76ers

Experience in Serbia has Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot unfazed by NBA pressure

Experience in Serbia has Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot unfazed by NBA pressure

NEW YORK -- Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was unfazed when he was shifted into the Sixers' starting lineup.

"It's just a regular game," he said nonchalantly earlier this month before starting against the Clippers. 

The rookie wasn't putting on a front, either. Being tasked with guarding sharpshooter J.J. Redick in only his second NBA start wasn't daunting to him. That same confidence has been exuded on the offensive end. 

After shooting an air-ball against the Celtics, Luwawu-Cabarrot followed up the miss with a three. In Oklahoma City, he got knocked down driving against Steven Adams, picked himself back up and drove again undeterred. 

It's not a case of an exaggerated ego. It's just that starting in an NBA game is tame compared to the high-stress playing situations he has been in before.

Last season, Luwawu-Cabarrot experienced extreme distractions while playing for Mega Leks in the 2016 Serbian Cup. His team defeated Partizan NIS for the title in a hostile environment. 

"It was probably 10,000 people could fit in the stands, but 12 or 13,000 people were there," Luwawu-Cabarrot said. "[They were] next to the court, in the stands, next to the bench, right behind you."

Fans lit jerseys on fire in the stands. Others threw concoctions that emitted fog when they hit the court. What looked like chaos was a championship basketball game. 

"During the game, for the example, you shoot a free throw and they throw something right in front of you," Luwawu-Cabarrot said. "So you look at the floor and you see something coming right in front of you and boom! A big fog. You need to step off the court, clean the court, maybe five minutes and then you can shoot a free throw. This was maybe the extreme part but it's kind of always like that over there."

The ruckus didn't stop when the buzzer sounded. Oftentimes walking off the court involved dodging angry fans of the opposing team.   

"If you have a good game and you go through the tunnel, the people are right here and they're just screaming at you," he said. "If you do something bad during a game, like you foul one guy hard, they will maybe spit on you or throw some sodas on you. I never got it but I saw it." 

Luwawu-Cabarrot, a native of France, left Europe to enter the NBA draft last summer. The Sixers selected him 24th overall. 

The 21-year-old began this season bogged down in the depth chart and spent time in the Development League to see game action. He received a bump in playing time when the Sixers waived Hollis Thompson in January. Luwawu-Cabarrot got the starting nod earlier this month because of injuries and has held on to that role. 

Brett Brown has often spoken of how rare it is for a player at that selection to log as many minutes as Luwawu-Cabarrot has. Even after playing sporadically to start the season, Luwawu-Cabarrot ranks 12th among fellow rookies from his draft class in total minutes.

"I think starting him has empowered him," Brown said. 

Luwawu-Cabarrot's defense is ahead of his offense. He is averaging 8.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 25.7 minutes in 10 games as a starter. Brown's commonly used description for Luwawu-Cabarrot is a "track star," and that speed and athleticism can potentially impact both ends of the floor. Luwawu-Cabarrot ranks second in the NBA in average speed, behind only teammate Sergio Rodriguez.

"We coach the heck out of him defensively," Brown said of TLC. "The other stuff we give him a green light to make mistakes and shoot the ball. The defensive side is really where we feel like he's made improvements."

The Sixers have nine games left in the season. Luwawu-Cabarrot seemingly will get the start in the remainder of them. By then he will have a résumé of NBA experience to carry over into his second year. He will add it to the foundation of confidence he already had built overseas.

"First when you arrive [to Serbia] and you see that, you say what am I doing here?" Luwawu-Cabarrot said. "But after, you just get used to it. So right now when the fans [heckle me], it's nothing."

Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

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Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

CLEVELAND -- There was none of the usual postgame chatter or music in the Cavaliers locker room.

The mood was somber and quiet, not the same place.

"Right now we're in Strugglesville," LeBron James said. "But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely."

