Behind the Boxscore: SORT OUT JOEL EMBIID

The Cavs crack a dumb code in Cleveland as a dozen games minus one roll on

GOOD MORNING PEOPLE!

Philadelphia 115, Los Angeles Lakers 109

Joel Embiid scored 46 points in this game and he’s averaging 23 points, 11 boards, 3.5 assists and nearly two blocks per contest on the season, one in which he’s missed two games. He’s also averages only 29 minutes a game on the way toward those statistics, and Embiid’s contest against the Lakers marked just his 43rd NBA game.

You have to watch this guy. Figure out what you can do to take in those 29 minutes.

We grok that 10:30 in the evening is not an ideal tip time for a country that mostly listens to its radio with a W in the call letters, but Philly Embiid just doesn’t do his best work at Staples Center (where he poured in 32 with 16 rebounds against DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers on Monday).

Sixers games don’t usually start this late, and time is never an issue on the internet – go watch his condensed game if you want to remember what centers look like.

Embiid scores because he makes quick decisions. He’s a smart and clever guy that is still new to the sport, and one of the more appealing parts about his growth is the way he’s been able to show us his work on the fly. Joel Embiid doesn’t work off instinct, and he isn’t merely showcasing the endless hours of off-court work he and the Sixer staff have put into the game.

What he’s doing is stronger than that. There are immediate clasps to his game that remind you of the greats, that you remind you of the guys that got frustrated when they realized that the rest of the league, and the teammates it has to offer, aren’t seeing (much less doing) the things that peel so quickly off the deck for someone like Joel Embiid. Or Hakeem, or Michael.

Those guys could be jerks, though, and Embiid hasn’t shown any of that. What he has shown is an interest in getting from Point A to B quicker than most – I know I’m Whatever Feet Tall, but I’m just gonna try this move from here, anyway.

You haven’t heard the last of these bleats about Joel. I’m not letting this CD go out of print.

Philadelphia: 8-6, Lakers: 6-9

Milwaukee 99, Detroit 95

The Bucks blocked 16 shots in this game. Imagine how many more they would have had if Greg Monroe were still on the team.

Should it bug us that the Pistons still got 95 points in this game? MKE was active in grabbing for turnovers and all those rejections led to 35 percent shooting for the Pistons, but Detroit was capable enough to move the ball and still rack up 15 three-pointers on the road.

Still, four straight for the Bucks – a team clearly coming off a few home practices.

Eric Bledsoe averages 13.3 points with 4.8 boards and 5.3 assists as a Buck, 1.3 steals and a block in 29 minutes. He’s missed 15 of 18 three-pointers, and I’d like it if the Dec. 6 meeting between these two teams would be nationally televised. This feels like whatever “burgeoning” means and we should start to get used to these two coaches working against one another.  

Stan Kidd and Jason Van Gundy.

Milwaukee: 8-6, Detroit: 10-4

New York 106, Utah 101

For long stretches the Jazz were ridin’ Rodney Hood, which sounds like a Replacements song in three different ways, using his 30 points to stay close in unsustainable ways. New York countered with Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 14 fourth quarter points, letting him square as he saw fit while the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns smiled away.

I’m not trying to tell you that either side is preferable or even to be coveted. Rodney Hood vs. Tim Hardaway Jr. is just what happened.

Kind of. Hood struggled down the stretch, needing six shots to score five points while contributing two fouls and two turnovers in his fourth quarter chance.

Tim Hardaway Jr. squared those shoulders and piled on to what has been a good counting year for a team that needs all it can get – 17.8 points per game on the season for the Knick swingmam. His overall shooting marks aren’t great but with increasing trips to the line (now up to nearly four attempts per game after Wednesday’s 9-10 showing) the True Shooting will grow.

Jonas Jerebko guarding Kristaps Porzingis semi-successfully at times (21 points on 18 shots) was wonderful, as were the times where Kristaps made Jonas look rather semi by comparison.

Watching a Madison Square Garden game remains an experience. Those echoes still stir; especially so on Wednesday when Quin Snyder had to call a calming timeout after Doug McDermott’s layup attempt was ruled a goaltend, Garden so lit.

New York: 6-9, Utah: 8-6

Cleveland 115, Charlotte 107

The Cavaliers have won three in a row but nobody is making a stock out of these bones.

