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Process Like You: Joel Embiid got the Sixers their biggest win of the season last night

Process Like You: Joel Embiid got the Sixers their biggest win of the season last night

I'll admit it: I thought they were done. Down seven and dragging in the fourth quarter, it just didn't seem like the Sixers had the energy or the shooting to get the buckets needed to get back in it against the Minnesota Timberwolves. And then once Philly battled back and Jimmy Butler hit that three to put the Wolves up two in the final minute -- of course he did, the NBA is still shooting 100% on That Shot against the Sixers -- you just kinda had to laugh about the Sixers losing another game in such a fashion. 

But then, Joel Embiid got deep post position, drew a Minnesota desperation foul, and calmly sank two free throws to tie it. Butler missed an off-balance jumper in the waning seconds of regulation, and for the first time this season, the Sixers headed to overitme. It was uncharted territory for these Sixers, and it seemed like they might be able to steal one. And they actually did, emerging with a 118-112 win

Before we get into Embiid's performance, and all the reasons this was such a clutch W for the Sixers, first a quick word about Robert Covington: Damn, this team needs Robert Covington. As much shooting as it seems like this team has when everything is clicking, when even one key perimeter player is missing, it's amazing how quickly things fall apart -- within minutes, we're kicking out to Trevor Booker and Richaun Holmes behind the arc and they're going "wait, what am I supposed to do with this?" (Actually, Richaun is more than happy to fire away from deep, but that's its own set of problems.) Not to mention how little wing defense we have without RoCo -- hardly surprising that Butler went for a season-high 38 against J.J. Redick and Dario Saric. We are in much trouble if Cov misses any more time for Philly, so get well soon, Rock. 

And also, another quick word on Ben Simmons: We're really starting to see how his limitations end up affecting the whole team. Not to harp too much on our star rookie's fairly rare off night -- just seven points, also with that many turnovers -- but when there's not a surfeit of shooting around him, the floor shrinks on Simmons pretty dramatically, and if the team's interior passing and quick-cutting isn't executed at 100% around him, it's pretty tough for them to find easy buckets. The team struggled to generate offense for most of the night, and it's something that's gonna happen occasionally with Simmons running the show, especially without Covington around to handicap his lack of range a little. 

All right, now Joel: Holy s--t, what a player. Last night wasn't his best game as a Sixer, certainly -- no one would confuse his final stat line for his now perma-bronzed 46-15-7-7 line against L.A. last month -- but it really might have been his most impressive performance, pro particularly down the stretch. 

Hitting those two free throws alone would have been tremendous enough: A center on the line, with the game on the line, on the road, with your team in the midst of a four-game skid? Calmly stepping up and sinking those without getting hyped on too much passion is no small ask, certainly, but JoJo did it with sweat to spare, even ending the game 11-12 from the stripe in total. Over the last five games, Joel is getting to the line 12 times a contest and converting a stunning 87% of those opportunities; exactly what he needs to do to become an absolutely dominant big man in this league. 

But that's far from all The Process did late in this one. He also found his struggling co-star Ben Simmons with perfectly timed entry feeds as the Fresh Prince snuck around his defender and the basket for a couple easy deuces. He also torched a toasted Karl-Anthony Towns for a couple big buckets in and around the post, after KAT had proven Embiid's match down low for much of the game's second half. And he hit one absolutely gigantic three to put Philly up seven and essentially seal the game in OT, confidently stepping into it from the top of the arc after passing up open triples all night. He ended the evening with 28 (on 8-16 shooting), 12 and a career-high eight assists, with only two (!!) turnovers on the evening. 

The biggest number from Embiid's performance, though: 5. That's how many fouls he ended with -- and also how many fouls he had entering the stretch run of the fourth quarter. In games past, that would either mean JoJo would invariably pick up No. 6 within minutes playing his typically aggressive help defense, or that he'd essentially foul himself out by playing matador defense on the perimeter and backing away from contact at the cup. Credit Embiid, his teammates and Brett Brown for figuring out a way to continue to leverage Jo's defensive strengths (particularly on one expertly played perimeter sequence against Butler) while also handing off some of his post gruntwork to teammates Richaun Holmes and Dario Saric. That meant our franchise player could preserve himself a little while staying in the contest, not costing the squad easy hoops, and still putting the rest of the squad behind the wall of Embiid. 

