bookmark_borderThe 76ers Dash the Evolving Nets’ Dream

Sometime in the third quarter, as the Philadelphia 76ers rained down 3-pointers like mortar shots and Ben Simmons, a giant point guard possessed of preternatural passing ability and a bricklayer’s touch, carved through the Nets, a thought occurred:

This was not the playoff homecoming of the Nets’ dreams.

The Nets tried but never really contended Thursday night. The men from Philadelphia simply had too much talent and too many big bodies on their way to a 2-1 first-round series lead, and that was a shame. Saddled with the worst attendance in the N.B.A. this season, Barclays Center in Brooklyn was packed to the gills with fans waving towels and hooting and yelling. The joint was packed and joyfully rocking.

The Nets are a pretty good pro hoops team in a city where terrible often rules the roost. Their coach, Kenny Atkinson, a likable and intelligent basketball lifer, took over a team that was expected to dwell in the cellar and won more games, 42, than it lost, 40, this season.

That was in contrast to the disaster masquerading as a basketball team at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks’ management team crafted a grotesquely bad team that finished 17-65. (Losing no longer impresses because the Knicks have posted losing records in 15 of the last 18 years.) In a sign that God may have a strange sense of humor, those same Knicks are widely rumored to be a favorite to gain the services of the brilliant forward Kevin Durant, who can become a free agent this summer.

But enough about that other New York team.

After falling into a deep ditch under previous management, the Brooklyn Nets have executed a slow, steady rebuild, instilling discipline and a sense of Nets basketball, which is to say a fluid, slashing style that relies on small forwards and guards bolstered by lean, swift centers who block shots and rebound and run. Their general manager, Sean Marks, a former San Antonio Spurs assistant and executive, has picked up talented role players much as a fishmonger sorts through a barrel and plucks out tasty sea bass.

The Nets have a fine quartet of guards and small forwards, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Caris LeVert, creative players all, who can probe and find seams in defenses and stroke jump shots.

So this game on Thursday offered a chance to draw the measure of a Nets team rising more quickly than expected and of a Sixers team that hopes to compete for a championship. On that last point I walked away nursing doubts.

The Sixers for six years were an experimental laboratory, their former general manager Sam Hinkie occupying a reputational land between supposed genius and madman. They lost intentionally and insistently, and accumulated top draft picks, not the least the 6-foot-10 point guard Simmons and the splendidly talented big man Joel Embiid. Sixers ownership eventually discarded Hinkie. But that team now is expected to contend, and the current general manager made a series of trades toward that end this season.

Yet a week into playoff season, the engine of that 76ers machine is coughing. Embiid has come up with a chronically sore knee. That is a problem for any athlete, much less a 7-foot, 270-pound center. The assumption Thursday night was that he would play, an impression reinforced when Embiid took the court an hour before the game and shot around. He shot fadeaways and spun like a dervish and put up graceful hook shots.

Then minutes before tipoff, the 76ers’ coaches shook their heads. Nope, his knee was too sore. Embiid was sitting. That left the big man in a bad mood. Moments before the tip, as teammates walked over to dap him up and slap his back, Embiid could barely look at them or the court.

Simmons is no less talented, and perhaps more baffling. He is a brilliant athlete with stunning vision and dribbling ability. When he breaks swiftly into the open court, his passing takes on a sleight-of-hand quality, so quick that you notice the ball only as it lands in the hands of a teammate.

Alas, his shooting edges toward disastrous, and his confidence in it is sodden. Rather than put his hand under the ball, he puts it off to the side, his left elbow sticking out like a chicken wing. He practices his shooting before games with often unsightly results. On Thursday evening, he stood in the corner and took pass after pass from an assistant coach and shot and shot. He made, by my count, five baskets in 15 attempts. Then he took 3-point shots from the shoulder of the key, going 1 for 6.

You wanted to cover your eyes and suggest that maybe he should stick to layups. Yet by shooting layups and hook shots and dunks, he finished the game with 31 points and 9 assists.

He is the best fundamentally unsound player in the N.B.A. And you wonder how this still unformed 22-year-old star and a gimpy-knee center can stumble into the N.B.A. finals.