This team is just full of dudes making plays, admittedly a nice feature to boast in a seven-game playoff series. LeBron James had 31 and all the helpers made shots when needed – Channing Frye provided earthworm activity off the bench, Kyle Korver’s three (3) trey-threes were needed and Jeff Green had a game (13 and 7) that will earn him a contract on the Clippers next season.

He’s already been on the Clippers? The Suns, then.

Of more interest to me is Charlotte, even past those glorious uniforms. They have Nic Batum back, he was winded within seconds but contributed 16 points, six assists and seven rebounds in his return from a bum elbow.

That elbow could have kept him out until 2018, and his shooting may not recover in 2017-18 (1-6 and awkward from long range on Wednesday), but at least he’s back in time for Charlotte’s upcoming stretch of rough: Clippers, Wolves, Wizards, in Cleveland, Spurs, Raptors, in Miami, Orlando, and then the team with both Kevin Durant and Steph Curry on it.

Cleveland: 8-7, Charlotte: 5-8

Portland 99, Orlando 94

The Blazers appear to have found something in their individual approach to defense, there’s a confidence in Portland on that end that is incredibly encouraging.

It’s as if each of the important Trail Blazers realized that they can be badass one-on-one defenders, and though they most assuredly cannot, the team is at least playing like it. Orlando can score now, they connect on dimes and shoot, and Portland would not let them trend too strongly toward what gave the Magic their strong start in 2017-18.

Morning breaks, and the Blazers are a top-three defensive team. We’re a month in, cats and kittens.

Portland: 8-6, Orlando: 8-7

Indiana 116, Memphis 113

With Mike Conley out, starters Mario Chalmers and replacement guard Dillon Brooks did an adequate job of getting the ball to Marc Gasol as much as basketball-possible, I suppose, though there were some notable streaks of inattention. The pairing combined to miss all seven three-point attempts and Conley’s absence clearly left a gaping hole (his bum Achilles could be a long problem), but offense wasn’t Memphis’ problem.

No, it was staying in front of a Pacer team long enough to settle runs. Memphis had its own issues answering baskets with baskets and it lost out on several sound enough chances in its second half comeback due to its lacking presence on the offensive end, but we know the Grizzlies (16th in offense after Wednesday) are the Grizzlies on this end. It’s the defense that can’t rest.

Coach David Fizdale likely pointed this out at halftime, after an uninterested first half showing from the Grizz. The team at least got after it out of the break, but if this group of wings can’t close out? You’re not here for your offense, pals.

Indiana shot 12-24 from long range in the win, Victor Oladipo still springing for days. The Pacers are fantastic to watch.

Indiana: 7-7, Memphis 7-8

Minnesota 98, San Antonio 86

Do you know how long a trip it is from Dallas to Minnesota? Nine-hundred and forty-two got-damn miles, that’s how far. At least the NBA spared the Spurs and the rest of the ESPN faithful a nationally televised showing, after San Antonio worked in Dallas on Tuesday night prior to tipping off in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

Minnesota executed and worked its ass off in this win, that much was noted from this chair. The Spurs still looked noticeably sluggish on offensive rebound or loose ball chances, and you get the feeling that these expected losses play far more into the psyche these days. It’s hard to divine different levels of desultory, though.  We’ll save that for the Hawks/Kings recap.

Minnesota: 9-5, San Antonio: 9-6

Oklahoma City 92, Chicago 79

Because I know who Rusty LaRue is, I didn’t watch a whole lot of the Bulls after they scored seven points in the first 12 minutes.

A Bulls fan might calm themselves, though, looking at the sight of Lauri Markkanen (16 and six rebounds, 3-6 long range) milling around the space between the small and power forward position, socks pulled up and Carmelo Anthony (18 and 11 rebounds, 11 free throw makes) impersonation in full flare.

Of course, at Lauri’s age, Anthony had already dragged Syracuse through March Madness and been on an NBA playoff team, so let’s hear it for teammates.

Markkanen certainly has one in Kris Dunn – 1-11 shooting for the Bulls’ other draft night prize. He and two other Bulls development prospects, Paul Zipser and Cristiano Felicio, boast single-digit Player Efficiency Ratings.

