Sixers a physical object on Pacers' playoff radar

Sixers a physical object on Pacers' playoff radar


If the Sixers face the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, get ready for a physical battle. The Pacers will be doing just that.

Tuesday’s meeting in mid-March was a potential postseason preview with the Pacers (40-28) and Sixers (36-30) ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. 

The Pacers made a statement with their 101-98 win (see observations)

“We try to set examples early,” Lance Stephenson said. “We ain't no jokes. We're coming after you.” 

The Pacers have been keeping an eye on the Sixers as they fight to rise in the standings. The Sixers are chasing a coveted top-four seed to secure home-court advantage. The Pacers, who are 23-12 at home compared to 16-17 on the road, are in the same battle. 

“Most definitely, you've got to have your hard hat on when you play against these boys, especially here at home, because they're a physical team,” Al Jefferson said. “I know if we do get a chance to play them in the first [round], it's going to be a physical series.”

Both teams have turned heads this season. The Pacers looked more like a lottery team than a playoff contender after trading Paul George to the Thunder. That is, before Victor Oladipo kicked off his breakout season and the Pacers clicked far beyond expectations. 

The Sixers had the potential to make the playoffs, but battling for home court, that’s playing at a different level of basketball. 

“They're a young team that plays hard,” Myles Turner said. “I feel like they've used a lot of fuel over the past couple of years as not being like a relevant team to kind of fuel their play this year.”

The Pacers won the regular-season series, 2-1. The Sixers triumphed in their first meeting Nov. 3 in Philadelphia thanks to 31 points from JJ Redick and a triple-double from Ben Simmons. The Pacers spoiled Joel Embiid’s first career back-to-back set with a balanced team effort Feb. 3 in Indianapolis. Tuesday’s game came down to the wire as 21 turnovers stifled the Sixers in a chippy matchup (see story)

The Pacers have had enough of a sample size to know what to anticipate in a postseason series. Jefferson noted the balance of rising young talent and experienced veterans. Former Sixer Thaddeus Young pointed out specifically the impact of Simmons’ size mismatch and passing abilities as well as Embiid’s versatility and floor spacing. 

“They're just a resilient team. They fight each and every game and they continue to play hard,” Young said. “That's what makes them tough. They've done a very, very good job of putting the team together. Brett Brown is a damn good coach.”

With only four games separating the third seed from the eighth in the Eastern Conference, it is far too soon to tell where the Sixers will end up in the standings. The Pacers are using Tuesday's win as a learning experience in case they are matched up.

"They always play physical," Stephenson said. "You've just got to stay poised and play your game. But they're a great team. I like how they play together. So we just pulled it out tonight." 

Ben Simmons' rookie season vs. other Sixers greats

AP Images

Ben Simmons' rookie season vs. other Sixers greats

Ben Simmons has been better than advertised. That's not easy to do when you were the No. 1 overall pick in your draft class, and when you consider he’s been on the national radar since he was in grade school in Australia. Not to mention being the subject of a documentary his lone year in college. So it’s pretty remarkable to be somewhat taken aback at just how good he’s been his rookie season.

He's the ultimate stat-sheet stuffer at the ripe old age of 21. Simmons is averaging 16.2 points — not bad for a guy with a range of about seven feet and in. He’s dishing out 7.9 assists per contests while corralling 7.8 rebounds. He’s been better defensively than many anticipated, picking up 1.7 steals per game. And he’s shooting 53.5 percent from the floor.

So let’s put Simmons' rookie season in historical perspective with other Sixers rookies of note to see how he measures up. Keep in mind, organizational greats like Julius Erving and Moses Malone began their careers elsewhere.

And Wilt Chamberlain's rookie and career stats are so far and away superior that he can only exist in his own stratosphere. He is the hands-down G.O.A.T. So excluding him, here are my rankings of the other Sixers rookies on the list. This is clearly subjective, but my order is based in part on immediate impact on the team, league, wins from the previous season, and the eye test, having watched all but Wilt play in their first seasons. This is not based on body of career. 

