76ers

Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season

fingerpreview.jpg

Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season

There are no secrets about what is likely to happen this season for the Philadelphia 76ers. More often than not, they are going to lose ballgames.

Vegas has the over/under on victories for the Sixers this season set at 16½. In team history, the Sixers famously went 9-73 in 1972-73 to set the NBA record for futility. The Sixers also went 18-64 in 1995-96 and followed that up with a 22-60 record in Allen Iverson’s rookie season in 1996-97.

No, the Sixers don’t have an Iverson-type on this team. They have some pieces to the puzzle, but the others haven’t materialized yet. For coach Brett Brown, in his first season at the helm of an NBA team, there haven’t been any surprises. New president/general manager Sam Hinkie blew up the roster and pushed the team into a rebuild, doing what many of his predecessors could have done, but just didn’t have the stomach for.

Very easily the 2013-14 Sixers could have been transformed into an eight-seed playoff team with an aggressive approach to free agency. However, in the modern NBA, just making the playoffs doesn’t get a team anywhere.

That’s a clear flaw in the system, but that’s a story for another day. For now, Brown understands what Hinkie is doing with the franchise.

“He’s backed it up,” Brown said about Hinkie’s plan. “It’s a deliberate thing, it’s a patient thing. It’s a strategy that when he designed it, I was aware of it when I signed up with him to come here and it’s playing out as told.”

But it doesn’t necessarily make it fun-to-watch basketball. Losing is no fun and the danger of a rebuild is that losing can sometimes get stuck in the fabric of what is trying to be created. That’s the slippery slope Brown, Hinkie and the rest of the Sixers have to watch carefully.

In the meantime, since losing ballgames is supposed to be the course de rigueur, here are a few things to keep fans focused on the good times that could come down the road.

Michael Carter-Williams’ development
There is no more interesting player on the Sixers’ roster than MCW. At first glance, he doesn’t look like much -- tall, thin and baby-faced, Carter-Williams looks like he started shaving just last week.

Carter-Williams could be the young guard that the veteran point guards in the league will light up. Sure, Carter-Williams is a taller point guard, but that’s not unique anymore. And without a grizzled veteran on the roster to help guide Carter-Williams through the league, it could be a long season for the rookie.

Can he handle the likes of Dwyane Wade or Russell Westbrook? Can he stand up to taking the brunt of the opposition’s pick-and-roll? What are his mind and legs going to be like at the end of March when the Sixers are closing in on 60 losses?

That’s what we’ll learn this season. It’s also worth pointing out that on closer inspection, MCW isn’t only tall, thin and baby-faced, but also mature, thoughtful and measured. In fact, Carter-Williams is a lot like the guy he replaced, Jrue Holiday, in that regard. No one expected much out of Holiday when he left UCLA early to jump to the NBA, and he was an All-Star by his fourth season.

Evan Turner and his future
By all accounts, this is a big season for the former No. 2 overall pick (see story). Headed into his fourth NBA season, Turner will learn by the Sixers' Thursday deadline whether he'll be extended or able to test free agency next summer.

And after a summer spent trying to deal Turner, the Sixers seem poised to allow him to dip his toe into the free-agency waters.

Before that happens, Turner has numbers to produce. Three seasons have come and gone and Turner hasn’t had that magical breakthrough yet. He’s been close and had some pretty epic ballgames, but consistency over a season has been an issue.

Turner should have something to prove this season. Seemingly focused on the season rather than future free agency and contract extensions, a big season could be at hand for Turner.

That is, if he’s still with the team past the trade deadline.

The offense?
His players have described Brown’s offense as “vanilla.” The thing about that bland and boring flavor is it often can be enhanced. What the players call vanilla is something very basic. The idea is for the young Sixers to run, run and then run some more.

And then after that, Brown wants the Sixers to keep on running.

If that’s vanilla, it might have a few sprinkles on top. An All-Star Game or playground-like style could supplant the lack of complexity in the playbook. In that regard, count on the Sixers to score some points ...

The defense?
... And expect them to give up a bunch, too.

While youthful exuberance can spark a run-and-gun offense, it can cause problems on defense, where the nuances of the game are more pronounced. Certainly, defensive issues have shown up during the Sixers’ exhibition games when the opposition averaged 108 points.

