76ers win in Joel Embiid’s return. Plus, Victor Wembanyama is poised for GOATdom

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76ers win in Joel Embiid’s return. Plus, Victor Wembanyama is poised for GOATdom

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Does anybody else believe airports are international waters, so nothing counts when consuming food and alcohol there?

About Embiid’s Return

Literal big moves happened last night

A robust 27-8. That’s the 76ers’ record this season — a 63-win pace — when Joel Embiid plays. Whether he’s dropping 70 due to being in a rhythm or pulling off triple-doubles, Philly (41-35, eighth in East) wins when the reigning MVP is on the court.

Embiid finally returned last night after not playing since Jan. 30 (meniscus surgery), so there were plenty of times he looked gassed or out of rhythm. Overall, he played 30 minutes and finished with 24 points, seven assists, six rebounds, six turnovers and three steals in the 109-105 victory over the Thunder (52-23, third in West). Considering the circumstances, Embiid gave the Sixers a phenomenal effort. Even though OKC was missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams, Philly was trying to work its centerpiece back into the mix without fellow All-Star Tyrese Maxey. After the game, Jared Greenberg asked Embiid on TNT how he felt in his first action back. Embiid said:

“Not good. But I’m glad we got through, and we got the win.”

At certain points, Embiid looked like he was going to throw up. It looked like one of those training montages in a military movie where the cadets are puking from exhaustion. There were times when Embiid didn’t even get back on offense, opting to stay on the defensive end of the floor. With six games now left to play, Embiid went through Philly’s toughest remaining opponent and got a W. The Sixers have their giant back and the NBA’s easiest remaining schedule over the next week and a half.

Maybe they can win out and leapfrog Miami (42-33, seventh in East) and Indiana (43-33) for sixth in the East to avoid the Play-In.

More from last night: 

Warriors 104, Mavs 100: Golden State (41-34, 10th in West) survived 57 points from Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving. Draymond Green came up huge in the fourth to secure the home win as the Warriors ended Dallas’ seven-game win streak.

Wolves 113, Rockets 106: Houston (38-37, 11th in West) couldn’t stop Naz Reid or get back on track, so the Rockets dropped three games behind the Warriors with seven left to play. Minnesota (52-23, second in West) is half a game behind West-leading Denver (53-23).

Wizards 117, Bucks 113: No Damian Lillard doesn’t mean there’s an excuse to lose to this Wizards squad (15-61, 14th in East). Corey Kispert led the ‘Zards with 27 points. After the game, Doc Rivers questioned the professionalism of the entire road staff.

Lakers 128, Raptors 111: The Lakers (43-33, ninth in West) have won seven of eight. Despite RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley returning, Toronto (23-52, 12th in East) lost its 14th straight game, marking the second-longest losing streak in team history.

Heat 109, Knicks 99: Terry Rozier had 34 points as New York (44-31, fifth in East) couldn’t come back from a 15-point halftime deficit. Miami is a half game out of sixth.

Kings 109, Clippers 95: No Kawhi Leonard meant Sacramento (44-31, seventh in West) absolutely shut down the Clippers (47-28, fourth in West) to move within a game of sixth.

Cavs 129, Jazz 113: Caris LeVert had 26 points to send Utah (29-47, 12th in West) to its 10th-straight loss. Cleveland (46-30) is 1.5 games behind Milwaukee for second.

The Latest From Shams

Ionescu-Curry contest could evolve

The Sabrina Ionescu vs. Stephen Curry 3-point contest was a highlight of All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis this year, and it seems very likely we get a rematch.

With 2025 All-Star Weekend in the Bay Area, I’m told there’s talk of the contest evolving into a 2v2 competition, potentially with Caitlin Clark, whom many expect to be the top pick in the WNBA Draft later this month, joining Ionescu and Klay Thompson (or even Oakland native Damian Lillard) joining Curry. I’ve also been told that Curry has specifically raised the possibility of Thompson participating in the contest next year, though it should be noted that Thompson will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Happy Wembsday!

Is Wemby hyperbole-proof? Can we go too far?

