Celtics

30 teams in 30 days: Sixers done being the punchline?

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30 teams in 30 days: Sixers done being the punchline?

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: Philadelphia 76ers

BOSTON –  For years the Sixers have stunk while asking their fans to “trust the process,” with the losses piling up like a clogged sewage pipe.

It’s pretty clear by the moves they made this offseason, this franchise is tired of being a league-wide punchline for putrid play.

30 teams in 30 days:

Instead, they seem poised to punch back and – wait for it! – play competitive basketball that could potentially see them do the seemingly unthinkable and that’s get to the playoffs this spring.

There is an unmistakable buzz surrounding this team that’s based on something other than potential or incredibly pitiful play.

It’s rooted in progress, the kind that just may reward fans with a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2012 when they were eliminated in the second round by the Boston Celtics.

At the heart of Philadelphia’s now-optimistic hopes of having a bright future sooner rather than later, is Joel Embiid.

The 7-foot big man was a walking force of nature in his first healthy season (injuries sidelined him for his first two seasons in the league), which was an issue with him logging limited minutes (25.4 per game) and being even more limited when it came to actual games played (31).

But in that time, he averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds with 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks per game, the kind of stats that would put him firmly in the All-Star conversation.

However, the concerns that have dogged him since he came into the NBA – his health - are once again an issue heading into this season.

Embiid’s status to start the season remains uncertain due to a meniscus tear in his left knee suffered last season that has yet to heal to the point where he has been cleared to resume full basketball-related activities.

However, the optimism for Philadelphia competing for a playoff spot this season has more to do with them adding a pair of playoff-tested veterans in Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick who came via free agency from Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers, respectively.

Philadelphia should also benefit from having Ben Simmons on the floor.

Drafted by the Sixers with the top overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Simmons has been cleared for full basketball-related activities after having suffered a foot injury that led to him missing the entire 2016-2017 NBA season.

And Philadelphia’s top pick in last June’s NBA draft, Markelle Fultz, suffered an ankle injury during summer league in Las Vegas last month but he too is on track to be ready to go before the start of training camp.

To talk about Philadelphia and good health in the same breath, is indeed progress. And if their core guys can manage to maintain a relatively clean bill of health during the regular season, Sixers fans will finally reap the fruits of having trusted the process.

Key free agent/draft/trade additions: J.J. Redick (Los Angeles Clippers); Amir Johnson (Boston).

Key losses:  Ersan Ilyasova (Atlanta); Sergio Rodriguez (CSKA Moscow); Gerald Henderson (free agent).

Rookies of note: Markelle Fultz; Furkan Korkmaz.

Expectations: 36-44 (Third in the Atlantic Division, ninth in the East)

Celtics won't be broken by Hayward's injury

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Celtics won't be broken by Hayward's injury

BOSTON -- These are tough, heart-tugging times for the Boston Celtics, who are less than 24 hours removed from the gruesome left-ankle injury suffered by Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of their 102-99 loss at Cleveland on Tuesday.
 
Hayward is scheduled to have surgery today, and potentially could be out for the entire season.
 
As much as their hearts go out to Hayward and his family, the Celtics know they can’t spend too much time sulking. The nature of this business won’t allow them, evident by the fact the C's step back on the floor tonight to host the Milwaukee Bucks.
 
“You hurt for him,” said coach Brad Stevens. “He’s put in a lot of great work. I thought he had his most comfortable week as far as feeling like he was going to play really well. It’s a tough, tough deal but I guess that’s part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”
 
But in the same breath, Stevens is a realist.
 
He's been in the league long enough to know that grieving for a lost player won’t help that player in the short-term. Or the team, for that matter.

MORE ON GORDON HAYWARD

 
The best way the Celtics can help Hayward is to continue to compete in his absence.
 
We saw that in last night’s loss to the Cavaliers.
 
When Hayward was carted off the floor, the Celtics were ahead, 12-9. The lead disappeared and was eventually replaced by an 18-point deficit, only for Boston to chip away and eventually go ahead in the fourth quarter.
 
But down the stretch, too much LeBron James and Kevin Love would prove to be too much for the Celtics to overcome.
 
While the loss was disappointing, it gave the team some insight into how to fight on now that one of its main guys will be out for a significant amount of time.
 
We saw Jaylen Brown emerge from being a second-year pro on the rise into a matchup problem who dropped a career-high 25 points on the Cavs.
 
And Jayson Tatum reminded us all that he’s a teenager in age only, finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. The last rookie to tally a double-double for the Celtics in his opening night debut was Larry Bird in 1979, who had an identical 14-point, 10-rebound line.


 
But Bird didn’t have to play most of that game with one of the then top-three Celtics out for all but the game’s first five minutes.
 
When it comes to adversity, NBA players don’t have the luxury to pick which ones to handle and which ones to pass on. They either step up to the challenge or be consumed by it.
 
Under Stevens, Door Number One is the only option under consideration.
 
And since Stevens has been in Boston, his players have risen to the challenge.
 
That doesn’t mean they'll win every game, but they've shown the ability to at least be competitive. And in defeat, they'll refuse to use injury as an excuse.
 
That means younger players like Brown and Tatum will assume a larger role at both ends of the floor if Boston is to make it through these tough times relatively unscathed.
 
Veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Smart will be leaned upon more heavily to be leaders, both on and off the floor.
 
And Stevens, considered by many to be one of the better coaches in the NBA, will once again be tasked with making on-the-fly adjustments with his lineup and rotations under less-than-ideal conditions.
 
Nobody hurts more than Stevens when it comes to Hayward’s injury. Remember, he's known him longer than anyone associated with the Celtics, having recruited Hayward to play for Butler. It was the platform that launched both of their NBA careers.
 
Which is why the way he approaches not having Hayward is the example for all his players to follow.
 
Shortly after the loss to the Cavs, Stevens was asked about moving on while handling the emotional dynamics of losing Hayward for an extended period of time.
 
“We’ll be ready to play [tonight],” Stevens said with a heightened level of seriousness in his voice that spoke to how important it was to him and his players that they came out and performed at their best on Tuesday against Cleveland.

And that's the blueprint required for them going forward if they hope to be successful in handling adversity as it comes their way.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Could Gordon Hayward return this season?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Could Gordon Hayward return this season?

0:41 - Kyle Draper, Brain Scalabrine, Tommy Heinsohn, and Mike Gorman break down the Celtics loss to the Cavs and Gordon Hayward’s injury.

4:22 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions to the gruesome injury to Gordon Hayward and how it impacted the game.

9:39 - Dr. Chris Chihlas joins BST to give his medical opinion on Gordon Hayward and if he thinks there is a chance Hayward could return this season. 

13:40 - Chris Mannix and A. Sherrod Blakely discuss what the feeling was like in the arena when Hayward went down but how there is actually a 'cautious optimism' surrounding the injury.