76ers

Justin Anderson emerges as leader in 'fistfight 'for rotational minutes on wing

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Justin Anderson emerges as leader in 'fistfight 'for rotational minutes on wing

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Sixers head coach Brett Brown didn’t take it easy on the metaphors when he was asked about the state of the battle for minutes between Justin Anderson, Nik Stauskas and Furkan Korkmaz before his team’s 133-114 win over the Nets Wednesday.

Brown likened it to a fistfight and said there would probably be a “sole survivor” of the group that would receive rotational minutes to start the year. He set out clear guidelines for how he plans on evaluating the three players, who all try to add an element of offensive spacing and three-point shooting off the bench.

“It’s really simple,” Brown said. “It’s who can guard, who plays defense? The close, obvious second is: Can you make shots? The blueprint isn’t complicated. It goes in that order.”

Going by those standards, Wednesday’s contest boded well for Anderson’s prospects. The third-year player out of Virginia was the clear leader among the three in terms of meaningful minutes. Anderson spent 15:42 on the floor, much of it alongside players on the Sixers’ roster that, though reserves, have clearly-defined roles on the team, such as T.J. McConnell.

Stauskas received just 12:34 of action and did little to quell concerns about his shooting touch after he missed seven of eight shots against the Celtics on Monday. 

Wednesday, Stauskas missed five of seven shots, including his only three-point attempt. Ostensibly on the roster for his three-point shooting prowess, the fourth-year guard is struggling from distance. He has missed six of his seven shots from long range this preseason. If Stauskas’ shooting form doesn’t recover, he might not have shown enough defensively by the end of the preseason to justify a spot on the Sixers’ roster, let alone a rotational role. The Sixers were minus-12 with Stauskas on the court Wednesday and he picked up three fouls.

Meanwhile, Korkmaz was an afterthought after getting 19 minutes of run Wednesday. He was involved in just 5:10 of game action in the fourth quarter, well after the outcome had been decided. Korkmaz did hit his only shot attempt of the night, a three-pointer from the left wing.

Just a 20-year-old rookie, Korkmaz is not operating under the same kind of pressure to make the roster that Stauskas and Anderson have hanging over their heads. He can spend the bulk of 2017-18 in the G League and use the extended minutes he’d likely receive with the 87ers to tune up his defense without a second thought.

That leaves Anderson, who was probably the most impressive Wednesday night on the defensive end of the floor. The 6-foot-6 Anderson was shuffled through a host of man assignments during his run with the reserves, from 6-foot-11 forward Jarrett Allen to 6-foot-6 point guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

Anderson missed his only three-pointer but looked good contesting threes on his own end of the floor. He looked particularly solid getting a hand in Dinwiddie’s face after the guard had leaked open for a flash in the right corner late in the first quarter. The Sixers were plus-8 with Anderson on the floor.

"You’ve got to want to be a defender,” Anderson said.  "You’ve got to want to take that challenge. I took it personally tonight. I take it personally every night. I understand that I walk a very tight rope. I understand what my job is on this team."

Anderson took a step towards solidifying that job Wednesday night.

Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

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Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

As we collectively bask in the glow of the Southern California smackdown the Sixers administered to the Clippers and the Lakers to close out their road trip at 3-2, let’s take a little inventory of just what they’ve accomplished overall this season.

Through 14 games, they are 8-6. That’s two wins shy of their total amount of victories just two seasons ago and we’re still in November. The times they have a changed in Sixer-land.

The team has not one, but two transcendent stars who are capable of taking over games.

Joel Embiid’s last two performances have been pure dominance. 78 points, 31 rebounds, eight blocks and nine assists, while shooting 25 of 40 from the floor and averaging 35 minutes. He’s made whomever is guarding him look foolish, including one of the better defenders in the game, DeAndre Jordan.

From Game One, Ben Simmons has looked like a 10-year veteran. His poise belies his years. Simmons is a double-double machine and a triple-double threat every night. He’s posting gaudy early numbers of 20.3 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Despite not being a threat beyond 12 feet, Simmons' ability to get to the rack and finish with either hand more than compensates for his outside shortcomings. That duo has been awesome.

