76ers

Brett Brown: Jahlil Okafor 'not in the rotation'

Brett Brown: Jahlil Okafor 'not in the rotation'

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s almost Halloween, and like a ghost, Jahlil Okafor has been invisible through the Sixers' first five games.

And don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

After practice Friday, head coach Brett Brown admitted that the former No. 3 pick is “not in the rotation.”

“I’m playing Amir (Johnson) ahead of him and that’s just the situation,” Brown said. “[Okafor] doesn’t let people know. He comes in and his head’s good and his spirit’s good. And he and I talk all the time, but that is the bottom line. He is not in the rotation.”

Okafor — who was not made available to the media Friday — has appeared in just one game this season, the second game of a back-to-back when Joel Embiid was unavailable. Okafor played 22 minutes, contributing 10 points on 4 for 7 shooting, nine rebounds and two blocks — an encouraging sign — in the Sixers’ lopsided loss to the Raptors. 

Not bad. So what’s the deal?

Right now — and for well into the foreseeable future — Johnson is the go-to guy when Embiid is on the bench. 

“I think it’s going to be Amir’s spot to lose,” Brown said. “If I see that there’s a decline in performance, then it’s going to be his spot right now to lose. It’s always competitive, but the competitive nature has shifted toward Amir’s performance." 

The Sixers have to make a decision by Oct. 31 whether or not to pick up Okafor's fourth-year option of $6.3 million for next season. According to ESPN's Chris Haynes, the Sixers are still trying to trade Okafor and their decision with his option is based on how those talks develop. 

Johnson hasn’t exactly been lights-out when filling in for Embiid. Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Sixers in July, has appeared in all five games but is averaging just 3.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 30 percent from the field. 

With Johnson struggling and trade-bait Okafor toiling away on the bench, why not give the newly slimmed down Okafor a look? He can’t be much worse than Johnson, and if the Sixers are willing to trade Okafor — as they have made very apparent in the past — they’ll need to showcase him to garner any interest in the third-year pro. 

But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Brown and Co. In fact, Dario Saric seems to even be ahead of Okafor right now (see mailbag). The Sixers have used Saric sparingly at times this season in the five-spot when Embiid or Johnson get into foul trouble. With Ben Simmons a giant at point guard, it’s like a twisted version of small ball. 

Saric has struggled with the adjustment, and he failed to score for the first time in his career in Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets. Saric seemed outmatched physically and was a liability on defense, as James Harden drove to the basket with ease. Brown took the blame for that one but seems committed to giving Saric a try down low. 

“Like the other night (vs. Houston) was such an outlier, where there was so much switching,” Brown said. ... “At times that doesn’t favor him with some of those guys, (Eric) Gordon and Harden, driving Dario Saric is not, really at times, wise for me to put him in that position.

“I think at times (Dario)’s also trying to juggle the four-spot and the intellect now of the five, when we get in foul trouble and other circumstances. I like playing him at some five because he can pull people out. The knowledge base of what that means from a structural standpoint and a play-call standpoint, it’s a different position and sometimes I think that that weighs on his mind too much, where he’s not playing as free.”

Johnson and Saric don't seem like a reliable duo to back up Embiid — especially with the limited minutes and games Embiid typically plays. But help is on the way.

Richuan Holmes, dealing with a fractured wrist, is inching back and has been cleared to practice on a limited basis. He will be reevaluated next Thursday.

“I think we’re gonna have another conversation soon, here comes Richaun — and here we go again," Brown said. "And that’s a good thing. It’s pro sports and it’s my job to figure it out.”

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Sixers’ big men, one thing is clear: So long as Embiid is playing (fingers crossed), we won’t be seeing Okafor anytime soon as Brown looks to solidify his rotation as the season gets underway.

“But all coaches seek a level of consistency with rotation, you don’t want to get into a juggling act,” Brown said. “You want to get into some type of symmetry with who you’re playing and how you’re playing them, and have some type of semblance of order in what they can expect from a rotation standpoint."

Sixers rearrange schedule because of Eagles fever

Sixers rearrange schedule because of Eagles fever

The Sixers coordinated their flight to Memphis with an important schedule in mind: get there in time Sunday to watch the Eagles' NFC Championship Game.