5. Michael Carter-Williams
His numbers were in large part a product of no one else on the team being able to do anything. Not special. 

4. Charles Barkley
Having two Hall of Famers and three others who were phenomenal NBA players hurts Charles a bit in this ranking. His role was somewhat limited that season. But you could see what was coming. 

3. Joel Embiid
The 31 games played impacts him. He very likely would rank first had he played more ... his production was that mind-blowing. Even more remarkable is the fact that he sat out essentially two and a half seasons prior to last year. 

2. Allen Iverson
Yes, he also played on a bad team his first season, but you could see from the jump that he was a game-changer. Despite his tiny frame, he was the guy opposing coaches game planned to stop. The NBA culture changed the moment he stepped on the floor. A dominant force. 

1. Ben Simmons
He's the choice for top rookie season from a Sixer because of the across the board impact. Scoring, rebounds, assists, defense. He plays every night. And the turn-around in his club from 28 wins last year to potentially 48 this year can't be overlooked.

Marcus Morris' last-second shot gives Celtics win

AP Images

Marcus Morris' last-second shot gives Celtics win

BOSTON -- Marcus Morris made a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left and the Boston Celtics stunned the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-99 on Tuesday night.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Morris added 21 points as Boston snapped the Thunder's six-game win streak.

Russell Westbrook finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which fell apart in the closing minute.

Boston took an 82-81 lead in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Shane Larkin, who finished with 17 points off the bench.

The Thunder missed 15 of their first 21 3-point attempts before making four straight to go back in front 93-89.

Boston closed to 99-97 on a 3 by Terry Rozier, and quickly fouled Carmelo Anthony with 7.7 seconds remaining. Anthony missed both attempts and the Celtics gathered the rebound.

Out of the timeout, Tatum dribbled across the lane and found Morris on the wing for the go-ahead 3.

Westbrook was able to get off a long 3-pointer on the Thunder's final possession, but it came up short at the buzzer (see full recap).

Schroder’s career night helps Hawks upset Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 41 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, and the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Utah Jazz 99-94 on Tuesday night.

Dewayne Dedmon had 15 points and 15 rebounds to help the Eastern Conference-worst Hawks snap their six-game losing skid and end Utah's winning streak at nine. Taurean Prince made four free throws in the final 11 seconds to clinch the victory.

The Jazz, who won 21 of 23 games in between losses to the Hawks, made their final field goal on Gobert's basket with 2:33 to play and missed their last five shots.

Schroder on a variety of drives and bested his previous career high of 34 points, set in a 110-105 loss to Brooklyn on Jan. 12.

With 2:07 to play and after another of his driving layups, Schroder flailed his arm and caught Ricky Rubio with a hand to the face. He was assessed a flagrant-1 foul and Rubio hit both free throws. Joe Ingles followed with two foul shots for Utah's final lead.

Donovan Mitchell scored 24 points and Rubio had 23 for the Jazz (see full recap).

Towns, Wiggins lead Timberwolves to victory
MINNEAPOLIS -- Karl-Anthony Towns racked up 30 points and 10 rebounds for his NBA-best 60th double-double and Andrew Wiggins scored 27 points in an all-around performance, leading the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 123-109 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night that was critical for their push for the playoffs.

Jeff Teague pitched in 20 points and 12 assists for the Timberwolves, who swept the four-game season series and sent the weary Clippers to their fourth consecutive loss on the commencement of a four-game, six-night trip.

Jamal Crawford scored 20 points and Taj Gibson had 15 points and eight rebounds as the Timberwolves pushed their lead over the Clippers (37-33) to three games. With five losses in their last seven games, the Wolves (41-31) had fallen into eighth place in the Western Conference. Denver (38-33) is in ninth.

DeAndre Jordan led the way for the Clippers with 18 points and 12 rebounds, but Tobias Harris played with flu-like symptoms and finished with only 10 points on 5-for-16 shooting, missing all five of his 3-point tries. Lou Williams and Sean Kilpatrick each had 15 points off the bench (see full recap).