Joel Embiid is missing his chance to put the MVP debate to rest once and for all

Joel Embiid will not play against Denver on Monday night.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid is on the verge of winning his first league MVP award. He could’ve basically locked it up with a dominant showing Monday night against two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokić. Unfortunately, the 76ers announced Monday afternoon that Embiid will miss the game due to a calf injury. Even with that disappointing news, this mini rivalry between the NBA’s two premier centers has been heating up over the past year and change, but nearly all the smoke seems to come out of Philly. Embiid fired more shots at Joker while speaking with Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“I’m not a two-time MVP. I’ve never made 1st-Team All NBA, I’ve never won anything, so why is there pressure on me to do something when there are guys that have won a bunch of MVPs and haven’t done anything either?”

The Sixers and Nuggets faceoff in Denver Monday night for the second and final time this season, as this was supposed to be a showcase for the leaders in the MVP race. After campaigning for the award for two years, a strong showing on Jokić’s home turf likely would have clinched it for Embiid. The 76ers took the first meeting earlier this season in Philly, led by Joel “the Troll,” dropping 47 points on Jokić and the Nuggets, along with 18 boards.

The rematch we’re being denied

Embiid took it to Jokić in that first meeting, as the Joker scored only 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds while dishing nine assists. It was a typical Jokić game, but Embiid went all out to show the basketball world, especially MVP voters, he’s the best big man in the game. Had the Philly big man been able to follow that first meeting up by running roughshod over Jokić in Denver, we’d be unofficially crowning a new MVP Monday night. But the Sixers took matters out of Embiid’s hands and decided to sit him so he’s as healthy as possible for the upcoming postseason run. It makes sense, although it’s disappointing from a fan’s point of view.

Although the ultimate determining factor in this “rivalry” would be these two ALL-NBA players in a seven-game series. Both teams would need to make it to the NBA Finals, which isn’t happening anytime soon. There’d need to be several bad breaks to befall other squads, clearing a path for Denver and Philly. One could make it, but the odds of both doing so are too long. So, for now, we’ll have to settle for watching these behemoths match up twice each season and base arguments around those head-to-head battles and overall stats.

Joel talks about how the pressure shouldn’t be on him in this equation with Jokić. He may have a point to some extent since considerable pressure seems to have been placed on Embiid the past few years because the Sixers haven’t come close to winning a title. The closest the Nuggets have come was making the Western Conference Finals in 2020 during the Orlando bubble playoffs, and that was before he won an MVP. So, in that regard, the former scoring champ has a valid point.

Unfortunately for Embiid, the pressure will stay on his shoulders, especially with the MVP award hanging in the balance. Tonight was supposed to be the return bout in which Jokić attempted to get his win back and gain ground in the MVP hunt. Jokić trails the Philly favorite in this race for the association’s top honor. All Denver needs to do now is beat Philadelphia, and Joker should be able to close the gap in the minds of many voters.

Charles Barkley hates the playa and the game, but he should look in the mirror

It gets a bit tiresome.

Every Cinderella story needs a bitter, jaded, elderly hater. Charles Barkley is college basketball’s evil stepmother analog. One of the most maddening staples of every March Madness is TNT loaning out Charles Barkley for CBS’ NCAA Tournament studio show coverage where he dissects college hoops with the deftness of a butcher while pretending he’s a tastemaker or expert with something worth saying on the topic.

As part of that exchange though, CBS’ 60 Minutes broadcast aired an interview with Charles Barkley in his hometown of Leeds, Alabama on Sunday night after the Final Four was settled. The show’s segments featured an earnest look at sensory touch technology in prosthetics and an exposé on eBay execs harassing a couple running a small website.

Who asked for a Barkley interview?

Nestled in between those hard-hitters was Barkley giving the sport of basketball a terrible name. In Barkley’s version of the world, he hates everything it’s become. He railed against Kevin Durant’s sensitive disposition as a symptom of his generation, which is one of the most generic, catch-all criticisms of every generation from the one before it in civilized human history.

His calling Kevin Durant sensitive is ironic. Three years ago, he threatened politics reporter Alexi McCammond by whispering, “I don’t hit women, but if I did, I would hit you,” because he felt she humiliated him.

Barkley is the lead in one of TV’s most irreverent ensemble casts covering the NBA. But Inside the NBA is a comedy. As a television-viewing public, we’ve got to start treating Barkley like the entertainer he is. He’s not an astute analyst or an expert.

