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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the young defensemen trying to make the Flyers, the Sixers’ crowded center picture and deaths of Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez while avoiding any mention of Carson Wentz.

With the Cowboys coming to town for this Sunday’s NFC East showdown with the Eagles, Eric Fisher reminds us of why so many Eagles fans hate — yes, hate — the Cowboys and what they represent.

Watching Jeff Carter excel with the Kings is a reminder that the Flyers haven’t found a sniper to replace their goal leader for three straight seasons since trading him three years ago.

Archive for the ‘NBA’ Category

Sixers Notebook: Long absence raises issues

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 9 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

Joel Embiid led the Sixers in rebounding in the last eight games he played. In six of those games, Embiid also led the Sixers in scoring.

The problem is that the last game he played was Feb. 13.

Originally estimated as “at least three games,” Embiid’s prolonged absence – eight games and counting – is raising major questions for the 76ers.

Is Embiid’s injury more serious than the Sixers are telling the public? Will Embiid have time to build up his stamina before the playoffs? Can Brett Brown figure out the most effective rotation before the playoffs begin?

The first question is the most important one, both in the short term and the long term. When the Sixers first announced that Embiid would be sidelined due to “left knee soreness,” the indication was that the injury isn’t serious. Embiid also told everyone not to worry. After eight games, however, it’s fair to question whether the injury isn’t more serious than the Sixers and Embiid made it sound.

Players don’t miss eight games with a minor injury. Missing approximately 10 percent of the regular season with one injury is a big deal. Given the Sixers’ history of misleading the public about injuries, concern over the severity of Embiid’s knee injury is justified. And if it’s simply a case of managing his minutes, then concern over the franchise player’s long-term health is warranted.

Let’s assume the Sixers are being honest about Embiid’s injury. That’s a huge leap of faith, but let’s go with it. If sitting out eight games allowed for the exorcism of soreness from Embiid’s left knee, will he have time to regain his stamina before the playoffs begin. There are only 16 games remaining until the postseason. Embiid must rebuild his stamina so that he doesn’t get tired during the playoffs, when he likely will have to play extended minutes.

Even if Embiid is healthy and regains his stamina, there remains another crucial question for the Sixers. How will Brown get all the pieces to fit together in a limited amount of time.

General manager Elton Brand has turned over the roster since the beginning of the season. Gone are Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler. All of these players appeared in the starting lineup at some point this season. Added to the roster were Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, James Ennis III, Jonathon Simmons and Justin Patton. Of that group, only Butler appeared in games prior to February.

Brown had a relatively short time to figure out his rotation. That time frame has been reduced because of Embiid’s injury. A bone bruise and mild strain of Boban Marjanovic’s right knee, which has already kept him sidelined for more than the estimated 5-7 days, further complicates Brown’s task.

Let’s assume that the starting lineup for the playoffs consists of Embiid, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Butler and Harris. Which players are pushed out of the rotation? In addition to everyone mentioned earlier, Jonah Bolden, T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson are also in the mix. Which players are most effective when grouped together? Would the Sixers be better with Butler or Redick coming off the bench to provide a spark on offense?

Brown only has 16 games to figure this out. And that’s only if Embiid doesn’t miss a ninth straight game Sunday against the Pacers.

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OFF TARGET: JJ Redick hasn’t made more than half of his shots from the field during the past 10 games. Redick made just 1 of 11 shots Friday during the Sixers’ 107-91 loss to the Rockets. That’s even worse than his 1-for-10 performance during a loss to the Trail Blazers. You can throw in 2-for-9 and 3-for-13 clunkers during this stretch.

The only time Redick reached 50 percent during these 10 games was during a victory over the Magic this past Tuesday. That included 6 for 9 from 3-point range, the only time in the past 10 games in which Redick reached or surpassed 50 percent from 3-point range. He is 20 for 68 (29.4 percent) from 3-point range during this stretch.

Ten games qualifies as a bona fide slump. Perhaps some of the slump can be attributed to Joel Embiid’s absence. Perhaps Redick can’t run his handoff plays as well without Embiid. Another possibility is that Redick is having difficulty to adjusting to the offense with Harris, another terrific 3-point shooter, in the lineup. Regardless of the reason, the Sixers need Redick to get his shooting woes worked out before the postseason.

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NO SHOT: Redick wasn’t the only Sixer who struggled with his outside shooting Friday against the Rockets. The Sixers finished 3 for 26 from 3-point range.

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CENTERS OF ATTENTION: With Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic sidelined with injuries, the Sixers have turned to Johan Bolden, Amir Johnson and Justin Patton to fill the void at center. Johnson, in his 14th NBA season, has been inactive so much that he volunteered to play with the Blue Coats, the Sixers’ affiliate in the G-League. Active in four of th e past five games, Johnson has played between 12½ and 20 minutes and averaged seven points and five rebounds.

