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 score season-high points in 124-118 win over Nuggets

Celtics score season-high points in 124-118 win over Nuggets

BOSTON – The news of the day for the Boston Celtics involved Gordon Hayward whose left ankle injury is clearly getting better.

The same can be said for the Celtics’ offense which seemed to score in bunches most of the night in their 124-118 win over the Denver Nuggets.

The 124 points scored were a season-high for Boston (24-6), which was coming off a 23-point loss at Chicago on Monday night – their worst loss of the season.

But after losing the first two games to start the season, Boston’s other four losses have each been followed up immediately by a win.

And Wednesday’s game against hot-shooting Nuggets (15-13) was no exception.

Kyrie Irving led Boston with 33 points while Jaylen Brown (26 points) and Aron Baynes (17 points) also had big games for the Celtics. Off the Celtics bench, Shane Larkin had 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting.

For the Nuggets, Gary Harris was a major problem for Boston as he finished with 36 points on 16-for-25 shooting. Harris’ backcourt mate Jamal Murray (28 points) also had a big game for Denver whose six-game road trip ends with a 2-4 record.

The final score was indicative of how this game was played out most of the night.

Boston found itself on the short end of an 11-3 run in the third quarter that brought the Nuggets within 83-81, only for Irving to give the Celtics a little breathing room with a turn-around jumper.

The Nuggets would eventually tie the game at 85 on a put-back basket from Harris.

By now, Boston was on the short end of a 15-5 run, so who do they turn to for a basket?

Baynes of course!

Baynes, well aware the Celtics would need more of a lift offensively from him with Al Horford (rest) out for the game, drained a jumper that was soon followed by a 3-pointer from Brown and a 3-point play by Jayson Tatum as part of a 12-7 spurt by Boston which gave them a 97-92 lead going into the fourth.

Tatum, coming off his worst game scoring (4 points) as a pro, bounced back with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting.

Both teams shot the ball well at the start of the game, evident by the first quarter ending with the Nuggets ahead 31-30.

But the Celtics’ defense, even without their defensive leader Al Horford, found their defensive stride with a slew of stops.

After falling behind 33-30 early in the second, Boston responded with a 17-7 run capped off by a Larkin 3-pointer to put the Celtics ahead 50-40.

Denver responded with a 5-0 spurt which led to Brad Stevens calling a timeout with 5:43 to play.

Out of the timeout, Boston got a 3-point play from Baynes and a goal-tended basket from Jaylen Brown to make it a 10-point game again.

Boston continued to control the action in the first half which ended with the Celtics leading 68-59.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Hayward 'attacking the process' but still no timetable for return

Hayward 'attacking the process' but still no timetable for return

BOSTON — Gordon Hayward took yet another step forward in his recovery from a dislocated left ankle injury.

He has now been given the green light to not have to wear a walking boot.

"I feel alright I guess, as well as I could," Hayward told reporters earlier today. "I'm out of the boot right now so that's good, slowly getting better.

MORE:

Hayward added, "for now I'm done with the boot. Depending on how things go, I could be back in the boot so we'll see."

While all agree it is progress, there is still no timetable for when - if at all - he will return this season.

Hayward suffered the injury in the season-opener at Cleveland when he landed awkwardly attempting to catch a lob pass in the first quarter.

“He’s had good days, some not so good days,” his agent Mark Bartelstein told NBC Sports Boston. “But he’s attacking the process, focusing on getting better from one day to the next.”

Bartelstein understands every step Hayward takes in his recovery, will be seen by some as a step toward his return to action this season.

Bartelstein reiterated there has been no talk of Hayward returning this season.

“We’re not going to put a limit or cap on Gordon’s progress,” Bartelstein said. “But at the same time, we’re not gonna put a number or date for him to come back, either. Like I said, he’s attacking the process of getting healthier, trying to get better from one day to the next.”

The Celtics have been cautiously optimistic about Hayward’s progress, consistently stating that they have no plans for him to join the team this season.

As much progress as Hayward appears to be making, it’s still unlikely he will heal in time to play this season.

Boston received a disabled players exception for Hayward’s injury that is worth $8.4 million which is the largest DPE in NBA history. They have until March 10, 2018 to use it.

One of the factors contributing to them getting it was a set of independent doctors who determined that it was unlikely Hayward would return to playing by June 15, 2018.

That means for Hayward to be ready in time for the playoffs, he would have to be at least two months ahead of schedule.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE