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Sixers Mailbag: Who plays point guard when Markelle Fultz returns?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Mailbag: Who plays point guard when Markelle Fultz returns?

This edition of the Sixers Mailbag prompted so many questions I couldn't fit them all in one article. So stay tuned for more Thursday and thanks to all who participated with #SixersMailbag.

Ben Simmons is the Sixers' starting point guard. As for the bench, T.J. McConnell — once again — has settled into that reliable backup role. His minutes nearly have doubled since Markelle Fultz was ruled out (shoulder). He is averaging 6.8 assists and, notably, only 2.2 turnovers in 27.8 minutes over the past six games. Brett Brown knows what he’s getting out of McConnell and teammates like Simmons have been jelling with him on the court. 

The Sixers drafted Fultz because he can play off the ball, but he’s struggled with his shot because of his injury. The team will wait for his shoulder to get healthy before he returns. If he’s back to “the old” Fultz when he does, he can complement McConnell in the second unit just as the original plan was for him to be paired at the two spot with Simmons in the starting lineup.

This season is all about growth for 20-year-old Furkan Korkmaz. Even though the G League no longer has the word “development” in its name, that’s what Korkmaz is spending time with the Delaware 87ers to do. Having an affiliate so close to Philadelphia provides the Sixers with the opportunity to send players there for short stints. They previously assigned Korkmaz to the 87ers for a practice when they had an off day, a car ride back and forth. 

Or, the Sixers can have him log minutes in a G League game (as they did Tuesday) if they know he wouldn’t get playing time for them. Korkmaz averaged 13.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals (30.4 minutes) in two games while the Sixers were in Salt Lake City. 

Korkmaz came to the NBA to play this season, but he also came here to adjust to the league and progress as a player and he will get more of a chance to do that with the Sevens.

Jerryd Bayless has been the subject of a lot of scrutinies this season, but I don’t agree. Bayless is not going to score 25 points per game. He’s not on the team to be a knockdown shooter like JJ Redick. Bayless’ role is not one of Simmons or Joel Embiid where he is looked to as the main scoring option. And that’s OK. 

The Sixers signed Bayless last summer for a few reasons, experience and backcourt versatility among the top. He brings intangibles to the team, like having a veteran presence alongside Simmons as he got adjusted to the NBA starting lineup or sliding into the second unit as an offensive boost off the bench. Bayless can step in where (point guard or shooting guard) and when needed. 

His performance isn’t tied to the Sixers’ future with Redick. They are two different players with different roles in this system.

Some coworker participation in the mailbag today.

The Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Raptors, Sixers, Knicks, Wizards and Pacers are the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference standings today. Wow. Who thought we’d be saying that? 

The Sixers are only 10 games into the season and it’s too soon at this point to know how other teams will look after the trade deadline and closer to the playoffs. What I do know is the Sixers have jelled a lot quicker than expected. They got through challenging matchups like the Rockets and are rolling on a five-game winning streak in an early-season schedule that initially seemed rocky. Finishing above .500 is not a stretch. 

Before the season started, I predicted the Sixers would finish seventh in the East behind the Cavaliers, Celtics, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks and Hornets. At this point early on, I would bump the Sixers ahead of the Bucks and Hornets. When it comes to making a playoff push, I don’t rule out veteran teams that have been there, done that. That’s why I’m not wrapped up in the Cavaliers' early struggles. I’m also not ready to write off the Wizards after last season’s playoff run. I’d look for them to make moves to enhance their roster. 

The Sixers certainly have the talent to make the playoffs this season. Their postseason expectations have been heightened by their early success.

Thinking ahead to playoff ceilings, that depends on matchups and health. It’s a topic we’ll be revisiting many times, and we'll have a clearer picture once the standings start to take shape later in the season. 

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons scored a career-high, Joel Embiid recorded a double-double, and still, the highest praise was directed to an unlikely player after the Sixers’ 107-86 win over the Jazz: Amir Johnson.

“He was the MVP of tonight,” Embiid said. 

Johnson embraced the ultimate role player mentality. He didn’t know until shortly before the game if he was going to start in place of Embiid or come off the bench. Embiid, who had been dealing with left knee soreness, ended up playing. So Johnson waited for his name to be called and stepped right into action. 

Johnson began the game with five rebounds in four first-quarter minutes. He finished with 13 boards, eight points and four blocks in 21 minutes. Johnson pulled down 10-plus rebounds for the 98th time in his career (see observations)

“I feel like my job is just to find ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “Knowing Joel, Ben and those guys are going to get the majority minutes, but when I come in I want to be effective at the same time.”