Add in the facts that the Sixers have one 7-footer in Spencer Hawes and that rookie defensive whiz Nerlens Noel might not play this season, and rebounds are going to be few and far between.

Expect to see the Sixers dabble with some zone defense to help them protect the paint. Also expect the Sixers to get whistled for a bunch of defensive three-seconds calls, too.

Is a 9-73 season a possibility?
Doubtful. Though the Sixers will rank near the bottom of the standings in the NBA, there are a lot of bad teams in the league. The Sixers will get four chances to get wins against Charlotte, Orlando, Atlanta and Boston. They also face Phoenix, Sacramento and Utah twice apiece.

Of those 24 games, the Sixers ought to put together at least 10 wins and still be able to have a crack at the top pick in next summer’s NBA draft.

Sixers-Celtics thoughts: Blockbuster trade subjects highlight home opener

sixers-game-note-slide-1020.jpg
USA Today Images/NBCSP

Sixers-Celtics thoughts: Blockbuster trade subjects highlight home opener

Sixers (0-1) vs. Celtics (0-2)
7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app. Pregame Live at 6. 

The Sixers (0-1) lost their season opener to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday in a fashion that has become quite familiar in reason years.

The Sixers stood toe-to-toe with the Wiz for most of the night, fell behind late, and then made a run in the final minutes only to come up short in a 120-115 defeat.

While an admirable effort against one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams, JJ Redick made it clear that moral victories are no longer acceptable (see story).

Now the Sixers are ready to host the Boston Celtics in front of what is expected to be a raucous crowd for their home opener at the Wells Fargo Center (see story).

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• What was all that chatter about a minutes restriction? Joel Embiid went well over what was expected to be his allotted time limit in the season opener when he played 26:57.

Afterward, both Embiid and Sixers head coach Brett Brown explained that this season, the center’s minutes will be within more of a “range” and follow a “plan.” Essentially, how much the big man plays will depend on his stamina and the flow of the game.

Embiid managed 18 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in the opener. However, he admitted there were areas that need improvement (he did commit four turnovers and was late on some defensive rotations).

• You had to like what you saw from Ben Simmons against the Wizards. He scored 18 points on 7 of 15 shooting to go along with 10 boards, five assists, two steals, one block and a single turnover.

More importantly, the point guard played with poise and conviction as he set up the Sixers’ offense.

Sixers fans might not like the fact that several of the team’s young players have missed what would have been their rookie seasons. However, there is something to be said about the advancement of a guy that has been around an NBA team for an entire year before playing a game.

• Before we get any further, let’s hope for a speedy and healthy recovery for Gordon Hayward.

By now you know the All-Star forward suffered a gruesome leg injury just minutes into his Celtics' debut.

The C’s will certainly miss his production and leadership this season.

• With Hayward now sidelined, there has been even more attention focused on Kyrie Irving’s transition to the Celtics. 

The star point guard started with a much-hyped return to face his former Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving played well in that one with a double-double of 22 points and 10 assists, but he couldn’t connect on a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.

Irving followed that effort up with a dud in a loss to the Bucks. He scored 17 points on a rough 7 of 25 shooting, in addition to just three assists and three turnovers.

The Sixers can expect the scoring machine to try and regain his offensive rhythm right from the opening tip.

• Hey, remember when the Sixers and Celtics made a blockbuster trade involving multiple first-round picks and it was all anyone could talk about? Yeah, seems like forever ago now.

Just before June’s draft, the Sixers sent the No. 3 pick and a future first-rounder to the Celtics in exchange for the No. 1 selection. The Sixers took that opportunity to select Markelle Fultz while Boston snagged Jayson Tatum, and the rest is history.

Well, much-scrutinized history. The two rookies will forever be linked and their production compared.

After an injury-filled offseason and camp, Fultz acquitted himself well in his debut. He shot 5 for 9 from the field for 10 points with three rebounds, an assist and a highlight block. Of course, there were also those awkward looking free throws (see story).

On the other side, Tatum has had it about as rough as possible in his first pair of NBA games when it comes to matchups. He started off with LeBron James in the Celtics’ opener before coming back the next night and facing Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

That hasn’t been the best experience defensively, as both James and Antetokounmpo went off. But few men on the planet can handle those players.

Tatum has been productive in his first two games, particularly on the backboard. He’s gobbled up an impressive 22 rebounds to pair with 22 points in two games.