In a strange way, on this night, Embiid’s absence liberated his teammates. They shot 40 percent from 3-point range to the Nets’ 20 percent, and they outrebounded them, too.

If the 76ers have a playoff advantage, it may reside with their veteran talent, in particular Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick. During a Nets run late in the third quarter, Philadelphia Coach Brett Brown called a timeout and drew up a play. Then you saw Redick stand up and start talking and pointing. Then Butler leaned in and interjected. Brown fell silent, then nodded in agreement. Fine, he said, we’ll run it differently.

As they walked out onto the court after the timeout, Butler and Redick kept talking, resembling two professors discussing a knotty physics problem. “That was pros talking to pros,” Brown said later.

The Nets are a young crew, not unduly burdened by egos and attitude. But they are not yet at a pros-talking-to-pros level. They are a promising troupe still in search of a leading man.

 

bookmark_borderMets Place Jacob deGrom on Injured List With Sore Elbow

Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, was scheduled to start for the Mets against the Cardinals in St. Louis on Saturday, but his plans have been rerouted.

DeGrom experienced soreness in his right elbow on Thursday, and on Friday General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen announced that deGrom would undergo a magnetic resonance imaging examination in New York on Monday. Manager Mickey Callaway initially told reporters that deGrom would leave the team and return to New York on Friday, but he will stay in St. Louis through the end of the series on Sunday.

DeGrom was placed on the injured list retroactive to April 16. He would be available to return and pitch on April 26, when the team starts a series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

In a statement, Van Wagenen said that deGrom’s arm “felt significantly better following treatment with our health and performance staff today” and that the test was being done “in the abundance of caution.”

In 2010, deGrom had Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow, and he also had an operation to repair nerve damage in his right elbow in 2016.

Before Friday night’s 5-4 win in St. Louis, Manager Mickey Callaway told reporters that deGrom’s right elbow was “barking” after the ace right-hander played catch on the team’s off day.

“We’re not sure exactly what it is, so we want to get it checked out,” Callaway said. “We don’t know if it’s just from general fatigue. So we’re being overly cautious at this point. We have 90 percent of the season left and feel no reason to push him too much at this point.”

DeGrom’s scheduled start had already been moved back a day because he was said to be battling strep throat. In his normal routine, deGrom throws off the mound twice in between starts.

Jason Vargas, typically the Mets’ fifth starter, limited the Cardinals to one run in four innings Friday night before five relievers were called upon to finish the Cardinals. Closer Edwin Diaz recorded his seventh save. The Mets did not immediately announce who would start in place of deGrom on Saturday.

DeGrom, 30, signed a five-year contract extension worth $137.5 million two days before the season opener, and he began his season with 13 scoreless innings while picking up a win in each of his first two outings. In the second start, he threw for a career-high 14 strikeouts and hit a home run against the Miami Marlins.

“That was probably the best I’ve felt in a long time,” deGrom said of his pitching after that game. “I felt smooth.”

He has struggled to locate his pitches since. DeGrom, who posted a 1.70 earned run average last year, allowed six earned runs against the Minnesota Twins at Citi Field in his third start and then gave up three earned runs in Atlanta last weekend.

“It’s baseball,” deGrom said after the Minnesota loss. “This game will humble you real quick.”

He is 2-2 on the season with an E.R.A. of 3.68. The Mets were 10-8 going into Friday’s game, and starting pitching has been among their primary issues. Syndergaard is 1-1 with an E.R.A. of 5.63. Zack Wheeler walked seven Washington Nationals in one outing and surrendered two home runs in losing to the Phillies on Wednesday. Steven Matz failed to record an out in his last start, when he gave up six earned runs and was pulled from the game after throwing 31 pitches to eight batters.

“Rough night,” Callaway said then. “These are rough ones.”

On Friday, it only got rougher for the Mets as their ace had no clear answers about when he would throw another pitch.

 

bookmark_borderN.B.A. Playoffs: Celtics Take 3-0 Series Lead Against Pacers

Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Kyrie Irving added 19 to help the Boston Celtics beat the host Indiana Pacers, 104-96, on Friday night for a 3-0 lead in the first-round Eastern Conference series.

