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Philadelphia natives Marcus and Markieff Morris acquitted of assault

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Philadelphia natives Marcus and Markieff Morris acquitted of assault

PHOENIX -- A Phoenix jury acquitted NBA players Marcus and Markieff Morris in their aggravated assault trial Tuesday.

The Morris brothers have been on trial for the past two weeks on charges that they helped three other people beat 36-year-old Erik Hood in January 2015 outside a high school basketball game in Phoenix.

At that time, the 28-year-old brothers played for the Phoenix Suns. Marcus now plays for the Boston Celtics and Markieff is with the Washington Wizards.

Defense attorneys Timothy Eckstein and James Belanger patted the brothers on the back as the verdict was read. The Morris twins hugged their attorneys after the jury was led out of the courtroom.

"From the beginning we expected them to acquit but just putting this time here," Marcus Morris said outside Maricopa County Superior Court.

Both players have missed the start of the NBA preseason because of the trial.

Another defendant, Gerald Bowman, also was found not guilty on two counts of aggravated assault. Two other co-defendants pleaded guilty to the charges on Sept. 13.

Hood did not attend court to hear the verdict read.

Jurors got the case Monday afternoon. They began hearing testimony Sept. 18.

Belanger said in closing arguments that the case was tainted by Hood's mentor trying to solicit two witnesses to implicate the Morris brothers for a cash payment in return.

Two witnesses testified about the mentor's attempt and their refusal to lie. They both went to break up the fight and placed the Morris twins near the site but not as part of the altercation.

Belanger said he thought the defense had a very good case without that but when the jury found out "it was the prism that they had to look at everything else through."

Prosecutor Daniel Fisher had urged jurors to convict the brothers, saying Marcus Morris kicked Hood in the head and Markieff Morris acted as an accomplice because "they had an axe to grind" with him.

Defense attorneys pressed Hood during his testimony about his financial motives in the case and his knowledge of the NBA players' substantial financial assets.

They also repeatedly said Hood lied to police nine times when he said both twins were involved in the assault. Hood later changed his statement to say Markieff did not beat him but had been in the vicinity.

Eckstein, the lawyer for Marcus Morris, said during closing arguments that Hood knew he had to "double down on Marcus" beating him because the case wouldn't be worth anything without one of the brothers involved.

Hood testified he wanted justice for the beating that left him with a broken nose and other injuries.

He said he has known the Morris brothers since their youth basketball days, but they had a falling out in 2011.

Hood testified that his relationship with the twins became strained because of a misinterpreted text message he sent their mother. But he said there was nothing "improper" happening with him and their mother.

The Morris brothers said they felt relieved and were ready to get back to their teams.

"We put our faith in our lawyers," Markieff Morris said.

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers have hit a four-game skid and there is not a clearly defined way out of it thanks to a laundry list of injuries.

“I think it’s painfully obvious,” Brett Brown said of what needs to be done. “Let’s get our better players back in a uniform.”

The Sixers have to play their best with their pieces available down two starters (Joel Embiid, Robert Covington) and a key bench player (T.J. McConnell).

There are adjustments that can be made to prevent a losing streak from spiraling the Sixers down in the standings.

“We need to be just smarter,” Dario Saric said. “I know we are a young team. I know are playing without Joel, without our very important players … we need to find a way. We need to be more calm down, don’t be nervous, especially on defense.” 

Saric pointed to the Sixers’ late-game defense in their 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). They were tied with eight minutes to play before the Pelicans hit threes on their next four straight possessions. Jrue Holiday drained four treys himself during a five-minute stretch to push the lead to 11. The Sixers were outscored 44-29 in the fourth quarter.

“In that situation, to me, we are playing like a high school team,” Saric said. “That cannot happen. We need to be smarter at that point. I hope we will grow up and we will be mentally ready for that last five, six, seven minutes.”

The Sixers also were in the position to come back Saturday in Cleveland. They trailed the Cavaliers, 99-98, with 1:39 to play and did not score after that point.

It was during that final stretch when Covington landed out of bounds and suffered a lower back contusion. A day later, Embiid was a late scratch because of lower back tightness (see story). McConnell has missed five of the last six games with a left shoulder injury.

“We’ve got to be consistent with making the right plays every time,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s hard to make mistakes without those guys there. When you make mistakes and you don’t have Jo or Cov and guys like that to make up for that, it’s tough. But we’ve got to just come together as a team and get through it.” 

The Sixers don't have it easy their next two games. They face the Timberwolves (16-11) Tuesday in Minnesota when Embiid said he expects to play but has not been cleared. Covington is doubtful, while McConnell's status is to be determined. The Sixers return home Friday from a three-game road trip to host the Thunder (12-13).

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS — Joel Embiid is trying to kick back tightness he has been dealing with since Thursday.

Embiid was a late scratch for the Sixers in Sunday's 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). He said he began to experience the tightness while playing Thursday against the Lakers. Embiid received treatment during the game but felt "pretty sore" after.

The big man already was slated to miss one of the two back-to-backs in Cleveland and New Orleans because of his medical restriction. He sat Saturday, but when he warmed up pregame Sunday, he still didn’t feel healthy enough to go.

“I tried to warm up earlier but I couldn't,” Embiid said. “If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone. But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers need Embiid (23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) back on the court. They have dropped to 13-13 on a four-game losing streak, including these last two without him. Embiid is an integral part of the Sixers’ defense, especially against a Pelicans team with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in the frontcourt. The two bigs combined for 52 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks. 

Embiid said he expects to play in the Sixers' next game, Tuesday in Minnesota. Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is posting 19.8 points, 11.6 boards and 1.3 blocks per game this season. Embiid still has to work out Monday before that his availability. In the meantime, he is receiving massage treatment.

“I just got to keep resting for a couple days and see how it feels day-by-day,” Embiid said. “But it's been getting better. It's a lot, much better.”

Embiid is the latest Sixers to be added to the list of injuries. Robert Covington suffered a lower back contusion Saturday and is doubtful for Tuesday (see story). T.J. McConnell continues to be hampered by a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. He has missed five of his last six games. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Justin Anderson (left leg) are weeks out from another reevaluation.