Could Sixers, Pistons see each other in postseason?

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Could Sixers, Pistons see each other in postseason?

For all the talk of early games against the Celtics, Warriors, Cavaliers and Rockets being a measuring stick, the Sixers' first two meetings with the Pistons were just as significant.

There are the teams to beat around the league, the ones who have already proven to be title contenders. Then there are the teams on the rise who are showing signs of being trouble to compete with in the future.

Put Detroit in the latter category.

“This is a team that we’ve got to beat if we want to make the playoffs and if we want to have potentially homecourt advantage in the first round,” JJ Redick said of the Pistons. “I don’t look at them as a team like us; they’re a team that’s been in the playoffs. They’re a team that, to me, is good and is playing as well as anybody in the East right now.”

Both the Pistons (14-8) and Sixers (13-9) are on the upswing. They hold two of the top five spots in the Eastern Conference (the Pistons sit fourth and the Sixers sit fifth, as of Sunday morning) and could very well be a playoff pairing this season. The Sixers are looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012. The Pistons' last postseason appearance was in 2016, when they were swept by the Cavaliers in the first round. 

While upsetting conference finals mainstays is a mark of notable progress, learning how to beat a potential postseason opponent is critical. The Sixers have won both of their matchups with Detroit this season, including a 108-103 victory on Saturday. The Sixers won, 97-86, in Detroit on Oct. 23. 

“They’re a really good team,” Joel Embiid said after Saturday's victory. “That’s a good win for us. We’ve dropped a lot of easy ones this year, so getting those wins against what we could be opening in the playoffs if we make it and if they make it is always good, learning their style of play.”

The Sixers are turning the franchise around with Embiid and Ben Simmons at the helm. They are rounded out with depth from Robert Covington and the veteran Redick, as well as a balanced roster that is proving to be able to withstand injuries. 

Over on the Pistons, Andre Drummond is figuring out how to hit free throws, Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson are pesky in the backcourt and Tobias Harris is playing career-best basketball. 

“Trying to balance out the Drummond rolling and still giving attention to those good wings is a trick,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “You learn a little bit about physicality and halfcourt execution, and then you learn how physical they are on defense. It gets back to being strong, secure with the ball and respecting things, not trying to make home run passes.”

The Sixers face the Pistons again twice more, including an April 4 game that could have postseason seeding implications. 

“They gave us a run [Saturday] off a back-to-back,” Covington said. “They fought with us the entire team. That team is different than what we saw the first time. We’re going to have to see them two more times —  potential playoffs. It’s a matter of us locking in and making sure we continue to grow.”

Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

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Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

WASHINGTON — Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Marcin Gortat had 18 and the Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night in a possible playoff preview.

Washington (40-30) earned its second straight win to move into a tie with Indiana for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Wizards also claimed the first tiebreaker by taking two of three in the season series.

Gortat was 6 for 8 from the field and also grabbed eight rebounds. He scored a total of 17 points in his previous four games.

Washington went 10 for 20 from 3-point range and shot 54.8 percent from the field overall. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had 16 points for the Wizards, and Markieff Morris added 15 (see full recap).

Giannis' double-double helps Bucks hold on to beat Hawks
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 23 points and the Milwaukee Bucks held on for a 122-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

The Bucks finished off the Eastern Conference's worst team with a game-ending 11-5 run, pushing the pace after the Hawks lost ball-handler Dennis Schroder. The guard fouled out with 2:46 left, and was called for a technical foul after exchanging words with an official on the way to the sideline.

Middleton hit the free throw that started the run. The Hawks looked rushed on their next two possessions with a turnover and a blocked shot, allowing the Bucks to brush past them.

Trailing by 13 at one point, Atlanta put up a spirited fight before losing its 50th game of the year. Taurean Prince scored 38 points, while Schroder finished with 18 (see full recap).

LeBron gets 33 points in triple-double as Cavs beat Bulls
CHICAGO — LeBron James scored 33 points as part of a triple-double, Jordan Clarkson had a tiebreaking four-point play with 1:27 left and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Chicago Bulls 114-109 on Saturday night.

James had 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season, and Jeff Green added 21 points. Clarkson finished with 19 points to help the Cavaliers salvage a six-game split on their season-high six-game trip.

Denzel Valentine led Chicago with a career-high 34 points, hitting 8 of 11 from long range. The Bulls wiped out a 17-point halftime deficit even though they held out banged-up core players Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, only to come up short in the closing minutes.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue spent the second half in the locker room with an illness, another hit for an already short-handed team (see full recap).

Justin Anderson has his number called — and delivers

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Justin Anderson has his number called — and delivers

One responsibility of professional athletes is being ready when your number is called.

Seems like a simple concept. However, not everyone can handle the duties of coming into a game cold and making an impact.

The Sixers' Justin Anderson prides himself on being able to thrive in just that type of situation. That's why when Brett Brown told him to be on alert prior to Friday's 120-116 win over the Nets, he was good to go.

"He came up to me before the game, maybe like 20 minutes before the game, and said he was going to go to me tonight," Anderson said. "I told him I was going to be ready. He went to me and we all played well."

Oh, Anderson was definitely ready. The third-year swingman entered at the 6:55 mark of the first quarter and made a trio of three-pointers to keep the sluggish Sixers afloat early on.

“I had hit the first one, and they were talking a little trash. They didn’t respect it, so they continued to go under [screens],” Anderson said. “I was always taught if they go under, raise up and shoot it. That’s what you practice for. I just wanted to make sure I took good shots, played hard, brung energy and I think we did a good of doing that.”

Wait, so guys on the 21-48 Nets squad had the nerve to talk a little smack? While a bit laughable, it didn’t help in knocking Anderson off his game.

“It just showed me that they weren’t disciplined in their scouting report and I tried to take advantage of it,” he said. “It’s not like I’m shooting 20s [percent] from the three. It was what it was and I just wanted to take advantage of my opportunity.”

Anderson finished with 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the field and 3 of 5 from three-point range along with two rebounds in 14 minutes. Even with that offensive production, it was his defensive prowess in the final minute that made the biggest impact on the night.

“We had the confidence to both give Richaun (Holmes) some minutes and Justin when it mattered and had a big stop,” Brown said. “I think it was against (Spencer) Dinwiddie. You know, moved his feet, guarded the yard as we call it.

That’s major trust in a player who missed 23 games earlier in the season with shin splints and eight more recently with an ankle sprain. But with the playoffs right around the corner, Brown knows he may need to go to Anderson again in an even more crucial moment.

“Good for him. He’s a wonderful teammate, he’s good people and he’s had sort of an erratic year with injury,” Brown said. “I thought tonight he confirmed what we all think in relation to him being able to help us.”