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Source — Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic expected to play Game 4 vs. LA Clippers

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Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic is expected to play Sunday against the LA Clippers in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series despite a strained neck, a source told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Doncic is officially listed as questionable for the game, but Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said Saturday that he thought Doncic would play.

After the Mavs’ Game 3 loss Friday night, Doncic said he started experiencing pain in his neck around halftime, and it went down his left arm.

“It’s just weird,” Doncic said after his 44-point, nine-rebound, nine-assist performance. “Just some massage, some ice and hopefully it will be good.”

Doncic has averaged 38.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists in the series, guiding Dallas to a 2-1 lead.

The Mavs have outscored the Clippers by 25 points in 117 minutes with Doncic on the court in the series and have been outscored by 19 in the 27 minutes he has rested.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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The Philadelphia 76ers will have to pick their poison with Trae Young

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The Philadelphia 76ers had seen enough in the first half, when the Atlanta Hawks bludgeoned them 74-54 behind 25 points and seven assists from Trae Young.

As he did to Reggie Bullock and the rest of the New York Knicks backcourt in the Hawks’ first-round victory, Young diced up Danny Green in single coverage prior to intermission. While the Sixers made it a game late by unleashing intense ball pressure on the Hawks, whatever concerns Atlanta might have about its iffy execution in the closing minutes of its 128-124 Game 1 win over Philadelphia, the Sixers have far more to concern themselves with in the matter of how to guard Young.

There’s no right way to guard Young, only a menu of bad options.

The Hawks’ double-drag screen action with center Clint Capela and power forward John Collins screening high for Young is tailor-made for Young’s talents: the floater, the lobs, the ability to draw contact against off-balanced defenders at the point of contact, and his capacity to fire up a jumper from any distance.

Young exploits not only a defender’s weaknesses, but his strengths too. Witness any aggressive on-ball defender who tries to blow up a screen for Young, only to hear the referee whistle him for contact. And while it’s easy to prioritize getting the ball out of Young’s hands, a defense has to extend out to 35 feet to do it, which is suboptimal. It’s simply impossible to hone in on a single tactic without exposing a vulnerability elsewhere.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers acknowledged the challenge postgame with a dash of gallows humor when asked if he had any thoughts in the first half about deploying Ben Simmons on Young or other strategies.

“We had a lot of thoughts,” Rivers said. “We probably thought of all of them.”

Rivers noted that there were multiple diagnoses for Young’s first-half explosion: Broadly speaking, the coverages weren’t well-conceived; the Sixers’ defensive rotations weren’t sharp after Young turned the corner or made the pass; Green struggled when Young rejected screens (The Hawks beat up Green for eight points on three first-half rejections by Young.)

“Danny’s been pretty good on small guards all year,” Rivers said. “But Trae’s not just a small guard — he’s a terrific guard.”

When the Sixers returned to the floor for the third quarter, they changed up their defensive game plan on Young.

“They started with Ben on him,” Hawks guard Kevin Huerter said. “They blitzed some of his ball screens. A lot of it was to try and get the ball out of his hands. [Young] did a great job. We’re really effective when we move the ball and make extra passes. We get the ball moving side to side and we can make 3’s.”

In the opening two minutes of the second half, Young threaded the needle of a hard trap by Simmons and Tobias Harris 30 feet out on the right sideline to find Hawks forward John Collins for a wide-open 3-pointer.

On the very next possession, when Embiid joined Simmons to trap Young at the same spot, Hawks center Clint Capela slipped to the foul line, where Young hit him. Though Capela missed the close-range shot, he had no trouble gathering the miss against Sixers guard Seth Curry and converting the putback.

A few minutes later, after Matisse Thybulle entered the game to serve as the primary defender on Young, Huerter was the beneficiary of Young’s playmaking out of a trap, catching a kickout pass to the weak side before draining an open 3-pointer.

