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🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially …


If the 76ers want to do something this postseason, they’ll need Joel Embiid at his best. If they want to do something
special this postseason, they’ll need members of the supporting cast at their best, too. In Wednesday’s Play-In Tournament game, they got both, and not a moment too late.

Embiid scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, and Nicolas Batum added 20 points on six 3-pointers — both season highs — as Philadelphia eked out a 105-104 win over the Heat to earn the 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Embiid was awful early on, and so were the 76ers. They had 39 points (and 12 turnovers) at halftime. But Batum and Tyrese Maxey got going in Philadelphia’s 30-point third quarter, and then Embiid looked like himself in the fourth, delivering a pair of 3-pointers, a crucial and-one off an offensive rebound and an assist to Kelly Oubre Jr. that put the hosts up for good. Brad Botkin says while the finish was encouraging, the 76ers need more from the reigning MVP to be a true threat.

The Heat, meanwhile, will hope the concerns surrounding Jimmy Butler‘s knee injury prove false. Miami will face the Bulls for the No. 8 seed after Chicago cruised by the Hawks, 131-116. Sam Quinn wonders if Trae Young has played his last game for Atlanta.

👍 Honorable mentions

🤕 And not such a good morning for …

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The Pelicans have one last chance to save their season. And Zion Williamson won’t be on the floor for it. New Orleans’ oft-injured star sustained a left hamstring strain late in the Pelicans’ Play-In loss to the Lakers on Tuesday. Not only will he miss tomorrow’s game against the Kings — in which the winner gets the No. 8 seed in the playoffs and the loser’s season ends — but he won’t even be reevaluated for two weeks.

In case you missed the game Tuesday or yesterday’s newsletter, Williamson was magnificent — 40 points, 11 rebounds and five assists — before he exited with 3:19 left and the game tied at 95.

Williamson’s injury woes are well-documented, but this year he played a career-high 70 games. Now, unless New Orleans can win tomorrow and then keep its season alive for at least two more weeks against the top-seeded Thunder, the lasting image of its season will be Williamson trudging back to the locker room … again.

Simply put, it’s a cruel, cruel twist of fate for a team and a player heading in the right direction, James Herbert writes.

  • Herbert: “If this is an even bigger buzzkill than any of Williamson’s previous injuries, it is because of what it interrupted. Williamson was not only making the absolute most of the stage he had that night, he had been showing for months that he — and, by extension, New Orleans — had gotten serious. He was in the best shape of his career, playing the best defense of his career and leading a deep and exciting team that was doing everything it could to make its pieces fit.”

👎 Not so honorable mentions

🏀 Jontay Porter receives lifetime ban from NBA for gambling violations

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The NBA banned Raptors forward Jontay Porter for life after he was found to have violated the league’s gambling policies. The investigation is still ongoing, but the league said Porter “violated league rules by disclosing confidential information to sports bettors, limiting his own participation in one or more games for betting purposes, and betting on NBA games.”

  • This scandal began in late March, after a March 20 game against the Kings. Prior to the game, Porter “disclosed confidential information about his own health status to an individual he knew to be an NBA bettor.” Another bettor then placed an $80,000 parlay bet that would have won $1.1 million if Porter hit the under on his player props. Porter then removed himself from the game after scarcely playing due to illness.
  • The bet was frozen and not paid out given the unusual activity, and sports betting operators brought it to the league’s attention.
  • From January to March, when with the Raptors’ G League team, Porter placed at least 13 bets on NBA games using an associate’s account. Damningly, this included a parlay in which Porter bet against the Raptors.

No one affiliated with the NBA can wager on any NBA property, including the WNBA, G League, Basketball Africa League, NBA2K League or Summer League, and last week, commissioner Adam Silver called player gambling the “cardinal sin.”

⚽ Real Madrid, Bayern Munich into UEFA Champions League semifinals

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Somehow, some way, it’s Real Madrid‘s day in the UEFA Champions League again, and they got revenge in the process. Los Blancos are into the semifinal for the 12th time in the last 14 seasons after a 4-4 (4-3 in penalties) triumph over Manchester City, which defeated Real Madrid in last year’s semifinal en route to the championship.

Tied 3-3 after the first leg, Rodrygo opened the scoring in the 12th minute, but Kevin de Bruyne equalized for the hosts in the 76th minute. After extra time couldn’t decide things, Manchester City took the early lead in penalty kicks when Ederson stopped Luka Modric in the first round. That was Madrid’s last miss from the spot, though, and Andriy Lunin stopped Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic. Anthony Rudiger scored in the fifth round to seal it.

Outshot 33-8 and out-possessed 67%-33%, Los Blancos found a way. It’s what they do in this tournament, over and over and over, and they’re a clear No. 1 in Chuck Booth’s ranking of the remaining teams.

  • Booth: “Madrid are doing the thing again where they were somehow underdogs, but will become the favorite when facing Bayern Munich in the next round. … As long as Rodrygo, Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Junior are all healthy, Real Madrid are the most dangerous club in the competition.

City, meanwhile, may need a new look to get back to the top, Jonathan Johnson writes.

In the day’s other match, Bayern Munich beat Arsenal, 1-0 (3-2 aggregate), on Joshua Kimmich‘s 63rd-minute header. Seemingly on the brink of complete disaster weeks ago, manager Thomas Tuchel turned things around brilliantly, Chuck says. Arsenal, meanwhile, has grown used to disappointment on the biggest stages, but the Gunners’ progress and hope for the future is clear, James Benge writes.

🏈🎣 NFL stars hit the water for ‘The Catch’ fishing tournament

The crossover event of the spring is here: The Sport Fishing Championship’s “The Catch” presented by Verizon pairs world-class anglers with a bevy of NFL stars. The defending champions, Gerry McGraw and Jordan Sanford, will be joined by a pair of running backs who share a bond beyond their position, Dalvin Cook, one of the champions from last year’s event, and his younger brother James Cook.

Also competing this year are Alvin Kamara, Raheem Mostert, James Bradberry, Jalen Carter, Brian Burns, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Jeffery Simmons, Rachaad White, Quinnen Williams, Quincy Williams, David Njoku and Trey Hendrickson.

Sport Fishing Championship

📺 What we’re watching Thursday

🏒 Kraken at Wild, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Oilers at Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. on ESPN
Diamondbacks at Giants, 9:45 p.m. on FS1

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