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Sixers-Celtics preseason observations: Markelle Fultz solid in return

Sixers-Celtics preseason observations: Markelle Fultz solid in return

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BOSTON — The Sixers’ first preseason road game ended in a 113-96 loss to the Celtics at TD Garden on Monday night. 

The shorthanded Celtics, playing without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, easily defeated the Sixers, who trailed by 17 in the first quarter. 

• The Sixers wanted to see Markelle Fultz in different situations other than just at starting shooting guard. Fultz came off the bench in his second game (he missed Friday because of right shoulder soreness). Brett Brown played him at point guard with and without Ben Simmons.

Fultz said while his shoulder soreness is “on and on,” he is not using it as an excuse nor did it hold him back from shooting threes.

• Both Fultz and Simmons attacked the rim instead of taking jumpers. Simmons (6 for 12 from the field, 3 for 10 from the line) scored all of his field goals at the basket, as displayed on the NBA.com shot chart. Fultz (5 for 11 from the field) knocked down a shot just outside the paint. 

Brown is encouraging both players to drive to the basket.

“I like them attacking people and putting pressure on the defense, and hopefully getting to the line and maybe shooting a little bit better than we did tonight,” Brown said.

It remains to be seen how long that shot selection continues during the season. Players like JJ Redick could benefit from their kick-outs, but the team will also need its backcourt duo to mix up the offense and take outside shots before it becomes repetitious and opponents can game plan for that attack. 

• Jahlil Okafor got the start at center. He’s made the most of his opportunities so far in preseason. Okafor grabbed five rebounds (and six each the previous two games) after averaging 4.8 last season and hit 3 of 4 from the field for six points.

“I’m just trying to find my rhythm,” Okafor said.

• Dario Saric made his preseason debut after sitting out the first two games. He had been playing and practicing internationally up until a week before training camp and the Sixers wanted him to rest ahead of the regular season. He got the chance to shake off rust by playing 20 minutes (nine points, seven rebounds). Saric, who was disappointed to miss the 82-game mark last season, said this rest was beneficial for him. 

• Richaun Holmes does not expect to require surgery on his fractured left wrist. He described the fracture as “small” and believes it will heal on its own. Holmes is aiming to return sooner than the three-week re-evaluation mark. He fell on his wrist during a foul in Friday’s loss to the Celtics. 

Jrue Holiday explodes in 2nd half of Pelicans' OT win over Bucks

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AP Images

Jrue Holiday explodes in 2nd half of Pelicans' OT win over Bucks

MILWAUKEE — Jrue Holiday scored 28 of his season-high 36 points after halftime to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a 123-121 overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

Holiday added nine rebounds and six assists for New Orleans, which held on for its season-high fifth win in a row when Jason Terry's 3-pointer was ruled after the buzzer.

Anthony Davis, who entered the game as the league's third-leading scorer (27.7 ppg), added 27 points and 13 rebounds.

The Pelicans trailed by 18 early in the second half but outscored Milwaukee 38-19 in the third quarter.

Khris Middleton scored 25 points for the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the No. 2 scorer in the NBA (27.8) and Eric Bledsoe each added 20, but the Bucks lost for only the fourth time in the last 14 games and fell to 9-26 all-time against New Orleans.

Rajon Rondo came up with the play of the game by draining a 3-pointer from the right wing as the 24-second clock was about to expire to give the Pelicans a 123-119 lead with 1:25 remaining in overtime (see full recap).

Spurs top Cavs to end losing streak
CLEVELAND — LaMarcus Aldridge scored 27 points, Danny Green added 22 and the San Antonio Spurs ended their annual "rodeo" road trip by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-94 on Sunday to snap a four-game losing streak.

Green, who missed Friday's loss at Denver with food poisoning, came off the bench for the first time in 49 games this season. He made five 3-pointers to provide a perfect outside complement to Aldridge's dynamic inside game. Dejounte Murray added 13 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio, a team not accustomed to any turmoil.

But the Spurs have not been themselves lately while playing without star Kawhi Leonard. They had dropped six of seven and four in a row on a trip (their arena hosts a rodeo every year) that coach Gregg Popovich's squad typically uses as a spring board into the playoffs.

LeBron James had 33 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists for the Cavs, who fell to 3-2 since overhauling their roster with three trades (see full recap).

Howard leads Hornets over Pistons 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Something has changed for the Hornets' bench in the last three game. Cody Zeller calls it "rhythm." Frank Kaminsky calls it "flow."

No matter what name this newfound chemistry goes by, it has added up to the best play of the season from Charlotte reserves. And Sunday, it meant the difference as the Hornets beat the Detroit Pistons 114-98 for a season-best fourth straight win.

Dwight Howard led the Hornets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Kemba Walker also recorded 17 points for Charlotte. But it was the Hornets' bench outscoring Detroit's reserves 51-28 that gave Charlotte the biggest edge.

"This is maybe the best 3-4 games we've played all season just because we're starting to put it together, especially on the defensive end," Zeller said. "Everyone is tied together."

The Hornets improved to 27-33 while making a push toward the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. The Pistons have 28 wins, and there are eight teams in the conference with at least 31 victories (see full recap).

Sixers to add familiar face via buyout market, per report

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USA Today Images

Sixers to add familiar face via buyout market, per report

The Sixers may soon poach a second veteran from the Hawks to boost their bench.

After signing Marco Belinelli on Feb. 12, the Sixers are reportedly poised to sign forward Ersan Ilyasova once his buyout with the Hawks is complete, per Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania. 

The 30-year-old Turkish forward is averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 25.5 minutes per game this season for Atlanta.

Ilyasova has a history in Philadelphia. He was acquired on Nov. 21, 2016 in a trade with the Thunder in exchange for Jerami Grant.

Ilyasova played 53 games for the Sixers and had one of the best individual stretches of his career, posting 14.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game on a team where he was one of the primary scoring options. Ilyasova was traded to Atlanta early in 2017 for Tiago Splitter and a 2017 second-round pick.

This time around, Ilyasova would be part of a very different Sixers team. He’d be a valuable asset for Brett Brown to turn to for scoring off the bench. A career 36.6 percent three-point shooter, the 6-10 Ilyasova is capable of stretching the floor.

With the active roster currently at the 15-player maximum, the Sixers would have to make a corresponding move to free up a spot for Ilyasova.