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Getty Rudy Gobert, potential Boston Celtics target

It would be easy to look at the box scores from the first two games and think that defense was optional in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Philadelphia 76ers are averaging 121 points per game, while the Atlanta Hawks are at 115. Look deeper.

Look inside the paint.

All-Star center Joel Embiid has been causing Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari fits on a nightly basis. The Sixers big man has even started trash-talking one of them in French. Embiid has also been instrumental in stopping Trae Young with what he called a “cat and mouse” game. The 7-footer will fake like he’s coming up to the perimeter, then stay back to protect against the lob pass. He also has to keep his eyes on Young to make sure he doesn’t sneak a floater in. Or find an open teammate on the wing.

“Faking and going back,” Embiid said. “Just trying to keep them guessing.”

Joel Embiid contains Trae Young and helps force the turnover

— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) June 9, 2021

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers marvels at the way Embiid defends the pick-and-roll. He thinks what the runner-up for MVP brings on that end is “pretty rare” and put in the same conversation with Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon, in terms of how he uses his quick feet and lengthy frame.

“He’s the anchor point on defense because he has the ability to protect the rim,” Rivers said. “He’s so versatile, it’s rare with a guy his size, that you can bring him up in pick-and-rolls, that you can actually switch on a couple occasions and you can trap and you can be in the drop [coverage]. Joel can do all those things and he does them well. He has great feet, he really does — and that makes us pretty good defensively.”

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Rivers Calls Nikola Jokic ‘Worthy Winner’

It was surely disappointing to see Embiid miss out on NBA MVP honors the other day. Then again, it was a foregone conclusion that Nikola Jokic was going to win it. You can’t miss 21 games — nearly a quarter of the season — and take home the league’s top hardware. Rivers added his two cents to the MVP debate after Thursday’s shootaround.

The MVP's team looks like it's going to get swept by the Suns. Embiid>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Jokic

— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 10, 2021

“I was disappointed that Joel didn’t win MVP, but I thought when you think of Joker and what he’s done all year, he’s played in the amount of games that he played in, he was a worthy winner,” Rivers said. “A lot of times you have to have an MVP season the year before you become the MVP and the same thing with any of those awards.”

Embiid averaged 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 2.8 assists for 51 games in the regular season, compared to 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 8.3 assists for Jokic in 72 games.

Rudy Gobert Throws Major Shade at Embiid

Meanwhile, Ben Simmons lost the Defensive Player of the Year award to Rudy Gobert in another controversial end-of-year vote. The Sixers point guard finished second to the Utah Jazz big man.

Those two men already had a rivalry brewing, then Gobert took it to a new level when he mimicked Embiid’s “Thrust the Process” move in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. No doubt both Simmons and Embiid were watching at home while laughing and plotting revenge.

Just when you thought you couldn’t possibly hate R*dy G*bert more, it appears as though he pulled Joel Embiid’s thrust move. The effing nerve.

— Josh Reynolds (@JoshReynolds24) June 11, 2021

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Pac-12 football outlook: Ranking the top transfers for the 2021 season (its not all about the quarterbacks)

Two weeks from the transfer deadline, the Hotline finally has mustered the courage to make sense of the player movement across Pac-12 rosters.

By our count, more than 50 transfers have joined the conference for the 2021 season. While the vast majority will function in limited roles, some to-be-determined number — maybe it’s five; perhaps it’s 12 or 15 — will have a significant impact.

Below is our ranking of 20 newcomers who could affect the season, a list culled from the names published in’s publicly available transfer portal database.

Please note: The situation could change before July 1, when players must give notice of their intent to transfer and retain eligibility (at the new school) for the 2021 season.

Also considered: Colorado LB Robert Barnes, Arizona LB Jason Harris, UCLA DB Cam Johnson and QB Ethan Garbers, UW QB Patrick O’Brien, Colorado QB J.T. Shrout, Washington State WR CJ Moore, Oregon State WR Makiya Tongue

1. Utah QB Charlie Brewer (Baylor): We spent about a nanosecond considering alternatives for the top spot. Brewer is an accomplished player (65 touchdown passes in the Big 12) at the most important position for a team that is solid quarterback play away from contending for the conference championship. Brewer has the potential to make a Gardner Minshew-level impact, albeit without the aviators and jorts.

2. USC TB Keaontay Ingram (Texas): A major talent who carved up Utah in the 2019 Alamo Bowl with the Longhorns but had injury issues last season. He joins a program long known for elite tailbacks but currently without any. If Ingram plays to his potential, the pass-happy Trojans might have no choice but to call 10 or 12 running plays per game.

3. Oregon State QB Sam Noyer (Colorado): Nobody better epitomizes the transfer portal era better than Noyer, who was an all-conference quarterback last season in Boulder but announced his new home just last week. The Beavers now have two quality options, if Tristan Gebbia is healthy.

4. Washington DB Brendan Radley-Hiles (Oklahoma): The former four-star recruit from Southern California was a three-year starter for the Sooners. He not only plays a key position but also fills a significant need for the Huskies: We expect him to slide into the nickel slot vacated by star Elijah Molden.

