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Points by Suns’ Devin Booker during 130-120 loss to Celtics

In the first Sixers Notebook of the season, Eric Fisher looks for opportunities for the Sixers to get their first victory. He also expresses concern about Nerlens Noel (pictured), wonders how Tony Wroten will adjust once Michael Carter-Williams returns and suggests the Sixers may eventually regret trading away point guard Elfrid Payton on draft day.

The Blackhawks (pictured) and Ducks are among the challengers the Kings must fend off just to battle through the loaded Western Conference and reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins, Rangers and Penguins are top contenders in the Eastern Conference, but Eric Fisher predicts another team from the East will break through and reach the Stanley Cup Finals. How will the Flyers fare? Read the preview to find out.

Sen. Arlen Specter, who died Sunday of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, was a passionate sports fan. Eric Fisher found that out first-hand one night when seated next to Sen. Specter at dinner.

Archive for the ‘NBA’ Category

Sixers Notebook: Focusing on draft … again

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 12 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Despite the best efforts of their players, the Sixers are in tank mode again. When president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo traded away forward Ersan Ilyasova and center Nerlens Noel at the trade deadline, it was a prudent path if the Sixers weren’t going to re-sign either player when they became free agents.

The trades also weakened the team this season, improving the Sixers’ odds in the NBA Draft lottery.

To their credit, the Sixers are still playing hard. They took the Trail Blazers into overtime on Thursday and held a lead after three quarters before succumbing to the Clippers. But the bottom line is the Sixers’ enter Sunday night’s game against the Lakers on a four-game losing streak, with seven defeats in their past eight games.

The only team with a worse record in the Eastern Conference is the Nets. The only teams in the Western Conference with worse records are the Suns and Lakers.

Winning games is no longer important, as it supposedly was earlier this season. The goal, once again, seems to be losing more games in order to get into better draft position. In addition to the trades, the Sixers decided to shut down Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for the rest of the season due to injury concerns. How many years has it been since improving their draft position wasn’t the Sixers’ primary goal?

The Sixers have several paths to a top draft pick. The Sixers own the Lakers’ top pick, but it is top-three protected. Unless the Lakers befall bad fortune in the lottery, they’ll retain their top pick.

The Sixers also have the right to switch draft picks with the Kings. Although this may not be the bonanza it appeared to be in January when the Sixers were winning with some regularity, switching picks with the King could still be advantageous. The Kings, who traded DeMarco Cousins to the Pelicans, enter Sunday on an eight-game losing streak. The Kings’ record (25-41) is still better than the Sixers’ record (23-42), but it might not be better for much longer. At the very least, the Kings’ poor record increases the Sixers’ odds of getting the top pick.

Even if the strategy makes sense, everyone should be tired of playing for draft position every season.

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REVOLVING DOOR: Another unfortunate similarity to recent years is the Sixers’ revolving-door roster. Justin Anderson arrived in a trade. Guard Chasson Randle has come and gone. Big forwards Justin Harper and Shawn Long are the latest players to join the Sixers.

The situation isn’t as bad as the past two seasons. The Sixers roster no longer resembles a “band of gypsies,” as head coach Brett Brown once described them. But the turnover in recent weeks is a step back from the player development that was going on while Joel Embiid was healthy and there was still hope that Nerlens Noel would return.

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TERRIFIC DEBUT: Shawn Long made an impressive debut with the Sixers, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds in just 15 minutes, 23 seconds during Monday’s loss to the visiting Bucks.

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SARIC WATCH: Dario Saric continues to build his case for being NBA Rookie of the Year. Saric scored a career-high 28 points Thursday during the Sixers’ overtime loss to the Trai Blazers. In the Sixers’ last win, a 105-102 triumph over the Knicks, Saric led the Sixers on points (21), rebounds (10) and assists (4).

Saric’s toughest competition for the award may be teammate Joel Embiid. The question is whether Embiid can garner enough votes despite only playing 31 games.

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TOP THIS: Nik Stauskas and Richaun Holmes scored career-highs of 24 points one week apart in losses to the Pistons and Clippers, respectively.

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BROKEN BOGUT: Center Andrew Bogut, who was the Sixers’ property for a short time after the Nerlens Noel trade, fractured his tibia less than one minute into his debut with the Cavaliers.

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MISSING IN ACTION: The Warriors have lost three straight games, including Saturday’s loss to the Spurs, who have pulled within a half-game of the Warriors in the race for top seed in the Western Conference.

Saturday’s showdown, however, was far from a classic. The Spurs won despite Kawhi Leonard sitting out due to concussion protocol, Tony Parker skipping the game due to back stiffness and, perhaps most concerning, LaMarcus Aldridge being sidelined indefinitely by what was described as mild heart arrhythmia.

The Warriors, already without Kevin Durant due to a knee injury, gave the night off to center Draymond Green, forward Andre Iguodala and guards Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry because they were at the end of an eight-game road trip over 13 days.

Fans who paid top dollar to see this marquee showdown must have been upset to see lineups filled with backups and role players.

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LOOKAHEAD: The Sixers probably won’t miss the Warriors’ regular starters Tuesday (10:30 p.m.) when they conclude a four-game road trip at Golden State. The Sixers will then return home for games Friday (7 p.m.) against the Mavericks and Sunday (1 p.m.) against the Celtics before returning to the road on Mon., March 20 to face the Magic.

Sixers Notebook: See you next year

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 19 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Thursday will be a big day for the 76ers.

And I’m not talking about the trade deadline.

