The 76ers have a big three emerging, plus what’s next for MLB and MLBPA?


Happy Thursday, all!

Let’s get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

THE PHILADELPHIA 76ERS…

When the 76ers acquired James Harden, the prevailing question was how he would fit with Joel Embiid. Maybe we also should have been asking: who would step up alongside those two? Through three games, we have our answer: Tyrese Maxey.

The second-year guard scored 25 points — including 10 in the fourth quarter — as Philadelphia topped New York 123-108 in Harden’s home debut.

Harden continued the uber-efficient start to his 76ers career, posting 26 points on just 13 shot attempts to go along with nine rebounds and nine assists. Not to be outdone, Embiid had 27 points and 12 rebounds. The Sixers’ new Big Three is averaging 84.7 points in its three games together so far. That sort of balance should put the rest of the Eastern Conference on notice, writes NBA expert Michael Kaskey-Blomain:

  • Kaskey-Blomain: “Three games is far too small of a sample size to jump to any sweeping conclusions about how good the Sixers truly are … For now though, all we can do is react to what we’ve seen, and the early returns with Harden in the lineup have been as promising as anyone in the Sixers organization could have hoped for. “

Philadelphia is 3-0 with Harden in the fold, and all three wins have been by double digits. Now, things get fun: Philly has Cleveland, Miami, Chicago and Brooklyn as its next four games.

… AND ALSO A GOOD MORNING TO THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS

There’s been nothing “wrong,” per se, with the Milwaukee Bucks this year. Sure, they’re “only” fourth in the East, but they’re just three games out of first. Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to be amazing. They’re very much a top-tier title contender.

But Milwaukee entered Wednesday an uncharacteristic 11-15 against teams above .500 this season and had lost its last three games against those teams. So last night’s dramatic 120-119 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Heat was a big one.

  • The Bucks trailed by as much as 14 but finished the game on a 21-6 run in the last six minutes.
  • Milwaukee’s Big Three of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday combined for 79 points, with Holiday scoring the game-winner with under two seconds left.
  • Those three combined for 18 of Milwaukee’s 21 points during the aforementioned run.

The win for the reigning champs also shows just how well-rounded they are, writes our NBA scribe Jack Maloney.

  • Maloney:Over the final seven minutes, the Bucks held the Heat to 3 of 10 from the field and forced four turnovers as they closed on a 21-6 run. For a team that has been trending in the wrong direction on the defensive side of the ball — February was the worst single month of defense in the Mike Budenholzer era — it was an extremely encouraging turnaround.”

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…


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RUSSELL WESTBROOK

Not long ago, Russell Westbrook was finishing up his 11th season in Oklahoma City and his third straight season averaging a triple-double.

Fast forward to today and Westbrook is struggling mightily with the Lakers — his fourth team in four seasons — and it looks like it will become five teams in five seasons next year. According to reports, Westbrook and the Lakers have ‘mutual interest’ in finding him a new home this offseason.

There were whispers that Los Angeles would move Westbrook at the trade deadline, but they ultimately stood pat, even declining a trade that would have brought John Wall to the Lakers. So, what’s changed now? It’s a matter of timing, explains NBA expert Sam Quinn:

  • Quinn: “When the offseason arrives, the seven-years rule will allow the Lakers access to their 2029 first-round pick for trade purposes, and Westbrook himself will be on an expiring contract. That will make him far more tradable. There are going to be teams with multiple long-term contracts clogging their books that are interested in a Westbrook trade primarily for the sake of clearing 2023 cap space. Should the Lakers attach both of those picks [2027 and 2029], they could potentially add a few starting-caliber players.”

The grand Westbrook-LeBron James-Anthony Davis experiment has been a bust. Los Angeles is currently ninth in the Western Conference and is 0-3 since the All-Star Break. James and Davis have both dealt with significant injuries and Westbrook’s fit — always questionable at best — has been arguably even worse than expected.

  • Westbrook’s 2-point shooting percentage is its worst since 2016-17 and his 3-point shooting percentage is its second-worst in the past decade.
  • Of the 51 players who have taken at least 750 shots this year, Westbrook has the second-worst effective field goal percentage, only ahead of Julius Randle.
  • Westbrook commits the fourth-most turnovers per game.
  • The Lakers have been better with Westbrook off the court this season than on the court.

This is going to be a huge offseason for the Lakers, because James is extension-eligible this summer and he’ll undoubtedly want to be in a place where he can win it all in the twilight of his career. The Lakers aren’t that — and aren’t particularly close — as currently constructed. Moving Westbrook is essentially the only way to change that. It’s been a well-traveled road for the former MVP, and it seems like another stop is on the horizon.

Where does MLB go from here? ⚾

After MLB commissioner Rob Manfred officially canceled the first two series of the 2022 season on Tuesday evening, the owners and the players did not meet yesterday. It ended a nine-day streak of negotiating, one that, on the surface, looked impressive but failed to do much in terms of results. Hence, the canceled games.

So, what’s next? Our MLB expert Mike Axisa outlined where the owners and the players go from here:

  • Regroup and schedule another bargaining session (today is the earliest the two sides could reconvene)
  • Prepare to fight over 2022 salaries (this issue just arose after games were canceled and now must be added to the long list of other issues)
  • Come up with ways to improve competitive integrity (more on that in a bit)
  • Stay ready for Spring Training (once the lockout ends, it will be a quick turnaround for players)

That fourth point is a big one, and a major crux of several issues that still need to be hashed out, Axisa notes:

  • Axisa:Let’s not kid ourselves here: MLB’s competitive integrity is in the tank. A third of the league isn’t trying to contend in any given year, the league lies about the baseball itself, there’s a new cheating scandal every season, and all that is happening while MLB gets into bed with gambling partners. How can fans trust what they see on the field? … My guess is the MLBPA will come up with a few other ways to limit anti-competitive behavior before the two sides strike a deal. This is a priority item for the union, and it should be for fans too.”

By the way, if Manfred’s speech Tuesday made you mad/frustrated/roll your eyes, you weren’t alone. His words were littered with “spin, revisionism and misinformation,” writes MLB reporter (and resident speech fact-checker) Dayn Perry. This piece may make you frustrated, but it will also make you smarter and help you understand what Manfred’s words — truth or not — really meant.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich to sell Chelsea ⚽


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Billionaire Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, the longtime owner of Chelsea, is selling the club as calls for sanctions against him mount in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Abramovich, 55, bought the club for about $230 million in 2003 and has poured money into it ever since. Chelsea won every trophy there was to win during Abramovich’s tenure, including five Premier League titles, two Champions League titles and, most recently, the Club World Cup. Prior to Abramovich’s ownership, Chelsea had never won any of those.

As for what’s next…

  • Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss has expressed interest and claimed that there are three other contenders.
  • Abramovich will not ask for any loans to be repaid; the club owed him roughly $2 billion.
  • Abramovich also said net proceeds from the sale of the club will go to “all victims of the war in Ukraine.”

You can see Abramovich’s full statement here.

What we’re watching Thursday 📺

🏀 Grizzlies at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 24 Iowa at Michigan, 9 p.m. on FS1
🏀 Lakers at Clippers, 10 p.m. on TNT





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