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Give and Go: Our predictions for the Sixers this season

Give and Go: Our predictions for the Sixers this season

With training camp starting next week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we discuss our predictions for the Sixers going into the 2017-18 season.

Camerato
My prediction for the 2017-18 season has to do with an issue nagging the Sixers for years now. I expect the team to figure out the frontcourt logjam and establish more clearly-defined rotations.

The utilization of the bigs has not been consistent. Joel Embiid started when healthy. Jahlil Okafor started when Embiid was unavailable and was benched other times. Richaun Holmes’ season was a mix of starts, DNPs and G League appearances. And (there’s more), Nerlens Noel was on the roster up until the trade deadline. 

How much longer will this overcrowding at the five spot last? The situation is a bit tricky because of Embiid’s health. He has not been cleared for 5-on-5 and it remains to be seen how many games and minutes he will play. Okafor, in that case, has been the go-to fill-in starter. The Sixers remain open to trading Okafor. The current situation isn’t and hasn’t been, beneficial for either team or player. 

Holmes’ improvements should not be ignored this season just because he had accepted that backup-to-the-backup role. He made a strong case to become the backup center last season and the Sixers should give him the opportunity. 

The Sixers also will have to address the shooting guard position, where they are stacked since the addition of JJ Redick, who will see major minutes. Markelle Fultz, a point guard, also will play at the two spot. So what will that mean for Nik Stauskas or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot? (Furkan Korkmaz is expected to spend time in the G League.) 

In enhancing their team this offseason, the Sixers now have to become a more balanced roster. My prediction is they will make moves to accomplish that.

Haughton
By now you’ve heard just about every prediction for the Sixers. So what’s one more?

The talk this summer has been about the Sixers finally getting through “the process” and reaching the postseason. Both current and former Sixers have guaranteed a playoff berth.

While I tend to agree, I also know it won’t be as easy as they are making it seem.

The Sixers are loaded with talent and potential. Neither of those qualities actually guarantee wins. Just ask the 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Sixers will have to incorporate several new key players and adopt an entirely different mindset of expecting to win instead of hoping to come out on top each night.

Then there’s the competition. The Eastern Conference remains top heavy with the best four squads likely still holding firm (Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Washington).

After that, things get a little more wide open. Three of the bottom four seeds from last season’s playoff participants in the East lost their best players either to free agency or via trade (Atlanta: Paul Millsap, Indiana: Paul George and Chicago: Jimmy Butler).

That should definitely clear up some room for the Sixers to make a push for one of those back-end playoff spots, but don’t expect them to jump from the basement to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hudrick
My prediction for the Sixers, much like everyone else's, is that they'll make the playoffs.

There is a caveat, however. If they don't make the playoffs, it's not the end of the world.

The Cavaliers and Celtics are the class of the East. And really it's not very close. After them, the second tier is the Raptors and Wizards. After that, it gets a little murky. Given the landscape of the Eastern Conference, it's certainly realistic to say the Sixers could make the playoffs.

But the Sixers shouldn't be worried about that. It would be outstanding for this young team's confidence (and how could you not feel great for Brett Brown after what he's dealt with the last four years) to make the playoffs, but their goals should be improvement and health. This team has some serious work to do to jell together and Brown has serious questions to answer about his rotation. It won't all be sorted out overnight.

Having the NBA playoffs back in Philly is going to be a blast, but let's focus on this team's development above all else.

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS — Joel Embiid is trying to kick back tightness he has been dealing with since Thursday.

Embiid was a late scratch for the Sixers in Sunday's 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). He said he began to experience the tightness while playing Thursday against the Lakers. Embiid received treatment during the game but felt "pretty sore" after.

The big man already was slated to miss one of the two back-to-backs in Cleveland and New Orleans because of his medical restriction. He sat Saturday, but when he warmed up pregame Sunday, he still didn’t feel healthy enough to go.

“I tried to warm up earlier but I couldn't,” Embiid said. “If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone. But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers need Embiid (23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) back on the court. They have dropped to 13-13 on a four-game losing streak, including these last two without him. Embiid is an integral part of the Sixers’ defense, especially against a Pelicans team with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in the frontcourt. The two bigs combined for 52 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks. 

Embiid said he expects to play in the Sixers' next game, Tuesday in Minnesota. Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is posting 19.8 points, 11.6 boards and 1.3 blocks per game this season. Embiid still has to work out Monday before that his availability. In the meantime, he is receiving massage treatment.

