76ers

Isaiah Miles to go: St. Joe's alum looks to define hoops career with Sixers this summer

Isaiah Miles to go: St. Joe's alum looks to define hoops career with Sixers this summer

Isaiah Miles grew up in Baltimore and played his college hoops in Philadelphia (specifically, at St. Joe’s), so yes, there was a cultural adjustment when he spent last season, his first as a professional, with a team in France.

That was due in no small part to the language barrier; as comedian Steve Martin once observed, those French seem to have a different word for everything.

“I know a few phrases,” Miles said, “like Ca va: ‘How you doing?’ Bonjour (i.e., ‘hello’). That’s about all I know.”

His career lacks definition as well. The 6-foot-7 forward is in the Sixers’ rookie summer league camp, and obviously, hopes to make an impression – on them, or some other team – in the games next week in Salt Lake City and those that follow in Las Vegas.

“It would be a dream to play here,” he said.

But he also has a fallback position, having signed to play the upcoming season in Turkey. There is a provision in his contract that would allow him to latch on with an NBA team, should one show interest. But much is to be determined.

Nothing new there. He is something of a late bloomer, having shed 24 pounds heading into his senior year on Hawk Hill (2015-16) and becoming the leading scorer (18.1) and rebounder (8.1) on a 28-8 club. Miles, listed at 216 pounds then and 220 pounds now, told the Inquirer’s Mike Jensen in January 2016 that fast food was the culprit, particularly that which was offered at the Wendy’s across City Line Avenue from the SJU campus.

A particular favorite was the Baconator, a 939-calorie monstrosity featuring 56 grams of fat.

No longer weighed down, Miles’ game took off. He was chosen the Most Improved Player in both the Atlantic 10 and Big 5 his final season, and he combined with DeAndre’ Bembry to lead the Hawks to their second NCAA Tournament berth in three years, and their first victory in the Big Dance in 12 seasons – that coming over Cincinnati courtesy of Miles’ go-ahead three-pointer with nine seconds left.

If he has one regret, it’s that the lightbulb didn’t go off sooner.

“It kind of hurts that I had to wait 'til my senior year to play so well,” he said, “but I don’t try to think about that now. It’s in the past. There’s nothing I can do about it now.”

He managed to keep the weight off last season, even though he developed a taste for eclairs and croissants, and if nothing else, his game translated overseas. He averaged 12.2 points and 4.9 rebounds, albeit for a team that finished 12-22 playing out of Dijon, a city of some 152,000 in eastern France.

He considered a return to France this year, and also weighed an offer from a team in Italy, before signing on June 17 with Usak Sportlif in Turkey. The league in which that club plays is more highly regarded than the one in which Miles played last season, he said, and he overcame whatever trepidation he might have had over the state of affairs in that nation.

A failed military coup last year led to a crackdown by the regime of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. One NBA-related offshoot was the issuing of an arrest warrant last month for Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter, a native Turk, for supporting the group blamed for the coup attempt.

There have also been terror attacks, notably at the Istanbul Airport last June and at a nightclub in that city on New Year’s Eve. The latter attack shook current Sixer Dario Saric, who spent two seasons with a team in Istanbul before coming to Philadelphia last year, as well as former Sixer Ersan Ilyasova, a native Turk.

“All those things kind of build up now,” Ilyasova said before he was traded to Atlanta in February, “and it’s tough for the people right now, to go through that. But it is what it is. We are right in the middle of a war right now, with ISIS and all that stuff, but we have to stay united as a nation.”

His younger sister Neli lives in Istanbul but was out of town when the nightclub attack left 39 dead. Saric, having once frequented the place and knowing former teammates who still did so, reached out to them in the aftermath. Thankfully, all of them were safe.

“I was feeling very bad,” he said in January, “because I think so many times a sports person goes there. My friends go there. I cannot change what happened there, but I’m very sorry, because of that loss.”

Miles has heard all about things like this.

“It bothered me at first,” he said. “Definitely thought about it with my decision, where I was going to play.”

While he has not had the chance to speak with Saric – about Turkey or anything else – he has been in touch with others who have played there. They told him that Usak, a city of 500,000 some five hours south of Istanbul, is not nearly the potential hot spot the capital is.

So he signed on while hoping for something more. In particular, he hopes to put his best foot forward in summer league, after failing to do so for Dallas last July.

He was just “happy to be there,” he said, and his play, as a result, was “really shy.”

“I was going through the motions,” he said. “I was happy to be in summer league. It was my dream to play in the summer league, but this year I want to accomplish something out of that. I want to get invited to a training camp. I want to, hopefully, make a roster. I have a different mindset coming into this year. I want to get further than I did last year.”

All a matter of whether his game translates. Nothing more than that.

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers received a crash course in top-caliber NBA basketball from the Warriors with two games in eight nights against the defending champions. 

Both were winnable games for the Sixers in the first half. Both were blown open by the Warriors in the third quarter. Both resulted in a Sixers loss.

This time, it was a 124-116 loss Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Instead of taking silver linings and pats on the back, the Sixers are absorbing lessons, tried-and-true experience-based lessons from competing against the best in the league and watching it slip away. 

“They didn’t flip a switch,” Joel Embiid said Saturday. “We were just bad in the third quarter. But you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They were aggressive and they were physical with us, especially in the second half. They did what they had to do, and they got a win.”

Protect the third quarter
On Saturday, the Sixers scored a scorching 47 points in the first quarter and led the Warriors 74-52 at halftime. That edge far surpassed their one-point deficit in last weekend’s game and put them on a commanding path at home.

The Warriors quickly dashed any hopes of an upset by outscoring the Sixers, 47-15, in the third. Steph Curry scored 20 of those points. That quarter set the tone for a Warriors' comeback win. Similarly, the Warriors outscored the Sixers by 15 points in the third during their 135-114 victory on Nov. 11.

