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Give and Go: Biggest takeaway from Sixers season so far

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Give and Go: Biggest takeaway from Sixers season so far

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we'll take look at the biggest takeaways from the Sixers’ first five games of the season.

Harris
Through five games, it’s clear that the Sixers are a young team with plenty of talent, plenty of work to do and plenty of room to grow. 

My biggest takeaway is that Dario Saric is going to have to get back to at least last year’s level of performance if the Sixers are going to maximize their potential in terms of wins and losses.
 
Saric is clearly still finding his way through five games. He has shot a paltry 33.3 percent from the floor (41.1 last season) and 21.4 percent from three (31.1 last season) so far. He has also posted a true shooting percentage of 39.8 (50.8 percent last season).
 
Saric has to get going, and it’s on Brett Brown to figure out how to get it done. The 23-year-old has yet to hit double figures in a game in points despite two contests in which he’s taken double-digit shots. Against Houston on Wednesday, he took a single shot (a three-pointer) and went scoreless. Saric wasn’t held scoreless a single time in 81 games last season. 

The second unit needs his scoring, rebounding and playmaking. Don’t expect this Sixers team to make a playoff push without way more offensive output from last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up. It’s simply not going to happen.

Hudrick
There were — and still are — many questions surrounding the Sixers. One of the biggest: can Ben Simmons play point guard at the NBA level?

So far, the answer is a resounding yes. Just five games into his rookie season, Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists. The only players to average those numbers through their first five games are Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Connie Hawkins. Pretty solid company.

Another aspect of Simmons' game that has been a pleasant surprise is his defense. There were times against Houston when he was matched up against superstar guard James Harden and held his own. Simmons is an obvious nightmare matchup offensively with his ability to handle and create at 6-foot-10. Defensively, he's just as nightmarish, flashing the ability to guard one through five and using his length to disrupt passing lanes.

There are still plenty of things for Simmons to work on. He has to able to shoot from 12 feet from the basket. He has to finish around the rim. He has to make free throws. He's still just 21. Robertson and Hawkins weren't even in the league until 22.

It's a long season, but the early returns on Ben Simmons as a point guard look extremely promising.

Haughton
Everyone say it with me now: relax.

It’s not even officially Halloween yet and a certain segment of fans are ready to run players — and even the coach — out of town?

You’ve certainly heard some of the criticism. Perhaps it’s even been uttered by you.

Markelle Fultz is a bust. The Sixers should have drafted Jayson Tatum. 

Really? Are you giving up on Fultz after four NBA games? It’s obvious he was playing hurt and trying to tough it out with a shoulder injury, which comes to find out, doesn’t lend itself well to shooting a basketball. What we have also seen is a 19-year-old with a strong ability to get to the basket and a willingness to do whatever is asked of him for the team. 

As for the Tatum chatter, it was pretty well known that he was coming into the league as a more finished product than Fultz but that the guard holds more upside. Still, none of that would even matter on this team with the current construction. Marshall pointed out above how Saric is struggling to find a role with Simmons running the show, so what do you think would be different with Tatum?

Hmmm, what other critiques have we heard? Oh, that Jerryd Bayless needs to go.

This one baffles me the most. The Sixers have had exactly one player in the past five seasons shoot above 40.0 percent from three-point range (Hollis Thompson shot 40.1 percent in 2013-14 and 2014-15). Yet, Bayless is off to 50.0 percent clip from beyond the arc and 46.8 percent from the field, but people want him out.

And we all know about the Amir Johnson opinions. He’s old. He’s slow. Why is he playing over Jahlil Okafor?

Brown made Okafor’s situation quite clear Friday (see story). And when Richaun Holmes returns from his injury, we’ll see Johnson in even smaller doses on the court.

Early performances and games certainly matter just as much as any other time during the season. However, it’s a long season. Let it play out a little bit more before making judgments.

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons scored a career-high, Joel Embiid recorded a double-double, and still, the highest praise was directed to an unlikely player after the Sixers’ 107-86 win over the Jazz: Amir Johnson.

“He was the MVP of tonight,” Embiid said. 

Johnson embraced the ultimate role player mentality. He didn’t know until shortly before the game if he was going to start in place of Embiid or come off the bench. Embiid, who had been dealing with left knee soreness, ended up playing. So Johnson waited for his name to be called and stepped right into action. 

Johnson began the game with five rebounds in four first-quarter minutes. He finished with 13 boards, eight points and four blocks in 21 minutes. Johnson pulled down 10-plus rebounds for the 98th time in his career (see observations)

“I feel like my job is just to find ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “Knowing Joel, Ben and those guys are going to get the majority minutes, but when I come in I want to be effective at the same time.”