Isaiah Thomas made two free throws with 11 seconds left and Cleveland came up with a defensive stop in the frantic final seconds after blowing a 23-point lead to beat the Orlando Magic 104-103 on Thursday night and snap a four-game losing streak.

After Thomas made his shots, Orlando's Elfrid Payton missed a contested layup with three seconds left. The three officials ruled there was an inadvertent whistle and held a jump ball at midcourt.

Magic forward Aaron Gordon grabbed the toss and sank a 45-footer as the horn sounded and Cleveland's crowd shrieked in disbelief. But Gordon committed a jump-ball violation with the move and Cleveland only had to inbound the ball to come away with a victory following a crazy and exhausting final sequence that left everyone dazed.

"No, I don't," said Thomas when asked if he knew what happened. "It was a lot of back and forth. I'm just glad we just came out with the win" (see full recap).

Rockets cruise past Timberwolves in Harden’s return
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon scored 30 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 116-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.

James Harden returned to the Rockets' lineup after missing seven games with a left hamstring strain and finished with 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting, and added seven assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes. Houston went 4-3 in his absence.

Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela added 20 points for the Rockets. Houston has won 15 of the past 17 meetings with Minnesota, including a 10-game winning streak at home.

Gordon closed out a big third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass from a step behind the half-court line. After hitting the shot under heavy pressure from Andrew Wiggins, Gordon gave a high-five to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who was sitting courtside near the shot.

Gordon's 3-pointer helped the Rockets finish the third quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 89-70 lead into the fourth with their largest advantage of the game. Gordon made 11 of 19 shots, including 7 of 13 from 3, and fell just short of his season-high 33 points against Utah on Dec. 18.

With Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza sitting out the first part of a two-game suspension for a postgame locker room incident on Monday night in Los Angeles, Luc Mbah a Moute started in Ariza's place, scoring 14 points in 32 minutes.

Along with Ariza, reserve guard Gerald Green was also serving the first of a two-game suspension for the altercation with the Clippers (see full recap).

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

BOX SCORE

BOSTON -- What a difference two games make.

The Sixers entered this week 0-8 against the top three Eastern Conference teams: the Celtics, Cavaliers and Raptors. By Thursday night, they had picked up two straight wins over them.

The Sixers followed up Monday’s victory over the Raptors with an 89-80 win over the Celtics (see observations)

“I think we are in a good position right now,” Ben Simmons said. “Still a lot of improvement, a lot of things we’ve got to pick up on, but I think we are doing really well and getting better.” 

All season long, a downfall of the Sixers has been giving up leads. Ten, 15, 20 points have been erased just like that. 

The Sixers’ largest advantage was 21 points in the last two games, and in both instances their opponents fought back. The Raptors cut the lead to one with three minutes to play; the Celtics got within seven with two minutes on the clock.

Unlike in the past, the Sixers held on for wins.

“We’ve been in that situation too many times,” Joel Embiid said. “We just have to stay calm and keep moving the ball. We made a couple mistakes, but everything was fine and we got the win.” 

The game was missing two key players. The Celtics were shorthanded without their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving (shoulder). The Sixers were down starting shooting guard JJ Redick (leg). Brett Brown considered their absences “almost a wash.” 

Newly-announced All-Star starter Embiid led all players with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, his 19th double-double of the season. 

“They are still a great team,” Brown said of the Celtics. “For us to come in here and build a lead, hold onto the lead, close out the game, and at times not in a pretty way, is a fantastic result for us.” 

With the win, the Sixers snapped a seven-game losing streak at TD Garden dating back to April 4, 2014. They also avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics. 

The Sixers moved above .500 (21-20) and into the eight spot in the East. The Celtics and Raptors could be postseason pairings if the Sixers hold their ground in the standings, a scenario they are well aware of in these regular-season games. 

“I don’t know what seed we are going to be, but that’s a potential matchup in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “We always want to come out and try to dominate and let them know that’s it’s not going to be easy.”