76ers

Ben Simmons stars as the finisher

Ben Simmons stars as the finisher

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An injured Joel Embiid unexpectedly played.

Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Rudy Gay and Danny Green did not.

The Sixers seized the opportunity Wednesday against the shorthanded Spurs with a 112-106 win to snap a 12-game losing streak vs. San Antonio that dated back to 2011.

Overall, the Sixers have won three in a row to improve to 18-19.

• Embiid played through a sprained right hand as he shook off the injury from Monday’s game to notch 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in over 35 minutes. He initially was ruled out, but after he went through pregame warmups, he was cleared to go. 

The change in availability came as a surprise considering Embiid’s description of his injury just over an hour before tipoff. 

“It’s just tight in general, pretty swollen, and I can’t really use it, can’t shoot,” he said.

• Ben Simmons scored a cool, calm and collected 26 points (11 in the fourth), including 10 of 15 free throw attempts. The Spurs sent him to the line often late in the game, when he shot 5 for 9 in the fourth.

“He shot 15 free throws; that in itself is a huge win for me when he gets back to the line,” Brett Brown said after the game. “It’s a mentality more than it is a skill, and that mentality of him attacking the basket and going to the free throw line then growing the confidence that you’re referring to, that’s a hell of a package and it starts with getting there.”

• The Spurs were missing their star power between injuries and rest in the second night of a back-to-back: Gay (right heel bursitis), Ginobili (rest), Green (left groin tightness), Leonard and Parker (both return from injury management). Veterans Patty Mills (26 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points, 14 rebounds) led the Spurs.

• More third-quarter problems: The Sixers led by 16. Then came the third. You know the rest. The Spurs outscored the Sixers 35-28 in the quarter and cut the lead to four points going into the fourth. The Sixers had to fend off the Spurs, including climbing back out of a quick deficit. 

“I thought Philly was great,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Their aggressiveness, their physicality was really good. I thought they executed really well. We got a pretty good punch in in the second half and they hung in and went and took the game. It was a good win for them.”

• The Sixers committed only 13 turnovers, below their season average of 17.5 (most in the NBA). More importantly, there were only two in the fourth, including none by point guard Simmons. 

• The Sixers made their mark at the free throw line. They took 20 more attempts than the Spurs (43 to 23) and had a 13-point advantage. In addition to Simmons’ 15 attempts, Embiid shot 9 for 11. 

• Justin Anderson remains sidelined with shin splints (left leg).

• The last time the Sixers beat the Spurs was Feb. 11, 2011. They started Jrue Holiday (37 points), Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes. Just how long ago was that? Darius Songalia logged four minutes. 

• Brown joined the Sixers in 2013 after working over 11 years on the Spurs' coaching staff. He had not won against his former team until Wednesday.

“It’s a program that I have tremendous fondness and respect for,” Brown said (see story). “It’s a team that didn’t have their full-strength roster, but in my eyes, it’s still the San Antonio Spurs. … You can put in whoever you want, they’re still going to play and compete and be organized. From that perspective, the win is satisfying.”

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

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AP Images

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

Donovan Mitchell continues to creep closer to Ben Simmons in the NBA Rookie of the Year race, and the gap in Bovada's odds for the two is as close as it's been all season.

Simmons is now -250 to win the award, meaning a $250 wager is required to win $100. 

Mitchell is at +170, meaning a $100 wager wins you $170.

In the most recent odds update in January, Simmons was at -650; Mitchell was +400.

It's a clear two-man race at this point.
 
Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks this season. No player in recorded history has hit all five criteria in the same season.

Mitchell, however, has been on fire for the NBA's hottest team. The Jazz have won 11 straight games to test the Pelicans for the 8-seed, and over that span, Mitchell has averaged 21.3 points, albeit on 41 percent shooting.

For the season, Mitchell is at 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He's made 35.4 percent of his threes and 83.6 percent of his free throws.