“I just got to keep resting for a couple days and see how it feels day-by-day,” Embiid said. “But it's been getting better. It's a lot, much better.”

Embiid is the latest Sixers to be added to the list of injuries. Robert Covington suffered a lower back contusion Saturday and is doubtful for Tuesday (see story). T.J. McConnell continues to be hampered by a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. He has missed five of his last six games. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Justin Anderson (left leg) are weeks out from another reevaluation.

Sixers-Pelicans observations: Strong effort shorthanded but skid continues

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USA Today Images

Sixers-Pelicans observations: Strong effort shorthanded but skid continues

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS — A must-see battle of bigs turned into a must-read injury list. Joel Embiid was an unexpected late scratch because of back tightness in Sunday’s touted matchup against the Pelicans.

And with that development, the tone of the game changed completely. Instead of Embiid taking on the towering duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the already-shorthanded Sixers scrambled to piece together a competitive squad.

Playing without Embiid, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell, the Sixers dropped their fourth straight game, 131-124, Sunday night to the Pelicans.

• Davis and Cousins didn’t do as much damage as what seemed likely without Embiid. Davis posted 29 points and eight rebounds and Cousins tallied 23 points and nine boards, but those totals weren't as monumental given the performances both have had against the Sixers in the past. It was actually former Sixer Jrue Holiday turned out to be the game’s highest scorer (34 points).

• Ben Simmons recorded his 15th double-double and ninth 20-point game (27 points, 10 assists, five rebounds). Rajon Rondo topped the assist duel with 18 dimes along with 13 points.

• The energy in the arena was lackluster in the first half. There was barely a reaction when Tony Allen walked off the court with a knee injury.

• The Sixers trailed 66-55 at the half and got back into the game by outscoring the Pelicans, 40-21, in the third. JJ Redick posted 11 points (a team-high 28 points overall), backed up by bigs Johnson and Booker with eight apiece. 

• But how does a 105-all tie turn into a nine-point deficit just-like-that? The Sixers allowed four straight threes, a pair by Holiday and one each from Davis and Cunningham, over a span of just 1:41 in the fourth. The Pelicans remained in control after that.

• Covington was out, as expected, after falling out of bounds and suffering a lower back contusion Saturday in Cleveland. X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is doubtful for the Sixers’ next game against the Timberwolves.

• Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot started in place of Covington. Luwawu-Cabarrot had a rough shooting night, going 2 for 10 from the field and missing all four of his three-point attempts.

• Brett Brown inserted Luwawu-Cabarrot in the starting lineup instead of going with three guards because the backcourt reserves were already depleted without McConnell, who missed his fifth games out of the last six because of a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Brown needed Jerryd Bayless to be available off the bench, while the Sixers clearly need McConnell’s hustle back on the floor.

• This injury-stricken game was an opportunity for role players to step up. Trevor Booker proved to be reliable again off the bench in his second game (16 points, nine rebounds). Richaun Holmes neared a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.

• After going back and forth … and back and forth from the Sixers to the Sevens, Furkan Korkmaz put his time in the G League to use. He clocked 20 minutes for five points and three rebounds, including this jam.

• The Sixers shot a solid 27 for 30 from the free throw line but struggled 9 for 29 from three (31 percent). The Pelicans, as noted above, excelled from long range. They scored 45 points off 15 for 24 shooting (62.5 percent).

• Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has heard the comparisons between Simmons and Magic Johnson, and he doesn’t think they’re off base.

“I think Ben is truly going to be one of the great young players in this league,” Gentry said. “When you say he plays like Magic, everybody goes like, 'Ahh,' but he’s out of that mold right there where he does a lot of things.”

• Gentry also got to know Embiid during their trip to Africa in August for Basketball without Borders. He described Embiid as “a character.”

“Just to see him on the court and see him with kids and see some of the things that he can do, it’s very impressive,” Gentry said.

• Familiar faces: Holiday played his first four seasons on the Sixers. Pennsylvania native and St. Joe’s alum Jameer Nelson signed with the Pelicans for his 14th NBA season. Nelson and his teammates were watching the Eagles game in the locker room earlier.

• Sixers fans were spread out around the arena in team jerseys and T-shirts. One fan hopped on a plane from Philadelphia by himself to catch the game. Another traveled from Pensacola, Florida, noting he’s been a dedicated fan “since the Tony Wroten days.”