Irving also had 10 assists and 5 rebounds, and Jayson Tatum had 18 points and 7 rebounds for the Celtics, who can eliminate the Pacers on Sunday in Indianapolis.

“We’re all making sure we’re giving each other confidence and doing the little things to ensure we win,” Irving said. “When you have that type of camaraderie, executing is a lot easier. Now that the stakes are higher, we’re settling into who we want to be.”

Tyreke Evans matched his career playoff high with 19 points for Indiana, and Bojan Bogdanovic had 15, not enough to prevent the Pacers from losing their sixth straight to Boston in the regular season and the playoffs.

The Celtics’ defense again turned the game, allowing just 12 points in the third quarter, as they put the Pacers on the brink of their second series sweep in three years.

Indiana had erased a 15-point first half deficit to take a 61-59 halftime lead, and Myles Turner opened the third with a 3-pointer for the Pacers. But Boston charged back with 8 straight points to retake the lead and closed the quarter with a 9-2 run to make it 80-73.

Boston gave up 8 points in the third quarter of Game 1 and 12 in the fourth quarter of Game 2.

RAPTORS 98, MAGIC 83 Pascal Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, Kawhi Leonard added 16 points, and Toronto held off host Orlando to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

Siakam was 13 for 20 from the field, and the Raptors held Orlando to 36 percent shooting. Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.

The Raptors trailed, 61-60, midway through the third quarter before going on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good.

Kyle Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7 minutes 48 seconds left gave Toronto its biggest lead, 86-69. The Magic rallied, and Ross’s 3-pointer with 41 seconds left cut the deficit to 96-93.

Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession, but the Magic could not control the rebound. Leonard made two free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to make it a two-possession game again, and that closed the scoring.

Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.

THUNDER 120, TRAIL BLAZERS 108 Russell Westbrook had 33 points and 11 assists and Oklahoma City won at home against Portland to cut its Western Conference series deficit to 2-1.

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder, who will host Game 4 on Sunday night.

Damian Lillard scored 32 points for the Trail Blazers, but he had just 3 in the fourth quarter after scoring 25 in the third. C.J. McCollum had 21 points, and Enes Kanter added 19.

 

bookmark_borderSanta Anita, Losing Horses to Other Tracks, Reduces Race Days for Now

ARCADIA, Calif. — Santa Anita will race three days a week instead of four over the next four weeks because the track has lost some of its racehorses to out-of-state sites.

Several stables have shipped horses to Kentucky to run at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, leaving Santa Anita with fewer horses to race and smaller field sizes.

Track officials have yet to decide whether to race three days or four for the final three weeks of the spring meet, which ends on June 23.

The track said on Friday that it was raising purses for all nonstakes races by $10,000 each for the next six weeks to help owners and trainers who lost money when the track was closed for most of March after 23 horses died there since Dec. 26.

After the track’s dirt surface was examined, racing resumed on March 29, with one horse death occurring since then, as a result of injuries in a turf race.

The purse increase begins on April 26 and runs through June 2. Track officials have yet to decide whether to continue it through the end of the meet.

The increase is being funded by excess money in the purse account and money from the Stronach Group, which owns the track.

The chairman of Thoroughbred Owners of California, Nick Alexander, said his group would match the purse supplements in the hopes of returning to racing four days a week.

 

bookmark_borderN.H.L. Playoffs: Maple Leafs Win to Put Bruins on the Brink

Auston Matthews broke a scoreless tie in the third period, Kasperi Kapanen added another goal, and the Toronto Maple Leafs hung on the beat the Boston Bruins, 2-1, on Friday to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference series.

With the goalie pulled for an extra skater, David Krejci got the Bruins on the board with 43.7 seconds left, but Boston could not tie it up.

The Maple Leafs can close out the series when it shifts back to Toronto for Game 6 on Sunday.

Frederik Andersen had 28 saves for the Maple Leafs, and Tuukka Rask finished with 25 for Boston, which failed to convert on its three power plays.