It’s hard to tell where angry Chuck begins and docile, reflective Chuck begins. We all have multitudes, but none of Barkley’s asinine commentary on the complex financial dynamics of NIL or the legislation to reform it, whatever that entails, is illuminating. As usual, his takes were bad. He parachutes into college basketball every March, then regales the audience with amusing stories about washing his jersey in the shower at Auburn and wearing it the next game. What goes unnoticed is that the majority of his college basketball analysis is insipid. During the 2018 Tournament, he didn’t know the difference between Purdue and Iowa.

An NIL take from Charles — this was never gonna end well

On 60 Minutes, Barkley also sank his teeth into the topic of name, image, and likeness compensation for student-athletes on a separate occasion from the studio.

In response to new NCAA President Charlie Baker’s comments about federal NIL compensation legislation, Barkley suggested the athletic directors and universities come together and bargain about a standard that will benefit them.

“Did he say we’re going to ask the politicians to help us?” said Barkley. “See that pisses me off already. Our politicians are awful people.” “I would actually go to people who actually care about basketball,” he added. “I would put a committee together. I would love for Clark [Kellogg] to be on the committee, get some coaches, get some players, and let’s try to work this thing out. We can’t ask these politicians nothing. Those people are awful people, Democrats and Republicans. They’re all crooks.”

Who’s going to tell him that the head of the NCAA he is gullible enough to believe can rig their own NIL standards internally is a former governor? I couldn’t think of a worse optic or result than the NCAA suppressing athlete compensation to make the lives of their programs easier. The only ones who would wind up getting stuffed in that scenario are the athletes. As it turns out, the NCAA’s member schools’ exploitation of student-athletes is a feature, not a bug for Barkley, who blamed NIL for ruining college basketball.

Here are the footnotes of Barkley’s pocket-watching and Playa hatin’ comments…

“It’s a travesty and a disgrace, I’m so mad now how we can mess up something that’s so beautiful.”

“We can’t play all these players.”


These players are already getting paid. The only problem college basketball has is catering to the casual fans because top NBA prospects would rather get paid to develop in the G League or Overtime Elite. Barkley’s fear-mongering over NIL is actually counterproductive to his cause for college basketball.

“In the next three to five years, we’re going to have 25 schools that’s going to dominate the sports because they can afford players and these schools who can’t afford or don’t pay players are going to be irrelevant.”

This year’s Final Four consists of Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, UConn, and a Miami team that is financed by the CEO of LifeWallet. But they’re the anomaly. UConn is the only program left that has reached a Final Four before, and their last one was nine years ago. I get that this interview was filmed prior to the tournament, but the tournament has been rife with parity for years.

Worst of all is that Barkley is a hypocrite, who admitted to taking money from agents during his three years at Auburn. For what it’s worth, during his stint as a Tiger, Auburn only played in one NCAA Tournament. That type of hypocrisy is almost performance art.

Barkley was being truthful 30 years ago, when he explained that he was not a role model. His counsel should whistle in one ear and out the other. The only athlete in this fractured culture whom I can agree was a role model is Secretariat, because at least he had the wisdom not to bump his gums on subjects he had little to no expertise in.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex

Patrick Beverley shows up LeBron James and Shannon Sharpe in Los Angeles

Pat Bev came to play in his return to Los Angeles.

LeBron James made his long-awaited return to the Lakers lineup Sunday and took a 10-point ‘L’ in Los Angeles at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. Another player who returned to Arena on Sunday was James’ former teammate, Patrick Beverley. Beverley and the Bulls didn’t just snag a convincing victory, but Pat Bev also exacted a little revenge and got his moment to shine against “The King” late in the game.

After scoring that floater on James with 72 seconds left in regulation to put Chicago up by 10, the 6-foot-1 Beverley stopped before running back on defense to let LeBron know he was “too small” to guard him. Standing more than half a foot taller and likely more than 60 lbs. heavier than the Bulls guard, surely this gesture tickled James along with everyone at the game.

Beverley wasn’t done there as he then turned to LeBron’s biggest fan, Undisputed’s Shannon Sharpe. Sharpe was sitting courtside as usual, and with mere seconds left in the game, Beverley looked over to the NFL Hall of Famer, pinching his nose, telling Shay Shay that his boys stink. While most fans will say it’s just Pat Bev, and he’s known for these antics, it doesn’t change the fact that LA squandered an opportunity to get a much-needed win.

