Embiid waves to Durant, Nets off the court; shows potential for the 76ers

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Three Things is NBC’s five-day-a-week roundup of the day before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every morning of the week to catch up on what you missed the night before, plus the rumors, dramas, and dunks that make the NBA great.

1) Embiid waves to Durant, Nets off the court; shows potential for the 76ers

Dear basketball gods: Can we get a playoff series between these two teams? Please? We need six or seven games of that.

Thursday night was revenge for Philly. Two weeks ago the Nets beat the 76ers 114-105 and after the game Kevin Durant waved the Sixers off the field. Durant thought the 76ers had disrespected the Nets, and he told them to go home.

On Thursday night, Joel Embiid returned the favor after scoring 34 points to lead a 110-102 victory over Brooklyn.

After the match, Embiid and Durant both said their trashy conversation was due to respect for the way they pushed each other. It was good competitive fun.

That’s the kind of fun we need to see in a playoff series.

A playoff series that the 76ers could make very interesting, depending on what happens in the next six weeks before the trade deadline.

It’s hard to predict what the 76ers will look like after the Ben Simmons trade – and there will be a Ben Simmons trade before the deadline – because we don’t know who is coming to Philly. It could be someone to help solidify their rebound issues and defensive concerns (areas where Simmons was important to them). It could be much more offensive. Maybe both.

Embiid is a question the Nets can’t answer directly – he’s too big, too strong, too fast for their defenders on the inside.

If the play around Embiid is good enough, the 76ers can beat anyone. Thursday night they got that quality play, with Tyrese Maxey scoring 25, Seth Curry adding 17 and Matisse Thybulle putting Durant to work for his points. Add one or more quality players to that mix after the Simmons trade, and this 76ers team could be a threat.

The pecking order in the East currently has the Nets – Kyrie Irving’s return for road games starting soon – and the Bucks at the top, with the Heat looming as a sleeper and the Bulls as a threat as well ( especially if they make a move on the deadline and get a quality four). With a healthy Embiid, Philadelphia could jump into that mix with the right move.

Embiid is good enough to elevate the 76ers to contender status and to get Durant and the Nets out of the field. That’s why Daryl Morey knows he can’t waste a year of first Embiid playing the leverage game in the Simmons deal. A move is coming.

2) Latest COVID: Nuggets / Warriors postponed, no fans in Toronto, Randle enters protocols

This latest wave of COVID continues to disrupt this NBA season. The league is not on hiatus, it will pass, but this season has taken a punch in the guts.

Here is the latest news on the COVID front with the NBA:

• The Knicks Julius Randle enters protocols. When he comes out, the Knicks need him to bring his 3-point shot gone with him.

• The NBA had to postpone its 11th game of the season, with the Warriors visiting the Nuggets. Earlier Thursday, the Nuggets announced that coach Mike Malone and three players – Jeff Green, Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji – had entered into league health and safety protocols. Add the injured Nuggets players – Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and PJ Dozier are all missing, as well as Monte Morris, Aaron Gordon and Austin Rivers have all been listed as questionable – and the Nuggets were unable to dress eight players in good health.

• The NBA has become a “who is this?” And “who is he playing for?” because of all the hardship contracts of 10 days being signed. How many? That number was 109 earlier Thursday, but has continued to climb.

• Doc Rivers from Philly has joined Denver’s Malone in Protocols, making him nine NBA Coaches in Protocols.

• About 36% of NBA referees are also in league protocols, which has also led to calls from the G-League on this front.

• The Raptors will play home games without a fan over the next three weeks.

• If you read all of this and say to yourself, “Why doesn’t the league take a break for a week or two? You need to know two things. First off, Hawks coach Nate McMillan agrees with you.

Second, it will not happen. The NBA will win. It has increased testing, shortened the time positive but asymptomatic players must quarantine (corresponding to CDC recommendations), forces teams to bring in temporary players when players on the roster are positive, but press the pause button is not on the table.

3) Cavaliers close to the trade to acquire Rajon Rondo from the Lakers

This exchange benefits both teams but doesn’t really shake things up overall.

After Ricky Rubio tore his ACL, the Cavaliers went for depth at the point guard (remember they also lost Collin Sexton for the season due to knee surgery). Rondo is the target.

Rondo is currently on COVID protocols and would not be heading to Cleveland until cleared. Rondo is not a regular part of the Lakers’ rotation – he only played 18 games for the Lakers, averaging 3.1 points per game and shooting 32.4%, and the Lakers were 10, Best 1 points per 100 when he’s on the bench – but he could fill a role alongside Darius Garland in Cleveland. At least he offers some veteran depth.

What the Lakers get out of this trade is a vacant spot on the roster (technically something needs to be traded for Rondo, likely a heavily protected second-round pick). This open place on the roster allows Los Angeles to keep Stanley Johnson, a struggling 10-day contract player, on the roster without suffering a substantial luxury tax impact. This trade opens a spot on the list, removes Rondo’s salary from the books and allows the Lakers to place Johnson in that space on a minimum contract.

Highlight of the night: Pitt football turnover dunk is awesome

It’s college bowling season, and that means we’re betting on watch teams we’ve barely paid attention to all season. With all due respect to Pitt, they were that team for me, and I had no idea they had made a turnover dunk after the Panther Defense Force.

It’s awesome.

Last night’s scores:

Philadelphia 119, Brooklyn 102
Milwaukee 136, Orlando 118
Washington 110, Cleveland 93
Golden State in Denver, postponed

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