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Ben Simmons to face LeBron James and Cavs tonight

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Ben Simmons to face LeBron James and Cavs tonight

Updated: 5:38 p.m.

Ben Simmons will play against the Cavaliers tonight for his first matchup vs. the defending Eastern Conference champions. The Sixers have been game planning for him to guard LeBron James.

"Tonight I'm going to start on J.R. (Smith)," Robert Covington said after shootaround Monday. "We're going to throw different matchups at LeBron. We're going to start Benny on him. But we're going to see how the game goes and get a feel for how we're going to defend him."

Simmons, who was officially listed as questionable in the morning, missed Saturday's win over the Magic because of left elbow soreness. He was taking free throws after Monday's shootaround wrapped up. Simmons' teammates weren't overly concerned about the extent of his injury.

"I think he's fine tonight," JJ Redick said. 

The questionable status meant a 50 percent chance of playing. 

But Simmons' own tweet Monday seemed to indicate he would face the Cavs.

https://twitter.com/BenSimmons25/status/935225232742387712

And now it's official: Simmons is good to go against "King James."

James on Simmons
Which leads us to the face-off between Simmons and James. The two have had a close relationship since Simmons entered the league because they are represented by the same agency. They've worked out together in the offseason but have yet to compete in a regular-season game.

Simmons has drawn comparisons to the future Hall of Famer after playing fewer than 20 games. There are similarities in their frames, ball-handling skills and abilities to attack the basket. James is leaving all that on the court.

"You guys do that comparison stuff," James said at Cavs shootaround. "I think Ben is his own makeup of speed, power, quickness, ability to pass the ball but have a feel for the game. Ben is Ben. I am who I am."

James isn't making the game about their matchup, either.

"It's not about me vs. Ben," he said. "It's about the Cavs vs. the 76ers. We want to continue to play good ball. They've been playing good ball, especially at home. So it's not about me vs. him at all."

James on Embiid
One player James has seen play the Cavs before is Joel Embiid. The big man averaged 22.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists against them last season and he's only gotten better since then.

"He's good," James said. "He's very good. Very talented. Multi-dimensional, can shoot the ball from the outside, can get to the post, footwork, up-and-unders, plays with a lot of energy, and he's funny too. Very funny. Very funny guy."

James on the Eagles
James roots for the Browns and Cavs. Talent recognizes talent, though, and he's seeing it in quarterback Carson Wentz, who's led the Eagles to an NFL-best 10-1 record.

"I've got three guys that I love watching play: Tom Brady, Antonio Brown mixed with Le'Veon Bell — they're on the same team so I get an opportunity to watch the same guys at the same time — and my favorite player right now is Carson Wentz."

James went on to give his own analysis of why the quarterback has been so successful in the Eagles' 10-1 season (see story).

"I told my brother earlier in the season that I just love the way he plays the game," James continued. "The way he's able to get to his progressions throughout a three-step drop or five-step drop and then if everything breaks down, his ability to run, get outside the pocket. He can make passes or get yards with his feet. Very smart player, from the outside looking in, obviously. And they've got a really good team."

Sixers vs. Magic: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Sixers vs. Magic: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Welcome to the NBA.

Joel Embiid hammered that tough message home to Chicago rookie Wendell Carter Jr. on Thursday with one basket after another. Embiid was a perfect 5 for 5 and scored 14 points in the first quarter alone en route to a 30-point double-double in the Sixers’ 127-108 win over the Bulls in their home opener.

“Just be aggressive,” Embiid said of his plan. “I thought against Boston I was really passive at times, especially when I was in the post. I was in a different mindset. I wanted to dominate, but at the same time, I wanted to try to use my strength and not my head. Tonight, I just decided to pick my spots and figure out what I’m good at and when to use my strength and when to use my finesse.”

So what does Embiid get for his masterful effort? A chance to take on yet another rookie. Well, at times.

The Magic start former Sixer Nik Vucevic at center. However, rookie and Embiid protege, Mo Bamba, will man the middle for stretches of the Saturday night’s game.

You can expect plenty of banging on the block and trash talk between the two good friends. Just look back at what transpired when they faced off in the preseason (see story).

• As for mixing things up on the block, the Sixers would be well served to continue that trend.

They connected on 27 of 30 free throws in their victory over the Bulls. That came two days after the Sixers made 14 of 23 at the charity stripe.

While the makes are important, the Sixers are also focused on the attempts. They finished 10th in the league in free throws attempted last season with 22.8 a night and want to improve on that mark.

“Live at the line” as Embiid likes to say.

• In case you haven’t heard by now, Markelle Fultz did some things on the basketball court the last time out.