Not to be overlooked is Robert Covington. The 26-year-old, who transformed himself into a top-10 defender in the league, is putting up monster offensive stats after an inconsistent season from the floor last year. Covington is scoring 18.3 points, while shooting 50 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three-point land. Couple that offensive production with his defensive prowess and the Sixers got a pretty good bargain for a reported four years, $62 million.  

But what’s even more remarkable when considering the Sixers' good start is who they are doing it without. First-overall draft pick Markelle Fultz has played in just four games this season as he continues to battle a shoulder issue. Take a look at the contribution the NBA’s best team thus far, the Celtics, have gotten from third-overall pick, Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old is scoring nearly 14 points per game and pulling down more than 5.5 rebounds, while shooting close to 50 percent from the field and 48 percent from three. He’s been an integral piece in their 14-game winning streak. The Sixers have not had that luxury.

Beyond Fultz, Dario Saric has not been able to find a rhythm all season. Saric averaged 15.8 points per game over the final three months of last season. He hasn’t rebounded or shot it as well this season either. No doubt there were going to adjustments and growing pains incorporating with Simmons and with more availability from Embiid, but as the season progresses they will need more from Saric.

The other crazy thing about the wins against the Clippers and Lakers was the manner in which J.J. Redick struggled. He shot 7 of 25 from the floor and 1 for 15 from three-point land. He did make some late buckets inside in the Lakers game, but he’s here to knock down shots.

I believe Brett Brown will figure out a way to get more out of Saric. The Croatian works way too hard and cares far too much to not get going. With Redick, shooters can be streaky, it happens. And even when he is not making shots, he provides a lot in terms of leadership and example. How Fultz will fit in and what his shooting form will look like is anybody’s guess but they didn’t give up a lot to move up two spots for nothing. He wasn’t the consensus first-overall pick by accident. My sense is in addition to the shoulder issue, he is struggling mightily with his confidence. So it could be a process with him when he’s ready to return.

To be winning without much of a contribution from these players speaks volumes about how good the Sixers' big three (Embiid, Simmons, Covington) have been. And it’s been noticed nationally. The Laker win was a coming out party of sorts for those on the fringes. They are coming to the realization that we’ve known in this city for some time now.

This team is a playoff contender now. The question is how much better will they be at full compliment?

Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

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Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving had 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including two free throws that put Boston ahead in the closing seconds, and the Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors 92-88 on Thursday night for their 14th straight victory.

Jaylen Brown had 22 points and seven rebounds, and Al Horford added 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Kevin Durant has 24 points for Golden State. The defending champion Warriors had won seven in a row.

Playing his second game since suffering a facial fracture, Irving shed his protective mask in the second quarter. Then, with the game tied at 88, he was fouled on his layup attempt and calmly made a pair of free throws. Durant then came up empty on his jumper on the other end.

Golden State led by as many as 17, but had to lean heavily on its reserves as its trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant struggled offensively.

Curry, who returned to action after missing a game with a bruised right thigh, was the most ineffective. He was 3 of 14 from the field -- 2 of 9 from the 3-point line -- and had nine points (see full recap).

Harden’s 48 points ignite Rockets’ rout of Suns
PHOENIX -- James Harden had 23 of his 48 points in the second quarter while the Houston Rockets scored 90 points in the first half en route to a 142-116 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

Houston dominated with Chris Paul back in the lineup after missing 14 games with a knee injury. The Rockets made 61 percent of their first-half shots to get the second-most points in a first half in NBA history.

Houston came up 14 points shy of the franchise record for points in a game. The Rockets knocked down 21 of 44 3-point attempts, and Harden made all 18 of his free throws (see full recap).

Harden, the NBA's leading scorer, had 33 points at halftime. Houston used a 13-1 over the final 3:08 of the first quarter to take control and was never threatened after that, leading 45-23 going into the second.

Paul, who hadn't played since the season opener, got the start and didn't miss a beat, scoring 11 points and handing out 10 assists in limited action.

Coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game that getting the two stars, Harden and Paul, in sync will "take care of itself over the next week or so." D'Antoni planned to play Paul for 20 minutes; Paul saw 21 minutes of action and sat out most of the fourth quarter.

Ryan Anderson added 24 points for the Rockets, who have won seven of eight (see full recap).