76ers

Sixers Notes: Embiid’s hand OK, Okafor’s DNPs, Simmons’ shot

Sixers Notes: Embiid’s hand OK, Okafor’s DNPs, Simmons’ shot

HOUSTON – Joel Embiid is determined to play through a right-hand contusion and face the Rockets.

He participated in the Sixers’ light practice Sunday, the day after suffering the injury against the Mavericks. Embiid thinks it occurred either late in the first quarter or early in the second when he tried to go baseline out of a double team. He stayed in the game and x-rays taken Saturday night came back negative.

“I’m feeling good,” Embiid said. “I think I should be ready. I should be playing tomorrow. It’s hurting a little bit but I think I’ll be fine. I’ll push through it.”

Embiid experienced swelling Sunday. The Sixers will have shootaround ahead of Monday’s matchup, where they will get another look at the situation. Embiid is ready to make an early diagnosis of himself.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m playing. I don’t care what they say. I’m playing.”

Embiid posted 21 points, six rebounds and three assists in the Sixers’ buzzer-beater loss Wednesday to the Rockets. He was not involved in the offense down the stretch and, considering how competitive he is, he’s likely looking to avenge that defeat on the Rockets’ home court.

Okafor reacts to DNPs
Jahlil Okafor understands his place on the Sixers, albeit on the bench and out of the rotation. The third-year center has been in communication with Brett Brown, who has opted to play Amir Johnson as the backup center behind Embiid.

“The last time we spoke, he told me that Amir was the backup to Jo,” Okafor said Sunday. “I’m ready to play. We talk often. That’s what it is at the moment. He told me I’m not in the rotation.”

Okafor entered training camp with expectations of a turnaround camp. He had shed significant weight and was no longer dealing with right knee soreness.

The competition for the backup role heated up, though, as the Sixers signed the veteran Johnson to a one-year, $11 million deal this summer and Richaun Holmes had made a strong case for more playing time last season. Holmes has been injured (fractured wrist) but Brown designated the other reserve minutes to Dario Saric. Okafor has appeared in one game. Still, he prepares as if his name could be called.

“I’m just healthy,” Okafor said. “I feel great. I’m ready to play. The coaches know that. My teammates know that as well. I’m just coming in here, working day by day, we’ll see what happens.”

And so Okafor’s future with the Sixers remains unclear, as it was the prior two seasons as well.

“Anything can change,” he said. “It could change in the blink of an eye. But right now, I’m not in the rotation and that’s what it is.”

Okafor re-joined the Sixers on Sunday after staying back at the team hotel Saturday in Dallas because of an upper respiratory infection.

Simmons expanding shot … but how far?
For everyone who wants to see Ben Simmons knock down long-range jumpers, that’s going to have to wait. Yes, the rookie is looking to expand his offensive game, but the Sixers aren’t focusing on that far from the basket.

“[I want to work on] the way I score at certain spots on the floor,” Simmons said Saturday. “Multiple spots — elbows, low block, through the lane, finishing.”

Simmons believes he needs to improve his overall scoring. That coming from the rookie who is averaging 17.5 points and recorded a triple-double in his fourth NBA game. Still, Simmons has been doing his most offensive damage in the paint.

Of his 84 field goal attempts, 47 have been taken from less than five feet from the basket, according to NBA.com. Simmons is shooting 65.9 percent in the restricted area (29 for 44) and 40.0 percent in the non-restricted area of the paint (12 for 30). He has been highly efficient attacking the basket with his speed and physicality.

Getting further out, though, Simmons is just 2 for 7 from mid-range and has not attempted a three. So when Simmons and the Sixers eye areas of improvement, they’re not talking about transforming into a younger version of JJ Redick — not yet, at least.

The team has specific objectives for his rookie season. They start in two areas, the basket and the line, where Simmons is shooting 59.4 percent.