Pat Bev wasn’t the member of the Bulls who poked fun at the Lakeshow Sunday afternoon. Former Bull and the team’s current color analyst, Stacey King, did his best Sharpe impersonation on the Bulls broadcast. Sharpe is quite active on social media, so it’ll be funny to see how he responds once he gets a hold of this clip. It’s pure comedy.

The Lakers are fighting for their playoff/play-in lives as they’re currently in the ninth spot, tied with the OKC Thunder. This was a game LA couldn’t afford to lose, and James’ return didn’t make a difference. This Lakers squad seemed to get rolling while LeBron was out, and it felt like he threw the team’s rhythm off in Sunday’s loss. With seven games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Lakers need every win possible as they aren’t locked into the play-in yet. 

The best NBA games on this week’s schedule

Image for article titled The best NBA games on this week’s schedule

Focus, people. There are only two weeks remaining in the NBA season.

The playoff picture is far from complete, so this is the most important week of the NBA season. Key players have returned from injury — Karl Anthony-Towns on Wednesday and LeBron James on Sunday — and more are on the way.

Of course, the Western Conference standings are still a cluttered mess from 5-13, but that has to somewhat clear up this week with only a handful of regular-season games left to play.

The Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments should have sports fans’ in a postseason frame of mind. A mindset to stay in while watching these upcoming games that all have postseason ramifications, and a few superstar showdowns.

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When: Mar. 27, 9:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: NBA TV, NBC Sports Philadelphia, Altitude Sports Network

The Battle of the MVP Frontrunners II. Joel Embiid won the first one in resounding fashion. The 76ers defeated the Nuggets on Jan. 28, 126-119. Embiid had one of his best games of the season that afternoon. He scored 47 points and hauled 18 rebounds. Embiid certainly looked like the better player between him and Nikola Jokić in their first matchup.

That game was in Philadelphia. Their final head-to-head contest — unless the 76ers and Nuggets play in the NBA Finals — will be in Denver. If Jokić wants to get his final push going for a third consecutive MVP, Monday night is the ideal time to go for it.

Image for article titled The best NBA games on this week’s schedule

When: Mar. 27, 10:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: League Pass, Bally Sports North, NBC Sports California

The Timberwolves have their season back on the right track with three consecutive wins. Each one of those victories was against a team that is currently high enough in the standings to qualify for the postseason. At 38-37, they are now a half-game away from jumping ahead of the Warriors in the standings and out of the play-in tournament.

If the Kings want to maximize their first postseason appearance since Dwight Howard’s rookie season, it would help to secure home-court advantage for the first two rounds. For those of you too young to comprehend basketball in the early aughts, you are in for a surprise in the playoffs. The Kings crowd might be the loudest in the entire NBA.

The Kings do have an issue that can momentarily hold them back, however. De’Aaron Fox tweaked his hamstring last week.

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When: Mar. 28, 7:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: TNT, TSN

These certainly are not two of the most entertaining teams in the league to watch, but this matchup is most certainly consequential.

The Miami Heat have been stringing together some wins in recent weeks, even though they lost badly to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. That loss dropped the Heat back into the play-in tournament, but they still have the same record as the Nets. It won’t take much for them to get back that No. 6 seed.

The Raptors have won five of their last seven games and are playing some of their best basketball of the season. However, they are still holding steady as the No. 9 seed in the east. The Raptors also have the same record as the team just ahead of them in the standings — the Atlanta Hawks.

Image for article titled The best NBA games on this week’s schedule

When: Mar. 28, 10:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: TNT, NBC Sports Bay Area

The Warriors sure spit that game up against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night. Center court at the Chase Center, they ralphed away a lead in the final seconds. On Tuesday, they have to face another team from the cluster in the bottom half of the Western Conference in which they are battling to stay atop.

The Pelicans were out of the playoffs at one point last week. Currently, they are eighth and only one game behind the Warriors for that coveted No. 6 seed. With the carrot dangling of a potential Zion Williamson return before the end of the regular season, the Warriors could help themselves, and the rest of the conference, by defeating the Pelicans. Thereby keeping the Pelicans’ playoff hopes in peril.

