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Ben Simmons keeps getting linked with Magic — and for good reason

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Ben Simmons keeps getting linked with Magic — and for good reason

Ben Simmons and Magic Johnson. It’s not such a crazy comparison.

With 17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists in the Sixers’ 106-102 Game 4 win Saturday, Simmons became the first rookie to record a playoff triple-double since Johnson in 1980.

It’s not the first time Simmons has been linked with Magic, nor will it be the last. At 6-10, Simmons’ elite passing ability, versatility and flair in the open court mirror the 6-9 Johnson. With 12 regular-season triple-doubles, Simmons passed Johnson for second on the all-time rookie list, behind only Oscar Robertson’s 26.

Oh, and without Joel Embiid in Game 2 of this series, the point guard Simmons jumped for the opening tip, just as Johnson famously did with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals against the Sixers.

You can chalk up some of the early comparisons with Johnson to the natural tendency to see parallels when looking at graceful point guards in big bodies or just insane statistical coincidences, but there’s one important similarity it looks like Simmons might have with Magic — an affinity for big games.

Simmons guided the Sixers to a massive win Saturday, helping his team take a 3-1 series edge over the Heat despite a season-high 26 turnovers. Though Simmons posted seven turnovers himself, he directed the offense masterfully in the second half.

In the fourth quarter, the Sixers had just three turnovers and executed well in their half-court offense despite the extremely physical Heat defense. Simmons scored 15 of his points after halftime, including a powerful drive and dunk with 58.2 seconds left to give the Sixers a 102-99 lead after Dwyane Wade had cut the deficit to one.

As he typically does, Simmons deflected the attention away from himself after the game when asked about joining Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry Lucas and Tom Gola on the list of rookies with playoff triple-doubles.

“I think it just means I’m doing my job,” Simmons told reporters. “The stats I’ve averaged all season have been up there, so it’s not really anything new for the team or myself. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy. All those accolades will come if we’re all doing the right thing.”

Joel Embiid, however, wasn’t shy in talking up his point guard’s accomplishment.

“He was a monster,” Embiid said. “I think that’s the first time the Sixers had a triple-double [in the playoffs] since Charles Barkley, so that’s big-time.”

Embiid knows his Sixers history. Barkley was indeed the last Sixer to record a postseason triple-double. He recorded 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists on April 27, 1991, in a 116-112 OT win in Milwaukee.

JJ Redick was also impressed with Simmons, though he’s getting used to these sort of historic games.

“Ben is Ben,” Redick said. “It’s almost become expected now that he’s gotta go average a triple-double. He’s very tough physically, but he’s even tougher mentally. The last four games have been as vocal and demonstrative as I’ve seen him all season. He’s been fantastic. He’s coming out of his shell in regards to leadership, and that’s huge for us.”

Simmons is averaging 19.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists through the first four games of his playoff career. He’s not quite averaging a triple-double, but he’s about as close as you can get.

And for the record, Magic had five triple-doubles in that incredible 1980 postseason with the Lakers. With Simmons' immense talent and poise under pressure, that’s another Magic milestone within his reach.

Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (15-6), winners of four in a row and eight of their last nine, will look to get to the .500 mark on the road when they visit the Wizards (6-13) Thursday night.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) remains out. He did individualized workouts the last two days at practice, but the team is being cautious as Richardson will miss his fourth straight game. Shake Milton (right hip discomfort) will be available.

Washington will be without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction) and veteran wing C.J. Miles (left wrist). Backup bigs Ian Mahinmi (right Achilles strain) and Moritz Wagner (left ankle sprain) are questionable. 

Here are tonight's essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Capital One Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

The competition

Rookie Matisse Thybulle has wreaked havoc on the defensive end in almost every one of his appearances this season. He leads all rookies with 29 steals and is third among them in deflections — despite playing far less minutes than the other first-year players at the top of the list.

But it hasn’t just been Thybulle that’s been so disruptive. Ben Simmons, who looks well on his way to earning some type of All-Defensive team honors, leads the NBA in steals and is second in deflections.

A competition has formed.