5. UCLA TB Zach Charbonnet: One of the most accomplished players to enter the conference in the offseason, Charbonnet rushed for 700+ yards and 11 touchdowns during the 2019 season in Ann Arbor. The departure of Demetric Felton leaves a partial void in the backfield. Charbonnet and returnee Brittain Brown stand as one of the top backfield tandems in the conference.

6. Arizona QB Jordan McCloud (South Florida)/Gunner Cruz (Washington State): One of two combined entries, for the following reason: Arizona needs a quarterback, and there’s a strong likelihood that either McCloud or Cruz will win the job in camp. We give McCloud the edge after his two years as the starter for USF. (The other option is returning freshman Will Plummer.)

7. Utah TB T.J. Pledger (Oklahoma)/Chris Curry (LSU): The second combined entry exists because of tragedy. Following the death of Ty Jordan, the Utes were in need of a lead tailback for 2021. Returnee Micah Bernard is one option, but Utah now has two more in Pledger and Curry, talented players who were in supporting roles for the Sooners and Tigers, respectively.

8. Washington State QB Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee): Jayden de Laura’s spring suspension increased the potential for Guarantano to materially impact WSU’s season. But he’s slotted here because we’re not convinced his play will meet the standard necessary to be one of the Pac-12’s elite newcomers. Nor are we wholly convinced he’ll beat out de Laura, who has been reinstated.

9. Colorado OT Max Wray (Ohio State): The former four-star recruit couldn’t crack an OSU lineup filled with five stars but should have a major impact in Boulder. Wray, whose brother, Jake, plays for CU, is our frontrunner to take over the left tackle spot previously occupied by Will Sherman.

10. Arizona State WR Bryan Thompson (Utah): The Sun Devils lost their No. 1 target in Frank Darby and have a slew of talented young returnees, but Thompson could quickly become one of Jayden Daniels’ favorites and a frequent game-changer. Two seasons ago, he averaged 25 yards per catch for the Utes.

11. Oregon State CB Elijah Jones (Kansas): Few teams make use of the transfer portal as well as the Beavers, and few players on this list fill a need as well as Jones: He’s expected to slide into the vacancy left by honorable mention all-conference cornerback Nahshon Wright, who left Corvallis for the NFL.

12. USC DT Ishmael Sopsher (Alabama): The No. 1 wild card on this list. Sopsher is a 335-pound interior defensive lineman who picked Alabama over LSU — the type of raw talent not often seen in the Pac-12. He has the potential to wreak havoc and make USC’s talented line even better. But we’re not sold on Sopsher’s health following surgery on compartment syndrome.

13. Washington WR Ja’Lynn Polk (Texas Tech): UW’s ongoing search for a No. 1 receiver won’t include veterans Puca Nacua or Ty Jones, who have left the program. But it does include Polk, who had 28 catches last season for the Red Raiders. And if not Polk, then Michigan transfer Giles Jackson could emerge as the key newcomer within the wideout group.

14. Cal DB Raymond Woodie III (Florida State): The Bears aren’t as active in the transfer portal as some other programs because of the admissions bar, but they found a potential starting safety 3,000 miles away. For a secondary that has lost a slew of players to the NFL in recent years, Woodie’s presence will help stabilize the unit.

15. UCLA WR Kam Brown (Texas A&M): The Bruins have one of the Pac-12’s best tight ends in Greg Dulcich and a dependable receiver in Kyle Phillips but need a third prong for the passing game. Brown, a former four-star recruit who drew interest from high-level programs, could fill that role.

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16. Utah WR Theo Howard (Oklahoma): Howard should be familiar to Pac-12 fans: He was an all-conference (honorable mention) receiver for UCLA before spending the 2020 season in Norman. Match his skill set with those of slot receiver Britain Covey and tight end Brant Kuithe, and the Utes just might have an elite aerial game.

17. Washington LB Jeremiah Martin (Texas A&M): A rotation player for the Aggies, Martin became a Husky before the injury to Zion Tupuola-Fetui, then joined the short list of possible replacements for Tupuola-Fetui, who ruptured his Achilles this spring.

18. USC WR KD Nixon (Colorado): The Trojans don’t need a No. 1 receiver — Drake London has that covered — but they could use a second or third option in the Air Raid scheme. Nixon caught more than 100 passes in Boulder and is, in our view, the most likely of several newcomers to have an instant impact on the USC passing game.

19. Washington State CB Kaleb Ford-Dement (Old Dominion): Don’t be misled by the ODU career; Ford-Dement has Power Five-level cover skills and was coveted on the transfer market. Yes, the Cougars have several returnees with starting experience, but quality cornerbacks are forever in short supply.

20. UCLA LB Jordan Genmark Heath (Notre Dame): Born in Sweden but exposed to football as a teenager in San Diego, Genmark Heath spent three seasons in South Bend. Pegged as a linebacker, he was originally a safety and gives the Bruins valuable versatility in their coverage plans.

Previously in our 2021 look-ahead series:

All non-conference games through the 2033 season
Early-season kickoff times
The 10 biggest games of 2021
Projections for the division races
Over/Under win totals for each team
Post-spring practice quarterback rankings

Support the Hotline: Receive three months of unlimited access for just 99 cents. Yep, that’s 99 cents for 90 days, with the option to cancel anytime. Details are here, and thanks for your support.

*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to [email protected] or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

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