Image for article titled The best NBA games on this week’s schedule

When: Mar. 29, 8:00 p.m EST

Where to Watch: League Pass, SportsNet LA, NBC Sports Chicago

The Bulls spoiled LeBron James’ return to the floor following a 13-game absence. They had one of their best shooting games of the year. Even DeMar DeRozan hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter. The Lakers will be looking to leave Chicago on Wednesday with a split in their season series.

With the Lakers’ Sunday loss and the Timberwolves’ win against the Warriors, the Lakers are now a full game behind them in the standings. In the east, the Bulls’ win pulls them to within half a game of the Raptors and the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in seedings.

Image for article titled The best NBA games on this week’s schedule

When: Mar. 29, 10:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: ESPN, Bally Sports North, Bally Sports Arizona

Another big matchup for the Timberwolves. A win against the Kings on Monday — again who might be undermanned — would give them four in a row. At this point, they would only have six games remaining on the schedule. With two of those against the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers, as tough as this season has been they could still avoid the play-in tournament.

The bad news for the T’Wolves though, four out of six of those games will be played on the road. They will be in Phoenix taking on the Suns as they hit the west coast for the final time this regular season. The Suns got a big win on Saturday against the 76ers but had lost six of their previous seven games. They will get a boost this week with Deandre Ayton’s return to the lineup.

An even bigger boost would be if this game is the return of Kevin Durant.

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When: Mar. 30, 7:30 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: TNT

NBA on TNT Thursday returns after a two-week hiatus — sans Ernie, Kenny, and Chuck — with a bang. It’s best-on-best in Milwaukee. The Celtics and Bucks are arguably the two best teams in the NBA and both still have a shot at the best record.

The Bucks didn’t make the effort to maximize the previous regular season. They elected not to play their starters in their final game and fell behind the Celtics in the standings. Even without the home court — and no Khris Middleton — they were still a Jayson Tatum, Game 6, on the road, series-saving performance from winning that series. In recent weeks, a large swath of NBA media has shifted from believing that the Celtics are the NBA Championship favorite to the Bucks. The Celtics have struggled as of late while the Bucks have been on a tear since mid-January.

The best are about to go head-to-head in what might be a preview of a playoff rematch.

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When: Mar. 31, 8:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: League Pass, Bally Sports So Cal, Bally Sports Southeast

With Ja Morant back as the Grizzlies’ starting point guard they are trying to hold off the Sacramento Kings and keep home-court advantage in a potential second-round matchup. The Clippers are in that mass of Western Conference teams trying to simultaneously stay in the postseason and out of the play-in tournament.

The Grizzlies hold a significant tiebreaker advantage on the Kings for the No. 2 seed. Their division record is four games better than the Kings’ and they have only one divisional opponent remaining on the schedule. As long as the Grizzlies keep a steady pace for the rest of the season, they should be able to remain put in the standings.

The Clippers lost Paul George likely for at least the rest of the regular season. Even though they are the No. 5 seed, they are only a game away from falling into the play-in. Also, they have a back-to-back over the weekend.

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When: Apr. 2, 6:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: NBA TV, Bally Sports SE, Bally Sports SW

Two disappointments meet up to attempt to cling to what is left of six months of unfulfilled expectations. The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, and the Hawks looked solid around Thanksgiving before the Dejounte Murray injury.

March is almost over and the Mavericks are on the outside looking in on the entire postseason after embarrassing consecutive losses to the Charlotte Hornets. On Sunday, Trae Young unleashed his superpower of not being able to consistently hit 30-plus foot shots and the Hawks lost a winnable game to the Grizzlies.

The Hawks would have to spontaneously combust to fall out of the East play-in, but it would be beneficial for them to at least host their first game. The Mavericks traded for Kyrie Irving on Feb. 6. At that time they were three games over .500, and would go on a three-game winning streak. They have won five games since, and are currently on a four-game losing streak.

The Hawks may have firmer postseason footing, but at least the Mavericks can say that they didn’t fire a second-consecutive coach midseason.

Image for article titled The best NBA games on this week’s schedule

When: Apr. 2, 8:00 p.m. EST

Where to Watch: League Pass, NBC Sports Philadelphia, Bally Sports Wisconsin

Another matchup of the NBA elite. Both of these teams have other big upcoming matchups and will end the weekend against each other.