Traps might seem like kryptonite on dynamic playmaking guards, but Young loves to see them. During the regular season, Young tormented trapping defenses to the tune of 114.3 points per 100 chances in the half court (and an even more outlandish 118.5 points on possessions when either he or the recipient of the first pass attempted the shot).

Accordingly, the Sixers sent multiple defenders at Young 15 times in the second half on Sunday, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information research. While Young attempted only one field goal in those 15 instances, the Hawks went 7-for-11 overall from the field for 19 points.

The length of Simmons and Thybulle slowed Young a tad in the second half, as he spent more time moving east to west, in contrast to his north-to-south commutes before halftime. Young’s reading proficiency of the court rates off the chart, but it’s a tougher exercise against taller defenders. Both Rivers and Simmons were salty about how the Sixers’ defenders were officiated against Young, who loves using a defender’s physicality against him.

“I probably will [guard Young],” Simmons said. “I mean, I want to. So, if the refs aren’t going to call so many fouls and I can be physical and be 6-10, then I’ll be 6-10. We’ll see.”

There likely isn’t a singular solution to the problems Young presents. Harris suggested that the Sixers will “mix it up” in Game 2, throwing a variety of schemes and defenders at the Hawks’ catalyst.

Philadelphia might also want to explore not just getting the ball out of Young’s hands, but keeping it out with strong denial from a defender like Thybulle and giving him no other help assignments. A couple of opponents — including the Charlotte Hornets — even threw elements of Dean Smith’s “run-and-jump” pressure defense to successfully disrupt Young during the regular season.

But however the Sixers choose to proceed, they’re now deep into a game of Whac-a-Mole against a brilliant offensive player who seems to have a counter for just about everything.

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (knee) will start against Atlanta Hawks

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid will play and start Sunday’s Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks.

Embiid had been considered a game-time decision after suffering a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.

He was injured when he fell during a Game 4 loss to the Washington Wizards in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. He missed Philadelphia’s series-clinching win in Game 5.

The Sixers said the injury will be addressed not with surgery but with a physical therapy and treatment program.

This season was the best of Embiid’s NBA career, as the 27-year-old averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting career bests from the field (51.3%), from 3-point range (37.7%) and from the free throw line (85.9%) in 52 games, leading the Sixers to the best record in the Eastern Conference and being named a finalist for the league’s MVP award.

The Sixers are 42-13 with the NBA MVP finalist in the lineup. Without him, they are 11-11.

Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter sat out the opener with a sore right knee.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Jason Kidd says he won’t vie to fill Portland Trail Blazers’ head coaching vacancy

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Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd has withdrawn him name from consideration for the Portland Trail Blazers head coaching vacancy, he told ESPN on Sunday morning.

“Portland’s a first-class organization and will have great candidates for its head coaching job, but I’ve decided not to be one of them,” Kidd told ESPN. “Whoever they choose will have big shoes to fill from Terry (Stotts).”

Kidd was ultimately uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing the opening after Blazers star Damian Lillard publicly called for his hiring within hours of Stotts’ departure on Friday night. The public nature of Lillard’s endorsement — telling Yahoo Sports that “Jason Kidd is the guy I want” — left Kidd feeling he would put both Lillard and Portland’s process in an awkward circumstance should he pursue the opening.

The Blazers have yet to reach out for permission — nor spoken to — any potential candidates, but that’s expected to change this week once the first-round of the playoffs ends on Sunday, sources said.

Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups, former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, Brooklyn Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni and Michigan coach Juwan Howard are among the candidates that the Blazers are expected to consider, sources said.

Kidd has been the top assistant under Frank Vogel with the Lakers for two seasons, including their 2020 NBA championship. Kidd had two stops as a head coach, including Brooklyn — which he led to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2013-2014 — and the Milwaukee Bucks (2015-2018), where he reached the playoffs twice in three-plus years on the job.

As a player, Kidd is considered one of the all-time great point guards. His 19-year career earned him entrance into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

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