In a 110-105 loss to the reigning champion Denver Nuggets, Victor Wembanyama damn near registered a quadruple-double. While Wemby had a hellish night trying to defend Nikola Jokić (who dropped 42 points on 18-of-32 shooting to go with 16 rebounds and six assists), he also made life pretty difficult for the Nuggets. The rookie phenom finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks and eight assists.

Yes, he’s the only rookie to ever put up a game like that. And yes, if you want to throw some cold water on it, he was horrible shooting the ball (9-of-29 overall 2-of-11 from deep, 3-of-6 from the line). But there will be nights Wemby has bad nights while flirting with a quadruple-double. He even had two clutch blocks (one on Jokić, another an incomprehensible challenge by Reggie Jackson) in the final two-plus minutes. Unfortunately for the Spurs, Wemby couldn’t convert enough on offense to secure the win.

If you’ve been on Twitter over the last decade, you know DragonflyJonez and LaJethroJenkins. You also know their incredible podcast “Jenkins And Jonez,” which is co-hosted by Mike Guardabascio. They were talking about Wemby and said he has the potential to be the greatest basketball player ever while acknowledging it’s far too early to truly get into those talks (WARNING: Language. Use your headphones). They’re 100 percent correct. Wemby is that special of a player.

I ran some numbers just to see his early career pace. In an effort to remain conservative, I used Wemby’s current averages (21.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 3.5 blocks) while projecting him to play 70 games per season over a 15-year career. Under those circumstances, he’d finish with:

Nobody has ever reached all four of those benchmarks for a career (granted, the NBA didn’t start tracking blocks until 1973-74). By removing the blocks qualifier, only LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Charles Barkley populate that list. If you keep the blocks and remove the assists, Wemby would join only Hakeem Olajuwon. Conservatively speaking, Wemby is on pace to be the best player we’ve ever seen. That’s without counting the MVPs, DPOYs, All-NBA nods and championships he’ll end up winning.

Goodbye, Utah

The Jazz won’t tank, so what’s next?

For the second straight year, Utah has been mostly OK in competing. The second half of this season has seen the Jazz challenge for having the worst defense of all time, but they refuse to all-out tank. So, where do they go this summer? Given their recent elimination from the Play-In Tournament, let’s tie a pretty bow on Utah’s season.

Utah’s bright spot from this season? Couple of things happened for them. 1) Lauri Markannen showed he wasn’t a one-year flash in the pan and that he’s a legitimate star scorer. 2) Keyonte George proved to be a credible lead-guard-of-the-future option for them.

Key free agents for Utah: Talen Horton-Tucker, Kira Lewis Jr. (restricted free agent), Kris Dunn

Biggest position to address: They need a lot of help on the perimeter, particularly with defending. Walker Kessler hasn’t been the same rim protector because there’s just no resistance in front of him. The Jazz need to get guys who can play everywhere on both ends of the floor.

What’s the draft pick situation? Not only do the Jazz have their own pick (unless it falls outside of the top 10), but they also receive the least-favorable first-rounder from a group of four teams, which will likely be the Thunder’s first-round selection in the late 20s.

Will they have cap space? The Jazz can get a few million under the cap if they so choose, but it’s not enough space to use in a significant way. More likely than not, they will not have cap space or will be just barely under.

2023-24 yearbook quote: “The job is never Finnished.”

Bounce Passes

My latest NBA Power Rankings may have jinxed the Mavericks last night.

On The Athletic NBA Show Podcast, Jay King pretended to be A-Rod and Josh Huestis pretended to be Glen Taylor as they argued over Wolves ownership.

LeBron says Bronny has ‘tough decisions to make’ soon.

Screen Game (All times Eastern)

  • Main Screen: Thunder-Celtics (7:30 p.m. ESPN). Hopefully SGA plays because this could be a Finals preview.
  • Second Screen: Cavs-Suns (10 p.m. ESPN). Two healthy squads here would make an incredible showdown.
  • League Pass Game of the Night: Magic-Pelicans (8 p.m.). Do you love defense? These are two of the best defensive squads in the NBA. Full schedule here.

(Top photo: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)