Markelle Fultz working on 'defense first' at Las Vegas Summer League

Markelle Fultz working on 'defense first' at Las Vegas Summer League

LAS VEGAS -- While Markelle Fultz doesn’t want to limit himself to one improvement, the Sixers plan to hone in on a specific aspect of his game during Las Vegas Summer League. 

“He’s going to work on defense first,” assistant coach Lloyd Pierce said after practice Friday. “That’s my area of emphasis. That’s an area that he’s come into our organization wanting to address.”

Fultz’s offensive abilities are unquestioned. He led all freshmen in the Pac-12 and the entire nation in scoring last season (23.2 points). Fultz, in his first taste of the NBA, averaged 20.0 points in two games this week in Utah Jazz Summer League. 

When assessing his skill sets as a whole, defense has been the area that could use work on the pro level. Often a college team’s record can be viewed as a reflection of its best player. In Fultz’s case, Washington went 9-22 last season. 

“He’s been criticized, probably unfairly,” Pierce said. “People associate their record with his defense and any deficiencies he may have had.”

Fultz had been texting with Pierce throughout the week to go over his performance in preparation for Las Vegas. He is open to what the coaching staff has to say about what it has seen. 

“I want criticism that’s going to make me better as a player to help this team,” Fultz said. “Once I step out in here in Vegas, I’m working on my defense, keeping my man in front, screen, getting through screens, being tough on the defensive end.”

The Sixers drafted Fultz No. 1 overall with the outlook that he can develop on the defensive end. 

“We really think Markelle could be a really good two-way player,” president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said on draft night. “We just have to now get him to think that way and begin to play that way all the time.”

Fultz is up for that challenge. He knows the caliber of competition in the NBA will greatly surpass those he easily handled in high school and college. In the past, he said he “stayed on his heels a little bit too much” but now is zoned in on keeping his man in front of him. 

“Here everybody is skilled,” Fultz said. “Any given day people get blown by, everybody can pass you and everybody can score the ball. So, it just has to do with being more mental until you lock it in and just trusting my bigs when screens come, not looking back. It’s going to be a challenge every night coming out to guard whoever is in front of me, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Fultz will be under a spotlight in summer league. That comes with the territory of being the first pick. The 19-year-old is ready for it. 

“He’s a competitor,” Pierce said. “When you’re a No. 1 pick and you’re as talented as he is and he’s a young guy that’s still learning, when he hears something, you see his competitive side come out and you see him wanting to address it.”

Sixers rearrange schedule because of Eagles fever

Sixers rearrange schedule because of Eagles fever

The Sixers coordinated their flight to Memphis with an important schedule in mind: get there in time Sunday to watch the Eagles' NFC Championship Game.

Once there, they have arranged a room with food to catch the 6:40 p.m. showdown as a team the night before they face the Grizzlies.

“We’re going to enjoy this with the city of Philadelphia,” Brett Brown said. “Stuff like this doesn’t come around very often. So on behalf of our team, we say, like the rest of the city: Go Eagles.”

The Sixers and Eagles have been showing their support for each other all season by attending games. Joel Embiid, in particular, has been a familiar face at Lincoln Financial Field, including this memorable reaction to Jake Elliott’s field goal in September.

Embiid noted the momentum of both the Eagles and Sixers this season and what it means for Philadelphia.

“Every time I go to an Eagles game, they always win,” Embiid said. “I’m going to be pulling for them. I want to say good luck. It would be good for the city … Hopefully, they win and on to the Super Bowl.”

Justin Anderson’s support of the Eagles goes beyond playing in the same city. His friendships with Torrey Smith, Rodney McLeod and Chris Long began before the NBA (see story).

“I talked to them and they were really excited,” Anderson said. “They think they’ve got a really good chance. It’d be huge for the city. Going to the Super Bowl, it’d be good. I’m excited, I’m excited. I hope they pull this one out.”

The Sixers will watch the Eagles fight through the postseason as they hope to be doing in April too. They ultimately have the same goal and have an appreciation for how far the Eagles have come already.

“I hope they win it all,” Ben Simmons said. “I’m an Eagles fan now.” 

Rockets beat Warriors in battle of West's best

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Rockets beat Warriors in battle of West's best

HOUSTON — Chris Paul scored 33 points and 11 rebounds, James Harden had 22 points and the Houston Rockets held off the Golden State Warriors 116-108 on Saturday night to snap their 14-game road winning streak.

Harden stepped back from Stephen Curry for a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 114-108 with 1:10 left. Harden then blocked Curry's 3-point attempt after a timeout, and Paul made two free throws with 28 seconds left.

Golden State lost away from home for the first time since Nov. 22. The Warriors had won seven straight in Houston.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 26 points, Draymond Green had 21 and Curry added 19 on a night he went 5 of 15 on 3-point attempts.

The Warriors were wrapping up a five-game road trip and had won the first four games to tie a franchise record for consecutive road wins. But they struggled from the outset Saturday and trailed by double digits for most of the first half (see full recap).

Olynyk's free throw gives Heat win over Hornets
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kelly Olynyk scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including a free throw with 0.2 seconds left, to help the Miami Heat erase a five-point deficit in the final 34 seconds and stun the Charlotte Hornets 106-105 on Saturday night.

Wayne Ellington had 26 points on six 3-pointers, Joe Johnson had 22 points and Olynyk was brilliant down the stretch.

Nic Batum scored a season-high 26 points and Kemba Walker had 22 for Charlotte, which had a two-game winning streak snapped.

Charlotte led 105-100 when Johnson got free for a dunk. The Hornets inbounded the ball to Batum, but Josh Richardson ripped it from his hands and passed to Johnson, who knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing to tie (see full recap).

Thunder score 148 points, keep Lebron short of 30,000 for career
CLEVELAND — LeBron James came up just short of 30,000 points.

Oklahoma City nearly got there, too.

Unable to stop Paul George, Russell Westbrook or Carmelo Anthony, the Cavaliers were embarrassed 148-124 on Saturday by the Thunder, who not only rolled to their fourth straight win but kept James shy of a historic milestone.

George scored 36 points, Westbrook had 23 and 20 assists and Anthony dropped a season-high 29 points as the Thunder tied the record for the most points given up by a Cleveland team in a regulation game. Philadelphia scored 148 on the Cavs back in 1972.

"I've never in my basketball life gave up 148 points, not even probably playing video games," James said. "They got everything that they wanted. Inside, outside, they had it moving." (see full recap).

Pelicans' stars all contribute in win over Grizzlies
NEW ORLEANS — Jrue Holiday scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, DeMarcus Cousins had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Memphis Grizzlies 111-104 on Saturday night.

Anthony Davis had 21 points and 12 rebounds but did not score his first points of the second half until he dunked with 1:15 to go in the game, giving the Pelicans a 108-102 lead.

Darius Miller added 12 points in a reserve role for New Orleans, which never trailed but very nearly blew a 21-point lead.

Trailing by 15 at halftime, Memphis scored the first 13 points of the third quarter, part of a 16-2 run to open the half that trimmed New Orleans' lead to a single point with most of the third quarter remaining (see full recap).