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Give and Go: Our predictions for the Sixers this season

Give and Go: Our predictions for the Sixers this season

With training camp starting next week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we discuss our predictions for the Sixers going into the 2017-18 season.

Camerato
My prediction for the 2017-18 season has to do with an issue nagging the Sixers for years now. I expect the team to figure out the frontcourt logjam and establish more clearly-defined rotations.

The utilization of the bigs has not been consistent. Joel Embiid started when healthy. Jahlil Okafor started when Embiid was unavailable and was benched other times. Richaun Holmes’ season was a mix of starts, DNPs and G League appearances. And (there’s more), Nerlens Noel was on the roster up until the trade deadline. 

How much longer will this overcrowding at the five spot last? The situation is a bit tricky because of Embiid’s health. He has not been cleared for 5-on-5 and it remains to be seen how many games and minutes he will play. Okafor, in that case, has been the go-to fill-in starter. The Sixers remain open to trading Okafor. The current situation isn’t and hasn’t been, beneficial for either team or player. 

Holmes’ improvements should not be ignored this season just because he had accepted that backup-to-the-backup role. He made a strong case to become the backup center last season and the Sixers should give him the opportunity. 

The Sixers also will have to address the shooting guard position, where they are stacked since the addition of JJ Redick, who will see major minutes. Markelle Fultz, a point guard, also will play at the two spot. So what will that mean for Nik Stauskas or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot? (Furkan Korkmaz is expected to spend time in the G League.) 

In enhancing their team this offseason, the Sixers now have to become a more balanced roster. My prediction is they will make moves to accomplish that.

Haughton
By now you’ve heard just about every prediction for the Sixers. So what’s one more?

The talk this summer has been about the Sixers finally getting through “the process” and reaching the postseason. Both current and former Sixers have guaranteed a playoff berth.

While I tend to agree, I also know it won’t be as easy as they are making it seem.

The Sixers are loaded with talent and potential. Neither of those qualities actually guarantee wins. Just ask the 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Sixers will have to incorporate several new key players and adopt an entirely different mindset of expecting to win instead of hoping to come out on top each night.

Then there’s the competition. The Eastern Conference remains top heavy with the best four squads likely still holding firm (Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Washington).

After that, things get a little more wide open. Three of the bottom four seeds from last season’s playoff participants in the East lost their best players either to free agency or via trade (Atlanta: Paul Millsap, Indiana: Paul George and Chicago: Jimmy Butler).

That should definitely clear up some room for the Sixers to make a push for one of those back-end playoff spots, but don’t expect them to jump from the basement to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hudrick
My prediction for the Sixers, much like everyone else's, is that they'll make the playoffs.

There is a caveat, however. If they don't make the playoffs, it's not the end of the world.

The Cavaliers and Celtics are the class of the East. And really it's not very close. After them, the second tier is the Raptors and Wizards. After that, it gets a little murky. Given the landscape of the Eastern Conference, it's certainly realistic to say the Sixers could make the playoffs.

But the Sixers shouldn't be worried about that. It would be outstanding for this young team's confidence (and how could you not feel great for Brett Brown after what he's dealt with the last four years) to make the playoffs, but their goals should be improvement and health. This team has some serious work to do to jell together and Brown has serious questions to answer about his rotation. It won't all be sorted out overnight.

Having the NBA playoffs back in Philly is going to be a blast, but let's focus on this team's development above all else.

Mitchell-Nance Jr. showdown highlights All-Star Saturday

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AP Images

Mitchell-Nance Jr. showdown highlights All-Star Saturday

LOS ANGELES — Rookie Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz put on a show in the slam dunk contest to cap off NBA All-Star Saturday.

Mitchell edged Larry Nance Jr. by two points, sealing his victory with a close approximation of the 360-degree spin dunk that Vince Carter used to win the 2000 contest.

"I wanted this so badly," Mitchell said. "This is one of my favorite events of All-Star weekend. To not only be in it, but to win it, it's crazy."

Before making his winning dunk, Mitchell peeled off his Jazz jersey and wore a vintage Carter jersey from the Toronto Raptors.

Mitchell -- three inches shorter than the 6-foot-6 Carter -- needed a score of 47 to beat Nance, and he got a 48 from the five judges: DJ Khaled, Mark Wahlberg, Chris Rock and Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Lisa Leslie.

Nance, who was trying to win the contest 34 years after his father won it, had earned a perfect 50 with a dunk off a double alley-oop off the glass.

