76ers

With Markelle Fultz en route to Philly, De'Aaron Fox works out for Sixers

With Markelle Fultz en route to Philly, De'Aaron Fox works out for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Try to forget all the rumors and speculation. Imagine the Sixers are on the clock with the third overall pick in Thursday's NBA draft. Assume Markelle Fultz is off the board, Boston-bound after the Celtics took him with No. 1.

In this scenario, De’Aaron Fox’s workout with the Sixers Saturday mattered. He’s a viable option at No. 3. Some argue he’s the right option. And no matter what’s going on between front offices, he was here, blocking out the noise, to show his worth.

“I've seen stuff, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter,” Fox said of where he might be selected. “Wherever I'm drafted, I'm going to go there and give my best effort.”

The next question pressed the issue. Fox kept his composure and reiterated. He seems to be ready for whatever happens.

“Some people go somewhere they don't want to go and they wreck havoc,” he said. “For me, I'm coming in, I'm young, I don't have much of a say. I'm going wherever I go. Trust me, you'll see me give my best effort.”

Fox’s head is level. He’s been all over the country working out for potential landing spots. Despite the projections and the talk, he still has something to prove. He wants people to know he is the best guard in this class.

“Everyone has critics. You could be the best player in the world. I mean, LeBron (James) has critics,” Fox said. “Just showing people, prove people wrong. I can't really do that until I'm drafted and get in the NBA. I'm just working, getting better and perfecting my craft.”

His craft attracts a lot of eyes. Fox is expected to be a top-five pick. In one season at Kentucky, playing alongside fellow top prospect Malik Monk, he posted 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. He dropped 37 against UCLA in the Sweet 16, all while shutting down Lonzo Ball.

But his game has a noticeable flaw: His jump shot. That showed Friday in the portion of Fox’s individual workout available to the media. Fox received passes at spots around the arch and took uncontested shots. The quantity of the misses was more memorable than any makes. 

In answering questions afterward, Fox didn’t dance around his poor shooting numbers at Kentucky. He said he shot well in high school and, for some reason, struggled in college. But his stats came along at the season’s end. After not shooting higher than 25 percent from three in any month during the season, he converted on 43 percent of those attempts in March.

“I didn't really worry too much about it because I was getting to the rim whenever I wanted,” Fox said. “I was making free throws. So that aspect of my game, it came. I went along with it.”

This all is not to say he didn’t look good. Everyone knew his jump shot is not the focal point of his abilities, and he said he’s working to improve it. He worked over screens in a defensive drill and threw down some dunks on a fast break workout. He tossed aside the fact that this workout, most likely, was for nothing and came out and put in effort. And he was gracious when speaking with reporters, probably knowing just as well as they do who was coming in a few hours later.

He even entertained the thought of what it would look like if he did somehow end up here. Because even though he played as a ball-dominant point guard at Kentucky, one would have to assume Fox wouldn’t be used in the same capacity here; Ben Simmons is, for now, the Sixers’ point guard. That wouldn’t be a problem for Fox.

“I can work without the ball. I did it in high school,” Fox said. “Actually, one thing people don't know is — you might take this the wrong way — but me and Ben were actually on teams at LeBron camp. It was like my sophomore year, his junior year. So I’ve played with him before.”

So a reunion doesn’t sound too bad. Especially with Joel Embiid joining the fun.

“It's definitely intriguing,” Fox said. “Joel has such a big personality, they’re both great players. Being able to play with those two is kind of like — you see people building through the draft and I feel like I'll be able to complement them well. They're gonna be two great young players in the league.” 

But for now, and maybe forever, that’s all it is — intrigue. 

Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

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Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

HOUSTON -- Clint Capela had a career-high 28 points and James Harden scored 12 straight points for Houston in the fourth quarter as the Rockets rallied for a 130-123 victory to extend their winning streak to 10 games on Monday night.

The game was tied with about three minutes remaining after Harden made two free throws. Those were the first of seven straight points by Harden that put Houston's up 124-119 with 1:30 left.

Jrue Holiday made a basket after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer seconds later to push the lead to 127-121. Harden stole the ball from E'Twaun Moore after a timeout by New Orleans. He was fouled and made both free throws to make it 129-121 with 34 seconds left.

After scoring 48 points in Houston's last game, Harden finished with 26 on Monday, but he tied a career-high with 17 assists, finding the 6-foot-10 Capela under the basket again and again.

Holiday had a season-high 37 points for the Pelicans. Moore had a career-high 36 points and made a career-most six 3-pointers on a night New Orleans set a franchise record with 18 3-pointers (see full recap).

Mirotic, Portis help Bulls blow out Celtics
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, Bobby Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA's worst record, the Bulls built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms. The 6-foot-10 forward hit 9 of 14 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in his third appearance.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Before Monday night, Mirotic and Portis had only made headlines together this season for the wrong reasons. Mirotic missed the first 23 games with facial fractures he suffered in a fight at practice with Portis.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston. Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics' most lopsided loss of the season (see full recap).

Howard, struggling Hornets roll past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dwight Howard scored 23 points to help the Charlotte Hornets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-103 on Monday night.

Kemba Walker had 19 points for the Hornets, who had lost seven of eight. Marvin Williams scored 18, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 17 points.

It was Charlotte's second road win of the season in 12 tries.

Russell Westbrook had 30 points and seven assists and Paul George scored 20 points for the Thunder after missing the previous two games with a right calf contusion.

Charlotte shot 53 percent from the field against one of the league's best defensive teams. The Bobcats made 13 of 25 3-point attempts (see full recap).

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers have hit a four-game skid and there is not a clearly defined way out of it thanks to a laundry list of injuries.

“I think it’s painfully obvious,” Brett Brown said of what needs to be done. “Let’s get our better players back in a uniform.”

The Sixers have to play their best with their pieces available down two starters (Joel Embiid, Robert Covington) and a key bench player (T.J. McConnell).

There are adjustments that can be made to prevent a losing streak from spiraling the Sixers down in the standings.

“We need to be just smarter,” Dario Saric said. “I know we are a young team. I know are playing without Joel, without our very important players … we need to find a way. We need to be more calm down, don’t be nervous, especially on defense.” 

Saric pointed to the Sixers’ late-game defense in their 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). They were tied with eight minutes to play before the Pelicans hit threes on their next four straight possessions. Jrue Holiday drained four treys himself during a five-minute stretch to push the lead to 11. The Sixers were outscored 44-29 in the fourth quarter.

“In that situation, to me, we are playing like a high school team,” Saric said. “That cannot happen. We need to be smarter at that point. I hope we will grow up and we will be mentally ready for that last five, six, seven minutes.”

The Sixers also were in the position to come back Saturday in Cleveland. They trailed the Cavaliers, 99-98, with 1:39 to play and did not score after that point.

It was during that final stretch when Covington landed out of bounds and suffered a lower back contusion. A day later, Embiid was a late scratch because of lower back tightness (see story). McConnell has missed five of the last six games with a left shoulder injury.

“We’ve got to be consistent with making the right plays every time,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s hard to make mistakes without those guys there. When you make mistakes and you don’t have Jo or Cov and guys like that to make up for that, it’s tough. But we’ve got to just come together as a team and get through it.” 

The Sixers don't have it easy their next two games. They face the Timberwolves (16-11) Tuesday in Minnesota when Embiid said he expects to play but has not been cleared. Covington is doubtful, while McConnell's status is to be determined. The Sixers return home Friday from a three-game road trip to host the Thunder (12-13).