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This month going a lot better than expected for Sixers

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This month going a lot better than expected for Sixers

I remember looking at the calendar at the beginning of 2018 and wondering if three weeks in, we weren't already going to be looking at the playoffs as a near-impossibility for the Sixers. Ten of their next 12 games were against teams in the playoff picture as the calendar turned -- including each of the next seven -- while the Sixers were two games under .500, having just finished a 5-10 December that included losses to the Kings, Bulls, Suns and Lakers. A 2-5 or 1-6 start to the new year and we would've had some serious work to do in order to catch up in February and March.

Well, uh, the Sixers appear to be slightly ahead of schedule. Instead of kicking off the year on a 2-5 or 1-6 run, they've instead burst through the door on a 5-1 tear -- still undefeated in North America in 2018 -- with the most recent win coming Saturday night with a closer-than-it-looked-but-also-not-totally 116-94 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, the Sixers don't have catching up to do to make it back on the right side of the postseason bubble; hell, at 22-20, they're already sixth in the East. 

Say this for last night's game: The Sixers are really discovering every permutation of the blown-double-digit-lead game this season. It happened again last night, of course -- looked like they'd pull away in the second, instead let the Bucks battle back to recapture the lead in the second half -- but they got the cycle out of the way early enough that they were still able to reach escape velocity in the fourth quarter, ultimately winning by 22. Until they figure out the don't-blow-the-lead-at-all game, this is probably the most preferable version of the game so far. 

Joel Embiid went for 29 and 9 on 12-19 shooting and dominated on both ends, ho-hum. Dario Saric (13-6-7) and Ben Simmons (16-8-9) both got most of the way to triple-doubles, while Robert Covington (13-5-3-4) hit multiple triples for the first time in four games. T.J. (11-3-7) was T.J. Even Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, filling in for an injured (and bad) Jerryd Bayless, was sparkling, scoring 16 on 5-9 shooting, with a +21 for his 30 minutes on the court. If he can give us anywhere near that production level on a consistent basis, it'll make the loss of JJ Redick for the rest of the month a whole lot more palatable for Brett Brown & Co. 

And speaking of players being out -- boy, teams have sure been doing us a favor in spotting us one or two this month, huh? After a 2017 portion of the season where it felt like the Sixers were always the undermanned squad -- aside from one game against the John Wall-less Wizards which we nearly blew, and one against the Blazers without Damian Lillard which we actually did -- Philly has in six 2018 contests already faced the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard (and assorted other rotation cogs), the Celtics without Kyrie Irving and the Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo or Malcolm Brogdon. Easier to deal with the Deer with Khris Middleton as your only real offensive concern, certainly, and we'll see Brogdon in Milwaukee soon enough.

Anyway, understandable that even our most formidable opponents are doing what they can to duck #SixersJanuary. The team is once again trending entirely in the right direction, the home crowd is feeling it, and Philadelphia basketball is as fun and as fearsome as it's been since... well, last January. This is our month, and we'll deal with all the weird crises sure to beset the squad in the months to come after Groundhog Day. For now, with absolutely nothing else going on in the world of Philadelphia sports, let's just be sure to take the time to enjoy it. 

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

Joel Embiid belongs among the very best

You can't really fake it at an All-Star Game, especially one where people are actually trying. There's no lucking your way into a couple open shots and a couple generous foul calls and all of a sudden rolling your way to a 30-plus-point game; there's no isolating one defensive mismatch and exploiting it to make yourself look like '01 Shaq. Generally speaking, an All-Star Game shakes out as it should: The best shine the brightest, and those who aren't ready yet fade into the periphery with extra motivation to step things up for next year. 

And that's why it's so awesome that Joel Embiid, a mere 75 games into his NBA career, unquestionably belonged on the biggest stage with the biggest names last night. Playing for Stephen Curry's squad, JoJo posted 19 points on 8-13 shooting, with eight rebounds and two blocks, and a +5 rating for the night -- the only positive plus/minus for the Steph starters. 