“I’d say it’s me, him and J-Rich when it comes to steals, trying to see who can get the most, within reason, without trying to put guys in tough positions,” Thybulle said after practice Tuesday. “I think it’s cool that we have that competitiveness. You’ve seen it with Ben, he’s changed games — he’s won games — with steals down the stretch. I think it’s cool to have that little competition within ourselves.”

The caveat of not “trying to put guys in tough positions” is important here. Thybulle has been walking the fine line all season of being disruptive and not leaving his teammates out to dry. To Thybulle’s credit, you can see the improvement. And to Brett Brown’s credit, he admitted before the Jazz game that he needs to be more tolerant with Thybulle.

Despite playing at the fastest pace in the NBA, the Wizards are one of the better teams in the league at taking care of the basketball. Something will have to give Thursday night.

Feed Embiid

Joel Embiid is the focal point of the Sixers’ offense and that shouldn’t change against Washington. He’ll likely see plenty of rookie Rui Hachimura playing the five with the Wizards’ frontcourt so banged up. With that, Embiid is likely to see plenty of double teams and possibly even some zone.

It’ll be on the other Sixers to make plays and shots around Embiid, who has improved greatly in navigating double teams. They should be able to expose Washington’s defense. The Wizards have the worst-rated defense in the NBA and give up the third-most points per game.

Beal is the real deal

News flash: Bradley Beal is really freaking good. And he’s having one of his best seasons. He’s averaging 28.7 points and 7.2 assists a game — both marks would be career highs. He’s taking the most threes he ever has so his percentage is down, but he’s getting to the line just a little under seven times a game. 

And Beal’s supporting is no joke on the offensive end. The Sixers will have their hands full with how Davis Bertans (44.6 percent) and Isaiah Thomas (41 percent) are shooting from three. With that said, both player can be exposed on the defensive end.

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More on the Sixers

There's a giant statue of Joel Embiid in Brooklyn, but why?

There's a giant statue of Joel Embiid in Brooklyn, but why?

As many Philadelphia Sixers fans know, watching Joel Embiid play basketball can be awe inspiring.

Now, for tens of thousands of Brooklyn, New York residents who will pass by a recently unveiled sculpture, they'll have the chance to be inspired by Embiid in a different way.

New York artist Hank Willis Thomas created a 22-foot tall sculpture that was actually inspired by an image he saw of a Harlem Globetrotter standing in front of the Statue of Liberty. But when it came time to make the giant bronze sculpture, he used a three-dimensional scan of Embiid's arm, according to Brooklyn Paper.

The sculpture is titled "Unity" and was written about in the New York Times last month when it was unveiled:

“Unity” was originally called “We’re No. #1,” a more assertive title, perhaps recalling the historical competition between the boroughs that reaches back to the 19th century. “Unity” is a traditional and fairly conservative work, accompanied in the official news release by a statement that sounds politician-worthy: “This sculpture is a homage to, and celebration of, the unique and multifaceted character of the borough of Brooklyn,” Mr. Thomas says. “The spirit of Brooklyn has always been about upward mobility and connection to roots.”

The piece was five years in the making. On his Instagram page, the artist added, "It's about the process!" That can't be a coincidence can it?

Turns out, Embiid modeled for the sculpture quite some time ago (he's probably more jacked by now). Thomas was asked about Embiid's involvement by the folks at Tisch:

The sculpture is modeled after Philadelphia 76er Joel Embiid’s arm. How did he become involved in this piece?

HWT: I had a studio visit with some people and they saw that I was doing a sculpture, so I was doing molds and casts with body parts of NBA players. They were like, “Do you need anybody else?,” and I was like, “Sure!” Then they said, “Well there’s this kid, he hasn’t started playing yet, but I’m pretty sure he’s gonna’ be good. You should reach out to him.” And that was Joel Embiid.

We reached out to Mr. Thomas to follow up but have yet to get a response.

"It's beautiful in a way, in terms of form, agility, suppleness," one New Yorker told Eyewitness News of the statue.

Philadelphians would agree. I'm curious what Nets fans think of Embiid flashing the No. 1 in their city for years to come?