Giannis Antetokoumnpo is likely on the outside looking in on the MVP race, but his team went undefeated in February which helped propel them to the best record in the NBA. The Warriors may be the defending champions, but the road to the title likely goes through the home of the 2021 champs.

The 76ers have been on a roll since Dec. 9. Since that date they have the best record in the NBA and the second-best offense behind the Kings. They have blown teams out and also pulled out gutty wins like when they ended the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak by coming back from an 18-point deficit on the road on Mar. 4.

Warriors’ turnover problem submarines a needed victory

Draymond Green

There was a four-second difference between the game clock and the shot clock. The Golden State Warriors had the lead with less than 24 seconds remaining in the game. A victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves would have put the Warriors firmly 1.5 games ahead of the play-in tournament. The Warriors ended up losing and are now clinging to the sixth seed with a 0.5 game-lead on the Timberwolves after the loss. What cost them the game is a problem that they can no longer power through — turnovers.

It was Draymond Green and Jordan Poole whose miscues — this time broadcasted intentionally — put the Warriors in a bad spot in late critical moments. With under a minute remaining in the game, the Warriors were up by one after Rudy Gobert split a pair of free throws. Green had the ball at the top of the key and somehow got his chest pass deflected by Kyle Anderson. A few seconds later, Towns hit a 3-pointer and the Timberwolves took a two-point lead.

The following trip up the floor Poole had the ball with just over four seconds remaining. If the Chase Center had a financial incentive to advertise the team’s turnover problems, Poole’s face would be atop every entrance.

He had played well on Sunday, but his attempt at a game-winning play went haywire. He slipped while trying to pull up on Mike Conley, ended up panicking, and flipped an ill-advised pass toward Curry that went out of bounds. A game the Warriors let slip away, and now four of their six remaining games are against teams that currently are in the postseason.

Of course, as bad as their mistakes were, those aren’t the only reasons that the Warriors lost 99-96 to the Timberwolves. Defense is far from a strength for the 2022-23 Warriors, so if they hold a team to under 100 points they should not lose.

It was unfortunate timing for the Warriors for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to have rough shooting performances on the same night. They both shot under 35 percent from the field, and it was actually Poole’s 27 points on 50 percent from the field that helped keep the Warriors in the game.

A better shooting performance and the Warriors could have pounded the T’Wolves, but that is how jump shooting works. Some nights they don’t fall and combine that with a team that has the propensity to turn the ball over, disaster can strike during any game. The 73-win Warriors of 2015-16 committed the sixth-most turnovers per game in the NBA and was 20th in turnover percentage. This season, the Warriors rank 29th in both of those categories. How the Warriors were able to navigate blown possessions and shooting slumps by playing some of the best defense in the NBA. In 2016 they had the fifth-best defensive rating in the league, last year’s championship squad finished the regular season first in that category. A defense that strong can compensate for an offense that, turns the ball over less frequently than only the Houston Rockets

Sunday was the night that Gary Payton II made his 2023 Warriors debut. He played just over 15 minutes in his return to the court from an adductor injury, and it appears that he will be ready to assume his role from the 2022 postseason. He was excellent for them on defense last season and on night one with him on the court they held a surging team to under 100 points — albeit with Anthony Edwards playing in his first game since turning an ankle last Sunday.

One of the few times this season that a shootout wasn’t necessary to win. The game was instead a rock fight that the Warriors lost control of at the most inopportune time.

Miami Heat to honor Dade County O.G. Udonis Haslem with an entire seating section

Image for article titled Miami Heat to honor Dade County O.G. Udonis Haslem with an entire seating section

Udonis Haslem will go down as one of the most beloved players in Miami Heat history. He may be second to only Dwayne Wade, and that’s saying something considering some of the stars who’ve played for the franchise. While the Heat haven’t exactly made Haslem’s swan song season one to remember, the organization has announced how they plan to honor the three-time NBA champ by dedicating section 305 in Miami-Dade Arena to the long-time Heat veteran.

Normally, we see teams honor superstars or players that once led them to titles as dominant scorers. Haslem never averaged more than 12 points per game in a season or postseason. But if you ask anyone in Miami what his contributions have meant to this team on and off the court for the last 20 years, they’d tell you his leadership and accountability have been priceless. There’s a reason he’s so well respected around the association. Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks even shouted out Haslem recently, showing respect to the vet while simultaneously sneak-dissing Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.

