'Freakish' Ben Simmons believes Sixers have right mindset going into 2017-18

'Freakish' Ben Simmons believes Sixers have right mindset going into 2017-18

Ben Simmons is healthy and champing at the bit.

After suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot that cost him the 2016-17 season, the Sixers' point guard/forward is gearing up for his rookie season. The 21-year-old has been working out at the Sixers' practice facility in Camden, New Jersey.

"I'm excited," the 2016 No. 1 overall pick said Thursday. "I haven't played in a year. I've been playing pick up the last few days, so it's been really good. I'm feeling great and I'm ready to get out there."

The Sixers partnered with PAL in refurbishing a gym that was unveiled Thursday in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia. Simmons, teammate Amir Johnson and owner Josh Harris were on hand for the event. The gym was in such bad shape, a staffer referred to it as "unusable" before PAL and the Sixers got involved on the three-year project. 

For Simmons, he hopes it's just the start of his philanthropy work around the city. 

"Now that I'm healthy," he said, "I think I want to contribute a lot more to the city of Philadelphia. I think that's what they deserve. "

Simmons is equally eager to contribute on the court. Head coach Brett Brown said last season he planned to use the 6-foot-10 Simmons as a point guard. He reinforced that stance Thursday (see story)

With the arrivals of Markelle Fultz and JJ Redick, two players that seem to suit Simmons' skill set perfectly, Simmons is ready to accept the challenges ahead.

"We have a great team," Simmons said. "A great young team. Some great vets we've acquired in the past season. But I'm just looking forward to going out there and just building."

One of those vets is Johnson. A second-round pick by the Pistons out of high school back in 2005, Johnson has also spent time with the Raptors and Celtics. 

During those stints, he's seen some special players. He played on a loaded Pistons team that featured Chauncey Billups and Philly native Rasheed Wallace. With Toronto, he got to play DeMar DeRozan and another local product in Kyle Lowry. He spent the last two seasons playing alongside Isaiah Thomas in Boston.

For as much talent as he's been around, he's never seen anyone quite like Simmons.

"Unbelievable, man," Johnson said of Simmons. "Freakish athlete. The stuff I've seen him do just training, it almost seems like it's not fair. You get a guard to switch on him, you get a big to switch on him. He's just an unbelievable athlete and an unbelievable scorer and an unbelievable passer. He can do it all."

The promise of a young core that features Simmons, Fultz and Joel Embiid has fans salivating. The addition of a veteran sharpshooter like Redick has created palpable playoff buzz.

Johnson is battle tested. He's played in 42 career playoff games (24 starts). He knows what it takes to get to the postseason and sustain success. Johnson came to the Sixers because of his relationship with Bryan Colangelo and because he saw what they were building.

But as far as playoff talk goes, Johnson is pumping the brakes.

"One thing I know is it's very hard to win in this league," Johnson said. "For us, as a team, all we can control is working out, getting better as individuals and getting better as a team and taking it one day at a time. I know a lot of people have a bunch of talk about playoffs but it's very hard to win even a single game."

Unlike a couple of his fellow young teammates, Simmons hasn't been as boisterous when it comes to talking about the Sixers in the postseason. Simmons is just focusing on the here and now.

Besides, his ultimate goal is much bigger.

"At the end of the day, our goal is to win games, and that means championships," Simmons said. "So for us, playoffs is definitely where we want to be. And we want to win rings. I think everybody has the right idea in their heads."

Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

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Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

WASHINGTON — Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Marcin Gortat had 18 and the Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night in a possible playoff preview.

Washington (40-30) earned its second straight win to move into a tie with Indiana for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Wizards also claimed the first tiebreaker by taking two of three in the season series.

Gortat was 6 for 8 from the field and also grabbed eight rebounds. He scored a total of 17 points in his previous four games.

Washington went 10 for 20 from 3-point range and shot 54.8 percent from the field overall. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had 16 points for the Wizards, and Markieff Morris added 15 (see full recap).

Giannis' double-double helps Bucks hold on to beat Hawks
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 23 points and the Milwaukee Bucks held on for a 122-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

The Bucks finished off the Eastern Conference's worst team with a game-ending 11-5 run, pushing the pace after the Hawks lost ball-handler Dennis Schroder. The guard fouled out with 2:46 left, and was called for a technical foul after exchanging words with an official on the way to the sideline.

Middleton hit the free throw that started the run. The Hawks looked rushed on their next two possessions with a turnover and a blocked shot, allowing the Bucks to brush past them.

Trailing by 13 at one point, Atlanta put up a spirited fight before losing its 50th game of the year. Taurean Prince scored 38 points, while Schroder finished with 18 (see full recap).

LeBron gets 33 points in triple-double as Cavs beat Bulls
CHICAGO — LeBron James scored 33 points as part of a triple-double, Jordan Clarkson had a tiebreaking four-point play with 1:27 left and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Chicago Bulls 114-109 on Saturday night.

James had 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season, and Jeff Green added 21 points. Clarkson finished with 19 points to help the Cavaliers salvage a six-game split on their season-high six-game trip.

Denzel Valentine led Chicago with a career-high 34 points, hitting 8 of 11 from long range. The Bulls wiped out a 17-point halftime deficit even though they held out banged-up core players Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, only to come up short in the closing minutes.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue spent the second half in the locker room with an illness, another hit for an already short-handed team (see full recap).

Justin Anderson has his number called — and delivers

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Justin Anderson has his number called — and delivers

One responsibility of professional athletes is being ready when your number is called.

Seems like a simple concept. However, not everyone can handle the duties of coming into a game cold and making an impact.

The Sixers' Justin Anderson prides himself on being able to thrive in just that type of situation. That's why when Brett Brown told him to be on alert prior to Friday's 120-116 win over the Nets, he was good to go.

"He came up to me before the game, maybe like 20 minutes before the game, and said he was going to go to me tonight," Anderson said. "I told him I was going to be ready. He went to me and we all played well."

Oh, Anderson was definitely ready. The third-year swingman entered at the 6:55 mark of the first quarter and made a trio of three-pointers to keep the sluggish Sixers afloat early on.

“I had hit the first one, and they were talking a little trash. They didn’t respect it, so they continued to go under [screens],” Anderson said. “I was always taught if they go under, raise up and shoot it. That’s what you practice for. I just wanted to make sure I took good shots, played hard, brung energy and I think we did a good of doing that.”

Wait, so guys on the 21-48 Nets squad had the nerve to talk a little smack? While a bit laughable, it didn’t help in knocking Anderson off his game.

“It just showed me that they weren’t disciplined in their scouting report and I tried to take advantage of it,” he said. “It’s not like I’m shooting 20s [percent] from the three. It was what it was and I just wanted to take advantage of my opportunity.”

Anderson finished with 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the field and 3 of 5 from three-point range along with two rebounds in 14 minutes. Even with that offensive production, it was his defensive prowess in the final minute that made the biggest impact on the night.

“We had the confidence to both give Richaun (Holmes) some minutes and Justin when it mattered and had a big stop,” Brown said. “I think it was against (Spencer) Dinwiddie. You know, moved his feet, guarded the yard as we call it.

That’s major trust in a player who missed 23 games earlier in the season with shin splints and eight more recently with an ankle sprain. But with the playoffs right around the corner, Brown knows he may need to go to Anderson again in an even more crucial moment.

“Good for him. He’s a wonderful teammate, he’s good people and he’s had sort of an erratic year with injury,” Brown said. “I thought tonight he confirmed what we all think in relation to him being able to help us.”