With Fultz playing limited minutes off the bench, it would appear Tatum has the upper hand when it comes to opportunity. But we’ll see what the No. 1 pick has in store for his first regular-season game in front of the home fans.

• Robert Covington made sure that you won’t forget about him this season.

In search of a contract extension, Covington opened the 2017-18 season with a 29-point outburst against the Wizards that included seven threes. 

We’ll see what he can do for an encore.

• The Sixers took one of the four matchups last season with the top-seeded Celtics. Their lone win came in the final meeting, a 105-99 victory on March 19. Dario Saric led the way in that one with 23 points.

Best of NBA: Clippers spoil Lonzo Ball's debut in rout of Lakers

uspresswire-clippers-patrick-beverley.jpg
USA Today Imagesd

Best of NBA: Clippers spoil Lonzo Ball's debut in rout of Lakers

LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin scored 29 points, DeAndre Jordan added 14 points and 24 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Clippers spoiled Lonzo Ball's quiet NBA debut with a 108-92 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Lou Williams added 12 points in the Clippers' first game since Chris Paul spurned the perennial playoff team after six years and forced an offseason trade to Houston. The Clippers will have a new look this season, but they were still miles ahead of their Staples Center co-tenants in both teams' season openers.

Ball had three points, four assists and nine rebounds in 29 minutes during the first game for the No. 2 overall pick from UCLA.

The Los Angeles-area native is expected to revitalize his hometown team this season, but the rookie started out with all the nerves and mistakes that might be expected from any 19-year-old point guard with the weight of a 16-time NBA champion franchise on his slender shoulders. Along with a handful of good-looking passes and a 3-pointer late in the first half, he went 1 for 6 from the field and committed two turnovers.

Brook Lopez scored 20 points in his debut for the Lakers, and Jordan Clarkson added 18.

Patrick Beverley, acquired in Paul's trade to the Rockets, had 10 points in his Clippers debut while introducing Ball to high-level NBA defense (see full recap).

Thunder debut new Big 3 in win over Knicks
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook had a triple-double and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New York Knicks 105-84 on Thursday night in their first regular-season game with All-Star additions Paul George and Carmelo Anthony

Westbrook, the NBA MVP last season when he averaged a triple-double, had with 21 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds.

Paul George, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Indiana Pacers, led the Thunder with 28 points. Anthony, who was traded from the Knicks to the Thunder right before training camp began, had 22 points against his former team.

Kristaps Porzingis had 31 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks. Enes Kanter, who joined the Knicks in the deal that sent Anthony to the Thunder, finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. No other New York players scored in double figures.

George broke away for a dunk as time expired in the first half to give the Thunder a 53-42 lead. Porzingis scored 19 points before the break to keep the Knicks in it.

Kanter made three buckets early in the third quarter to keep the Knicks in it, but Westbrook found Steven Adams and Andre Roberson for back-to-back alley-oop dunks to give the Thunder a 69-52 lead.

After that, it was time for the Westbrook triple-double watch. He reached double digits in points and assists midway through the third quarter. He grabbed his 10th rebound with about four minutes remaining in the game (see full recap).

Raptors cruise past Bulls in season opener
TORONTO -- Jonas Valanciunas had 23 points and 15 rebounds, C.J. Miles scored 22 points in his Toronto debut and the Raptors beat the short-handed Chicago Bulls 117-101 on Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.

Norman Powell added 15 points, Delon Wright had 13, and Kyle Lowry 12.

The Raptors, who intend to shoot more 3-pointers and move the ball more this season, were 13 of 29 from long range and had 26 assists on 39 baskets. Lowry had nine assists, and DeMar DeRozan and Wright each had five.

Miles was 6 for 9 from 3-point range and had five rebounds.

Playmaking proved an effective avenue for DeRozan on a night when he made just two of nine field goals and did not attempt a 3-pointer. DeRozan finished with 11 points, going 7 for 8 at the free throw line, and had six rebounds.

Chicago center Robin Lopez scored 18 points, rookie Lauri Markkanen had 17 in his NBA debut, and Justin Holiday added 15.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said forward Nikola Mirotic is doing OK but is still sore two days after suffering facial fractures and a concussion in a practice fight with teammate Bobby Portis. Chicago suspended Portis for eight games following the altercation. Mirotic is expected to be out from four to six weeks (see full recap).