“Those guys are trying to get back into the league. They’re not trying to hone in on a guy and be a vet. A real vet is like Udonis Haslem.”

Haslem has not played more than 16 games during an NBA season since 2015-16, when he logged minutes in 37 of 82 contests. It’s similar to what the Golden State Warriors have done with Andre Iguodala of late, but he hasn’t spent his entire career in one spot. The one constant in that Miami locker room since 2003 has been Haslem. Pat Riley’s been an executive with the organization for some time now, and Haslem was around long before Eric Spoelstra was named head coach.

Being a Miami native makes this even more special for all parties involved. The fan base loves Haslem for what he’s done over the years, as he’s been the team’s enforcer in a league that pretty much phased that role out years ago. Haslem’s never been one for nonsense, as was evident during his sideline altercation with teammate Jimmy Butler last year. Luckily cooler heads prevailed in that situation. In a league where so many dudes “act” tough, it’s refreshing to still have guys who don’t need to fake it.

What in the hell were the Mavs thinking on this play?

It was not a pretty scene for the Mavs.

The Dallas Mavericks have seemingly spent this season in a state of perpetual confusion. Things started alright but have worsened as the 2022-23 campaign nears a close. Trading for Kyrie Irving only complicated matters by doing the opposite of what team governor Mark Cuban had hoped. Wednesday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors totally sums up this group of Mavs. They look dazed and confused.

A communication mishap stemming from the previous play led to the Warriors taking an uncontested layup in a play that nobody could believe. We’ve seen uncontested plays at the rim in the NBA, especially in recent years, but not like this when a team is inbounding the ball from under their own hoop.

Dallas’ entire team was at the other end of the floor. Head coach Jason Kidd wasn’t even aware of what had occurred and attempted to argue his point with officials to no avail. This could be the strangest play of this NBA season. In one of Kyrie Irving’s first games as a Mav last month, there was a play where he and Luka Dončić played hot potato with the ball at the end of a game, with neither getting up a final shot. Wednesday night against the Warriors blows that play out of the water.

Adding insult to that debacle is the fact the Mavs lost this crucial game in a tight western conference playoff race. Dallas has fallen to ninth place in the west, losing two in a row and six of their last 10 games. This Luka-Kyrie experiment doesn’t seem like it will be run back in Dallas, and the same fate could befall Kidd soon. After making a surprising run to the Western Conference Finals last year, anything less than making the playoffs may cause Cuban to think twice about the direction of his franchise. 

Austin Reaves has been the biggest beneficiary of the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook trade

Austin Reaves has lit up the scoring charts in the wake of Russell Westbrook’s departure.

It’s a new age in L.A. Move out of the way, LeBron James. Make way for… Austin Reaves. OK, chew on that for a minute, swallow the thought, and breathe. There’s obviously room besides Reaves in the Los Angeles Lakers’ lineup for the scoring king when he’s healthy enough to return to action. LeBron is 38 though, so he can pick up the slack when Reaves or Anthony Davis needs reinforcements.

Hyperbole aside, the 24-year-old Reaves might be bumping against his ceiling already, but, LeBron is still on the shelf, Davis is too injury-prone and the Lakers need a main character for the home stretch. Reaves’ background as a farm boy from a town in Arkansas with a population of about 1,200 only supplements the story’s Tinseltown’s potential. Between his trek from shooting specialist at Wichita State to dynamic All-Big 12 scorer during his senior year at Oklahoma, Reaves was anonymous on the national scene. Now he’s the rare white American NBA superstar.

Benefitting from Russ’s absence

Since Russell Westbrook was traded, Reaves has been the Lakers’ biggest beneficiary and he’s about to get showered with gamma-radiation levels of attention. Westbrook got the toxic form of that attention. We’re not yet approaching Lin-sanity territory after Wednesday night’s showcase in a win over the Phoenix Suns, but it can’t be far behind. Following his 35-point explosion against the Orlando Magic on Sunday, the NBA’s official YouTube page compiled an hour of “Austin Reaves Highlights.” Spend the time you would have used checking out saccharine Ted Lasso content on some Reaves content instead. But, what if he never actually “goes away” like Linsanity?