The Maple Leafs’ goals broke up what had been a defense-dominated game.

Matthews’s fourth goal of the postseason came after he took a feed from Jake Muzzin and found an open corner of the net on a slap shot with 8 minutes 27 seconds left. The Bruins challenged the goal, arguing that Rask was interfered with, but the goal was upheld after a review.

“I never really got a good look at it,” Matthews said, “but I’m fortunate that they called it a good goal. So you’ll take it.”

Kapanen scored less than two minutes later on a wrist shot.

Both teams played conservatively and combined for only 13 shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes.

Rask smothered three loose pucks that hung around the net as part of seven first-period stops. Andersen had six saves in the first, his best coming when he turned away a tip-in opportunity by DeBrusk off a feed from Pastrnak.

Krejci thought he had a goal with 7:20 left in the second period with a slap shot that slipped by Andersen’s shoulder. A video review showed that the puck bounced off the cross bar, failing to cross the line.

YZERMAN REJOINS RED WINGS The Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman was named the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, returning to the franchise where he was part of three Stanley Cup championship teams and a beloved captain for a league-record 20 seasons.

He replaces Ken Holland, who will move into a vice president role after being the general manager for more than two decades.

Yzerman, who built Tampa Bay into a perennial contender in his eight seasons as the G.M. there, is taking the reins of a team that has missed the playoffs three straight years in its worst stretch since the early 1980s, when the team was known locally as the Dead Wings.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Yzerman said. “We’ve been through this before.”

 

bookmark_borderArena Football Takes Yet Another Shot

America is awash in professional football. Besides the N.F.L., there is the Fan-Controlled Football League and the Spring League, and next year they will be joined by a reissued XFL and the Pacific Pro League.

Until earlier this month there was also the Alliance of American Football. It collapsed and joined the scrap heap of football leagues past.

But as Corey Galloway will tell you, there is a form of professional football with a long track record of success that isn’t talked about enough: arena football.

“We know that this works because 30 years later, it is still there,” Galloway said in a phone interview last week.

Galloway is the managing partner of Legacy Growth Partners, an investment firm. Along with his wife, Tamara, he is also the owner of the expansion New York Streets football team, which began play in the National Arena League — N.A.L. — last weekend with a 52-41 win over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Time will tell if the Streets go the way of long defunct arena football teams like the New York Knights, the New York CityHawks and the New York Dragons; if they become a money-losing tax write-off for Galloway; or if they somehow turn into indoor football’s Green Bay Packers.

Chances of that final possibility are not good. No team from the original Arena Football League’s first decade is still in existence.

But giddiness creeps into Galloway’s voice when he talks about the team-building process or a defensive line anchored by players who played their college football in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. He relishes getting mired in the details, from adjusting the arena lighting for telecasts to imagining nontraditional ticketing models.

He swears he is in this to profit.

“At the end of the day, all of these teams are investments,” he said, speaking about the N.A.L. He and Tamara shelled out $2 million in start-up costs and expect to break even on the Streets this season. He predicted their investment will begin paying off in three years.

It is fair to question their sanity. After all, arena football may have a 30-year history, but today it is only hanging on by a thread.

The Arena Football League, led by popular teams like the San Jose SaberCats and the Philadelphia Soul, peaked at 19 teams in 2007 before canceling the 2009 season entirely and going bankrupt. This year the reformulated league will have just six teams competing.

Jim Foster founded the Arena Football League and was its first commissioner, and he later owned its Iowa Barnstormers. He said owners get involved with indoor football because they believe they can make money, think it will be fun or have a large ego. But they all eventually learn that profit margins are slim and that the team requires a fully engaged owner who deeply understands its market.

“You can’t treat them like they are some sort of hobby,” he said. “It’s not like buying a yacht to play around with or an airplane.”

The N.A.L. was formed in 2017, and also has six teams. Another half-dozen teams that played in either the 2017 or 2018 season have already folded or decamped for still other arena leagues, meaning in the N.A.L.’s short history there are as many defunct teams as there are operational ones.