Yes, we could find out Thursday what paltry return the Sixers will receive for Jahlil Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. That assumes that they will find any takers for Okafor.

For the future of the franchise, however, the more important aspect of Thursday will be the scan of Ben Simmons’ right foot. The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported last week that a scan bone scan on Jan. 23 revealed that the Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal in Simmons’ right foot had not fully healed. In a statement released by the Sixers in response to Pompey’s story, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said that Simmons has an appointment scheduled for Thursday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

Colangelo, whose reputation is still reeling from the revelation that Joel Embiid has a “minor tear” of the meniscus in his left knee, a medical fact the Sixers have known since Jan. 20 but neglected to share, has not publicly answered questions about Simmons’ status. And if he did answer questions, who would believe him?

The Sixers were loose with the truth about Embiid’s injury. Everyone this side of the most dedicated “Trust the Process” zombie has to at least consider the possibility that the Sixers were saying Embiid was day-to-day with his knee contusion – later changed to a bone bruise – in order to sell tickets.

The fact that the only game Embiid has played since injuring his knee on Jan. 20 against the Trail Blazers was a nationally televised game against the Rockets caused people to speculate that he wasn’t really injured and that the Sixers were reverting to “tank” mode. Now that we know the truth, or at least something close to the truth, the question is why the Sixers let Embiid play with a torn meniscus, regardless of the extent of the tear.

Part of the reason for the speculation and conspiracy theories was the Sixers’ silence. Head coach Brett Brown speaks with the media regularly, but Colangelo does not. After his brief flurry of interviews from Feb. 9-11, which culminated in Colangelo being far from truthful about Embiid’s injury, we probably won’t be hearing from Colangelo any time soon.

And that was before the Simmons injury situation followed the Embiid injury situation. During the week prior to the revelation that Simmons’ fracture wasn’t fully healed, both Colangelo and Brown said that Simmons, the top overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, was expected to return this season.

Putting aside the misleading statements by the Sixers (I’m being kind by not using harsher language) regarding the results of Simmons’ January bone scan, the question now is why would they play him the rest of this season.

There are only 26 games left in the regular season. Even if Thursday’s scan reveals that the fracture has fully healed, why would the Sixers risk putting Simmons on the court this season?

If his fracture had healed quickly and there was half a season left, I would be in favor of Simmons playing this year to get some experience. Now that I know the fracture still wasn’t fully healed in January, I don’t think gaining experience is worth the risk of playing Simmons this season.

Then again, I’m not trying to get fans to buy tickets.

 

DESTINATION UNKNOWN: The Sixers are trying their best to trade Jahlil Okafor. They’ve showcased him. They’ve held him out of the lineup because a trade was allegedly close to being consummated. But nobody has been willing to play the price the Sixers want in return.

It’s not as if the Sixers are demanding anything close to the No. 3 pick they used to select Okafor, who is a good low-post scorer, but hasn’t been a good rebounder and seems indifferent on defense. But they may have to lower their asking price.

Keeping Okafor around another season isn’t good for the Sixers or Okafor. The only reason to keep him around is if the Sixers are worried about Embiid’s health or about re-signing Nerlens Noel. Otherwise, trading Okafor for the best offer available at Thursday’s trade deadline is the proper way to go.

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SARIC REMAINS ON ROLL: In last week’s Sixers Notebook, I mentioned that Dario Saric had stepped up his game, averaging 21 points during the previous three games. Saric continued his recent success with 18 points during a victory over the Hornets last Monday and 20 points during a loss to the Celtics on Wednesday. Saric had 11 rebounds against both the Hornets and Celtics.

Saric scored 17 points Saturday to help the World team beat the United States team, 150-141, in the Rising Stars Challenge as part of All-Star weekend. Jahlil Okafor scored 10 points for the U.S.

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McCONNELL LENDS HELPING HAND: T.J. McConnell, a key element in the Sixers’ success while Joel Embiid has been sidelined, led the Sixers in assists in the four games prior to the All-Star break. He averaged 8.25 assists during that four-game span.

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THOMAS STREAKING: One night after lighting up the Sixers for 33 points during a 116-108 Celtics win, Isaiah Thomas scored 29 points Thursday during a 104-103 loss to the Bulls. Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 41 consecutive games, breaking a franchise record set by John Havlicek during the 1971-72 season.

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EMBIID SITS: Joel Embiid went to All-Star weekend, had a good time and didn’t play. That’s the perfect experience for a young player with a knee injury that has caused him to miss 11 straight games and 14 of the last 15 games.

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CHEEKS OVER WEBBER: Chris Webber, who had a lackluster brief tenure with the Sixers, was selected as a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He is likely to be selected for induction this year. Meanwhile, former Sixers point guard Maurice Cheeks didn’t make the list of 14 finalists. Webber clearly has better Hall of Fame numbers, but I would take Cheeks on my team over Webber every day of the week.

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BREAK IS OVER: The Sixers won’t have an easy first week when they return from the All-Star break. They return Friday (7 p.m.) at Wells Fargo Center against the red-hot Wizards, who are 9-1 in their past 10 games and have climbed to the top of the Southeast Division. After a brief reprieve against the Knicks on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) in Madison Square Garden, the Sixers return to Wells Fargo Center on Mon., Feb. 27 to host the Warriors, who have the best record (47-9) in the NBA. Two nights later the Sixers travel to Miami, where the Heat will certainly be seeking revenge for the Sixers ending their 13-game winning streak on Feb. 11.

Jenkins' 3-pointer wins national title