On eve of Sixers summer league debut, Ben Simmons eager to prove worthy of No. 1 pick

On eve of Sixers summer league debut, Ben Simmons eager to prove worthy of No. 1 pick

SALT LAKE CITY -- When it comes to measuring his potential as a pro basketball player in the NBA, Ben Simmons isn't thinking like other rookies. Simmons is already looking at the top players in the league and seeing what he needs to do to bring his game up to their levels.

How he compares with other rookies doesn't matter to the former LSU star. Faring well against the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durrant is a greater driving force in his development.

“Those are the guys I have to be facing, so I have to get ready for them,” Simmons said. “I respect everybody. I don't fear anyone. So when we go into every game, I'm willing to put in the work to win.”

Simmons will get his first chance to show what he can do for the Sixers when they meet the Boston Celtics in the Utah Jazz summer league opener on Monday. The Sixers will also play the San Antonio Spurs and the Jazz this week before facing the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors next week in the Las Vegas summer league.

He and fellow first round draft pick Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot practiced with the summer league team for the first time on Sunday, a day after they signed their rookie contracts.

The native Australian showed a little rust on day one, but it didn't diminish the thrill Simmons felt finally lacing up his shoes and getting out on the court again.

“It feels so good to be a part of a team,” Simmons said. “Just being on the court. It's the first time I've played since my final game at LSU.”

The spotlight will be fixed on the Sixers' top pick throughout his time in the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas – on and off the court. Being the No. 1 overall pick creates a natural target. Simmons knows other rookies want nothing more than to prove themselves at his expense.

Not only is he anticipating getting everyone's best shot, he's welcoming it.

“I know a lot of people will be coming for me because I got that No. 1 spot,” Simmons said. “It's always been like that for me since high school. Everyone has always wanted to go at me and have that shot. It's fun. I love getting the challenge.”

Simmons made a good first impression with the Sixers' coaching staff on his first day of practice. His size, his athletic play and his passing ability drew praise from head coach Brett Brown. In his limited time seeing Simmons so far, Brown already likes how Simmons is fitting into the team culture with his unselfish play.

Brown saw this kind of potential from Simmons during his lone season at LSU. In 33 games with the Tigers, Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 34.9 minutes per contest.

"He just finds awesome joy and enthusiasm in sharing the basketball and that becomes contagious," Brown said.

Simmons is the latest talent to come out of a burgeoning Australian basketball pipeline. He is the second top five pick from the country in the last three seasons after the Jazz selected Dante Exum fifth overall in 2014. Exum is a close friend and former teammate of Simmons. He described the Jazz point guard as being like a brother to him.

Simmons sees both he and Exum making it to the NBA as a positive sign for the sport's growth in his home country. Their success, he believes, will only make it easier for other Australians to pursue their NBA dreams.

“There's a lot of talent back there,” Simmons said. “A lot of Australian players coming into the NBA helps kids back home get recruited. It's a lot easier for them to adjust this system and get a lot more looks from colleges.”

Russell Westbrook, Thunder snap Raptors' win streak

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Russell Westbrook, Thunder snap Raptors' win streak

TORONTO — Russell Westbrook had 37 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds for his fifth straight triple-double, Steven Adams scored 25 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Raptors 132-125 on Sunday, snapping Toronto's winning streak at 11.

Paul George scored 22 points and Carmelo Anthony had 15 as the Thunder extended their winning streak to six. Corey Brewer scored 10 points for Oklahoma City.

DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points and Kyle Lowry fouled out with 22 points and 10 assists as the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors suffered just their sixth home loss of the season. Toronto is 29-6 at Air Canada Centre, the best home record in the NBA.

DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Raptors coach Dwane Casey were all ejected in the final minute for complaining to the officials. DeRozan was incensed after not getting a call on his drive with 30 seconds left, and picked up two technicals in the following 22 seconds (see full recap).

Davis leads Pelicans past Celtics
NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the banged-up Boston Celtics 108-89 on Sunday night.

Second-year pro Cheick Diallo had a season-high 17 points and Nikola Mirotic added 16 for New Orleans, which was desperate to win after dropping four of its previous five while in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Davis capped his night by hitting a baseline fallaway as he was fouled by Abdel Nader to make it 106-85 with 3:35 to go. The shot brought the crowd to its feet as Davis stumbled toward the sideline, where he exchanged high-fives with several fans before walking to the foul line to hit his foul shot.

The play capped a 22-6, fourth-quarter run to blow open what had been a tight game for most of the first three quarters (see full recap).

Harden scores 34 as Rockets hold off Timberwolves
MINNEAPOLIS — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets' 26th win in 28 games.

The West's top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20 (see full recap).

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).