Ben Simmons still high on confidence after worst game of career

Ben Simmons still high on confidence after worst game of career

CAMDEN, N.J. — After the worst performance of his rookie season, Ben Simmons insisted he’s not short on confidence. Friday, he talked with one of the more confident players to ever wear a Sixers uniform.

“I spoke to A.I. before I came in here today,” Simmons said after practice. “He just told me, play the game I know how to play. And that’s just second nature to me.”

Simmons said Allen Iverson wanted to talk with him after his dismal, one-point effort in Game 2 against the Celtics. The rookie has said he admired Iverson growing up and had a poster of the Sixers’ legend in his room, while Iverson has raved about Simmons and hasn’t been shy about sharing advice with his “little dudes.”

As Simmons sees it, the keys to bouncing back are pretty simple — it’s all about him playing his game and not overthinking, which he mentioned was a problem Thursday night (see story).

“I think just thinking too much about everything, every play on the floor,” Simmons said. “I think I’m looking at it with too much detail and not just playing.”

So, what caused Simmons to overthink in Game 2? Was it the Celtics’ defensive speed?

“No,” Simmons said.

Did Boston’s physicality bother him?

“No,” he said again, this time with a smile and a shake of the head.

According to Simmons, the Celtics are “just loading the paint, which means somebody’s gotta be open. So we need to move the ball quicker.”

Coach Brett Brown also said the Celtics aren’t doing anything exotic, just executing the standard strategy of sagging off Simmons at a high level.

“What they are doing is taking what the league did all year, but just doing it really well,” Brown said. “They’re a disciplined team. … They really have individual defensive pieces that are exceptional. We’re seeing a wall. Early in [LeBron James'] days, that was all he saw. You’re going to live with a pull-up, not a layup, and you’re going to see five jerseys and five sets of numbers. And I think that the Celtics are doing a really good job in that regard.”

One edge the Celtics have over most teams defensively when guarding Simmons is their ability to cross-match effectively in transition. Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford — whoever the Celtics throw on Simmons is capable of defending him and stymying any fast-break opportunities. The first two games of this series have been played at a 97.12 pace, well below both the Sixers’ 102.2 regular-season average and their 102.99 average during the first round against Miami.

“I think they’ve really been locked into me going to the boards and getting out early, so I think I just need to be a little quicker, kick the ball ahead maybe or be the first one down the floor and get somebody to throw the ball to me,” Simmons said. “However it is, we've just got to get it done tomorrow, and take it day by day.”

NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

“The Latvian Laser” might not be for sale.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the Wizards haven’t been listening to offers for sharpshooter Davis Bertans. 

“Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal,” Mannix reports. “Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline."

NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and Mannix have all reported that the Sixers have interest in Bertans, who’s shot 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game. That’s the best percentage in the league among players who have attempted at least eight threes per contest. 

Hughes reported on Jan. 6 that the Wizards were “fielding calls” for Bertans despite general manager Tommy Sheppard saying the team had “every intention of retaining” the forward in free agency. The Celtics, Lakers, Hawks and Nuggets are also suitors for Bertans, according to Hughes.

Bertans is making $7 million this season but looks set to earn substantially more when he becomes a free agent. The Wizards hold Bertans’ Bird Rights after landing him in a trade this summer, which means they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him.

The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 6, so it’s certainly possible that the Wizards will be open for business when it really matters. It seems that it would make sense to at least consider offers. 

Regardless, Bertans is an attractive player for the Sixers, and for contending teams in general who want an elite shooter. 

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Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

CAMDEN, N.J. — Shake Milton hasn’t spent much of his second professional season playing competitive basketball. As a result of a left knee injury he sustained on Oct. 28 and an inability to find consistent playing time when he returned, Milton has only played in 19 games this year — 13 in the NBA, six in the G League. 

Suddenly, it sounds like he’s going to assume a prominent role.

Milton played a season-high 22:31 Wednesday night after Josh Richardson strained his hamstring early in the first quarter, posting nine points on 3 of 10 shooting (3 of 6 from three-point range), four rebounds and two assists. With Richardson set to be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, Brett Brown now sees a significant job for Milton to fill.

It’s always on my mind to try to find a pick-and-roll partner for Ben [Simmons],” Brown said Friday. “Then it’s on your mind, ‘Well, what do you do with the other players?’ Namely your center. Do you play Ben at a five? And so Shake comes in, he actually can run a pick-and-roll, he can shoot, and so that interests me. 

“We’ve seen [Furkan Korkmaz] in that environment. When you take out J-Rich, you’re wondering what’s it look like if I want to pursue and continue to grow that part of Ben’s game and our understanding of how do we take the group and maximize it. Shake, I think, has a chance to come in and play a role in that. So, my intention is to continue to look at that.

Milton’s background suggests he might profile well for what Brown desires. A major focus of his rookie season, when he was under a two-way contract, was developing as a ball handler and decision-maker. He averaged 24.9 points per game in the G League last year and worked on areas like learning how and when to attack the rim, drawing fouls and, of course, running the pick-and-roll (see story)

“Just get to my spots and knock down shots,” Milton told reporters Wednesday in Toronto. “Just play with confidence and once you get up the floor a couple times you get in your groove and it’s just like playing basketball again, so it felt good.”

Al Horford highlighted defensive communication as the biggest emphasis with Milton and without Richardson. The Sixers have often asked Richardson to guard top opposing scorers this season. 

“It's hard to replace Josh, first of all, and obviously we hope that he gets healthy and gets back to us, but with Shake, just making sure that we're helping him, on the defensive end especially, getting familiar,” Horford said. 

“Offensively, I'm not worried about him. He can really, really shoot the ball and he'll have his looks, his opportunities and I'm confident in him. And defensively, just helping him, talking to him, making sure that he's in the right places and doing the things he needs to do, because that's something that Josh is great at.”

Brown was straightforward in saying that another way he'll respond to Richardson's injury is by looking to give rookie Matisse Thybulle more minutes. 

He was less clear in describing what the future might hold for Zhaire Smith. The team recalled Smith Friday from the G League, and the 20-year-old will be available Saturday night vs. the Lakers. 

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a 2018 draft-night trade, had his rookie season derailed by a broken foot and severe complications from an allergic reaction. He’s been “hunting threes” with the Delaware Blue Coats and shooting the ball well recently (see story).

Brown said he’s been following Smith’s progress and is encouraged by what he’s seen and heard. 

“[Blue Coats head coach] Connor Johnson and I talk, we follow his statistical progress, namely how does he do at shooting threes in the corner. We get he plays hard, we get that he’s an athlete, and so now what? How can we maximize or tap into a little bit offensively what he’s been growing? 

“I think that there is an upward trend, a growth that we’ve seen for two reasons: First, him — he’s embraced the fact that he’s with the G League. Some people treat that as you’ve been scolded, and he’s handled it maturely. And two, there’s a symmetry with the programs that I think enables him to feel like there’s a progressive path in the next step when he comes up here — same words, same language, same system. And I think for those two reasons we’re looking at him a little bit more seriously, especially without J-Rich.”

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