkic to finish his postgame availability, and every question was about him after some vintage crunchtime Melo moments to seal a critical 110-102 win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Anthony made two big plays in the final three minutes, blocking a P.J. Tucker 3-pointer with the score tied, and then drilling a straightaway catch-and-shoot dagger 3 with 54 seconds left to put Portland up by five.

“Honestly, I don’t think you lose that. If you have it, you have it,” Anthony said of his clutch performance. “It’s something that you have to want to, you have to be willing to put yourself in those situations and enjoy those moments, take those shots and believe that you can make those shots.”

The Blazers are off to the kind of bubble start they believed they could have and in large part is due to getting Nurkic and big man Zach Collins back, which has thereby shifted Anthony down to his old position of small forward. And while the Rockets tried to target Anthony in switches on the defensive end, he held his own and used his new slimmer frame to keep up.

It has led to an apparent resurgence in Anthony, though that’s something with which both he and teammates take issue.

“When we got him, everybody had something to say about him, what he’s going to do defensively, he’s getting older, he’s done, where’s he going to fit in,” Damian Lillard said. “Everybody just had something to say. How he is in the locker room and all these things, why it didn’t work out with these other teams. But he came to us and he was just like, laid back, good teammate, good for our younger players, on the floor he’s talking whether he’s having a good or bad game. Just all about the team.”

Anthony has been a polarizing player in recent years, with his one-year stint in Oklahoma City ending with him being traded to Atlanta and then promptly waived, then signed by the Rockets, which lasted only 10 games. At age 34, Anthony was out of the league and looking for a team. Decimated by injuries to begin the season, the Blazers added Anthony.

“Clarity,” Anthony said when asked what he gained from his time away from the NBA. “Clarity, that’s it.”

With the Blazers, Anthony has been lauded for his willingness to accept whatever role he has been cast into, his professionalism and coachability.

“He understands what we need from him in certain situations depending on how the game is going,” Lillard said. “It’s obvious to somebody like me that pays attention to everything. I find it real funny and disrespectful how people speak on him. He’s a Hall of Famer.”

Said Rockets forward Jeff Green: “That’s been Melo his whole career. A lot of people wrote him off during that short stint when he wasn’t in the league, but he’s proving everybody wrong now. And it’s great to see him out there. He’s been a guy that I have looked up to coming up, being close to the area, so it’s amazing to see what he’s still doing.”

In 36 minutes, Anthony finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. In Portland’s three games in Florida, he’s averaging 16.3 points, adding a quality lift to Lillard and CJ McCollum as he happily fits in alongside.

“The one thing about Melo is he loves the game, he loves the camaraderie, he loves being in the NBA,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “At this stage of his career, I think he’s able to savor a different part of the NBA that wasn’t necessarily the same he had earlier in his career.”

The Blazers have closed the gap on the Grizzlies for the No. 8 spot in the West to just 1½ games with a 2-1 bubble start, showing marked improvement in a number of areas they struggled with during the regular season. In their loss against Boston, the Blazers played the Celtics to the wire with Anthony hitting a go-ahead 3 with 27 seconds left. Lillard is known for big shots in “Dame Time” and McCollum has had plenty of moments, but the ball tends to find Anthony when a bucket is needed.

“He’s just not shy about it,” Lillard said. “He finds the spots that we need him in. He’s not out there trying to play it like he’s still in New York, or Denver. He knows we need him sometimes to be on the weak side, he knows when it’s time to do an isolation on the block, he respects coach when he might take him out before he’s ready to come out. I just think when you see those type of things from a guy of his stature, I think it says everything to our team.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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Lakers’ Rajon Rondo (thumb) to continue rehab closer to NBA bubble

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Rajon Rondo will soon make his way back toward the NBA campus, about three weeks after fracturing his right thumb, Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday.

Rondo will travel to Florida on Wednesday, according to Vogel. A league source told ESPN that Rondo would continue his rehabilitation closer to the league’s setup at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

“He’s making his way to Florida tomorrow and will spend a certain period of time outside of the bubble before he’s reintegrated inside of the bubble,” Vogel said.

The 34-year-old point guard discovered the injury after the Lakers’ second practice on July 12 at the outset of training camp for the season restart. He left the team and underwent successful surgery July 16 and the team projected a six-to-eight-week timeline for recovery.

The coach did not provide an updated timeline for Rondo. He previously said he hoped to get Rondo back cleared “somewhere around the first, second round of playoffs,” adding, “We’re very confident that he’ll be able to get back and be a major factor for us in our playoff run.”

L.A. has gone 2-1 to begin its eight-game seeding schedule. Rondo’s minutes have been absorbed primarily by backup guards Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters and JR Smith.

According to NBA protocol, Rondo would have to quarantine for four days upon returning to the bubble, as long as he returns negative tests for at least seven consecutive days preceding his reentry date.

Rondo is averaging 7.1 points, five assists and three rebounds this season. He has appeared in 48 games for Los Angeles and has started in three.

