Noah Levick

Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

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Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid sometimes looks like he’s having a party on the basketball court. It’s no surprise, then, he credits some actual partying with turning around his season.

Yes, that’s right. After Sixers practice Friday afternoon, Embiid said hitting the town in Los Angeles on the team's recent road trip helped him out of a funk.

“All my close friends live in L.A., so before that, I wasn’t really doing anything, I was frustrated because I wasn’t in basketball shape and I wasn’t having fun on the court,” Embiid said. “So I won’t lie, I decided to go out, have fun a little bit. And that just kind of gave me the energy back, and the next game against the Clippers, I had more than 30 points [32], and then the following game I had more than 40 [46], so I think it’s just about having fun and making sure I can control what I can.”

For what it’s worth, Embiid is averaging 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks since the Sixers arrived in Los Angeles. The Sixers are 5-1 in those six games.

As the Sixers keep winning, the expectations keep growing. Is this a legit playoff team? Contenders in the near future? Embiid deals with the pressure that sort of attention can bring the same way he does just about everything else.

“Just be myself," Embiid said. "Have fun on the court. You know, just be myself, and I know it’s going to come, I know the guys are going to find me whenever they have to find me, I know coach is going to call plays for me. I think I kind of figured out if I’m not having fun on the court, I’m not going to play well, so I really need to have fun, and that’s the main thing for me. From there, I’m going to be dominant.”

A big part of having fun on the court for Embiid is trash talk. He insists he doesn’t initiate it, but he’s more than happy to give it back. He’ll be without Ben Simmons Saturday night against Orlando, but he’s eager for some banter with the Magic.

“Me talking trash, it doesn’t usually happen because I want to, it’s because the other guys start talking trash. So if any of the guys want to, I’m up for it. It elevates my game, it makes me play better because I know if you talk trash to me I’m going to talk back, and I’m going to back it up, and that’s going to make me play better. I can’t wait, I really hope they do [trash talk]. It’s going to be exciting.”

Ben Simmons to miss Saturday's game vs. Magic with left elbow injury

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Ben Simmons to miss Saturday's game vs. Magic with left elbow injury

CAMDEN, N.J. -- The Sixers aren't the same team without Ben Simmons. On Saturday, they'll see exactly what type of team they are this season without their 6-foot-10 point guard.

Simmons will miss Saturday night's game against Orlando because of left elbow soreness. Simmons, the early Rookie of the Year favorite, is averaging 18.5 points, 7.7 assists and 9.1 rebounds.

The Sixers said, after reviewing footage from Wednesday night’s 101-81 win over Portland, Simmons appears to have suffered the injury at the 6:22 mark of the fourth quarter. He was in treatment during practice Friday and will be reevaluated Sunday.

Backup point guard T.J. McConnell will slide into the starting spot for Simmons, though Sixers coach Brett Brown acknowledged the rookie is impossible to replace.

“It changes a lot of things without Ben Simmons,” Brown said. “T.J. will come in and assume the starting point guard role. Obviously, the points of emphasis change, but that’s why you have a team. The team has responded without Joel (Embiid), now we’ll get to see how the team responds without Ben.”

McConnell, averaging 6.5 points and 5.3 assists in 23.9 minutes, doesn’t plan to alter much about his approach.

“Obviously me and Ben are completely different players," McConnell said. "He’s very special. I just need to play defense, get people the ball and shoot when I’m open, so I’m not going to change how I play.”

Brown has been impressed with McConnell’s development this season, especially as a shooter. He knows McConnell’s passion and effort are always going to be there but is pleased to see McConnell making strides with his shot.

“I think he’s doing fantastically,” Brown said. “I think his perimeter shot and the comfort level he feels taking the occasional three is evident; he’s spent a lot of time and effort over the summer trying to grow that. So now is the time, he’ll come in and start out as point guard and there’s a lot of responsibility and opportunity given to him.”

