76ers

Ben Simmons shows 'he's a monster' in Sixers' preseason opener

Ben Simmons shows 'he's a monster' in Sixers' preseason opener

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons has played a game for the Sixers. A preseason game, but a game nonetheless. And after a season-long injury, he didn’t miss a beat.

Simmons stuffed the stat sheet with six points, seven rebounds, nine assists, a block and a turnover in 22 minutes on Wednesday. He eased into the point guard role and was comfortable scoring on the break or finding his teammates (see highlights).

Even though the Grizzlies took over the game in the second half and beat the Sixers, 110-89, Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was impressed. 

“I don’t want to see that for the next 15 years,” he said of Simmons. “That kid, they’re not talking about him enough. … Once he gets confidence in his shot where you really have to close out all the way to the three, wow. He’s a big-time talent.”

Simmons dished five assists in just under 10 minutes in the first quarter alone (see observations). He was the main ball handler when paired with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup (more on him here). The Sixers also got a look at Simmons and veteran Jerryd Bayless, the initially-planned backcourt duo before both were injured last season. 

Brett Brown considers Simmons to be "an advanced" rookie compared to Fultz given the year the 2016 No. 1 pick spent with the Sixers while rehabbing from a Jones fracture. During that time, Simmons was able to observe and study the NBA game even if he wasn't playing. 

“His breakaway speed, his ability to get to the rim, the pace of which he plays, I love,” Brown said. “His ability to see things, find corners. When defensive players just nudge him over, he can find stuff well.” 

Of course, Simmons still has room to grow after just one game. He shot 2 for 8 from the field and 0 for 3 from long range. Brown would like him to improve on finishing at the rim at a higher rate. Simmons wants to enhance his "game-ready wind." It has been over a year since he played an official game during the 2016 summer league session. 

"I've got to work on different plays and sets and reading the defense, seeing what's open," Simmons said. 

Simmons has willing helpers on that end of the floor. As one of the Sixers' best defenders, Robert Covington said he is "taking Ben under his wing." Justin Anderson has been talking with Simmons about his D as well. 

“Ben brings everything,” Covington said. “He’s a monster on both sides. He doesn’t even realize how good he is just yet because he’s only played one game.”

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

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USA Today Images

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

MIAMI — Tyler Johnson scored 23 points to lead six players in double figures, and the Miami Heat stopped a three-game slide when they beat the reeling Memphis Grizzlies 115-89 on Saturday night.

The Grizzlies lost their ninth game in a row, the longest active streak in the NBA, and their second in as many nights.

Justise Winslow scored a season-high 17 points for the Heat. Reserve Wayne Ellington went 5 for 10 from 3-point range and scored 15.

Miami's Dwyane Wade was limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble and scored six points. But the Heat, scrambling for a playoff berth, still managed to win for only the second time in the past 10 games.

Andrew Harrison scored 17 points for the Grizzlies, who played without leading scorer Tyreke Evans. He'll undergo a precautionary MRI Sunday on his injured right ribs.

The Heat took the lead for good at 28-26. Their margin reached 92-70 by the end of the third quarter.

Miami outscored Memphis 50-30 in the paint, 13-2 on fast breaks and 26-8 off turnovers (see full recap).

Irving's 31 powers Celtics past Knicks
NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn't win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Warriors avenge pair of blowout losses to OKC
OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant's pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third -- when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George's 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant's hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22 (see full recap).

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

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AP Images

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers’ 116-105 victory over the Magic (see observations) was just that: a complete “Sixers” victory.

This wasn’t about one player taking over or the starting five carrying the weight. From players one through 10 who stepped on the court, everyone contributed. 

“It doesn’t matter who scores all the points as long as we win,” Ben Simmons said. “We all know that to get to the next level, that’s what it’s going to take.”

Enhancing the bench is a priority for the Sixers as they look to the playoffs. They are going to need depth in a postseason series, having different weapons as they face the same opponent night in and night out. 

Brett Brown was committed to counting on the second unit. The Sixers held a 22-point lead halfway through the fourth, an opportunity for starters to get a significant period of rest ahead of Sunday’s back-to-back on the road against the Wizards. 

So as the Magic chipped away at the differential and got within nine, the reserves stayed on the court. Even when Mario Hezonja attempted a trey that would have cut the lead to six with 1:21 remaining, Brown had decided the starters would remain on the sidelines.

“I wasn’t going to do it," Brown said of subbing in the starters. "I was going to go with those guys. Some of it’s just gut feel, maybe some of it’s stubbornness. But we have to grow our bench. We have to give those guys confidence that they can close out games and they did. My intention was to going to be to let them see it through.”

In total, the reserves combined for 32 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists. The bench stepped up in different ways. Marco Belinelli provided a boost on the scoreboard with 15 points. T.J. McConnell absorbed extra playing time and clocked a team-high 31 minutes. (None of the starters played more than 29 minutes.) 

Brown determined before the game he would give Richaun Holmes the nod to back up Embiid instead of Amir Johnson. He wanted Holmes, who has played in only three of his last 10 games, to get the opportunity for time on the court (see video). Holmes grabbed eight rebounds with four points in 21 minutes. 

“It shows (the bench) can hold it down,” Simmons said. “We have guys who are capable of doing that, it doesn’t have to be the starting five.”

The bench's production in this win over the Magic is only a small glimpse into what the Sixers believe they will need to succeed in the postseason. 

"Our objective is, in general, playoffs, but I want homecourt advantage," Joel Embiid said. "To know that going into the playoffs you have a bench that can come in and keep the lead or keep building the lead, it's great. In the playoffs you need that, you need a bench to come in and keep it up for the starters, and finish it."