This does not dissuade Galloway. “If you go look at the N.F.L., in the 1930s and 1940s, 80 percent of those teams died,” he said, and the same thing happened with the leagues that ultimately became the N.B.A. and M.L.B.

Which isn’t to say Galloway believes arena football will soon be a major sport, but he insisted that in the $160 billion sports industry, not everything has to be the N.F.L. There is room for alternatives, for a second place. “Maybe I want a Toyota, maybe a Hyundai,” he said.

One of arena football’s advantages compared with outdoor leagues is that it costs only 25 percent as much to operate a team. The rosters are smaller, just 26 players, and indoor arenas are much cheaper to operate than outdoor stadiums.

The Streets will play in the Westchester County Center in White Plains, a 4,400-seat arena. They will use only about 2,500 of them, providing a more intimate atmosphere than most fans are accustomed to when watching football.

The N.A.L. has teams only in the East. Its territory stretches from Worcester, Mass., to Orlando, Fla., meaning no expensive cross-country travel.

Less than two weeks before the home opener Saturday against the Orlando Predators, Galloway was cautiously optimistic. A thousand tickets had been sold, and businesses were buying season-ticket packages. The Streets’ home games will be shown on the MSG Network.

He also has a built-in advantage. The team is perhaps the biggest customer for another business in the Galloways’ budding portfolio, the PacPlex, a sports recreation facility in Canarsie, Brooklyn. The Galloways live in New Rochelle, N.Y., but Corey Galloway is a Brooklyn native.

The Streets practice at the PacPlex, on a field purchased from a shuttered arena team, work out at the facility’s pools and weight rooms, and eat two meals a day in its restaurant. The PacPlex also functions as a gym, workout facility and a location for after-school programs with tutoring, sports and computer classes.

Out-of-town players — only about 30 percent of the roster is from the New York metropolitan area — live near the PacPlex. To ensure the local connection that Corey Galloway believes is critical for a minor league team, the Streets have signed the former Brooklyn South Shore High School quarterback David Legree and a wide receiver named Edgar Allen Poe Jr., who fittingly played college football at West Point. (The more famous Edgar Allan Poe intentionally got kicked out of the academy in 1831.)

It might not be enough. If every Streets home game this season sells out, they will draw about as many people as show up for a single Knicks game. Tickets cost $21. Beyond the Streets, it is almost impossible to figure out if N.A.L. teams have television agreements, or where to watch their games. Games do stream on the N.A.L.’s YouTube channel; the most watched of last week’s games has just over 11,000 views. One stream has since been taken down for a copyright violation.

Nevertheless, Galloway has grand ambitions for arena football beyond the Streets. He is the executive director of the N.A.L., overseeing critical matters like a leaguewide television agreement and possible investments in the league. He is exploring partnerships or mergers with other arena leagues. He would like to see some form of an arena football Super Bowl, pitting the N.A.L. champion against the champion from another league.

All of this costs money, as any number of investors who have lost small fortunes on new leagues and sports teams can explain. Before its collapse, the A.A.F. was reportedly spending $10 million each week, and the owner Tom Dundon sank $70 million into the bankrupt venture. Charlie Ebersol, one of its founders, wanted the league to be valued like a technology company, making years of losses acceptable. It was not.

Operational losses aren’t acceptable to Galloway. “We need to operate this as a business and break even or make money so that we can be sustainable,” he said.

So far the history of arena football has been anything but sustainable. He is betting on the Streets to change that.

 

bookmark_borderN.H.L. Playoffs: Blues Oust Jets. Capitals Beat Hurricanes by 6

Jaden Schwartz scored three times and Jordan Binnington stopped 18 shots to help the St. Louis Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2, in Game 6 of their Western Conference playoff series Saturday night to advance to the second round.

The Blues became the first home team to win in the series, and they advanced to the second round for the third time in four years. St. Louis will next face the winner of the Dallas-Nashville series, which the Stars lead, 3-2.

Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien scored for Winnipeg, which tried to rally after having only one shot on goal in the second period and falling behind, 3-0, early in the third. Connor Hellebuyck finished with 33 saves.