Darvin Ham responded to Reaves’ career-high outburst on Sunday by inserting Reaves into the starting lineup against the Phoenix Suns. In Reaves’ inaugural frame as a starter, he delivered 10 points. By the end of the first, his confidence was growing after he left Cam Payne off-balance and sliced through the lane for a nifty tear drop over a closing big that had everyone watching staring at the ramp, imagining Jim Ross giving us all tinnitus while screeching, “Bah gawd, that’s Stone Cold Reaves Austin’s music!”

He even notched 11 assists to pair with 25 points and was integral to Los Angeles’ win over the Suns. Those 25 weren’t just hot shooting from behind the arc either. He started off by putting Chris Paul on the menu, using his body to bump Chris Paul off of him, draw a foul, hang in the air for an extra tick and drop a slick pull-up.

But Reaves’ emergence is also a necessary superlative on Rob Pelinka’s resume. The paucity of homegrown, young talent on the Lakers roster since the 2019 purge has always made Lakers fans cynical of the LeBron-Pelinka era. Reaves would be the first homegrown talent to pop in L.A. since Alex Caruso. Caruso earned his place in the league as a contemporary Billy Hoyle-grade combo guard who emphasized lockdown defense and occasionally flashed “sneaky athleticism.” But he wasn’t generating offense off the dribble at a high-volume capacity, thriving in pick-and-rolls with Davis and getting to the line.

Happy accidents

Late draft picks and undrafted free agents can change the trajectories of franchises in more unexpected ways than overspending on free agents. An extreme example is the Golden State Warriors and Draymond Green. Or more modestly, the New Jersey Nets finding a Benjamin on the sidewalk in the form of Stephen Jackson circa 2001. Since 2020, the Lakers have relied on more stringers and free agent temps than most of the league’s 30 regional of franchise-offices. The return of D’Angelo Russell was a popular move because it was the triumphant return of a player they’d grown attached to after he was shipped out to make room for them to draft Lonzo Ball in 2017.

Former Laker second-round pick Talen Horton-Tucker’s microwave scoring and ridiculous wingspan earned him the adoration of Laker Nation and tricked Pelinka into prioritizing him over Caruso, but he could only dribble to one side and his 27-percent career 3-point shooting had a dampening effect on the floor spacing. Discovering a playmaking wing though could be a boost for a Laker team that probably won’t contend next year, but needed to find a complementary piece for their 2024 run. Reaves might be better than complementary, though.

In his last 11 games since March 1, he’s registered 18 points, five boards, attempting eight free throws per contest while posting lots of 56 percent from the field, 37 percent from distance, and draining 83 percent of his freebies from the charity stripe. Of course, Reaves’ timing makes him more expensive to keep in purple and gold as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Defenses will adjust to Reaves’ tendencies and then we’ll see what he’s made of, but contemplating teams shifting a small percentage of their focus and effort on a contributor, who isn’t Russell or Davis or LeBron is a positive.

The Lakers will also have to shift a higher percentage of their salary cap to Reaves as well. He’s played well enough that the Lakers reportedly will be ready and willing to offer him a max contract in the four-year, $50 million range this offseason or go higher to match if he agrees to a lucrative offer sheet elsewhere.

Reaves hasn’t reached Caruso earning the fourth-highest tally among guards in the All-Star voting in the hypebeast machine, but if Caruso and some forward named Anthony Davis can lead a Bron-less squad to the postseason or play-in, he’ll do two things. Reaves will earn a place in Laker lore, secure a future on the roster and provide some nutrients in the empty-calorie roster assembled around LeBron for this season and beyond.

We’re committed to covering news about the Nets as well as all of the NBA. For more about Brooklyn and others, check out our Nets team page.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex.

New Balance wants us to believe Jack Harlow can ball with Kawhi Leonard

You mean to tell us that this guy can keep up with an NBA all-star?

Amid all the talk about load management and the L.A. Clippers’ legit chances of bringing home their first NBA title, we’ve totally neglected one blemish on the résumé of Kawhi Leonard. The fact that New Balance tries to sell the world that rapper Jack Harlow is a formidable opponent to “The Claw” on the court is absolutely absurd. And Kawhi going along with it is probably the most ludicrous.