The 13-year veteran has been studying game film. Even though he didn’t get on the court in either of the Sixers’ matchups against the Warriors and played a combined 28 minutes in three road games in California, Johnson has been staying ready. 

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said of Johnson’s defense. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

The Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year, $11 million contract this summer. He proved what he could do on the court since entering the league out of high school in 2005, but the even bigger draw was what he could add to the locker room. Brett Brown reached out to some of Johnson’s former teammates and the assessments echoed one another. Now the Sixers are seeing what those who played with Johnson were talking about. 

“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle sitting and swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. 

“To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots isn’t ever on my mind with Amir. He’s a perfect teammate.” 

Redick bounces back in 2nd half
JJ Redick is at a point in his career where he isn’t worried about a slow start. He went scoreless in the first half and still ended up with 20 points. 

“Maybe five or six years ago I probably would have been a little more stressed at halftime,” Redick said. “But I just knew there would be some opportunities and stayed patient.”

Brown noticed Redick getting better looks after halftime. He evenly distributed his scoring with 10 points in both the third and the fourth quarters. He shot a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in the third. 

“I’m always going to be aggressive. There just weren’t opportunities to get shots off in the first half,” Redick said. “I scored 20 in the second half, but didn’t feel like I was forcing anything. The opportunities were there. Sometimes that happens within a game.”

Simmons, too
Simmons showed the same kind of poise, even more notable because he is a rookie. Simmons shot 2 for 9 in the first half, shook off the early struggles, and scored a career-high 27 points. He scored half of the Sixers’ 28 points in the third quarter off an efficient 7 for 9 shooting stretch. 

“I thought I was going to have more, honestly,” Simmons said. 

Simmons took advantage of the Jazz missing center Rudy Gobert in the middle. He became the only Sixer since 1963-64 to score in double digits in each of his first 16 games. Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Best of NBA: Kyrie Irving helps Celtics rally for 16th straight win

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Best of NBA: Kyrie Irving helps Celtics rally for 16th straight win

DALLAS  -- Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team's first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters (see full recap).

Cavs rout Pistons for 5th straight win
DETROIT -- LeBron James scored 16 of his 18 points in the first quarter and the Cleveland Cavaliers made 11 3-pointers in the first half on the way to a 116-88 rout of the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Cleveland led 73-46 at halftime thanks to an overwhelming shooting performance, an indication that Detroit's stay atop the Central Division might not last much longer. The Pistons still lead the Cavs by a game, but Cleveland has won five straight and scored at least 110 points in eight of its last nine.

The Cavaliers led 27-22 when James went to the bench late in the first quarter. By the time he came back in, it was 50-30. Cleveland's reserves ended up outscoring Detroit's 26-8 in the first half.

The Cavs shot 62 percent from the field in the first two quarters and 11 of 17 from 3-point range. They finished the game 16 of 33 from beyond the arc. Cleveland led 101-62 after three, and the top players for both teams had plenty of time to rest in the final period (see full recap).

Knicks push Clippers' skid to 9 straight
NEW YORK -- Kristaps Porzingis scored 25 points and the New York Knicks extended the Los Angeles Clippers' losing streak to nine games with a 107-85 victory Monday night.

Porzingis outplayed a frustrated Blake Griffin and helped the Knicks snap a 10-game skid in the series with their first victory over the Clippers in five years.

Doug McDermott added 16 points for the Knicks, including a 3-pointer that swung the momentum for good midway through the third quarter.

Griffin scored 21 points but shot just 6 for 17, picked up a technical foul and fouled out with 4:46 remaining. The Clippers (5-11) still haven't won since Nov. 1 at Dallas, when they improved to 5-2.

Patrick Beverley returned after missing five games with a sore right knee and had nine points and six rebounds. But the Clippers are still without fellow guard Milos Teodosic and the rest of their backcourt play was mostly dismal (see full recap).

Oladipo's 29 leads Pacers over Magic for 4th straight win
ORLANDO, Fla.  -- Victor Oladipo had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven steals to lead the Indiana Pacers to their fourth straight win, 105-97 over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.

Oladipo, who played his first three NBA seasons in Orlando, and Bojan Bogdanovic combined for 40 points in the second half, 14 of them during a 16-3 third-quarter run that put the Pacers in command.

Bogdanovic scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half.

Nikola Vucevic had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Magic, who lost their fifth straight. Aaron Gordon had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Magic finished with 22 turnovers and shot 33 percent in the second half to fall below .500 for the first time this season (see full recap).