76ers

T.J. McConnell 'the best player on the floor' vs. Rockets, Embiid says

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T.J. McConnell 'the best player on the floor' vs. Rockets, Embiid says

Before the Sixers' season started, it was hard to know what exactly T.J. McConnell's role would be.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 who missed all of last season, was being groomed to be Brett Brown's point guard. This year's No. 1 pick, Markelle Fultz, was a point guard at Washington. The newly-acquired JJ Redick and a healthy Jerryd Bayless muddled the entire guard picture.

But as his effort in Wednesday night's heartbreaking loss to the Rockets showed, Brett Brown will always find a role for McConnell.

"Inspirational," Brown said when asked about McConnell's performance. "Game-changing stuff. T.J. gets, 'Oh, he can't play with Ben because he can't shoot' and, you know, 'He can't do this because he can't shoot.' T.J. wins. That kid is a winner. Often times people look at him like what he can't do and how can you pair him with people like Ben. We don't think that at all and we're not going to do it. Tonight we played him with Ben and we'll continue to do that and I thought that his game tonight was inspirational."

The third-year guard was a big catalyst for the Sixers in almost beating Houston and superstar James Harden. He bothered Harden all night, forcing the five-time All-Star into eight turnovers. McConnell finished with just six points but filled the rest of the stat sheet with nine assists, six steals and five rebounds.

"T.J., I thought was the best player on the floor," Joel Embiid said. "He was all over the gym. Getting steals, playing defense. Setting up the team as a point guard. He found me, we've had that relationship since last year, but I thought he was the best player on the floor."

McConnell wasn't concerned about his stats. Or being an inspiration. He knows his role and filled it quite well Wednesday.

"I'm just trying to provide energy for our team and help us win," McConnell said. "If it was inspiring that's great but I'm just out there to do whatever this team needs me to do."

Before the game, Brown said that McConnell would get the minutes left by Fultz, who will be out for the next three games at minimum. 

But don't expect McConnell to look at it as a handout. He's had to earn everything he's gotten. A long shot to make the Sixers' roster out of camp his rookie season, McConnell played in 81 games and started 17. Last season, when his role was expected to be reduced, he played 81 games again and started 51 of them. 

McConnell is an NBA player. Maybe not a star, or even a starter, but a damn good player. On Wednesday, he didn't look out of place playing against Harden or dishing to Embiid. He was right where he belonged, fulfilling his role.

Former Sixers guard named HOF finalist

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Former Sixers guard named HOF finalist

Former Sixers player and head coach Maurice Cheeks on Saturday was named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Other candidates include Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and former Sixer Chris Webber.

Cheeks, a four-time All-Star point guard and member of the 1982-83 championship team, spent 10 seasons with the Sixers before stints with the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets. He averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals a night in 853 career games. Cheeks ranks in the top-five in NBA history in both assists (7,392) and steals (2,310). He was also voted to the NBA All-Defensive team five times.

Currently an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cheeks was the Sixers' head coach from 2005-2008, but was fired after a slow start to the 2008-09 season. He was also the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons. He has a 305-315 career record and has made the postseason three times in nine seasons.

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

LOS ANGELES — The Sixers made their mark among the NBA’s top young talent on a global scale.

Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Ben Simmons (Australia) and Dario Saric (Croatia) all started for Team World Friday in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. They helped kick off All-Star weekend with a 155-124 victory over Team USA. 

Simmons recorded a double-double, which is becoming clockwork for the point guard (22 in the regular season, six triple-doubles). He posted 11 points off a perfect 5 for 5 from the field and 1 for 1 from the line. Simmons added 13 assists, six boards and four steals. 

This game was, in a way, a double statement for Simmons. It was an an opportunity to make a case for Rookie of the Year, with fellow contender Donovan Mitchell competing on Team USA. Mitchell notched seven points (3 for 10 from the field, 1 for 6 from three), seven assists, two rebounds, five steals and two blocks.

The Rising Stars contest also was a chance for Simmons to start an early bid for the 2019 All-Star team. He was popular among the fan votes but was not selected as one of four replacements required because of injuries. 

Simmons projects he will be playing in the All-Star Game “hopefully next year.” When it came down to why he was not on this season’s list, Simmons replied, “I think just votes.” 

Saric continued his offensive momentum with 18 points, including 4 for 7 shooting from three. He has scored in double digits in his last 35 games leading into the All-Star break. Saric also grabbed three rebounds and dished five assists. 

“I’ve always got the wish or dream in my life one day to be part of something big like this, even if it’s the Rising Stars game,” Saric said of participating in All-Star weekend. “I think it makes my family proud, my friends from my hometown, or all the people who were around me during my [growth as] a basketball player.”

Embiid logged the least playing time of the Sixers’ trio as he prepares to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge Saturday and start in the All-Star Game Sunday. He missed the Sixers’ last game on Wednesday because of right ankle soreness. Embiid scored five points and two rebounds in less than nine minutes. 

“On Sunday, I expect to go harder,” Embiid said (see story). “I’m going for that MVP. Guys better make sure they find me because I’m looking to have a good game.”

Not listed on the box score: Embiid and Simmons going 2 for 2 as roving reporters. Check out their journalistic skills when they got the mic Friday to interview each other (see video).