NBA Notebook (Jan. 21): Collin Sexton Spoils Kyrie Irving's Return

Grant Afseth

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Brooklyn Nets finally got all three members of their newly formed superstar trio on the court. During the first look at Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving together, the Nets showed room for improvement. 

After entering overtime with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Nets fell short 147-135. The best player on the court in this game wasn't Durant, Harden, or Irving. It was Collin Sexton, who finished with 42 points, five rebounds, and five assists. 

Durant acknowledged the first game with Irving back in the fold was a 'tough start' for the trio, but overall, it 'felt right.'

"It felt right," Durant to ESPN Staff Writer Malika Andrews. "Felt perfect, felt like we belong together. It felt like just joining together is going to be fun. It was a tough start, especially it was an up-and-down game for us."

It's expected for just about any team with superstars to take time to get acclimated with one another. The Nets have no shortage of opportunity to find a rhythm with Durant, Harden, and Irving prior to the NBA playoffs. 

The Nets, who now hold a 9-7 record, will get another chance against the Cavaliers when the two games face off again on Friday. 

Sixers' Joel Embiid Resents 'Flailing' Accusation

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers have shared no shortage of heated matchups since the start of the Joel Embiid era. In their latest showdown, it was the Sixers who came out on top 117-109. 

Embiid ended up taking more free throw attempts (21) himself than the entire Celtics team (20). Meanwhile, the Sixers as a whole ended up with more than double (45) the attempts from the charity stripe than Boston. Marcus Smart took notice of that disparity and attributed it to Embiid's approach. 

"It's tough," Smart told ESPN Staff Writer Tim Bontemps. "It is tough. Especially when we've got our hands up a lot of the times, and he flails and gets the call, and then down on the other end we've got our guys attacking the rim, getting a lot of contact, and we're just not getting the whistle. It's tough to play like that. It's tough.

"If the roles were reversed, I'd do it every time. I mean, I'd be on too if every time I threw my arms up or every time I got touched, I'm going to the free throw line. I mean, it's kind of hard not to get into a rhythm that way when you shoot 21 free throws alone and they allow you to hack on the other end.

"It's tough, but we battled. The team did a good job. We were right there to give ourselves a win and try to run it back again on Friday."

The accusation of 'flailing' from Smart was something that Embiid did not appreciate, nor feel was justified. Embiid emphasized how defenses play him with extra physicality and he uses that to his advantage in order to create more free throw shooting opportunities for himself. 

"Marcus Smart just told me that I flail a lot?" Embiid said. "Come on. I'm sure he knows himself, and he knows his game, too, he does a lot of that. And I don't think I do. I mean, if you watch basketball and if you're a student of the game and if you actually pay attention during the game, we all see. Every single foul, I get fouled. They probably don't call all of them, like the last one. There was three minutes left, I went up, and that was a foul and they knew it, but they didn't call it. So there's a lot that they don't call, and there's a lot that they call because you have to.

"The game is physical. Other teams tend to try to be extra physical against me. And I guess I'm just smarter than everybody else. I just take advantage of it. I just take advantage of how they're guarding me. You can call that, I don't know, basketball IQ, like if you're going to put your hand up there, I'm gonna take advantage of it and I'm gonna get to the free throw line, because I know that I'm a great free throw shooter and that's a better chance for me to help the team win in those situations."

Whether it's James Harden or Embiid, just about any superstar who gets to the free throw line a lot is going to cause some level of controversy. It's just for different reasons. 

For Embiid, his size is often too much to handle for just about any team and that naturally gets him to the line when he's aggressive. 

Michael Porter Jr. Nears Return for Nuggets

No player has been sidelined longer due to testing positive for COVID than Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets. 

Porter Jr. has not suited up for game-action since Dec. 29. but that could change during the team's matchup with the Phoenix Suns on Friday. 

"Once you clear and you start returning negative tests, that is a big part of it, but then there's a cardio aspect of it you have to pass," Nuggets coach Mike Malone told ESPN Staff Writer Ohm Youngmisuk. "... Once all that comes back into play, hopefully, he will be able to play at some point on this trip. If it's tomorrow, great. If not, hopefully sometime soon after

The flashes of brilliance Porter Jr. displayed during his performance in the NBA Bubble was key in the Nuggets' run to the Western Conference Finals. Getting the versatile forward back will help raise Denver's ceiling as a team.

Wednesday's NBA schedule

  • Los Angeles Lakers (11-4) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (9-6) 
  • New Orleans Pelicans (5-8) vs. Utah Jazz (10-4)
  • New York Knicks (7-8) vs. Golden State Warriors (8-6)

How to Watch national TV game(s)

  • 7:30 pm (ET) | Lakers - Bucks | TNT
  • 10:00 pm (ET) | Pelicans-Jazz | TNT