Once there, they have arranged a room with food to catch the 6:40 p.m. showdown as a team the night before they face the Grizzlies.

“We’re going to enjoy this with the city of Philadelphia,” Brett Brown said. “Stuff like this doesn’t come around very often. So on behalf of our team, we say, like the rest of the city: Go Eagles.”

The Sixers and Eagles have been showing their support for each other all season by attending games. Joel Embiid, in particular, has been a familiar face at Lincoln Financial Field, including this memorable reaction to Jake Elliott’s field goal in September.

Embiid noted the momentum of both the Eagles and Sixers this season and what it means for Philadelphia.

“Every time I go to an Eagles game, they always win,” Embiid said. “I’m going to be pulling for them. I want to say good luck. It would be good for the city … Hopefully, they win and on to the Super Bowl.”

Justin Anderson’s support of the Eagles goes beyond playing in the same city. His friendships with Torrey Smith, Rodney McLeod and Chris Long began before the NBA (see story).

“I talked to them and they were really excited,” Anderson said. “They think they’ve got a really good chance. It’d be huge for the city. Going to the Super Bowl, it’d be good. I’m excited, I’m excited. I hope they pull this one out.”

The Sixers will watch the Eagles fight through the postseason as they hope to be doing in April too. They ultimately have the same goal and have an appreciation for how far the Eagles have come already.

“I hope they win it all,” Ben Simmons said. “I’m an Eagles fan now.” 

Rockets beat Warriors in battle of West's best

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Rockets beat Warriors in battle of West's best

HOUSTON — Chris Paul scored 33 points and 11 rebounds, James Harden had 22 points and the Houston Rockets held off the Golden State Warriors 116-108 on Saturday night to snap their 14-game road winning streak.

Harden stepped back from Stephen Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left. Harden then blocked Curry's 3-point attempt after a timeout, and Paul made two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts.

The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half (see full recap).

Olynyk's free throw gives Heat win over Hornets
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kelly Olynyk scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including a free throw with 0.2 seconds left, to help the Miami Heat erase a five-point deficit in the final 34 seconds and stun the Charlotte Hornets 106-105 on Saturday night.

Wayne Ellington had 26 points on six 3-pointers, Joe Johnson had 22 points and Olynyk was brilliant down the stretch.

Nic Batum scored a season-high 26 points and Kemba Walker had 22 for Charlotte, which had a two-game winning streak snapped.

Charlotte led 105-100 when Johnson got free for a dunk. The Hornets inbounded the ball to Batum, but Josh Richardson ripped it from his hands and passed to Johnson, who knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing to tie (see full recap).

Thunder score 148 points, keep Lebron short of 30,000 for career
CLEVELAND — LeBron James came up just short of 30,000 points.

Oklahoma City nearly got there, too.

Unable to stop Paul George, Russell Westbrook or Carmelo Anthony, the Cavaliers were embarrassed 148-124 on Saturday by the Thunder, who not only rolled to their fourth straight win but kept James shy of a historic milestone.

George scored 36 points, Westbrook had 23 and 20 assists and Anthony dropped a season-high 29 points as the Thunder tied the record for the most points given up by a Cleveland team in a regulation game. Philadelphia scored 148 on the Cavs back in 1972.

"I've never in my basketball life gave up 148 points, not even probably playing video games," James said. "They got everything that they wanted. Inside, outside, they had it moving." (see full recap).

Pelicans' stars all contribute in win over Grizzlies
NEW ORLEANS — Jrue Holiday scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, DeMarcus Cousins had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Memphis Grizzlies 111-104 on Saturday night.

Anthony Davis had 21 points and 12 rebounds but did not score his first points of the second half until he dunked with 1:15 to go in the game, giving the Pelicans a 108-102 lead.

Darius Miller added 12 points in a reserve role for New Orleans, which never trailed but very nearly blew a 21-point lead.

Trailing by 15 at halftime, Memphis scored the first 13 points of the third quarter, part of a 16-2 run to open the half that trimmed New Orleans' lead to a single point with most of the third quarter remaining (see full recap).