Patton saw his first action for the Sixers this season during Tuesday’s win over the Magic. He also played during Friday’s loss to the Rockets, although he did not play during Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls. Patton played 18 minutes, 27 seconds during the two games, scoring five points and grabbing five rebounds.

When Embiid and Marjanovic return, it’s unlikely that Johnson or Patton will see much action, although it’s possible that Bolden stays in the rotation. But the Sixers don’t have much choice these days.

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LOSING LEADS: The Sixers lost a 10-point lead during a 108-107 loss to the lowly Bulls on Wednesday. The explanation could be that the Sixers were playing on the road on the second night of back-to-back games. But this wasn’t an isolated incident.

Even when winning games, the Sixers seem to make things more difficult for themselves by losing big leads during the second half. During the past month, the Sixers have lost big leads against the Knicks, Pelicans and Magic – and those were in games they won. They lost to the Bulls and Warriors after holding double-digit leads.

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NO MAGICAL SOLUTION: In case you missed it, the Magic have shut down former Sixers guard Markelle Fultz for the rest of the season due to shoulder issues.

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KEEPING PACE: The Pacers were supposed to collapse after the season-ending injury to Victor Oladipo, their only star. Instead, the Pacers (42-24) have maintained their third-place position in the Eastern Conference. They are still one game ahead of the Sixers (41-25) and two games ahead of the Celtics (40-26).  The Sixers, of course, host the Pacers on Sunday (3:30 p.m.).

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WEST ALMOST SET: With fewer than 20 games remaining in the regular season, the playoff field is almost set in the Western Conference. Playoff seeding is still uncertain, but the Spurs (37-29), who hold the final qualifying playoff berth in the Western Conference, have a four-game lead over the Kings, the first team outside the playoff picture. The next closest teams, the Timberwolves and collapsing Lakers, trail the Spurs by 6½ games. Barring a surge by the Kings or a collapse by the Spurs, Clippers or Jazz, the entrants into the playoffs from the West are set.

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SUPER SUNDAYS: The Sixers’ schedule during the next eight days is bookended by a pair of important Sunday games. The Sixers host the Pacers on Sunday (3:30 p.m.) and then visit the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks next Sunday (March 17). In between, they host the Cavaliers on Tuesday (7 p.m.) and Kings on Friday (7 p.m.).

Sixers Notebook: How much better are they?

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 15 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

The 76ers are better after general manager Elton Brand gave the team a partial makeover at the trade deadline. The question is whether the Sixers are good enough to contend for an NBA championship.

The addition of Tobias Harris, acquired from the Clippers in a multi-player deal at the trade deadline, improves the starting lineup. Harris was averaging 20.7 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. He also plays well on the defensive end. Harris is unquestionably an upgrade over Wilson Chandler or whoever the Sixers used in the starting lineup when Chandler was sidelined by injuries.

Harris’ ability to shoot from long range should prevent teams from sagging into the lane to cover Joel Embiid or clog Ben Simmons’ lanes to the basket. His presence should also create more open 3-point shots for JJ Redick.

With the addition of Harris, a case can certainly be made that the Sixers have the best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. All five starters, with Jimmy Butler acquired in a trade earlier this season, are legitimate threats to score at least 20 points.

The question mark remains the bench. The Sixers sent Chandler, rookie guard Landry Shamet and forward Mike Muscala to the Clippers, along with first-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and a pair of second-round selections, to the Clippers in exchange for Harris, center Boban Marjanovic and forward Mike Scott. Brand then supplemented the bench by adding wing Jonathon Simmons as part of the trade that sent Markelle Fultz to the Magic, and then picking up veteran wingman James Ennis from the Rockets. These players have to be mixed into a rotation that includes holdovers such as T.J. McConnell, Jonah Bolden and Furkan Korkmaz.

Head coach Brett Brown is left with the task of putting all of these pieces together in the best way in order to maximize their talents. He has 24 games left to figure it out before the playoffs begin.

Which players work better with the starters? Which combination of bench players is most effective? Would Brown consider bringing Butler, Harris or Redick off the bench to balance out the scoring?

Brown has already started tinkering with the bench. What the Sixers can’t afford to have happen is a repeat of Tuesday’s Celtics game, when Gordon Hayward outscored the Sixers bench all by himself.

The Sixers definitely improved at the trade deadline. The question is whether their bench is good enough for the Sixers to succeed against the better teams in the Eastern Conference and contend for an NBA title.

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THE FUTURE IS NOW: The moves at the trade deadline indicate that general manager Elton Brand is clearly pushing for a championship run this season. Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott all could become unrestricted free agents after this season. Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick also could become unrestricted free agents after this season.

