These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

Brett Brown’s witnessed many playoff battles during his days as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.

That’s when the stars shine brightest in an attempt to help their team hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s also when role players get an opportunity to change the course of a series and leave an imprint that lasts a lifetime.

Think Kenny Smith’s seven three-pointers in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals, Steve Kerr’s series-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals and Robert Horry in, well, too many games to count.

“Every one of my years with San Antonio, 12 of them, somebody came out of left field in one of the games for six minutes, maybe more, and had a significant impact on a win,” Brown said last week.

Sure, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are going to do the heavy lifting. But the real question is who else will make a significant contribution during those crucial postseason moments?

Robert Covington is certainly not planning to shy away from the big stage.

After three months of sliding production, the swingman has regained his shooting form at just the right time as the Sixers appear headed for their first postseason berth since 2011-12. Covington is shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range with an offensive rating of 128 in March.

“My teammates have been pretty much finding me the same shots, but I just changed up a little bit of my workout, switched it up,” Covington said after scoring 18 points (6 for 12 shooting) in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets on Monday. “That’s what allowed me to get where I’m at now. My teammates have been finding me open spots. We’ve been moving the ball really well.

“That’s just doing the right things and waiting on that moment.”

Marco Belinelli knows all about seizing that moment. He’s played — and played very well at times — over the course of 48 career playoff games.

The Sixers got a taste against the Hornets of just how much of a boost Belinelli can give a team when he’s on target. The 10-year veteran scored 21 points off the bench and contributed five of the Sixers’ 18 threes as he sharpens his game for the major challenge on the horizon.

“It’s huge,” Simmons said of finding shooters such as Belinelli and Covington in addition to JJ Redick in close games. “It’s just the way we’ve been playing all year.”

With Justin Anderson now back in the rotation and contributing, it could be the performance of secondary guys that keep the Sixers playing longer than anyone expected before the season started.

Time for Markelle Fultz? Now makes plenty of sense

Time for Markelle Fultz? Now makes plenty of sense

There’s no time like the present.

For a team like the Sixers that analyzes every situation with an eye toward the future, that old saying might be difficult to get behind. But when it comes to Markelle Fultz, now is likely the best time to return to action … if he’s completely healthy.

That’s a big if when it comes to Fultz given that the rookie’s shoulder injury has limited him to just four games and the team hasn’t officially said whether he will return at all this season.

"It's all internal discussions we're going through right now and just trying to accurately assess his situation,” head coach Brett Brown said last week (see story).

However, the eye test would suggest things are going in the right direction. Fultz has gradually increased his workouts and his jump shot looks much closer to the silky version we witnessed from him at Washington and not the junky one from earlier this season. Just take a look at his latest session.

Can’t wait to see @markellefultz back out there. Just wait on it. 😈

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The Sixers would certainly have to believe those moves would look better in a uniform, and now is the perfect time to ease the 19-year-old back into the mix.

The Sixers’ next five games are against teams well out of the playoff picture (New York, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Memphis and Orlando), with three of those matchups coming at home. Plus, outside of Hornets All-Star Kemba Walker and emerging Sixer killer D'Angelo Russell, there aren’t many threats at guard Fultz would need to worry about. A comeback now also would give him a full month to prepare for a likely postseason appearance.

And while all of those factors benefit Fultz, the Sixers may actually reap the biggest rewards of all.

Even though the Sixers have proven to be a capable scoring team (10th in the NBA with 107.8 points per game and six players averaging double digits), they can certainly use more on the offensive end when it comes to facing a playoff team. Fultz would take some of that burden to set up the offense off Ben Simmons and give the squad an element it desperately needs: a player that can create his own shot. After all, Fultz is going to be a problem once he does suit up (see story).

“He really does something with the basketball that no other player with the exception maybe of Ben can do with a live ball,” Brown said.

Now it’s just time to see Fultz in live action.

What should be fueling Sixers on road trip

What should be fueling Sixers on road trip

Not exactly the way to start a road trip, huh?

The Sixers fumbled their way to 26 turnovers as they blew multiple double-digit leads in a 118-110 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday in the opener of a four-game road stint.

Good thing for the Sixers is there is always another game just around the corner in the NBA. And in their case, each one presents a little extra motivation to get the job done.

At Charlotte (March 6 at 7 p.m.)
If nothing else, the Sixers simply want to get the bad taste out of their mouth from the meltdown in Milwaukee. After taking care of the ball exceptionally well the previous two games, the Sixers’ Achilles heel crept back up against the Bucks.

“We just kept turning the ball over,” Ben Simmons said. “Offensively, we didn’t make any plays, didn’t execute.”

Not to mention, the Sixers didn’t exactly play their best ball in last week’s 110-99 home victory over the Hornets. It took a monster 36-19 fourth quarter for the Sixers to secure the win.

At Miami (March 8 at 7:30 pm.)
Playoff implications are boiling over in this one. The Sixers sit just one game ahead of the Heat in the standings and will be looking to claim the series clincher in the final meeting of the season for the all-important tiebreaker.

Throw in the fact that the Sixers blew a late lead to a vintage Dwyane Wade and the Heat just last week, and the energy should be all the way cranked up for this clash on South Beach.

“That’s the type of loss we’re maybe going to regret because I think if we would have won those two games, we would have had a chance to be third or fourth in the conference,” Joel Embiid said after the 102-101 loss to the Heat on Feb. 27. “We’ve just got to keep staying focused and win some more games.” 

At Brooklyn (March 11 at 7:30 p.m.)
The revenge factor is often overplayed in sports. However, if one of your worst losses of the season came on the road to one of the worst teams in the league, there is certainly a measure of payback.

The Sixers allowed the Nets to shoot 50.6 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three-point range in a 116-108 loss back on Jan. 31. 

“We forgot how to play defense,” Embiid said after the game.

With Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas able to gloat about winning their first meeting vs. the Sixers after getting traded away, you can bet the squad will want to put an end to that happiness this time around.