Oklahoma City: 7-7, Chicago: 2-10

Atlanta 126, Sacramento 80

I dutifully watched far more of this than anyone should expect, long enough to see George Hill pick up his dribble with the best of them.

Sacramento rookie De’Aaron Fox’s best attempts at calming an opponent’s runs are not great at this point, something about not being able to turn 20 years of age for another 65 days probably, as the Kings lost to a team that started Luke Babbitt in 2017.

Zach Randolph turned in one of his best games as a King – 17 points on 7-11 shooting, but he pulled in just one defensive rebound in 24 minutes for the NBA’s worst defensive rebounding team.

It wasn’t this close.

Atlanta: 3-12, Sacramento: 3-11

Washington 102, Miami 93

If Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson aren’t consistent providers – Josh has to stay a three-point threat off of set plays, Dion just has to break plays – the Heat struggle to score and compete. The first game back at home after a long road trip showed, Miami just admirably split six games away from Florida before returning for their first home game since Nov. 1.

Richardson (ohfer three long range) was a dud lining up and Waiters (19 points on 18 shots, five turnovers) could not find a consistent stretch to lean on. The team’s bench struggled in spite of Tyler Johnson contributing, and the Heat’s coaching staff did not sleep on Wednesday night knowing what it could have had with Marcin Gortat in town: Washington’s center worked hard but was late on rotations all night, Miami should have cracked 100.

Yet another batch of road contests (the Heat play 18 of their first 31 on the road) lies ahead, and Miami still has a top-ten defense and solid enough record. This will be a struggle, and the struggle has barely begun, but trust us when we qualify that Miami’s blister-burn 31-10 finish to 2016-17 has no impact on the figurative road ahead.

Before we credit the Heat for getting the tough ones out of the way early again this season, let’s remind ourselves of the month of wagon circlin’ that awaits.

Washington: 9-5, Miami: 6-8

Toronto 125, New Orleans 116

The Pelicans kept waiting for Toronto to crack, which is bullshit, because New Orleans shouldn’t need the Raptors on the second half of a back-to-back to beat the Raptors in New Orleans.

Bad defense and poor decision-making from top to bottom for NOLA, nobody plays with butterfingers or dulled senses for an entire game, but individual pockmarks tend to add up.

Meanwhile, and this is nice to have on your side, every Raptor played well.

(Let’s not defense. Don’t bug me. I’m tripping.)

Jonas Valanciunas has no place in the modern NBA, or whatever, but it still is nice to appreciate what the man can do. Like catching a basketball with your left hand in NBA traffic prior to switching for a right-handed layup before the steps become illegal. This is against New Orleans, by the way, the team with two All-Star bigs in the paint.

Jonas had 21 and 6 in the win.

Toronto: 9-5, New Orleans: 8-7

CHICKEN STRUT

When I was 22 I tried to explain how much I dug George Porter’s bass work to the man himself, how brilliant the Meters were and how I played guitar along to Robert Palmer’s Sneaking Sally Through the Alley (an LP he works the bass on) more than just about any other record.

I’d just bartended a Gov’t Mule show in Chicago at the Park West Theatre, one that he’d just played bass all over, and my pitched plea was interrupted repeatedly by Matt, the lighting guy, and his failed attempts to blast me with rolled-up balls of duct tape, shot a hundred feet away from a stage that he was supposed to be breaking down, the one with the band’s gear (and, presumably, quite a bit of duct tape) still left on it.

Later that winter Matt won $200 in a Park West raffle during a ski enthusiast movie marathon (Matt did not ski, or at least did not at the time), as an independent contractor he successfully argued that his employment status left him well within the rules to participate, and I was just happy to get back the ten bucks he owed me.

He owed 20 to the show promoter, which no doubt aided her interest in keeping the ski enthusiasts at arm’s length after Matt the Lighting Guy won that night’s prize in full view of entire families full of kids who have never known anything but Audis. She had the final say and, none of these are jokes, her 20 bucks.

Later that night, while I was using 20 percent of that tenner on the Brown Line, he cashed out the rest of his earnings on powerful narcotics and a trip to an alcohol-free strip club.

This was a Sunday night.

What you read above was the NBA’s Wednesday night, and we’ll loosen up the tie a bit for Friday morning’s show.

See you then.