A few small tweaks seem to have significantly improved McConnell’s shot. Brown noted he’s brought the ball closer to his body and has better pre-shot preparation. McConnell said his focus in the offseason was on getting more lift and shooting in one smooth motion.

The results aren’t staggering; McConnell has made seven of 13 three-point attempts this season. Compared to his hesitancy to fire and 20 percent three-point mark last year, however, and the improvement is clear.

McConnell hopes he can jumpstart the Sixers' offense, which Brown graded a C-minus after the win over the Trail Blazers. Brown, McConnell and Embiid all pointed to ball movement as the key.

“We just need to keep moving the ball,” Embiid said. We are going to miss [Simmons] a lot because the way he plays, he gets everybody else involved and everybody else open. But if we stick to what we’ve been taught, our system, I think we’ll be fine.”

“It’s just ball movement, getting people open shots, just fluid offense,” McConnell said. "You can’t really ask for much more than that. Get the defense moving from side to side, and just playing hard.”

The Sixers are averaging 25.9 assists, second-best in the NBA, which indicates the team generally does a good job of moving the ball. However, Ben Simmons is usually the one anchoring the offense. T.J. McConnell will step into the job Saturday night.

David Montgomery and John Middleton share memories of Roy Halladay

David Montgomery and John Middleton share memories of Roy Halladay

A great dad, teammate and pitcher was lost Tuesday.

The baseball community is mourning the loss of 16-year veteran Roy Halladay, who died in a plane crash Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico at the age of 40 (see story).

Across Major League Baseball, players shared their feelings about the former Blue Jays and Phillies star (see story).

Phillies managing partner John Middleton and chairman David Montgomery also talked about their memories of Halladay during his four years in Philadelphia, painting a picture of a selfless, diligent man.

Montgomery on the widespread impact of Halladay's death
“This is his family’s loss first but it is the Phillies' and baseball’s loss as well. All-Star pitcher, All-Star person and All-Star father and family man we lost today.”

Halladay was the father to two children, Ryan and Braden, with his wife, Brandy (see story). He enjoyed bringing his kids to the ballpark in the later stages of his tenure with the Phillies (see story)

Montgomery on Halladay the teammate
"It didn’t take long to prove his worth [in 2010], obviously. I have been hanging around here a long time, those two years of pitching (2010-11) were almost beyond description. It reminds me of one other thing when you mention team. Following that perfect game, he agonized over how to include his teammates in the perfect game. The reality is, it was Roy’s statement that it wasn’t about me and it was about us and what we accomplish and not what one accomplishes.”

Halladay often praised his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, for calling great games, especially following Halladay's perfect game against the Marlins on May 29, 2010, and his no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS on Oct. 6, 2010 against the Reds.

Middleton on Halladay the teammate
"What people remember about Roy is what a great human being he was. Great husband, great father, great friend, and ultimately a great teammate. But he was a great teammate because he was a great person."

Halladay dedicated himself to charity work off the field, including hunger relief and animal rescue organizations. In September, he traveled to Alabama to save two puppies whose ears were cut off.

Many of Halladay's former teammates remembered "Doc" on social media following the news of his death (see story)

Montgomery on Halladay's humility and work ethic
“I’ll never forget Kyle Kendrick saying to me if I knew how early Roy got here. As a result of that, he set the bar not by saying this is what you have to do but this is what you should do. In many ways, maybe his humility came from the fact that he went down to the minors after early success. Oftentimes, we say in this game that you learn how to succeed by failing and coming back from that. Maybe that is why he spent so much time with Harvey Dorfman thinking about the mental aspects of the game. Physical talent is one thing, but believing in yourself and having confidence takes you to the next level.”

Dorfman, the late sports psychologist, was an invaluable resource for Halladay, who credited Dorfman's counseling with resurrecting his career.

Middleton's message to Phillies fans
“I think you should remember that Roy was, first and foremost, a great human being, and he dedicated his life to doing the best he could for his family and his friends and his profession. And just be grateful for every moment you have, because you never know when it’s going to be taken away from you.”