76ers

NBA Notes: Chris Paul looks to get over playoff hump with Rockets

NBA Notes: Chris Paul looks to get over playoff hump with Rockets

HOUSTON -- Chris Paul didn't talk about his legacy, and never uttered the word "championship" on Friday when he was officially introduced as the newest member of the Houston Rockets.

Still, Paul's motivation for opting into the last year of his contract so the Los Angeles Clippers could orchestrate his trade to Houston was clear. He and the Rockets believe that adding him to a team headlined by James Harden gives both parties a much better shot to chase a title.

"It's not just about me coming here to help him," Paul said. "He's going to help me. We're going to help each other, and we're going to help this team hopefully get to where we want to be at."

The Rockets haven't won a championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1994-95, and knew they had to add another superstar to this team which was ousted by the Spurs in the second round last season to have any chance to get another one.

"This is a moment that our whole organization has been working toward to get ourselves back to a championship," general manager Daryl Morey said. "We really do think this is a historic pairing with Chris Paul and James Harden and the great players we have around them ... that really gives us an unbelievable chance at getting back and getting our third championship" (see full story).

Celtics: Hayward officially signs 4-year max deal
BOSTON -- Brad Stevens was just a week or so into his new job as Butler head coach when Gordon Hayward was his first recruit to visit.

A decade later, they've been reunited with the Boston Celtics.

There was an "immediate familiarity" when the Celtics pitched Hayward on the team, he said in a conference call with reporters Friday after signing his four-year deal worth about $128 million. "It brought back memories of when I was being recruited in high school by Coach Brad. This time it's at the next level."

Ten days after announcing that he had accepted the Celtics' offer and agreed to leave Utah, Hayward officially joined a team that earned the No. 1 seed in the East last season and reached the conference finals.

One of the most coveted free agents of the offseason, the Celtics lured Hayward from the Jazz with a max contract and the chance to rejoin his college coach. At Butler, Stevens and Hayward were together for the first of the Bulldogs' back-to-back NCAA championship game appearances in 2010.

"It's really an unbelievable thing to be sitting with a guy in your office when he's 16 or 17 years old, and to again be sitting with him when he's 27," Stevens said (see full story).

Pacers: Guard Joseph acquired from Raptors
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers have acquired guard Cory Joseph from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for the draft rights of forward Emir Preldzic.

Joseph, who is 6-foot-3, averaged 9.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 25 minutes last season. He made 22 starts.

Joseph, who turns 26 next month, played in Toronto for two seasons after spending the first four years of his pro career in San Antonio.

Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said in a release that Joseph "has been on our radar for a while."

Preldzic has spent the last two seasons in the Turkish League. The Pacers had acquired his draft rights in a July 2016 trade with the Dallas Mavericks. He was selected by Phoenix in the second round of the 2009 draft.

Knicks: Mills promoted to president, Perry hired as GM
NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks promoted Steve Mills from general manager to president Friday and hired Scott Perry as general manager.

Mills takes over the position left vacant by Phil Jackson's departure last month.

"Today marks a culture change for our organization where we re-establish the pride, work ethic and responsibility that comes with playing for the Knicks and representing New York," owner James Dolan said in statement released by the team. "I'm confident that Steve is the right person to take on this role, and ensure that we return to one of the elite teams of the NBA."

Mills returns to the role he held briefly before Jackson was hired in March 2014 and Mills was made general manager.

"I want to thank Jim for having the confidence in me to lead this team at such a critical time," Mills said in the team release.

Perry was the executive vice president of operations for the Sacramento Kings and previously held front-office roles for other organizations.

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.