The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a 116-108 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday. Vogel said he would not start resting his starters — including in upcoming back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets — with playoff positioning already locked up.

“We still have a lot of areas to continue to improve before we feel like we’re ready to win games in the playoffs and to be at the level that we want to reach,” he said. “So for us, we’re still in habit building mode and continuing to just iron some things out. We’re not quite where we were, in my opinion, when the hiatus hit, so our mindset is to continue to play our guys and to get there.”

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WNBA players wearing T-shirts opposing Dream owner

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WNBA players are wearing “Vote Warnock” T-shirts to games this week to support Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is challenging Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) for her Senate seat.

Last month Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert objecting to the league’s promotion of Black Lives Matter — which is painted on the courts at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where the league is holding its return — and instead advocating for teams to add American flags to jerseys.

Elizabeth Williams, a forward on the Atlanta Dream, told ESPN that the league’s executive committee began exploring the shirt idea as a response to Sen. Loeffler’s statements, because “for effective change to happen, there has to be policy changes. And so if we’re going to sit here and talk about wanting justice reform, part of that is making sure that we have officials in office that understand that.”

Williams said that the Dream and other players have made a coordinated effort not to discuss Sen. Loeffler or her statements in recent weeks, and instead focused on how they could best support a candidate they felt better represented their political views.

“I think when all this stuff started happening with her, we didn’t want to feel like we were pawns,” Williams said. “We can only control so much about what the league does [in regard to Sen. Loeffler], and so for us, we wanted it to be bigger than that.

“That’s kind of been the theme of this season. So we wanted to make sure we could still keep the focus on our social justice movement, and funny enough, Reverend Warnock is somebody who supports everything that we support and just happens to be running in that seat. So it just worked out really well.”

Williams said that Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird initially came up with the idea.

Bird told ESPN that participation in the campaign to support Warnock is voluntary and that all players have discussed the idea over Zoom calls while at the IMG Academy, where the season resumed in late July.

“This was a situation where given what was said in regards to the owner of Atlanta, and how, basically, she came out against a lot of what the women in our league stand for, I think was emotionally tough for a lot of the women in our league to hear that,” Bird said. “But very quickly we started to realize that this was only happening for her political gain. This was something that she wanted. And the more noise we made, whether it was a tweet saying to get her out, that was just playing into her hands.

“I’m not some political strategist, but what I do know is that voting is important. And I think our league has always encouraged people to use their voices and to get out and vote.

“So, what a great way for us to get the word out about this man, and hopefully put him in Senate. And, if he’s in Senate, you know who’s not. And I’ll just leave it at that.”

Last month, Loeffler told ESPN that she fears that the WNBA’s public support for the Black Lives Matter movement could drive some fans away.

“I think a lot of people feel that they may not have a place,” Loeffler said. “They may feel excluded from this sport and other sports that make them feel like American values aren’t at the core of what we’re doing here.”

She also contends that there is a difference between saying “Black lives matter” and the organization Black Lives Matter.

“I think we all agree the life of every African American is important,” Loeffler said. “There’s no room for racism in this country, and we have to root it out where it exists. But there’s a political organization called Black Lives Matter that I think is very important to make the distinction between their aim and where we are as a country at this moment.

“The Black Lives Matter political organization advocates things like defunding and abolishing the police, abolishing our military, emptying our prisons, destroying the nuclear family. It promotes violence and anti-Semitism. To me, this is not what our league stands for.”

Warnock released a statement through his campaign on Tuesday, saying that he was “honored and humbled by the overwhelming support from the WNBA players. This movement gives us the opportunity to fight for what we believe in, and I stand by all athletes promoting social justice on and off the court.

“Senator Loeffler and those like her who seek to silence and dismiss others when they speak up for justice have planted themselves on the wrong side of history. We are in a moment of generational, transformative change, and there is no place in that movement for bigotry. We celebrate the courage and resolve of these players standing for justice, and I am proud to stand with them.”

Later Tuesday, Loeffler followed up with a statement of her own, saying “this is just more proof that the out-of-control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June.”

Following the Dream’s 81-74 loss to Mercury Tuesday night, the players’ decision was a primary talking point.

“We definitely decided to wear it because he’s for Black Lives Matter,” guard Chennedy Carter said. “He supports the league and the movement, and we support him. We’re voting for Warnock.”

Forward Betnijah Laney concurred.

“He’s just somebody that also supports the Black Lives Matter — the movements that the WNBA is standing behind this year,” she said. “So this is somebody that we’re supporting as well.”

Former Atlanta Dream player Layshia Clarendon, who has written and spoken out about Loeffler’s comments, was also heavily involved in the planning of the WNBA players’ campaign.

“It’s important for us to support voting and the overall campaign to flip the Senate,” said Clarendon, who now plays for the New York Liberty. “We want people in office who support the same values and morals as we do. Rev. Warnock is pro criminal justice reform, for LGBT+ rights, and pro choice/reproductive rights. Those are the kind of people we want representing us, because that’s what our league stands for.”

ESPN’s Holly Rowe contributed to this report.

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