“After coming out of halftime, we knew what we were getting into,” Embiid said. “We knew that the first game, we knew that tonight, that needed to stay locked in. We didn’t do a good job the first time and then the second time we definitely didn’t do a good job.”

Play aggressive and smart at same time
The Sixers committed seven of their 12 turnovers in the third, which led to 14 of the Warriors’ 47 points. Ben Simmons echoed Embiid’s opinion of needing to be more focused. The rookie point guard also noted the Sixers should have been better with defensive assignments and played more aggressively. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from long-range and didn’t get to the foul line once in the third.

Simmons only attempted one field goal in the quarter. Brett Brown noted he played Simmons the entire second quarter and the first eight minutes in the third. The combination of a shorthanded eight-man rotation and the effects of coming off a West Coast road trip factored in. 

The Warriors, meanwhile, stayed cool and collected in the face of a 22-point halftime deficit. They bounced back to shoot 62.2 percent from the field in the second half. The Sixers noticed the Warriors’ unwavering self-assurance even as they fell further and further behind in the first half.

“There’s a confidence that they have in what they do and who they are that over the course of a full game," JJ Redick said, "if they play the right way, they’re going to have a chance to win."

Breaking the double team
The Warriors stifled Embiid in their first matchup (12 points). After watching his 46-point performance against the Lakers, which head coach Steve Kerr deemed “terrifying,” the Warriors knew they had to be extra cognizant of the big man, especially on his home court.

They once again swarmed Embiid with a double team, a defensive look he’s still adjusting to. Embiid felt the pressure. He committed three turnovers in the game-changing third quarter (five on the night). 

“I’m more impressed by what they do defensively,” Embiid said. “Especially for me, they really had me guessing. They double-teamed me the whole night, from the top, from the baseline, from the post fader. They really had me guessing.”

Remember what caused the loss
The Sixers had chances to hand the Warriors a loss, both at home and on the road. When they plan for the rest of the season, the months and months ahead, they can point to what they did right and just as importantly what went wrong in competing against a team as dangerous as the Warriors. 

"We feel good about how we played for large majorities of the game and then you just blink and you get hit in the mouth," Brown said. "The repetition of playing the NBA champs and feeling like you're there and then all of a sudden to zoom in and say why aren't we? Why weren't we? Where did the game change? And understand that better and try to fix it, try to arrest it. That's the benefit to playing them in close proximity."

Sixers-Warriors observations: 22-point halftime lead evaporates against defending champs

Sixers-Warriors observations: 22-point halftime lead evaporates against defending champs

BOX SCORE

The excitement of a monster first half and the letdown of a lackluster second.

The Sixers went through dramatic ups and downs Saturday night in a 124-116 loss to the Warriors that seemed like an upset early on but turned into a disappointment for them.

• The Sixers scored … ready for this? You sure? Forty-seven points in the first quarter. They led the defending champions by 21 during a quarter that prompted double takes at the scoreboard.

The Sixers put together enough noteworthy plays in the first 12 minutes for a highlight reel: one-handed dunks and three-pointers by Joel Embiid, slams by Ben Simmons and a steal followed by a trey by Robert Covington to name a few.

The team shot a monster 73.1 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three, led by 4 for 4 from Covington in the first game since signing his contract extension.

• You didn’t expect the Warriors would be quiet out of halftime, did you? Veteran teams — championship-winning veteran teams — make adjustments. They outscored the Sixers, 47-15, in the third and took a 10-point lead heading into the fourth. Steph Curry netted 20 points in the quarter. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from three during the third and did not hit a basket in the final 2:20 of the quarter.

• Where did the third shut down on the Sixers end? Simmons attempted just one field goal in the third (0 for 1) compared to eight attempts in the first half. JJ Redick (0 for 3 from the field) was scoreless, too. Adding to that, Embiid had two points and did not pull down a rebound in the quarter. (Saric had six.) 

• The problem with playing the Warriors is, give them an inch — in many cases, all they need is a deficit less than 20 points — and they will take advantage. Even though they looked completely out of the game in the first half, they have been there, done that and know how to flip the switch. 

• Twenty-plus point performances by Simmons (23 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists), Embiid (21 points, eight rebounds), Covington (20 points, six rebounds) and Redick (20 points) were not enough to overcome 35 points by Curry and 27 from Kevin Durant. 

• The Sixers and Warriors flip-flopped shooting halves: 59 percent by the Sixers compared to 47 percent by the Warriors in the first half. In the second, the Sixers shot just 38 percent while the Warriors knocked down 62 percent.

• Simmons did whatever he wanted early on.

There was this …

… and this

… to name a few.

• Injury update: Markelle Fultz (right shoulder), Justin Anderson (left leg), Nik Stauskas (right ankle), Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) and Jahlil Okafor (personal) were out for the Sixers. 

• In years past, the seats would have been occupied by those wearing Warriors jerseys for a must-see opponent in town. On Saturday, it was clear the fans came to the Wells Fargo Center to watch the home team. 

• The early matchup between Saric and Zaza Pachulia was intriguing to watch. They both bring international experience to the court and had been familiar with each other’s game before Saric got to Philadelphia: Saric following Pachulia in the NBA and Pachulia learning about Saric’s play in Turkey. Pachulia referred to the Sixers forward as a  “young, talented kid” and “smart” last season.

• Notes and Numbers: The Sixers tied the record for most points scored in a half (74) by either team at the Wells Fargo Center. … Redick netted career three-pointer No. 1,300. He currently ranks 15th among active players. … The Warriors improved to 4-0 in the next game following a loss. They were defeated by the Celtics on Thursday. … The Sixers have lost 10 straight against the Warriors. Their last win was on March 2, 2013.