Both are stars in the making, but it's worth noting that the Jazz are playing better than they have all season and Simmons is still the favorite. Where Utah ends up will be a determining factor in the Rookie of the Year race — if the Jazz can somehow end up the 7-seed in a loaded West, arguments for Mitchell will grow louder.

Both Simmons and Mitchell were two of five guests this week on NBA TV's Open Court: Rookies Edition. Interest talking points from the special: 

• Mitchell referenced former Sixer Jrue Holiday as an under-the-radar tough player to guard, saying he watches film of Holiday every day.

• Simmons recalled LeBron attacking him frequently in the first quarter of their first meeting, saying he wasn't surprised LeBron wanted to send a message by going right at him.

• The Morris twins were mentioned by Simmons and Jayson Tatum when asked about the most imposing players in the league. Everyone cited DeMarcus Cousins.

• Simmons downplayed the importance of his NBA redshirt season, saying you don't really know what it's like to play back to back and deal with the hectic travel schedule until you're involved in it every day.

Hinkie's old boss expected Giannis to be a Sixer

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USA Today Images

Hinkie's old boss expected Giannis to be a Sixer

The 2013 NBA draft was one of the strangest in recent memory. There was no consensus first overall pick, which is how Anthony Bennett happens.

Nerlens Noel was viewed as a candidate to be the top pick before tearing his ACL late in his lone college season. The Sixers, then under Sam Hinkie, bought the upside on Noel and traded Jrue Holiday for the sixth overall pick to take him. 

Five picks later, the Sixers took another big, athletic, upside-based player in Michael Carter-Williams.

Four picks after that ... Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, Hinkie's boss before the protege left for Philly, said on The Bill Simmons Podcast this week that he was convinced the Sixers were set to take Giannis.

"I was actually really surprised Philly didn't take him," Morey said. "They ended up taking the Rookie of the Year (MCW) so they did fine. But [Giannis] was this super-high-upside guy. We had bet that [Hinkie] might take [Giannis] because we were like, 'Super-high upside, might as well go for it.'"

Could you even begin to imagine ...

Keep in mind, though, that these types of what-if conversations require more context. Had the Sixers taken Giannis then, they're probably not bad enough to pick high enough to get Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in two of the next three years. (Same concept to remember whenever someone says the Sixers should have taken Kristaps Porzingis over Jahlil Okafor. Of course they should have, but if you draft Porzingis, you probably don't get Simmons.)

Giannis was by far the best player in that draft, with Rudy Gobert (27th), C.J. McCollum (10th) and Victor Oladipo (2nd) the only other standouts. Otto Porter (3), Dennis Schroder (17) and Steven Adams (12) are good players, but that's pretty much it. Everyone else in that 2013 draft is either a fringe rotational player, a non-factor or out of the league. 

That was a rough draft for GMs to navigate, as opposed to the year before when Anthony Davis was the consensus No. 1 and Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond were all top-10 picks. The only surprise outside the top 10 that previous year was Draymond Green, a huge steal but one of the only steals of 2012.

The Giannis draft (2013) was Hinkie's first as the Sixers' GM. Though Hinkie was a swing-for-the-fences type, perhaps even he couldn't justify trading an established player in Holiday for the ultimate risk-reward player in Antetokounmpo. Not many execs had seen the Greek Freak more than a few times, and it was difficult to gauge how his work against inferior competition would translate to the best league on Earth.

Alas ...

Hinkie's final days
Morey clearly still rides for Hinkie, and he had an interesting take on how his former colleague's tenure with the Sixers ended.

Should Hinkie have been more front-facing?

"If you know it's gonna end how it's gonna end, I think he would say for sure," Morey said when Simmons referred to Hinkie as "Howard Hughes-ish." 

"He felt like he had ownership's support there to execute on the plan and part of the plan was to not be as out there, especially during the down times," Morey continued. "Sam can be more communicative, it's just he thinks it's better for the team, especially at that point when he was there, it didn't make sense to be that communicative.

"That said, if he knew he didn't have the support (from ownership) that he thought he had, I'm sure he would have been out there more.

"Hopefully, someone will give him a shot. I think he can obviously help a lot of teams."