The Sixers are unlikely to be able to re-sign all of these players – if they want to do so. It even seems unlikely that they will be able to bring back Harris, Butler and Redick. Will Butler even want to return if his role is reduced due to the acquisition of Harris?

Giving up two first-round draft picks, including the Heat’s unprotected pick in 2021, is another sign that Brand’s focus is on contending for a championship right now rather than a few years down the road.

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THE FUTURE IS GONE: Remember how excited Sixers fans were when the team traded up to the top of the first round in 2017. The Sixers selected guard Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick, sparking a flurry of ticket sales and an outpouring of enthusiasm.

Less than two years later, the Fultz era is over. Fultz played just 33 games in a Sixers uniform. He was traded to the Magic just before last week’s trade deadline in exchange for wing Jonathon Simmons, a lottery-protected first-round pick that originally belonged to the Thudner and a second-round pick in 2019.

Given all of the anticipation and excitement when Fultz was drafted, it’s clear that he was a bust. In fact, he may have been the worst draft pick in Sixers history.

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STAR TURNS: Ben Simmons will be extremely busy during All-Star week. Simmons is participating in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday (9 p.m.) as part of the World team, then will participate in Sunday’s All-Star Game (8 p.m.) as part of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team. Simmons was part of LeBron James’ team, where he would have teamed with Joel Embiid, but was traded to Team Giannis.

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COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT: Joel Embiid was fined $25,000 for saying “The referees (bleeping) suck” following the Sixers’ 112-109 loss to the Celtics on Tuesday. Embiid was particularly upset that Celtics center Al Horford wasn’t called for a foul on an Embiid shot with 33.6 seconds remaining in regulation and the Sixers trailing by two points. The NBA later even admitted that a foul should have been called on Horford.

The problem with isolating one play, however, is that it’s not necessarily reflective of the entire game. In the first quarter, Horford picked up a technical foul after being called for a foul on what appeared to be a clean block of an Embiid shot. Embiid frequently dips his shoulder and uses his considerable size and strength to establish position by moving defenders out of his space. He dipped his shoulder earlier in the fourth quarter to drive Horford backward, but was fortunate that Horford was called for reaching in instead of Embiid being called for a charge.

Embiid’s postgame comments were accurate in reference to one specific non-call. But they weren’t an accurate assessment of his battle with Horford throughout the entire game. Furthermore, a player who relies on a physical style as much as Embiid should avoid antagonizing referees.

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PLAY SMARTER, NOT HARDER: Joel Embiid’s leap into the stands Wednesday to save a ball during the fourth quarter of a 126-111 victory over the Knicks wasn’t a smart play. I love players who hustle, but this was an unnecessary risk for a franchise player. The Sixers weren’t going to lose to the Knicks, who were losing their 18th straight game. Embiid didn’t need to make that play. The risk wasn’t remotely close to being worth the reward.

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KEEPING PACE: The conventional wisdom was that the Pacers would drop in the standings after star Victor Oladipo suffered a season-ending injury (ruptured quadriceps tendon) to his right leg. Instead, the Pacers (38-20) remain ahead of both the Sixers and Celtics (both 37-21) in the battle for seeding in the Eastern Conference.

The Pacers’ loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks on Wednesday snapped a six-game winning streak. The Pacers also signed swingman Wes Matthews, who was bought out by the Knicks. Matthews would certainly have looked nice coming off the Sixers’ bench.

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CONFERENCE RACES: The Eastern Conference playoff races have broken into three tiers. At the top are the Bucks (43-14) and Raptors (43-16), who are battling for the top seed and homecourt throughoug the playoffs.

The next grouping includes the Pacers (38-20), the Sixers (37-21) and Celtics (37-21). Barring a big jump up or drop down by one of these teams, the second third teams in this grouping will have to face each other in the first round of the playoffs, with the third team not having homecourt advantage. That could be a huge difference for a team like the Sixers, who have a much better home record (23-7) than road record (14-14).

The next group is led by the Nets (30-29). Following the Nets are the Hornets (27-30), Pistons (26-30), Heat (26-30) and Magic (27-32). Three of those teams, including the Nets, will earn playoff berths.

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MILTON INJURED: Guard Shake Milton broke his finger – technically, a fracture of the fourth metacarpal on his right hand) – last week while playing for the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ affiliate in the G-League. He is expected to miss several weeks.

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BREAKING AWAY: After the All-Star break, the Sixers will return to action Thursday (7 p.m.) against the Heat at Wells Fargo Center. They will host the Trail Blazers two days later (1 p.m.) before hitting the road for games against the Pelicans (Mon., Feb. 25) and Thunder (Thurs., Feb. 28).

Harper hits 1st home run as Phillie