76ers

Ben Simmons makes Christmas wish come true as Sixers prepare for showdown with Bucks

Ben Simmons makes Christmas wish come true as Sixers prepare for showdown with Bucks

Just a couple days before the holiday, Ben Simmons made one young fan’s Christmas wish come true.

A 7-year-old boy named Oggie held up a sign that said his wish was to meet the Sixers’ All-Star point guard. Before the second half began of the Sixers’ 125-109 win in Detroit (see observations), Simmons was able to arrange for Oggie to come to the bench for a quick picture.

“He had a sign that said his Christmas wish was to meet me,” Simmons told reporters in Detroit postgame. “That means a lot to me — your wish is come to a game and meet me. It's a blessing to be in that position."

On the court, Simmons helped the Sixers go into their Christmas day matchup against the NBA-best Bucks on a positive note. He was in a giving mood, dishing out a career-high 17 assists and posting his second triple-double of the season.

The Sixers now have back-to-back wins which feels pretty important after a week that saw them drop three straight and face questions about their struggles with zone defense.

Now they’ll have the opportunity to host a game on one of the biggest stages on the NBA calendar.

I can’t wait,” Brett Brown said. “As I told the team — and especially the people that were raised in America — Christmas Day NBA games matter. You know, as a team you couldn’t wait to just go turn the TV on. To have the responsibility, opportunity to be one of those teams that’s selected to play on Christmas Day, and now to have it play out where Milwaukee is such a great team and coached by a good friend of mine (Mike Budenholzer) — to be able to have that opportunity against such a high-quality team on Christmas Day is unique and special, and we are very much looking forward to it.

Speaking of “unique and special,” the Sixers will be tasked with slowing down reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. So far this season, the Greek Freak is playing like a guy that wants to take even more hardware home. 

Antetokounmpo is second in the league averaging 31.1 points a game and shooting 56.6 percent from the field. He’s led Milwaukee to a league-best 27-4 mark and the Bucks appear poised to earn the Eastern Conference’s first seed.

Brown stated before the season that his goal was to earn the top spot in the East, but between injuries and uneven play, the Sixers haven’t quite put it all together. Wednesday will give us a decent idea of where this team is.

“I think it’s going to be a great test for us,” Tobias Harris said. “Obviously just to be able to play on Christmas is going to be a great experience and at the same time it’s against a very good team. To be at home and play in front of our crowd, it’s going to be a great game.”

You don’t have to remind Harris, who scored his most points as a Sixer with a game-high 35 Monday, what it means to play on Christmas. 

The 27-year-old is well-traveled and has never played on a team that had the opportunity to do so.

“It is [my first Christmas game],” Harris said when a reporter asked. “I ain’t been on that many top teams to be on Christmas.”

Not even with the Clippers last season?

“No, but I’m playing on Christmas this year.”

After Monday’s win over the Pistons, Simmons found Oggie and handed him the jersey off his back and signed it for him. Safe to say he gave the youngster a gift to remember.

The Sixers will hope to give a sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center the gift of a victory over the best team in the NBA.

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How to watch Sixers at Rockets: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

How to watch Sixers at Rockets: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

For the first time since the 2011-12 lockout year, the Sixers will play fewer than 82 games in a “regular” season. Their 73rd and final game before the postseason is Friday night against the Rockets.

Joel Embiid (left ankle soreness) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) are questionable, and Russell Westbrook is out for Houston with a right quad strain. 

Here are the essentials:

When: 9 p.m. with Sixers Pregame Live at 8
Where: AdventHealth Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

All about Monday 

Health and “spirit” are the two things Brett Brown has consistently said he hoped the Sixers would have intact for the postseason. The team’s health is significantly compromised with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery on his left knee, which is probably more important than an intangible quality like spirit. That said, the Sixers’ morale doesn’t seem too bad given the circumstances. There’s been a little time for everyone to wrap their head around Simmons’ injury and what it means, and the starting lineup enjoyed cheering on the reserves in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors.

The Sixers’ first-round series vs. the Celtics begins Monday night (see series schedule). It sounds simple enough … but just get to tip-off of Game 1 with the healthiest version of the current team. 

Is hot outside shooting sustainable? 

Before the NBA’s hiatus, the Sixers were shooting 36.2 percent from three-point range. They’re at 40.6 percent in Disney World, and Joel Embiid and Shake Milton are the only rotation players below their season averages from long range. 

That large of an increase is likely attributable to a small sample size, at least in part, but it does seem that players like Al Horford, Furkan Korkmaz and Alec Burks are comfortable and shooting with confidence. Perhaps it will carry over to the playoffs. 

Small-ball prep 

The Rockets will finish either No. 4 or No. 5 in the Western Conference, a distinction that means very little when there are no true home games. It would therefore be unsurprising if minutes were limited for Houston’s key players. 

One thing that will be interesting to watch regardless is how the Sixers will handle a team without a conventional center. Houston is an extreme practitioner of small ball, but the Sixers’ top lineups will generally be larger than the Celtics’. Horford’s perimeter defense will be tested by Boston.

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NBA Rumors: Buddy Hield's comments should have Sixers fans intrigued

NBA Rumors: Buddy Hield's comments should have Sixers fans intrigued

The Sixers haven't even started the playoffs, but a potential offseason storyline is already bubbling up.

Kings guard Buddy Hield has been long tied to the Sixers as a potential trade target, from insider chatter to fan speculation, to his accidental (?) fueling of those rumors when he liked an Instagram post earlier this year with a hypothetical trade moving him to Philly.

So when the Kings' season ended Thursday, and Hield was asked if he's comfortable with his role off the bench in Sacramento heading into next season, his answer raised some eyebrows.

Including, I'd imagine, some in Philadelphia.

Here's what Hield had to say:

[Hield] provided a series of short answers during a Zoom session with reporters and offered a cryptic response when asked if he could be content with his role going into next season.

"Y'all know me," Hield said. "Y'all know how I talk. Y'all know how I feel. Y'all can read me well, so I'll let y'all answer that yourselves."

Pretty spicy. That doesn't sound like someone who wants to stay where he is!

Hield signed a four-year extension with Sacramento last October, but the Kings regressed in their first year under head coach Luke Walton, and The Athletic reported in February that Hield, unhappy with his role, might be eyeing a move elsewhere.

It doesn't sound like Hield's concerns about his role have changed much since then. If he's unhappy, he could theoretically ask for a trade - or Sacramento could pre-emptively try to get something for the still-young shooter.

I examined the potential fit back in April, including the hypothetical Hield-for-Horford deal from that fateful Instagram post:

In terms of contract length and salary hit, the Hield and Horford deals are strikingly similar, and Hield's game would be an instant improvement for the Sixers' offensive spacing: he's a two-guard who shoots a career 41.1 percent from deep, and can create his own shot. Plus, he's substantially younger than Horford.

Will the move happen? If the Kings deem their relationship with Hield unfixable, it's possible. Horford hasn't fit well in Philly, but he's still a savvy veteran with a good track record. And Hield would certainly check the boxes for the Sixers' front office.

Hield shot 39% from deep this year on 9.5 (!) three-point attempts per game, is a career 41% three-point shooter over 315 games, and would be a perfect match for the Sixers. 

We'll see.

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