“Maybe next year or at the end of this year, we’re going to start seeing, I think, some catch-shot threes and really expanding it. But that will not define him,” Brown said. “My mind for him completely in his first season is finishing at the rim and trying to get to that 70-percent mark as a free throw shooter.”

Scenes from the road
Redick, Jerryd Bayless and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were the last three on the court following Sunday's light practice at the Toyota Center. It is a good example for a younger player like Luwawu-Cabarrot see veterans putting in extra work. (Redick's status for Monday has not been announced. He missed Saturday's game with lower back tightness.)

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

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USA Today Images

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

MIAMI — Tyler Johnson scored 23 points to lead six players in double figures, and the Miami Heat stopped a three-game slide when they beat the reeling Memphis Grizzlies 115-89 on Saturday night.

The Grizzlies lost their ninth game in a row, the longest active streak in the NBA, and their second in as many nights.

Justise Winslow scored a season-high 17 points for the Heat. Reserve Wayne Ellington went 5 for 10 from 3-point range and scored 15.

Miami's Dwyane Wade was limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble and scored six points. But the Heat, scrambling for a playoff berth, still managed to win for only the second time in the past 10 games.

Andrew Harrison scored 17 points for the Grizzlies, who played without leading scorer Tyreke Evans. He'll undergo a precautionary MRI Sunday on his injured right ribs.

The Heat took the lead for good at 28-26. Their margin reached 92-70 by the end of the third quarter.

Miami outscored Memphis 50-30 in the paint, 13-2 on fast breaks and 26-8 off turnovers (see full recap).

Irving's 31 powers Celtics past Knicks
NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn't win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Warriors avenge pair of blowout losses to OKC
OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant's pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third -- when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George's 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant's hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22 (see full recap).

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

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AP Images

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers’ 116-105 victory over the Magic (see observations) was just that: a complete “Sixers” victory.

This wasn’t about one player taking over or the starting five carrying the weight. From players one through 10 who stepped on the court, everyone contributed. 

“It doesn’t matter who scores all the points as long as we win,” Ben Simmons said. “We all know that to get to the next level, that’s what it’s going to take.”

Enhancing the bench is a priority for the Sixers as they look to the playoffs. They are going to need depth in a postseason series, having different weapons as they face the same opponent night in and night out. 

Brett Brown was committed to counting on the second unit. The Sixers held a 22-point lead halfway through the fourth, an opportunity for starters to get a significant period of rest ahead of Sunday’s back-to-back on the road against the Wizards. 

So as the Magic chipped away at the differential and got within nine, the reserves stayed on the court. Even when Mario Hezonja attempted a trey that would have cut the lead to six with 1:21 remaining, Brown had decided the starters would remain on the sidelines.

“I wasn’t going to do it," Brown said of subbing in the starters. "I was going to go with those guys. Some of it’s just gut feel, maybe some of it’s stubbornness. But we have to grow our bench. We have to give those guys confidence that they can close out games and they did. My intention was to going to be to let them see it through.”

In total, the reserves combined for 32 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists. The bench stepped up in different ways. Marco Belinelli provided a boost on the scoreboard with 15 points. T.J. McConnell absorbed extra playing time and clocked a team-high 31 minutes. (None of the starters played more than 29 minutes.) 

Brown determined before the game he would give Richaun Holmes the nod to back up Embiid instead of Amir Johnson. He wanted Holmes, who has played in only three of his last 10 games, to get the opportunity for time on the court (see video). Holmes grabbed eight rebounds with four points in 21 minutes. 

“It shows (the bench) can hold it down,” Simmons said. “We have guys who are capable of doing that, it doesn’t have to be the starting five.”

The bench's production in this win over the Magic is only a small glimpse into what the Sixers believe they will need to succeed in the postseason. 

"Our objective is, in general, playoffs, but I want homecourt advantage," Joel Embiid said. "To know that going into the playoffs you have a bench that can come in and keep the lead or keep building the lead, it's great. In the playoffs you need that, you need a bench to come in and keep it up for the starters, and finish it."