76ers

Markelle Fultz takes major step toward return

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Markelle Fultz takes major step toward return

CAMDEN, N.J. — Markelle Fultz took a key step in his return from injury Sunday.

The 2017 No. 1 pick went through full-contact 5-on-5 work in practice for the first time since being sidelined with a right shoulder injury. He participated in the “large majority” of the afternoon practice, according to Brett Brown. 

“I thought he looked good for not having done much obviously the past few months,” Brown said. 

Fultz was available for portions of practice, including transition defense, play calling and passing drills. In comparison to previous days, Fultz was available to “get up and down the floor in a more detailed, lengthy way,” Brown explained. 

Anytime Fultz’s recovery is mentioned, a question that follows is, ‘How did his shot look?’ Fultz’s form changed during the injury and has been in the spotlight as he makes his way back. Brown was encouraged by what he saw from the rookie on both ends of the floor. 

“I thought his rise up looked pretty good,” Brown said. “He didn’t shoot any threes. But I thought that thing, that skill that he has, I’ve said to everybody, it connects the dots. When you don’t have it, you realize it even more. He can create a shot for himself, he can create a shot for others, he’s got a lot of wiggle to his game. That was different. 

“He’s different than all of our players. So to watch him play in that environment and really wind him up defensively, because he’s got a long wingspan, was to me to the positive of the day.”

A date for Fultz’s return has yet to be determined. Brown does not think it will be the Sixers' next game, Wednesday against the Celtics abroad. The team will continue to monitor Fultz has he goes through the action like he did Sunday.

“I do not expect him to return to play in London, personally,” Brown said. “There’s no pre-ordained date. We’re not going to put ourselves in a box and declare a date. It doesn’t work like that. He will tell us as we watch his body react to the first kind of workout he’s had in, what, two months. There is no date."

Fultz has not played since Oct. 23 because of right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance. He received treatment with the Sixers and with Dr. Ben Kibler, Medical Director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic to get back on the court.

“It’s great having him with the team,” Brown said. “He’s good people. He’s got a very charismatic way that he engages with the team and coaching staff. We’re all with him. He’s ours. We understand the responsibility to grow him and help him navigate a very unusual introduction to an NBA season … It was a great thing to have him compete, sweat, be around teammates.”

Joel Embiid did not practice Sunday because of back soreness.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”

New NBA ASG great, but what in the world was before it?

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USA Today Images

New NBA ASG great, but what in the world was before it?

This week’s serving of Rob Rants focuses on the dichotomy of the 2018 NBA All-star Game and the show that comes with it. On the court, the game was a highly entertaining, competitive, tightly fought contest that incorporated a new concept that's a winner. The league also attempted something new prior to the game. That idea did not quite work as well. 

All-Star Games 
I generally am not a fan of All-Star Games. I haven’t watched the Pro Bowl in years. Same goes for the NHL All-Star Game. I find the MLB's midsummer classic to be the most watchable of the four. Plus, they have a captive audience as there are no other options that time of year. In recent years, I’ve taken more to the NBA three-point contest and skills competition rather than the dunk contest or the game itself. Full disclosure: I watched the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night for a few reasons. I wanted to see Joel Embiid’s first All-Star Game. I was curious about the new draft format of player selection. And my 16-year-old son who I was watching it with is a die-hard Sixers and NBA fan. So I watched all the way through. What I found were two polar-opposite productions. 

Premise
Along with ESPN’s College Gameday. I find TNT's Inside the NBA to be as good as it gets in terms of pregame shows. Ernie, Charles, Kenny, Shaq and crew were excellent as always. It’s what happened after they signed off that was a sight to be hold. 

Pregame show?
Philadelphia’s own Kevin Hart performed some type of musical/broadway play/comedy/is this really happening? Somehow Rob Riggle, the least funny man in the world, was involved. As were Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah and Ludacris. And there were cheerleaders and wild west folk. There may have been others but at that point, I began slipping into some kind of hypnotic coma. It went on interminably long. It was the kind of thing that, if Hart was not so popular and talented, can kill a career. It was that bad. But I strangely could not pull myself away. It was car crash, rubber-necking kind of bad. 

That mercifully ended and you thought it was game time. But we still had the anthems. First, the Canadian anthem, which was followed by the Star Spangled Banner. Fergie decided that she would turn Francis Scott Key’s composition into a steamy, sultry, lounge act from back in the day. To put it kindly, she missed the mark. Charles Barkley said at halftime that he needed a cigarette after her performance. It wasn’t quite Carl Lewis or Roseanne Barr-level of terrible, but it just capped a half hour-plus of strangeness that anyone who watched was never getting back. All of this just reaffirmed why I don’t generally indulge in these exhibitions. But then something funny happened. 

The game
The NBA smartly changed formats for All-Star selection this year. The league went playground style, having two captains choose their teams. LeBron James and Steph Curry were the two captains in charge of selecting from the voted-in All-Stars. The game, unlike recent years, had a different kind of competitive feel from the jump. Yes, it had the usual array of dunks and incredible passes, which the game should have. But there was defense played and fouls taken. Strategy was employed. To the players and NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s credit, the changes were a home run. The game came down to the last possession with Team Steph having a chance to tie with a three. Team LeBron played great defense and Curry could not get a shot off, giving Team LeBron the 148-145 victory. The game had the best of both worlds — incredible athletes showing off their skills and a level of care and compete not seen in a long time. And Embiid had an excellent All-Star debut with 19 points, eight boards and a great sequence where he nailed a rainbow three-pointer and then swatted Russell Westbrook at the other end of the floor.

Lesson here: tune in at tip-off. And no more Rob Riggle. Ever.