Brett Brown

Time for Markelle Fultz? Now makes plenty of sense

Time for Markelle Fultz? Now makes plenty of sense

There’s no time like the present.

For a team like the Sixers that analyzes every situation with an eye toward the future, that old saying might be difficult to get behind. But when it comes to Markelle Fultz, now is likely the best time to return to action … if he’s completely healthy.

That’s a big if when it comes to Fultz given that the rookie’s shoulder injury has limited him to just four games and the team hasn’t officially said whether he will return at all this season.

"It's all internal discussions we're going through right now and just trying to accurately assess his situation,” head coach Brett Brown said last week (see story).

However, the eye test would suggest things are going in the right direction. Fultz has gradually increased his workouts and his jump shot looks much closer to the silky version we witnessed from him at Washington and not the junky one from earlier this season. Just take a look at his latest session.

Can’t wait to see @markellefultz back out there. Just wait on it. 😈

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The Sixers would certainly have to believe those moves would look better in a uniform, and now is the perfect time to ease the 19-year-old back into the mix.

The Sixers’ next five games are against teams well out of the playoff picture (New York, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Memphis and Orlando), with three of those matchups coming at home. Plus, outside of Hornets All-Star Kemba Walker and emerging Sixer killer D'Angelo Russell, there aren’t many threats at guard Fultz would need to worry about. A comeback now also would give him a full month to prepare for a likely postseason appearance.

And while all of those factors benefit Fultz, the Sixers may actually reap the biggest rewards of all.

Even though the Sixers have proven to be a capable scoring team (10th in the NBA with 107.8 points per game and six players averaging double digits), they can certainly use more on the offensive end when it comes to facing a playoff team. Fultz would take some of that burden to set up the offense off Ben Simmons and give the squad an element it desperately needs: a player that can create his own shot. After all, Fultz is going to be a problem once he does suit up (see story).

“He really does something with the basketball that no other player with the exception maybe of Ben can do with a live ball,” Brown said.

Now it’s just time to see Fultz in live action.

No easy fix for Sixers' turnover woes

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No easy fix for Sixers' turnover woes

The Sixers turn the ball over too much. Everyone knows it, and they want to fix the problem. So why do they keep giving their opponents extra possessions, as they did in Tuesday's loss to the Pacers?

There are a few reasons, the most obvious being youth. The Sixers’ point guard, Ben Simmons, is a 21-year-old, albeit a supremely talented one who tied Magic Johnson Tuesday by posting the seventh triple-double of his rookie season. And the guy they turn to most for offense down the stretch, Joel Embiid, is still figuring out how to deal with the swarming defense and double-teams opponents throw at him.

“I think it’s hard to expedite people’s birth certificate,” Brett Brown said. “I think you’re seeing young guys, if you go to who and where, we have to get better with some individuals. As a team, we have to get better. Some of it I have to own. When you look at the trending that’s been going on, say after the All-Star Break, I think we have been improving. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights.”

Brown is correct the Sixers have improved with turnovers, at least until the past two games. In the first nine games after the break, the Sixers turned the ball over just 12.7 times per game, a substantial improvement from their season average of an NBA-worst 17.2.

“I think some of them were self-inflicted,” Brown said. “I’d be curious to go back and watch the tape and see how many of the turnovers were in the first three to four seconds of the shot clock; some of the decisions to make passes in early offense did not help us. And some of the turnovers I give Indiana credit for. But we can almost sort of all go home after that statement that turnovers were the single thing that I think influenced this game.”

There’s no doubt the Sixers could have beaten the Pacers without so many turnovers. The Sixers had 20 fewer field-goal attempts than the current No. 3 seed in the conference and they still lost by three points. If you’re the positive type, that’s encouraging. Still, it’s not a winning formula.

“We dug ourselves in a pretty good hole turnover-wise,” T.J. McConnell said. “You can’t beat a team with that many turnovers.

“It comes from being unselfish. Some of the plays we’re trying to make the extra pass and that’s the kind of guys we have, trying to get the best available shot, but sometimes that’s not the right shot. We’ll live with us being unselfish, but you just got to take care of it.”

It’s not realistic to expect the Sixers to solve this problem overnight. Especially given the pace they play (fifth-fastest in the league), they’re not going to be a low-turnover team anytime soon.

But it’s reasonable to think that, with a few tweaks, they can trend closer to their recent stretch with 12.7 turnovers per game than their 21 giveaways against the Pacers.

Whether it’s being a little more selfish, being smarter early in the shot clock or simply continuing to grow up, nights like Tuesday can become more and more uncommon.

Sixers a physical object on Pacers' playoff radar

Sixers a physical object on Pacers' playoff radar


If the Sixers face the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, get ready for a physical battle. The Pacers will be doing just that.

Tuesday’s meeting in mid-March was a potential postseason preview with the Pacers (40-28) and Sixers (36-30) ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. 

The Pacers made a statement with their 101-98 win (see observations)

“We try to set examples early,” Lance Stephenson said. “We ain't no jokes. We're coming after you.” 

The Pacers have been keeping an eye on the Sixers as they fight to rise in the standings. The Sixers are chasing a coveted top-four seed to secure home-court advantage. The Pacers, who are 23-12 at home compared to 16-17 on the road, are in the same battle. 

“Most definitely, you've got to have your hard hat on when you play against these boys, especially here at home, because they're a physical team,” Al Jefferson said. “I know if we do get a chance to play them in the first [round], it's going to be a physical series.”

Both teams have turned heads this season. The Pacers looked more like a lottery team than a playoff contender after trading Paul George to the Thunder. That is, before Victor Oladipo kicked off his breakout season and the Pacers clicked far beyond expectations. 

The Sixers had the potential to make the playoffs, but battling for home court, that’s playing at a different level of basketball. 

“They're a young team that plays hard,” Myles Turner said. “I feel like they've used a lot of fuel over the past couple of years as not being like a relevant team to kind of fuel their play this year.”

The Pacers won the regular-season series, 2-1. The Sixers triumphed in their first meeting Nov. 3 in Philadelphia thanks to 31 points from JJ Redick and a triple-double from Ben Simmons. The Pacers spoiled Joel Embiid’s first career back-to-back set with a balanced team effort Feb. 3 in Indianapolis. Tuesday’s game came down to the wire as 21 turnovers stifled the Sixers in a chippy matchup (see story)

The Pacers have had enough of a sample size to know what to anticipate in a postseason series. Jefferson noted the balance of rising young talent and experienced veterans. Former Sixer Thaddeus Young pointed out specifically the impact of Simmons’ size mismatch and passing abilities as well as Embiid’s versatility and floor spacing. 

“They're just a resilient team. They fight each and every game and they continue to play hard,” Young said. “That's what makes them tough. They've done a very, very good job of putting the team together. Brett Brown is a damn good coach.”

With only four games separating the third seed from the eighth in the Eastern Conference, it is far too soon to tell where the Sixers will end up in the standings. The Pacers are using Tuesday's win as a learning experience in case they are matched up.

"They always play physical," Stephenson said. "You've just got to stay poised and play your game. But they're a great team. I like how they play together. So we just pulled it out tonight."