76ers

Sixers offer glimpse of dynamic offensive potential in preseason finale

Sixers offer glimpse of dynamic offensive potential in preseason finale

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There will be a time in the near future, perhaps even in the Sixers’ regular-season opener Wednesday night in Washington, when Markelle Fultz will fit seamlessly into the offense.

Until then, the Sixers showcased Friday night just how efficiently the trio of 7-foot-2 center Joel Embiid, veteran sharp-shooter JJ Redick and point-forward Ben Simmons can work together.

Start with Embiid, who followed up his dominant preseason debut with a clunker on paper. He scored just five points on 1 for 7 shooting, picked up a couple of silly fouls on defense and looked more like a prospect with 31 career games under his belt than the guy who was given a five-year, $146.5 million contract extension.

But his mere presence in the Sixers’ 119-93 exhibition win over Miami opened up driving lanes for Simmons, who was 9 of 11 from the floor and had 19 points, and carved out space on the perimeter for Redick, who buried five threes and also had 19 points in the Sixers’ most cohesive game of the preseason.

“When you look at the stats, you're going to say, you know, ‘Joel didn't appear to be that dominant,’ but it's so far from the truth,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “The stuff he does that you just feel as his coach, and his teammates feel, is hard to quantify because it doesn't say he had 12 rebounds or 20 points or whatever. But he still has that presence and mentality and cocky aggression that we love.”

He also drew three early fouls on the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside, sending him to the bench just three minutes into the game. That showed once more how difficult it is for another big man to guard Embiid one-on-one.

“I thought I was bad today but it’s going to take time,” said Embiid, who admitted to pressing after the news of his contract extension this week, and with a building full of his college fans from Kansas.

“I was trying to force it too much. Some days I’m going to force it.One thing I’m trying to change is my turnovers. Unfortunately last game I had one and today I don’t think I had any.”

Neither did Simmons, who had seven boards and five assists for a near-flawless stat line.

Simmons took over most of the ball-handling duties while Fultz rested his sore knee, and his unique ability at 6-10 to slash to the basket was on full display. But rather than just throwing dazzling no-look passes to set up his teammates, something that folks already knew he was capable of doing, the former No. 1 overall pick showcased a rapidly improving ability to finish at the rim.

That could add another dynamic to the Sixers’ entire offense.

“I took the sleeve off. Maybe that had something to do with it,” Simmons said with a wry smile. “I just felt comfortable. My mind was right. I came in and tried to let it come to me. Tried to be a slasher. You need someone to cut and cut hard. I try to do that for the team. It gives guys opportunities when I do that.”

Guys like Redick, who seemed to turn every pass from Simmons into an assist.

“Everybody is going to see him make threes,” Brown said of his veteran shooting guard, “but what I see is an incredible leader in the locker room. I see him being amazingly professional in the locker room. He’s an incredibly prideful pro, and we sort of see the end result that he makes shots. But it’s the ripple effect, the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.”

Indeed, Redick has been a guiding influence for both Embiid and Simmons, and the way the trio worked in concert in the Sixers’ final tune-up before the regular season was an encouraging sign.

“Ben was excellent moving off the ball, I think he's a very underrated off-ball cutter,” Brown said. “We've always taken tremendous pride on passing. The pass is king. The pass is everything. And when you talk about growing a true team offensively, and amongst that belief is how do you get Joel posted, how do you get JJ some shots, it all has to fit. And tonight it all fit.”

Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

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Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving had 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including two free throws that put Boston ahead in the closing seconds, and the Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors 92-88 on Thursday night for their 14th straight victory.

Jaylen Brown had 22 points and seven rebounds, and Al Horford added 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Kevin Durant has 24 points for Golden State. The defending champion Warriors had won seven in a row.

Playing his second game since suffering a facial fracture, Irving shed his protective mask in the second quarter. Then, with the game tied at 88, he was fouled on his layup attempt and calmly made a pair of free throws. Durant then came up empty on his jumper on the other end.

Golden State led by as many as 17, but had to lean heavily on its reserves as its trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant struggled offensively.

Curry, who returned to action after missing a game with a bruised right thigh, was the most ineffective. He was 3 of 14 from the field -- 2 of 9 from the 3-point line -- and had nine points (see full recap).

Harden’s 48 points ignite Rockets’ rout of Suns
PHOENIX -- James Harden had 23 of his 48 points in the second quarter while the Houston Rockets scored 90 points in the first half en route to a 142-116 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

Houston dominated with Chris Paul back in the lineup after missing 14 games with a knee injury. The Rockets made 61 percent of their first-half shots to get the second-most points in a first half in NBA history.

Houston came up 14 points shy of the franchise record for points in a game. The Rockets knocked down 21 of 44 3-point attempts, and Harden made all 18 of his free throws (see full recap).

Harden, the NBA's leading scorer, had 33 points at halftime. Houston used a 13-1 over the final 3:08 of the first quarter to take control and was never threatened after that, leading 45-23 going into the second.

Paul, who hadn't played since the season opener, got the start and didn't miss a beat, scoring 11 points and handing out 10 assists in limited action.

Coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game that getting the two stars, Harden and Paul, in sync will "take care of itself over the next week or so." D'Antoni planned to play Paul for 20 minutes; Paul saw 21 minutes of action and sat out most of the fourth quarter.

Ryan Anderson added 24 points for the Rockets, who have won seven of eight (see full recap).

Sixers marvel at Robert Covington's transformation

Sixers marvel at Robert Covington's transformation

LOS ANGELES — The Sixers have been through one contract extension already this season. The players were thrilled for Joel Embiid and his payday, for everything he overcame with injuries and the way he had excelled in such a short period of time in the league.

Now it’s Robert Covington’s turn, and there’s a different type of appreciation for the reported four-year, $62 million deal he is set to receive (see story). Covington’s success is a triumphant underdog story, an example of how dedication can transcend an NBA hopeful into a solidified starter. 

The Sixers on Wednesday reacted to the news of Covington's upcoming extension with a theme that echoed around the locker room: well deserved. 

T.J. McConnell
“Coming from a guy who’s also undrafted, I don’t think people realize how hard it is to do what he’s done. To get to where he’s at now, he’s more than deserving. He’s put in the hours. Everything he’s been through in this city and with this team, it’s so well deserved and I’m proud of him.”

Richaun Holmes
“Dinner’s on him (laughs). He deserves it. Cov, we’ve all seen how hard he’s worked since he got here. He tried to turn himself into a tremendous player and he has.”

Nik Stauskas
“For the last couple years, he’s a guy that’s been overlooked. He’s constantly been working on his game and trying to improve himself. The fact that he’s been such a valuable asset to this team and he’s been shooting the ball at such a high percentage, he’s been able to defend some of the other teams’ best players, I think the contract speaks for itself. It’s very well deserved and I think it’s only going to help this team moving forward.”

Amir Johnson
“He’s definitely been playing out of his mind. … It shows how his work ethic is and how he carries himself. … Coming from the D-League, playing in Houston, and now being here in Philly, it’s showing how hard he worked and deserves this new deal he’s getting.”

Dario Saric 
“Now he will really get money where he deserves. I’m really happy because he deserves it. He’s working so hard every day. He always stays after practice, tries to work on his game." 

Jerryd Bayless
“You can see the improvement he’s shown from even last year when I first got here to this year. Well deserved and good for him. Offensively, right now he’s obviously playing out of his mind. It’s great. Defensively, he’s done a lot of good things. He’s handling a lot of passes, he’s deflecting passes, and he helps us."