76ers

'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."

Fearless Forecast for the Sixers’ 2017-18 season

Fearless Forecast for the Sixers’ 2017-18 season

It’s time.

The Sixers are ready to tip off their 2017-18 season, and the group has made one goal very clear: reach the postseason.

Will they be able to accomplish the feat, and if so, how will they make it happen?

The real questions will begin to be answered on Wednesday night when the Sixers open the regular season on the road against the Washington Wizards (7 p.m. on ESPN — Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. and Postgame Live after the game on NBCSN, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App).

With that said, let’s get to our season projections from Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, producer/reporter Matt Haughton and producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.

Camerato
The Sixers finish seventh in the Eastern Conference. This was my original prediction back in the summer and it hasn't changed, even with Joel Embiid's tighter minutes restriction to start the season and the uncertainty surrounding Markelle Fultz.

The competition in the East got significantly weaker this offseason with the departures of Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap to the West. The Bulls, Pacers and, following the trade of Dwight Howard, the Hawks have seemingly dropped from playoff contention. That leaves room for three new teams to move up into the top eight.

Last season, only a .500 record was required for a playoff berth and it may be the same this time around. The Sixers have an extremely challenging schedule to start the season, but the second half is Eastern Conference-heavy. That shift should give the Sixers the opportunity to make a push after the All-Star break and lock up a spot.

Projected record: 42-40 (seventh seed)

Harris
Remember January? It wasn't that long ago. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times. The Sixers went 10-5 in their best month and showed glimpses of what they could be once the team gelled and had Embiid driving the bus as he was cleared to play 28 minutes a game. 

I see this season starting off similarly to the last one in that this team could very easily start 4-10 with 10 of its first 14 games on the road. However, with nine of 10 at home following that opening stretch, things can turn in their favor quickly.
 
Since JJ Redick was signed, I’ve said the Sixers are a team that would win 39 games and I'm going to stick to that. I know there will be fans that believe this team is winning 40-plus or even 50 games. I just can't see it. This team will take its lumps early. The number 39 is based largely on the understanding that Embiid may not get to that 28-minute mark until December. Brett Brown has said in the past he envisions Embiid playing 35 minutes a game at some point. That point doesn't appear to be coming anytime soon.
 
The reason the Sixers can still get to 39 games without the training wheels coming off Embiid? The Sixers’ second unit is basically the starting unit that won way more games than most thought it would last year. T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric, Timothe-Luwawu Cabarrot, Fultz, Justin Anderson and Amir Johnson should make up one of the better (not to mention energized) benches in the NBA. Outside of Fultz they've all played starters’ minutes, with McConnell and Saric showing plenty of mettle last season.
 
Of course if Embiid can play 65 or more games and average 28 or more minutes a game, than these expectations can all rise. But let's be pragmatic. Based on what we know, who really expects Embiid to play that much? Not me. But, hey, I'm just a "receiver of information."

Projected record: 39-43 (eighth seed)

Haughton
I hear you, Sixers fans. This is the time you’ve been waiting for. 

All of the losing. All of the injuries. All of the players shuffling on and off the roster (whatever happened to what’s his name?). It’s over.

But this is the NBA, and teams don’t just go from the basement to bathing in championship champagne over night. This will be, for lack of a better word, a “process.”

Getting a healthy Embiid back on the floor was step No. 1. While he doesn’t exactly agree with his playing time to start the season, it’s crucial for him to be on the court. 

The Sixers need Embiid’s production and the attention he draws for others to thrive. That means Ben Simmons has a big man to dump the ball down in the paint to as he adjusts to being a full-time point guard, while Redick and Bayless get open looks off defensive helping/double-teams, and Fultz can ease his way into action off the bench, etc. The trickle-down effect all starts with Embiid.

But while the Sixers finally appear to be getting on the right track, their opponents having been sitting in silence. They have been working to improve as well, mainly the ones the Sixers face up to when the calendar flips to December (21 games). Of those 21 foes, 16 are playoff teams from a season ago.

I do think the Sixers overcome that uphill climb to start the new campaign and reach the playoffs, but it will be far from easy.

Projected record: 40-42 (eighth seed)

Hudrick
I see the Sixers finishing with 41 wins, which I think is good enough for them to earn the seventh seed.

The Sixers will have their struggles early on. There are so many new pieces that need to figure out how to gell. Fultz needs to get healthy and get acclimated to the NBA. Simmons needs to grow into a true NBA point guard. Embiid needs to stay healthy, of course.

With that said, the East is just so weak this season. Three playoff teams lost All-Star players. The Bulls and the Hawks will likely take significant steps backward this season.

The Sixers will get off to a slow start, but a strong finish to the season — including clinching a playoff berth — will build momentum for 2018-19 and beyond.

Projected record: 41-41 (seventh seed)

Best of NBA: Cavaliers win thriller after Celtics' Hayward goes down with injury

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Best of NBA: Cavaliers win thriller after Celtics' Hayward goes down with injury

CLEVELAND -- Boston's Gordon Hayward broke his left ankle just five minutes into the season, a grisly injury that overshadowed Kyrie Irving's return to Cleveland and the Cavaliers' 102-99 win over the shocked Celtics on Tuesday night.

LeBron James scored 29 points -- 13 in the fourth quarter -- in his most extensive action in three weeks because of a sprained left ankle. He also fed Kevin Love for a critical 3-pointer with 46.3 second left to put the Cavs up 102-98.

Irving, who asked to be traded this summer after six seasons in Cleveland, had a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer at the horn but missed. Irving then shared a warm embrace with James, his teammate for three seasons.

Irving finished with 22 points for the Celtics, who overcame an 18-point deficit in the third and led with 2:04 left.

Love had 15 and Derrick Rose 14 in his debut for the Cavs (see full recap).

Rockets rally to spoil ring night for Warriors
OAKLAND, California -- Kevin Durant's baseline jumper swished through the net just barely too late, and the Houston Rockets rallied in the fourth to beat Golden State 122-121 Tuesday on the night the Warriors received their championship rings.

The Warriors had one last chance with 10.6 seconds left and Durant came up with the ball after Stephen Curry had missed. Durant and the Warriors thought they'd won and confetti began to fall when the two remaining officials -- the third got hurt in the fourth quarter -- reviewed the play and said Durant's shot was after the buzzer.

Trevor Ariza's 3-pointer with 2:09 remaining pulled Houston within 119-118 then Patrick McCaw hit a baseline jumper immediately after Golden State's timeout. James Harden made a layup and PJ Tucker hit two free throws with 44.1 to make it 122-121.

Nick Young came off the bench to hit six 3-pointers and score 23 points in a brilliant Warriors debut, Curry scored 22 points and Durant had 20 after a slow start. Klay Thompson added 16 points.

Chris Paul had four points on 2-for-9 shooting in his Rockets debut, while Harden scored 27 points and Eric Gordon 24 for the Rockets. Houston opened the fourth with a 9-0 run to get back in it (see full recap).