The late-game performance was particularly meaningful for the Sixers in this one, because maaaaan did we need a W. Four losses in a row, dropping the Ballers all the way back down to .500, with injuries starting to become a major factor: Another loss or two and all the positive momentum from the season's first quarter would've threatened to start slip-sliding away. Now we enter a stretch of three imminently winnable contests -- against OKC, at Chicago, and back home for our Sacramento revenge game -- with a one-game cushion, reason to feel optimistic again, and our recent losing streak only a memory. Stolen Ws llke last night's in Minny are the kind that superstars should occasionally afford you just by virtue of their greatness, and we can only hope it's just the first of countless more to come from our eminently trustworthy Process.

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton wasn't the first player to wear a mask in the NBA but sometimes it feels like he was.

Newsweek caught up with Rip this week to talk about his mask-wearing days and to see if he had any words of wisdom for Joel Embiid. Hamilton first wore a mask for breaking his nose, but he continued to wear it for the remainder of his career.

Embiid made his first playoff appearance of his career last night in Miami while rocking a new mask complete with a custom visor to protect his eyes. It was clearly bothering him but he didn't let it dictate his play.

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player."

Hamilton has famously said that he embraced the mask to the point of it becoming his "Batman cape" which allowed him to be more aggresive.

"Over a period of time I started to get used to it. As basketball players, a lot of times you go to the basket and it’s a lot of elbows being thrown, guys are getting poked in the eye," he told Newsweek this week. "You tend to clench up because you don’t want to get hit in the face. Once I started wearing that mask I wasn’t clenching up no more. I was willing to take contact more. I was able to get to the free throw line more because now I’m not scared of getting hit in the face. It kind of made me into a more aggressive and better basketball player."

Hamilton's message to Embiid prior to the series?

"Embrace it. Make it cool. Make it fun. Make it like a prop. Don’t get caught up in saying like, 'I got a piece of plastic on my face. I’m worrying about how I look, I’m worrying about my perception when I shoot.' When you’re out there in, like, shooting drills, don’t be so caught up in putting the mask on and trying to worry about how you shoot with it on. Put it on in the game and just wear it because our game is a non-thinking sport. React. You gotta read and react as quick as possible. The less thinking you do, the better you’ll be."

Rip also took notice of Embiid's frustration with the mask following the game. He encouraged Jo that it only gets easier.

I’ve thrown my mask off numerous times lil bro @joelembiid ...It will get more comfortable game by game ..Trust The Process. #MaskOnMaskOff#YouGotTheJuiceNow #Holdat #Yessir#Mask #TnT #nba #nbaplayoffs #sixers#sixersvsheat #LoveThisGame

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

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AP Images

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

There isn’t an unheralded prospect in better position to climb the Eagles’ depth chart this spring than Tre Sullivan.

Never mind the fact that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas just got done lauding Sullivan’s performance in a pre-draft interview on Thursday. The 24-year-old also happens to be one of only four safeties on the Eagles roster for the time being, creating a huge opportunity for an undrafted free agent from Shepherd College.

Competition will come soon enough, as safety is an obvious target for the Eagles in the upcoming draft. Even then, Sullivan could find himself in the mix for a big role with a good spring.

Last season, Corey Graham was the Eagles’ third safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Graham, a free agent departure, wound up playing nearly 40 percent of the team’s snaps.

This isn’t merely a backup job. There’s serious playing time at stake – and Sullivan can get a jump on the competition.

Sullivan made a name for himself in last year’s preseason opener against the Packers with a vicious hit on wide receiver Malachi Dupre. It was a scary moment, as Dupre was knocked out by the collision, but also a clean play and an example of the defensive back’s physicality.

Sullivan forced a fumble on the hit and finished with four tackles. He would go on to acquit himself well in three other preseason games, eventually landing on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Listed at 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Sullivan is a relatively average size for a safety, but plays downhill and hits like a truck.

The Eagles liked the instincts and aggressiveness they saw on the field. Now, Sullivan has a chance to work out and learn from coaches in an environment where there really aren’t any other young players right now and he can be the focus of a lot of attention. Phases one and two of OTAs and the two weeks before the draft in particular could be a pivotal period.

If Sullivan impresses during these early stages, it could go a long way toward solidifying his place with the team.

Even if Sullivan is bested for the third safety spot, he could still wind up on the 53-man roster. The Eagles may opt to carry five since Chris Maragos primarily plays on special teams.

Sullivan will likely enter training camp as a player who’s considered to be on the bubble, and what he does when the pads go on will be most important. However, if he showed up and really nailed these workouts, that could go a long way toward how the team views him heading into this summer.