Sixers Mailbag: Pressure on Joel Embiid, Brett Brown?

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Sixers Mailbag: Pressure on Joel Embiid, Brett Brown?

Training camp begins this month, so you know what that means … another edition of the #CSNSixersMailbag. From playoff expectations to Embiid’s back-to-backs to the guards’ roles, these are the questions on your mind about the Sixers.

All three could be on the court at the end of a game. Of course, that depends on matchups and if the Sixers are going big. In this scenario, Simmons could be at the one, Covington at the three, and Saric at the four. The Sixers will have the flexibility to experiment with numerous lineups throughout the season. Because so many players can play different positions, they won't have to rely on just one unit in tight games.

Confidence always has been key to Nik Stauskas' game. He should enter this season carrying it over from the previous one. Stauskas shot career-bests with 39.6 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range in his third year, ran the point in a pinch and also focused on improving his defense. He will have the invaluable opportunity of picking the brain of one of the best shooters in the league, JJ Redick.

I am interested to see what the Sixers end up doing with Stauskas this season. He is in the final year of his contract, which automatically puts him on my trade watch list. Stauskas boosted his value last season and the Sixers are overcrowded at the two spot. Will he play the entire season in Philadelphia? That is an uncertainty worth keeping an eye on.

The Sixers signed Jerryd Bayless last season for reasons that still are applicable on this revamped roster. Let's start with on the court. Bayless has combo guard skills that allow Brett Brown to play him at the point and shooting guard. Originally, the plan was for him to complement Ben Simmons while Simmons ran the floor. That changed when both players missed last season because of injuries. This season, Bayless can either be the point guard or play off the ball at the two. 

Off the court — and this cannot be overlooked on a young team — Bayless was brought in to be a leader. The Sixers will be relying on two rookies, Simmons and Markelle Fultz, who have never played an NBA game to take on starting roles. Players like Bayless and Redick will be instrumental in their development. Bayless already formed a mentor-like relationship with Simmons last season while both were rehabbing.

If it were up to Joel Embiid, he would play 48 minutes in 82 games. But it's not. Embiid's playing time will be determined, once again, by the team. He has the pressure to stay in shape and well-conditioned, especially with the possibility of a contract extension. Beyond that, the Sixers will map out how frequently he's on the court.

More pressure will be on Brett Brown as long as the Sixers are healthy. If he has a fully available roster, this will be the first time he will actually be able to coach for a whole season. Brown had a brief window of opportunity last January when the team went 10-5 before Embiid was sidelined.

Back-to-backs will be a storyline all season. The Sixers held Embiid out of consecutive games after he missed his first two seasons because of injuries. He is entering his second season, coming off knee surgery in March and has not played in a game since Jan. 27. In June, Brett Brown said the idea of Embiid and Ben Simmons playing without minute restrictions is "ambitious."

I would expect the Sixers to proceed with caution and hold him out of the majority of back-to-backs. With 14 back-to-back series, my prediction is he plays in two sets of consecutive games. The Sixers' priority is keeping Embiid healthy for the long-term and playing two straight nights in December, let's say, isn't worth the risk.

Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

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Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

WASHINGTON — Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Marcin Gortat had 18 and the Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night in a possible playoff preview.

Washington (40-30) earned its second straight win to move into a tie with Indiana for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Wizards also claimed the first tiebreaker by taking two of three in the season series.

Gortat was 6 for 8 from the field and also grabbed eight rebounds. He scored a total of 17 points in his previous four games.

Washington went 10 for 20 from 3-point range and shot 54.8 percent from the field overall. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had 16 points for the Wizards, and Markieff Morris added 15 (see full recap).

Giannis' double-double helps Bucks hold on to beat Hawks
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 23 points and the Milwaukee Bucks held on for a 122-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

The Bucks finished off the Eastern Conference's worst team with a game-ending 11-5 run, pushing the pace after the Hawks lost ball-handler Dennis Schroder. The guard fouled out with 2:46 left, and was called for a technical foul after exchanging words with an official on the way to the sideline.

Middleton hit the free throw that started the run. The Hawks looked rushed on their next two possessions with a turnover and a blocked shot, allowing the Bucks to brush past them.

Trailing by 13 at one point, Atlanta put up a spirited fight before losing its 50th game of the year. Taurean Prince scored 38 points, while Schroder finished with 18 (see full recap).

LeBron gets 33 points in triple-double as Cavs beat Bulls
CHICAGO — LeBron James scored 33 points as part of a triple-double, Jordan Clarkson had a tiebreaking four-point play with 1:27 left and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Chicago Bulls 114-109 on Saturday night.

James had 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season, and Jeff Green added 21 points. Clarkson finished with 19 points to help the Cavaliers salvage a six-game split on their season-high six-game trip.

Denzel Valentine led Chicago with a career-high 34 points, hitting 8 of 11 from long range. The Bulls wiped out a 17-point halftime deficit even though they held out banged-up core players Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, only to come up short in the closing minutes.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue spent the second half in the locker room with an illness, another hit for an already short-handed team (see full recap).

Justin Anderson has his number called — and delivers

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Justin Anderson has his number called — and delivers

One responsibility of professional athletes is being ready when your number is called.

Seems like a simple concept. However, not everyone can handle the duties of coming into a game cold and making an impact.

The Sixers' Justin Anderson prides himself on being able to thrive in just that type of situation. That's why when Brett Brown told him to be on alert prior to Friday's 120-116 win over the Nets, he was good to go.

"He came up to me before the game, maybe like 20 minutes before the game, and said he was going to go to me tonight," Anderson said. "I told him I was going to be ready. He went to me and we all played well."

Oh, Anderson was definitely ready. The third-year swingman entered at the 6:55 mark of the first quarter and made a trio of three-pointers to keep the sluggish Sixers afloat early on.

“I had hit the first one, and they were talking a little trash. They didn’t respect it, so they continued to go under [screens],” Anderson said. “I was always taught if they go under, raise up and shoot it. That’s what you practice for. I just wanted to make sure I took good shots, played hard, brung energy and I think we did a good of doing that.”

Wait, so guys on the 21-48 Nets squad had the nerve to talk a little smack? While a bit laughable, it didn’t help in knocking Anderson off his game.

“It just showed me that they weren’t disciplined in their scouting report and I tried to take advantage of it,” he said. “It’s not like I’m shooting 20s [percent] from the three. It was what it was and I just wanted to take advantage of my opportunity.”

Anderson finished with 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the field and 3 of 5 from three-point range along with two rebounds in 14 minutes. Even with that offensive production, it was his defensive prowess in the final minute that made the biggest impact on the night.

“We had the confidence to both give Richaun (Holmes) some minutes and Justin when it mattered and had a big stop,” Brown said. “I think it was against (Spencer) Dinwiddie. You know, moved his feet, guarded the yard as we call it.

That’s major trust in a player who missed 23 games earlier in the season with shin splints and eight more recently with an ankle sprain. But with the playoffs right around the corner, Brown knows he may need to go to Anderson again in an even more crucial moment.

“Good for him. He’s a wonderful teammate, he’s good people and he’s had sort of an erratic year with injury,” Brown said. “I thought tonight he confirmed what we all think in relation to him being able to help us.”