Schwartz, who had only 11 goals in the regular season, has four in the playoffs — the Blues’ last four, starting with the tiebreaking score with 15 seconds left in the 3-2 win in Game 5.

Binnington, a 25-year-old rookie who began the season as a backup in the American Hockey League, appreciated Schwartz’s ability to stay the course.

“What a boss,” Binnington said. “He’s playing great. And his beard looks pretty good on him, too.”

Schwartz scored just 23 seconds into the contest. It was the sixth goal scored in the first minute of a game in the postseason, the first time in N.H.L. history that has happened in the opening round.

Schwartz pushed the lead to 2-0 with a power-play goal off a wrist shot with 7 minutes 24 seconds left in the second period and completed the natural hat trick early in the third. It was the Blues’ first postseason hat trick since Vladimir Tarasenko scored three times on April 18, 2015, against Minnesota.CAPITALS 6, HURRICANES 0 Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and two assists, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and Braden Holtby stopped all 30 shots he faced to lead host Washington to a rout of Carolina in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.

Washington has a 3-2 lead and can advance with a win on Monday night in Raleigh, N.C. The winner of the series will face the Islanders in the second round.

After scoring five goals in 20 games during the Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup a year ago that included missing four games with two fractures in his right pointer finger, Backstrom has that many already in these playoffs.

Ovechkin assisted on Backstrom’s second goal and Tom Wilson’s on the power play and added the exclamation point in the rout with a power-play goal in the third. Nic Dowd scored on a penalty shot, and Brett Connolly had his first goal of the series.

Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek allowed six goals on 28 shots but was largely hung out to dry. Washington went 2 for 3 on the power play, and Carolina came up empty on several opportunities that could have changed the course of the game.

STARS 5, PREDATORS 3 Alexander Radulov scored two goals in the second period and Dallas won at Nashville to push the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed to the brink of elimination.

The Stars, the West’s first wild card, can oust the Predators, the two-time defending Central Division champions, at home on Monday night. Dallas would join Colorado, Columbus and St. Louis as lower seeds to advance.

Jason Dickinson also scored twice, Tyler Seguin had a goal and an assist, and Jamie Benn had three assists.

 

bookmark_borderN.B.A. Playoffs: Second-Seeded Nuggets Pull Even With Spurs

Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Murray added 24 points, and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs, 117-103, on Saturday, rebounding from a flat performance to tie the Western Conference first-round series at two games each.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Denver.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and 9 rebounds for San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan added 19 points before he was ejected with five minutes remaining after arguing with an official over an offensive foul.

“Frustration,” DeRozan said. “I mean, I thought it was a bad call.”

The second-seeded Nuggets were more aggressive and physical after a deflating Game 3 loss, just as Denver Coach Michael Malone had hoped.

“I want to see some emotion. I want to see some fire. I want to see some passion,” Malone said before the game.

Malone was able to stir that fire with a couple of changes after Derrick White scored 36 to fuel San Antonio’s Game 3 victory.

Torrey Craig started over a struggling Will Barton and was charged with defending White to open the game, with Murray switching to Bryn Forbes. The moves proved beneficial, if not at first.

“He’s a really good defender,” Jokic said about Craig. “He’s helping us on defensive rebounds. So he helps in that part of the game, and his defense is really phenomenal. And when he’s making shots like tonight, it’s a great job by him.”

White was limited to 8 points, shooting 3 of 8 from the field after going 15 for 21 on Thursday. Craig finished with 18 points, going 5 for 7 on 3-point attempts. Barton finished with 12 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts.

Behind by 12 points in the first quarter, Denver outscored San Antonio, 69-45, in the second and third.

“They executed their game plan better,” White said. “We kind of helped them out by playing awful.”

BUCKS 119, PISTONS 103 Khris Middleton had 20 points and 9 rebounds. and Milwaukee won at Detroit to take a 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

The Bucks, who had the N.B.A.’s best regular-season record, can close out the series Monday night in Detroit after winning the first three games by an average of 24 points.

The Bucks overcame 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists from Blake Griffin in his return from a right knee injury. He missed the first two games of the series after sitting out four of the final six in the regular season.

