Redick, a man on the move, enlivens a lost art

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Redick, a man on the move, enlivens a lost art

If moving without the ball is a lost art in the NBA, Sixers guard JJ Redick is Rembrandt with a jump shot. He runs no fewer than 2.52 miles a game, according to SportVU — approximately all of them at a full sprint, and approximately none of them in a straight line.

A defender will dog Redick’s every step as he slaloms off screens, forever seeking a sliver of daylight to launch that pristine shot. There will be clutching and grabbing, cursing and gabbing.

It is a fascinating game within the game, a literal running feud.

“I embrace it,” Redick said late Wednesday night, after providing 20 points in a 112-106 victory over San Antonio.

The Spurs mostly used their JVs because Gregg Popovich is, as always, playing the long game, ticketholders be damned. But with the verdict hanging in the balance and less than a minute left, Redick found himself matched against Patty Mills, one of San Antonio’s longtime rotational staples.

For an instant they were frozen in place on the left wing — indeed, one of the few moments all night Redick was not in motion — as Joel Embiid handled the ball just to the left of the circle.

“It was a set play,” Redick said, “and we kind of screwed up the passing angle a little bit.”

He was supposed to receive the ball, then engage in a two-man game with Embiid. But now Embiid had the rock, and Mills was preventing him from darting toward his teammate, as well as the head of the key — “top-blocking,” as Redick called it.

Redick feinted toward the baseline, as if he were going to go backdoor, then darted back toward Embiid.

“Sometimes,” Redick said, “that’s just setting your guy up and giving him a little nudge.”

Which he did in fact deliver, creating just enough space to receive Embiid’s pass and bury the jumper that put the Sixers up 108-104 with 35.9 seconds left.

“It was,” Mills said, “classic Redick.”

Mills is well aware of his wiles, having often faced the former Clipper the last four years in the Western Conference. Doesn’t make it any easier, though.

“You’ve got to have your antennas up at all times when you’re guarding him, and not just the people that have the project on him,” Mills said. “Everyone on the floor’s got to know where he’s at at all times. He’s been a beast on all the teams he’s played.”

An interesting choice of words, seeing as “beast” is a term normally reserved for physical freaks like the 7-2 Embiid. But Redick, a mere 6-4, has that jumper; he nailed 3 of 4 three-point attempts Wednesday, is shooting 40.2 percent from the arc this season and 41.4 percent in his 12-year career. (His scoring average this season — 17.2 — is also a career high.)

Then there’s all that running. Only 11 NBA players, all of them far younger than the 33-year-old Redick, run more miles each night, according to SportVU. (The league leader is Portland guard C.J. McCollum, at 2.78; Sixers rookie Ben Simmons is second, at 2.68.)

That’s an obvious tribute to Redick’s conditioning. Doughy in his early years at Duke, he transformed his body late in his college career, then took it to the next level his first few seasons in the NBA, under the lash of Joe Rogowski, then Orlando’s conditioning coach.

All the while Redick was learning about off-the-ball tactics from watching (and facing) guys like Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton — lessons that are reinforced these days by Golden State’s Klay Thompson and a handful of others.

“I would describe it at times as hand-to-hand combat,” Redick said.

For that reason, he spends as much offseason time working on his upper body as he does his lower extremities.

“I know I don’t look it, but I’m actually pretty strong (at 195 pounds),” he said. “As much as it is just being in great cardio shape, it’s also just having the strength to just create that separation.”

Besides his pivotal moment against Mills on Wednesday, there was a play late in the first quarter where he, uh, nudged Brandon Paul and freed himself up for a three, then a three-possession stretch in the second when he took a dribble handoff from T.J. McConnell and connected from the arc; lost Darrun Hilliard on screens by Embiid and Dario Saric, took another pass from McConnell and dropped in a layup; and coaxed in the first two of three free throws after drawing a foul from Dejounte Murray on a three-point attempt.

At other times, Redick was used as a screener. It is a role in which he excels, coach Brett Brown said, because his defender is loath to switch off him.

And at all times he was active — forever running, forever crafting another masterpiece.

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

CAMDEN, N.J. — In some ways, Joel Embiid is a dream to coach. You can go to him in the post whenever you need a bucket, rely on him to erase defensive mistakes, sit back and watch as he takes over games.

But in other ways, coaching Embiid is not an easy job. Brett Brown has to constantly weigh Embiid’s health with the immediate desire to win. That balancing act has never been more difficult for Brown, who commented Wednesday on how he plans to manage Embiid with the playoffs in sight.

“Everything is still, and it should be, delivering him to a playoff round,” Brown said. “It’s not cramming for the exam and doing whatever you can to get home court, it’s not that at all. And so I feel like the path that we’re all on is both professional and responsible. So it’s that more than trying to cram for an exam.”

The Sixers have six back-to-back sets in their final 27 games. Embiid played his first ever back-to-back on Feb. 2 vs. Miami and Feb. 3 at Indiana. Since then, he’s had an injury scare with his right knee (on Feb. 10 vs the Clippers) and missed the Sixers’ final game before the All-Star break with a sore right ankle.

That said, Embiid’s obviously taken major steps forward. After being sidelined for his first two NBA seasons and playing just 31 games (and only 25.4 minutes per game) in his rookie year, he’s played in 44 of the Sixers’ first 55 games, and is averaging 31.4 minutes per game.

But the Sixers are 3-8 when Embiid doesn’t play. Without Embiid, the Sixers don’t look like a playoff team. With him, they look like a team which could earn home-court advantage. The Sixers are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference at 30-25, two games behind the fourth-seeded Washington Wizards.

When asked how he’ll generally manage his players’ minutes in the final third of the season, Brown referred to his time as a Spurs assistant, implying that the Sixers will approach things more aggressively than a championship contender.

“In my old life, when you felt like you were going to be in the finals and win a championship, you definitely started managing stuff differently in this final third,” Brown said. “That’s not where we’re at now. We are fighting to get in the playoffs.

“And we’re in a fist fight, we want a little bit more than that. And we’re going to play with that in mind, and when the opportunity arises when I can rest some of our guys, I will. But it’s not about being conservative right now or feeling like we’re entitled and we’re in the playoffs; we aren’t. So we’re still fighting to do that, and I’ll coach it accordingly.”

It might sound like there’s a contradiction between that desire to fight for the postseason and Brown’s goal of “delivering [Embiid] to a playoff round.” The Sixers probably need Embiid to play the majority of their final 27 games to make the playoffs in the first place. On the other hand, nothing in Embiid’s past suggests that he’s capable of playing all six remaining back-to-backs and suiting up fully healthy in Game 1 of the postseason.

The key for Brown is finding the perfect middle ground between riding Embiid hard every night and babying his 7-foot-2 star to the detriment of the team. With the playoffs finally in sight after five seasons of processing, that’s going to be one of Brown’s greatest challenges in the home stretch.