The second-year guard put up a team-high 15 shots against the Bulls. Fultz made five, including one weight-lifted-off-his-shoulders three.

“I’m never afraid to take shots,” Fultz said. “I worked hard this summer. Tonight, I didn’t make a lot of shots, but I am going to keep shooting. If I see an open shot, then I’m going to shoot it.”

Fultz should have plenty of opportunities to get his offense going against the Magic. Orlando has allowed a combined 68 points to opposing starting backcourts in just two games (Miami’s Goran Dragic and Rodney McGruder and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb).

Below are the essentials for Saturday night’s matchup.

When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia (Pregame Live starts at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com 

Roster
Jerryd Bayless, G, 6-3/210, No. 0 
Jonah Bolden, F, 6-10, 220, No. 43  
Wilson Chandler, F, 6-9/225, No. 22 
Robert Covington, F, 6-9/225, No. 33 
Joel Embiid, C, 7-0/260, No. 21 
Markelle Fultz, G, 6-4/200, No. 20 
* Demetrius Jackson, G, 6-1/200, No. 11 
Amir Johnson, F/C, 6-9/240, No. 5 
Furkan Korkmaz, G/F, 6-7/185, No. 30 
T.J. McConnell, G, 6-2/190, No. 12 
* Shake Milton, G, 6-6/205, No. 18 
Mike Muscala, F/C, 6-11/240, No. 31 
JJ Redick, G 6-4/195, No. 17 13
Dario Saric, F, 6-10/250, No. 9
Landry Shamet, G, 6-5/190, No. 23
Ben Simmons, G/F, 6-10/230, No. 25 
Zhaire Smith, G, 6-4/200, No. 8

* Two-way player

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Nothing wrong with fans encouraging Markelle Fultz

Nothing wrong with fans encouraging Markelle Fultz

When Markelle Fultz rose up to take a 13-foot jumper with 9:18 left in the second quarter, the ball seemed to hang on the rim forever.

When it finally tickled the twine, the crowd at Wells Fargo Center erupted. 

For context, this place was loud when Meek Mill, fresh out of prison, came out to ring the bell before a Sixers’ playoff game. The applause for Fultz’s first NBA three in the fourth quarter Thursday actually rivaled that.

Fultz led the team with 15 shots but made just five. Does that type of performance deserve that kind of reaction from the fans? Absolutely.

The irony in all of this is that Philly fans are constantly chided for being too hard on coaches and players. Whether it’s #FireBrett or the super lazy “Robert Covington hasn’t hit a shot since he got his extension” narrative, the fans here can be brutal.

But they got it right here. After I sent out a tweet about the reaction to Fultz’s 13-foot hesi-pull-up jimbo, I got a response that the fan reaction “came off desperate.” Hell yeah, it’s desperate.

In the NBA you need stars — generally at least three. With Joel Embiid emerging into an MVP candidate and Ben Simmons likely to get his first All-Star nod, fans are desperate for Fultz to complete the triumvirate. We all know the background up until this point. We know what the Sixers gave up to get him at No. 1, we know Jayson Tatum looks like a star and that Fultz’s confidence needs a boost.

We all focus on the jumper and believe me, I get it. If Fultz is going to play big minutes with Embiid and Simmons, he needs defenses to respect him from distance. He doesn’t need to become JJ Redick, but if he can just shoot league average (around 35 percent) that should be enough. 

He has so many other tricks in his bag. With a team that’s turned the ball over at an alarming rate during Brett Brown’s tenure, there’s no doubt value in the way Fultz takes care of the basketball. Fultz had five assists to just one turnover last night. Per Brian Seltzer of Sixers.com, in the 19 games since Fultz returned to the lineup last March, he’s posted 58 assists to just 16 turnovers. That’s good for a 3.625 ratio. That figure would be among the league leaders if it held for an entire season.

And these aren’t your garden variety assists either. Check out this beauty.

From the post, he puts a pass through the legs of Wendell Carter Jr. for an Amir Johnson layup.

Joel Embiid echoed that sentiment to reporters after the game.

Everybody always gets excited when he shoots a three.  He’s going to make those, he’s worked on his shot the whole summer so that’s nothing to worry about. I think the way he can help us is just being a playmaker. When I’m on the floor with him I really feel comfortable. He really knows how to find guys and understands when someone needs the ball, that’s where he’s going to help us a lot.

As much of what Fultz went through he attributes to his shoulder injury, there’s no doubt he also needed to get his swagger back. He’s still got a long ways to go, but feeling confident enough to jack 15 shots — and getting cheered for it — is a pretty good start.

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