Griffin had an immediate defensive impact, forcing two turnovers on Milwaukee’s first three possessions, but he struggled to keep up in transition.

Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe each scored 19 points for the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 14 points and 10 rebounds, struggling with foul trouble. Andre Drummond had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Pistons.

 

bookmark_borderNets’ Tempers Flare, but Their Shots Don’t Fall, in Game 4 Loss to Sixers

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid was back on the court for Game 4 against the Nets after missing a game with knee tendinitis, bulldozing bodies as if they were bowling pins. And in a game that had its fair share of flying bodies — including a third-quarter brawl that, yes, involved Embiid — he was the difference maker. The Sixers’ 112-108 win on Saturday puts the Nets on the brink of elimination as the series shifts back to Philadelphia for what could be a decisive Game 5.

The three days until then may not be enough time for either team to cool off in what has become one of the most fiery series of the first round of the N.B.A. postseason.

In Game 2, Embiid was called for a flagrant 1 foul after he elbowed Jarrett Allen, the Nets’ flyweight center, in the face, sending him to the floor. The Nets were further incensed when Embiid laughed as he apologized in his news conference. The next day, Embiid admitted that he thought that he should have been ejected.

On Saturday, with tempers already boiling, Embiid, reprised the role of Broad Street bully and smacked the 6-foot-11 Allen under the basket, sending him flying. Jared Dudley, the Nets forward who has been trading barbs with Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, angrily confronted and bumped Embiid. Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler shoved Dudley from behind and Dudley, with Simmons and one of the referees, tumbled into the front row. Dudley and Butler were ejected, and Embiid was called for a flagrant foul.

After the game, Embiid said it was his job to be physical. He also said he did not think he fouled Allen on the play that led to the shoving match.

“It’s a mind game; they want me to retaliate,” Embiid said. “I have to be the mature one. I stayed cool and didn’t react. I thought my team needed me more than they needed Jared Dudley, so I had to remain cool.”

He also thanked Butler for being his bodyguard.

“The fact that he had my back, I’m going to pay that fine,” Embiid said.

As for Dudley having Allen’s back, Nets guard D’Angelo Russell said, “I thought that was necessary.”

The cost was a second half without Dudley, who had scored 8 points in 20 minutes, and Butler, who had 11 points in 24 minutes.

The Sixers, especially Embiid and Simmons, appeared energized by the drama of it all. Though the Nets held onto a slim lead for much of the second half, Philadelphia kept pushing before pulling ahead down the stretch and securing the win.

In describing Embiid’s impact on the game, Sixers Coach Brett Brown grabbed the stat sheet.

“Just look at the magnitude of what the numbers say, the influence that the numbers say that he must have had on the game,” Brown said. “To have 31 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 blocked shots and you win, well it’s hard to sort of say it any better than that. He was dominant.”

The Nets certainly had their chance to change the momentum of the series and leave Barclays Center with a win heading into Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia. With less than five minutes remaining and the Nets leading by 7, they fumbled their opportunity in the closing moments. And once again, Embiid was a factor when he passed the ball to Mike Scott for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds left.

On the Nets’ ensuing possession, Allen turned the ball over after three Sixers surrounded him, and Tobias Harris closed out the scoring with two free throws. Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson said afterward that Allen was wrapped up by Harris as he tried to turn to the basket.

It was a frustrating end to a tension-filled night.

“It was really important because we wanted to get this one and go home and try to finish it off,” Embiid said. He added: “It feels great to be up, 3-1. We definitely don’t want to be in a situation like the Warriors,” referring to the 2016 N.B.A. finals, when Golden State lost the series to the Cleveland Cavaliers after being up, three games to one.

At that, Butler left the podium. He said he joined the postgame news conference to save Embiid from himself, so he “don’t do something stupid.”

Butler left the room with a laugh. Embiid continued, “I’m just kidding, but we want to be able to close it out, so that was a big win.”

 

bookmark_borderCarl Hagelin Made a Habit of Knocking Off the Capitals. Now He Is One of Them.

WASHINGTON — Washington Capitals right winger Carl Hagelin is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and has appeared in more playoff games than any other N.H.L. player since his postseason debut seven years ago.

