ESPN analyst Jay Bilas: Markelle Fultz 'will fit with anyone'

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas: Markelle Fultz 'will fit with anyone'

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said on a conference call Monday morning that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, expected to be taken first overall by the Sixers in Thursday’s NBA draft, should have no problem playing next to Ben Simmons in the team’s new-look backcourt.

“Markelle Fultz will fit with anyone,” said Bilas, who will be part of ESPN’s coverage team Thursday. “He is the most complete offensive player in the draft.”

The Sixers swung a trade with Boston to acquire the first pick, and the 6-foot-4 Fultz, a Maryland native who played a single season for the Huskies, is almost unanimously viewed as the top player available. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 2016-17 while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 41.3 from 3-point range.

Bilas ticked off Fultz’s attributes: “Passes. Shoots. Shoots from range. Finishes around the basket. And he’s got NBA size and length for a point guard. He’s the best pick-and-roll ball handler in the draft. He can go either way. Excellent passer, and especially an excellent passer in pick-and-roll situations.”

Bilas did add that Fultz “floats a little bit defensively,” while noting that a great many collegiate stars have flaws at that end of the floor.

“But,” Bilas added, “he’s the real deal. You could put him next to anybody, and he’ll play.”

Simmons, last year’s top overall choice, did not play in 2016-17 because of a broken foot. Coach Brett Brown has said he intends to use the 6-foot-10 forward as his point guard, but that was before it seemed possible that the Sixers, who traded up from the third spot in the draft, would have a shot at Fultz.

Fultz turned 19 on May 29. Simmons turns 21 on July 20. Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are both 23. So while the team’s talent level has clearly improved over the last few years, it also seems likely that there will be some growing pains.

“Right now, contending is not really the issue,” Bilas said. “It’s building a sustainable culture for these younger guys.”

It’s not the worst time to try and do that, given Cleveland’s dominance in the Eastern Conference.

“Right now in the East, I don’t think it really matters who Philly gets; they’re not going to challenge Cleveland the next couple years, the next few years,” Bilas said. “I don’t think anybody in the East is going to do that.”

At the same time, he added, “Even LeBron James is going to get older. Building to be at your best when Cleveland’s going to be not at their best is probably the way to go for a franchise that hasn’t performed at a high level in several years.”

Marcus Morris' last-second shot gives Celtics win

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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).

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.