Mitchell advanced to the finals with a creative dunk in the first round that used his sister, Jordan, as well as Kevin Hart and the comedian's son as props. For that dunk, Mitchell wore a Darrell Griffith Jazz jersey. Griffith participated in the first slam dunk contest in 1984.

"I appreciate Kevin Hart coming out there and helping me out," Mitchell said. "He's my favorite comedian."

Booker wins 3-point contest with record final round
Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns won the 3-point contest with a record 28 points in the final round. He beat 2016 champion Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and Tobias Harris of the Los Angeles Clippers.

"It feels really good," Booker said. "I wanted to go out there and make a name for myself."

Did he ever. He was sensational in the final round on Saturday, when he missed only five of 25 shots.

Each player shot five five-ball racks with a one-minute time limit. The final ball of each one was a "money ball" worth two points, and one of the racks, usually the last one, was all money balls. Booker made the money ball shot on his first four racks, and then made four of the five balls on the money ball rack.

Harris, Booker and Thompson advanced from the eight-man field to the finals. Harris scored 17 points before Booker scorched the nets for 28 points. Thompson followed and scored 25 points.

The previous record was 27 points, set by Stephen Curry in 2015 and matched by Thompson the following year.

Booker, the 21-year-old sharpshooter in his third season with Phoenix, is averaging 24.2 points per game this season as the NBA's 12th-leading scorer. Eleven months after the shooting guard dropped 70 points against Boston to become the youngest player in NBA history to score even 60 in a game, Booker added another accolade to his promising career with the 3-Point title.

Thompson beat the buzzer with his final shot of the first round to reach the finals with 19 points. Booker also scored 19 and Harris had 18.

Dinwiddie tops Markkanen in Skills Challenge final 
Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets won the skills challenge to kick off NBA All-Star Saturday.

Dinwiddie, who played at Taft High in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, beat Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls in the final round.

The skills competition consisted of two players going head to head. They dribbled around pylons, passed the ball into a net, dribbled to the other end of the floor for a layup and then dribbled back to the other end to take a pull-up 3-pointer.

Eight players started the competition, with Dinwiddie and Markkanen advancing to the final.

Markkanen struggled passing the ball into the net, giving Dinwiddie a big lead. Dinwiddie dribbled down the floor and missed his first 3, but drained the next one to win.

Skills Challenge sparks Embiid's inner point guard

Skills Challenge sparks Embiid's inner point guard

LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid loves the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean the Sixers' big man is unfazed by the magnitude of the stage on which he is competing.

“I was actually extremely nervous,” Embiid said after the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. "I don’t know why. My heart was beating so fast. I have no idea why. But I thought it was fun.”

Embiid was one of eight players to test their versatility in dribbling, passing and shooting drills. Embiid defeated Al Horford in the first round and lost in the second to Lauri Markkanen. Spencer Dinwiddie took home the trophy.

Embiid pulled off a comeback victory Horford. He trailed after the dribbling and passing drills but beat out the Celtics' veteran at the three-point line to advance.

“That was wild,” Embiid said. “I lost the ball, I didn’t make the first pass and then I just threw the other two balls. That’s a good way to do it instead of wasting time. Then I was way behind and I came back and I ended up making that three and won.”

Horford was stifled when he thought his first three-point shot attempt was going in … and it didn’t. That miss opened the opportunity for Embiid to claim the round.

“The shot, which I was making before, I felt good, and then I think the pressure got to me a little bit,” Horford said. “I just wasn’t expecting that (to miss). I thought I was good. So then by that time, Joel caught up to me.”

Markkanen, the Bulls' rookie, got the best of Embiid in the next round. Embiid tried to rush through the passing drill to catch up to Markkanen, who ended up crossing in front of him at halfcourt for the clinching trey.

“After he made the layup he was a little bit in front of me,” Markkanen said. “But we couldn’t switch sides, so I had to get to the other side someway. So I tried to sprint and get in front of him and distract him a little bit. I think that worked.”

Embiid said with a big smile, "I kind of thought Lauri kind of cheated a little bit. He went in front of me, but it’s all good. It's all fun."

Even if Embiid didn’t win this contest, it wasn’t a total loss. The 7-foot-2 center has long claimed he wants to be a guard one day, and he showed off those backcourt skills. 

“I think I can still be a point guard in my future,” Embiid said.

All-Star Weekend does not end for Embiid with the Skills Challenge. After competing in the Rising Stars game Friday and this contest on Saturday, Embiid has been making sure to preserve his energy for the All-Star Game Sunday. He will start for Team Stephen.