It’s a whopping 125 games — the same number as his teammate Alex Ovechkin, who entered the league six years before him.

Yet this season, Hagelin, 30, has taken on an unusual label: journeyman.

With his type of accomplishments, who would have expected Hagelin to be on three teams in one season?

Hagelin went through a season of extremes over four months as he shuttled from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Western Conference’s last-place Los Angeles Kings before being dealt to the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals.

“Like any person at a job, you are thinking you can be there as long as you can,” said Hagelin, one of the league’s top defensive forwards.

Before coming to Washington at the trade deadline, his 8 points in 38 games with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles suggested to a wasted season.

But the old Hagelin returned to form with the Capitals, amassing 11 points in 20 games to heat up just before the Stanley Cup playoffs start.

“A lot of years, I’ve had really good second halves, but coming here helped a lot,” Hagelin said. “I got my swagger back.”

But he has been held without a point in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Capitals lead the series, 3-2, after rolling to a 6-0 victory on Saturday night.

The Capitals’ uneven play has resulted in Coach Todd Reirden’s shuffling lines, sending Hagelin on just about every line. He is now on the fourth line and the team is waiting for him to create a spark.

Hagelin’s teams have eliminated the Capitals five times. He did it with the Rangers (2012, 2013, 2015) and the Penguins (2016, 2017).

For Hagelin, it was difficult adjusting to Los Angeles, where he missed 20 games from a knee injury. For a player who spent the majority of his career in the Eastern Conference, he wasn’t nearly as familiar with the Kings’ roster as he was with the Capitals’ players.

In Washington, Hagelin found three fellow Swedes he knew in Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and Christian Djoos and group of veterans he faced again and again in the playoffs: Ovechkin, John Carlson, Braden Holtby and Tom Wilson.

Thus, it’s not a surprise that when Hagelin joined the Capitals, he felt an immediate connection.

“It felt like I already knew the guys on a personal level,” Hagelin said.

That started off with his fellow countrymen, who texted him and called him right away. They also took him out to lunch on his first day with the team.

“Backstrom welcomed me in right away, and I knew the other Swedes,” Hagelin said. “And there is a mutual respect here between me and a lot of guys because I have played against them so many times in the playoffs.”

He first became acquainted with the Capitals as a rookie during the 2012 playoffs with the Rangers. He had two assists in Game 7 to eliminate Washington in the second round.

Two years later, Hagelin helped guide the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals, with 12 points in 25 games. They lost in five games to the Kings.

The Capitals felt more frustration with Hagelin as a Penguin. He totaled seven points in six games in the 2016 second-round victory en route to a Stanley Cup, and finished that postseason with 16 points in 24 games.

When recovering from a broken fibula in 2017, he returned just in time to help eliminate the Capitals again in a second-round series before Pittsburgh won its second consecutive Cup.

After all of that bad blood, Hagelin likes the Capitals now.

“They actually have good guys on the team,” he said.

Brett Connolly feels the same sentiment toward Hagelin.

“Off the ice, he has been great,” Connolly said. “He came in and fit in right away. He is a very likable guy. Everybody respects the way he plays. He has won Cups, which helps.”

The Capitals coaches are also pleased with Hagelin’s leadership.

“We wanted him for a number of reasons,” Reirden said. “One of them was for him to show our younger guys how to execute in those high-pressure situations.”

The Capitals also brought Hagelin in to do what they had hoped many of the organization’s players should have been doing before last year’s Stanley Cup run. He gets it done in the playoffs with an attitude.

Whether or not Hagelin piles up a lot of points in the playoffs, the Capitals know he will still have the sort of impact that could swing a series.

“You want to go out there and bring your A-game every night,” Hagelin said. “If you don’t do it, the other team is going to do it and the other team is going to win the battle. You just want to play your best game of the season that next playoff game.”

He potentially could be on the move again. Hagelin will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

But no one on the Capitals will call him a journeyman. “For whatever reason, it didn’t work out in Pittsburgh and L.A.,” Connolly said. “Everyone knows why he was traded here. He was traded for this moment right now.”