The 13-year veteran has been studying game film. Even though he didn’t get on the court in either of the Sixers’ matchups against the Warriors and played a combined 28 minutes in three road games in California, Johnson has been staying ready. 

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said of Johnson’s defense. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

The Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year, $11 million contract this summer. He proved what he could do on the court since entering the league out of high school in 2005, but the even bigger draw was what he could add to the locker room. Brett Brown reached out to some of Johnson’s former teammates and the assessments echoed one another. Now the Sixers are seeing what those who played with Johnson were talking about. 

“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle sitting and swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. 

“To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots isn’t ever on my mind with Amir. He’s a perfect teammate.” 

Redick bounces back in 2nd half
JJ Redick is at a point in his career where he isn’t worried about a slow start. He went scoreless in the first half and still ended up with 20 points. 

“Maybe five or six years ago I probably would have been a little more stressed at halftime,” Redick said. “But I just knew there would be some opportunities and stayed patient.”

Brown noticed Redick getting better looks after halftime. He evenly distributed his scoring with 10 points in both the third and the fourth quarters. He shot a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in the third. 

“I’m always going to be aggressive. There just weren’t opportunities to get shots off in the first half,” Redick said. “I scored 20 in the second half, but didn’t feel like I was forcing anything. The opportunities were there. Sometimes that happens within a game.”

Simmons, too
Simmons showed the same kind of poise, even more notable because he is a rookie. Simmons shot 2 for 9 in the first half, shook off the early struggles, and scored a career-high 27 points. He scored half of the Sixers’ 28 points in the third quarter off an efficient 7 for 9 shooting stretch. 

“I thought I was going to have more, honestly,” Simmons said. 

Simmons took advantage of the Jazz missing center Rudy Gobert in the middle. He became the only Sixer since 1963-64 to score in double digits in each of his first 16 games. Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Best of NBA: Kyrie Irving helps Celtics rally for 16th straight win

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Best of NBA: Kyrie Irving helps Celtics rally for 16th straight win

DALLAS  -- Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team's first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters (see full recap).

Cavs rout Pistons for 5th straight win
DETROIT -- LeBron James scored 16 of his 18 points in the first quarter and the Cleveland Cavaliers made 11 3-pointers in the first half on the way to a 116-88 rout of the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Cleveland led 73-46 at halftime thanks to an overwhelming shooting performance, an indication that Detroit's stay atop the Central Division might not last much longer. The Pistons still lead the Cavs by a game, but Cleveland has won five straight and scored at least 110 points in eight of its last nine.

The Cavaliers led 27-22 when James went to the bench late in the first quarter. By the time he came back in, it was 50-30. Cleveland's reserves ended up outscoring Detroit's 26-8 in the first half.

The Cavs shot 62 percent from the field in the first two quarters and 11 of 17 from 3-point range. They finished the game 16 of 33 from beyond the arc. Cleveland led 101-62 after three, and the top players for both teams had plenty of time to rest in the final period (see full recap).

Knicks push Clippers' skid to 9 straight
NEW YORK -- Kristaps Porzingis scored 25 points and the New York Knicks extended the Los Angeles Clippers' losing streak to nine games with a 107-85 victory Monday night.

Porzingis outplayed a frustrated Blake Griffin and helped the Knicks snap a 10-game skid in the series with their first victory over the Clippers in five years.

Doug McDermott added 16 points for the Knicks, including a 3-pointer that swung the momentum for good midway through the third quarter.

Griffin scored 21 points but shot just 6 for 17, picked up a technical foul and fouled out with 4:46 remaining. The Clippers (5-11) still haven't won since Nov. 1 at Dallas, when they improved to 5-2.

Patrick Beverley returned after missing five games with a sore right knee and had nine points and six rebounds. But the Clippers are still without fellow guard Milos Teodosic and the rest of their backcourt play was mostly dismal (see full recap).

Oladipo's 29 leads Pacers over Magic for 4th straight win
ORLANDO, Fla.  -- Victor Oladipo had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven steals to lead the Indiana Pacers to their fourth straight win, 105-97 over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.

Oladipo, who played his first three NBA seasons in Orlando, and Bojan Bogdanovic combined for 40 points in the second half, 14 of them during a 16-3 third-quarter run that put the Pacers in command.

Bogdanovic scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half.

Nikola Vucevic had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Magic, who lost their fifth straight. Aaron Gordon had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Magic finished with 22 turnovers and shot 33 percent in the second half to fall below .500 for the first time this season (see full recap).