Out of context, those numbers may not sound particularly impressive for an All-Star outing, considering the final score of 2017's game was 192-182. But thanks to increased financial and personal motivation in this year's game, the competition was ratcheted up, and though the final score was still a robust 148-145 -- Team LeBron emerging victorious -- no one player really went off in this one, with Team Stephen being led in scoring by DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard (21 each). Consider that JoJo's 19 outpaced both teammates James Harden (12 points on 5-19 FG) and Curry himself (13 on 4-14 FG) -- only two of the greatest scorers in NBA history. 

And what's more, down the stretch it was Embiid who seemed most ready to rise to the moment. With minutes remaining and his team up one, Embiid posted up LeBron James -- LeBron James!! -- for an easy bucket, and with the score tied and under a minute left, he got stuck isolated on the perimeter against Paul George, and still ended up blocking George's shot to win the possession back for his team. Had his squad been able to hang on in this one, he would've been able to mount a fairly compelling case for MVP, which would've made him the first player since at least the 20th century to win top honors in his first All-Star appearance. 

Of course, it didn't happen that way, and Team Stephen coach Mike D'Antoni might get most of the blame as to why. With his squad up one and Team LeBron inbounding out of a timeout, D'Antoni opted for some incomprehensible reason to bench Embiid, his best defensive player -- which, somewhat unsurprisingly, resulted in LeBron scoring quickly and easily at the basket to go up one, and then DeMar DeRozan throwing the ball away at the other end. Embiid entered for the final possession, with his team needing a three to tie, and he had a chance to hoist one, but understandably passed to Curry, who drove his way into traffic and ended up not even getting a shot off. Team LeBron won, and James took home his third MVP. 

Frustrating finish, but it can't ruin what came before: Joel Embiid squaring off against the best the NBA has to offer, and proving himself a factor. (Also nailed a three and then blocked a Russell Westbrook drive at the other end, btw, so that beautiful random feud lives on.) He got as good as he gave -- LeBron drilled a triple in his face immediately after JoJo took him down low -- but he was in the mix, and a crucial part of his team's successes and failures. It should be the first of many such All-Star starring roles for Embiid, and hopefully the last for some time that doesn't also include him being flanked by Process Truster in Arms Ben Simmons. 

But even if it isn't -- even if nothing good ever happens again with Joel, and we look back at this All-Star Game 25 years from now as the high point of this career -- it still would have all been worth it. It was worth it when the team went 10-5 two Januarys ago. It was maybe worth it when Embiid gave his first-ever post-game interview following a Sixers win. 

That's what people will never understand about The Process, and that's what makes nights like this so gratifying. Franchises go decades, entire generations, without getting a moment to feel this way about one of their players, and even getting the chance to feel it about one of ours is worth seasons of sacrifice. JoJo lives, and somewhere in the bowels of the Staples Center last night, Our Once and Always Dark Lord Sam Hinkie had to be there and be smiling. Hope he enjoyed the Fergie national anthem as much as I did, as well. 

JJ Redick responds to video in which he allegedly used racial slur

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SB Nation/Twitter

JJ Redick responds to video in which he allegedly used racial slur

Updated at 12:50 a.m.

Early Sunday, a video surfaced on social media that appeared to put Sixers’ guard JJ Redick in an extremely poor light. Redick has since responded to clear up the situation.

Here’s what happened:

At about 8 a.m., a post appeared on Reddit showing a screenshot and caption alleging that Redick said a racial slur during a video from NBA players wishing Chinese fans a Happy New Year. The video caused a huge uproar on social media. If you wish to see the video, it is located here, at the top.

On the surface, without a response, it looked odd from the start. Redick, who we have come to know as a well-spoken individual who is typically very appreciative of basketball fans, isn’t someone you’d expect this from, let alone with a camera pointing directly at his face with an NBA microphone in front of his lips.

He offered this response on his official Twitter account, saying he was tongue-tied and had no intentions of saying what he did on the video.

Fans reacted on both sides of the issue, some still asking for an apology and others taking Redick for his word. 

On Sunday night, Redick followed up with a longer statement on his Twitter and Instagram, where he further explained himself and indeed issued an apology.

Please read. Thank you.

A post shared by JJ Redick (@jjredick) on

Early Monday, Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin tweeted a statement saying that he spoke with Redick and believes the Sixers' guard didn't say a racial slur.

With the All-Star Break going on, Redick won’t be available for a few more days for the media to ask him about this. There’s a chance this story will continue into next week.