Leonard might have a career in acting because he put ol Jackie boy over like a million bucks. I get that we’re in the age of everyone being a star on social media, but if this was New Balance’s veiled attempt at remaking the Michael Jordan “be like Mike” commercials, we’re not buying it. Playing in Kawhi’s shoes will not allow you or any of your friends to be competitive in a one-on-one game with the two-time NBA Finals MVP. Or any NBA play, for that matter. Don’t believe the hype.

In fact, the only person who seems to even be nearly that delusional is Mr. Harlow. This guy actually had the nerve to say he’s been told that Kawhi plays like him. It must be the shoes. “They see like flashes of me when he plays…”

Talk about drinking your own spiked Kool-Aid. This commercial made it feel like Harlow stood a chance against Leonard without help. Straight up, no teammates, no nothing, Harlow’s trading buckets with Kawhi. Get the fuck outta here. Indeed, Jack is loved by his legions of fans and probably excellent at what he does, but hooping on one of the NBA’s best isn’t one of ‘em.

Fred VanVleet has shown Chris Paul the way to an NBA Championship

Fred VanVleet’s costly rant appears to have paid off. Chris Paul should take note.

Precedent has been set. It is time for Chris Paul to take action. The Phoenix Suns are gearing up for a playoff run in the most wide-open Western Conference since Dennis Rodman and David Robinson were sharing the screen in stuffed-crust pizza commercials. With Kevin Durant likely to be available for the postseason, this season could be the best of Paul’s few remaining chances at an NBA Championship. In order to fully take advantage of this opportunity, Paul should pay attention to a recent Fred VanVleet administrative victory.

If he goes this route, it will certainly cost Paul some money. An astronomical figure for the average American, but a drop in the bucket for one of State Farm Insurance’s top salespersons. VanVleet was fined $30,000 for his expletive-laden diss track about NBA referee Ben Taylor, who has been responsible for three of his eight technical fouls during the 2022-23 NBA season.

Meadowlark Media’s Tom Haberstroh has noticed an irregularity in Taylor’s officiating assignments since that press conference. In the last two weeks, Taylor has spent very little time in his typical position as crew chief.

“In the last five games, Ben Taylor has only been the crew chief one,” Haberstroh said on The JD Bunkis Podcast. “He’s been the referee [No. 2] four times since that game, since that rant. Which is a real abnormality with Ben Taylor. If you look at his previous 52 games this season Ben Taylor was the crew chief in 41 of those games.”

Maybe this was simply a quick knuckle slap with a ruler by the NBA. Something to try and quietly tighten up shortly before the beginning of the postseason, while forgetting the fact “quiet” and “NBA” do not go together. The league insiders, the data experts like Haberstroh, and players on social media, all of whom are always alert. There is no moving under the cover of darkness in the NBA.

Taylor is an NBA veteran. He is currently in his 10th season as an NBA referee and has only been working postseason games since 2019. Foster is currently in his 29th season as an NBA ref. The league considers Foster one of its very best. If it didn’t, there is no way that he would have been working in enough postseason games for Paul to lose 14 of them in a row.

For Paul to properly pry open one of his final championship windows he had better tape a few extra insurance commercials, maybe even revive Cliff Paul again. One $30,000 series of F-bombs isn’t going to do it. He needs to pen a piece for the Players’ Tribune, make an appearance on The Shop, get fellow North Carolina native J. Cole to collaborate with him on an actual diss track.

Anything less than $1 million in fines and an early April suspension might not be enough. Foster has been officiating since before Paul began middle school, and will likely continue after the future Hall of Famer retires. When Foster steps down he will be right next to Joey Crawford as a legend among referees, and also in the NBA Fan Hall of Hate as one of the most dreaded faces to see with a whistle at a big game.

After last year’s unexpected battle with the 10-games-under-.500 New Orleans Pelicans in the first round, Paul had to think that there was no way around Foster. Luck of the draw would be his only hope that if he ever gets back to the NBA Finals, Foster wouldn’t again be crew chief when his team is facing elimination. Foster’s nickname might be “The Extender,” but he closed the finals in 2021.

It’s time to get desperate Chris. Offer Durant any healing remedy you have ever been recommended that you believe works, and then get to screaming from everywhere you can go viral about Foster. Use all of the foul — while also non-bigoted — language that comes to your mind. Make VanVleet’s tirade look like a campfire song by comparison.

If it can even get Foster away from you in the postseason for one game in which he would normally be assigned, your fine will be worth every penny.