76ers

Benefit of having Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler on full display in Sixers' win

Benefit of having Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler on full display in Sixers' win

When you have a star player, you’ll have a chance to win games. When you have two, those chances increase. When you have three, you’re pretty damn hard to beat.

The Sixers didn’t have their best performance in a 119-114 win over the Suns Monday (see observations), but when you have three players the caliber of Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, you can still pull out a win.

Embiid continued to put up monster numbers with 33 points and 17 rebounds.

Simmons came up just an assist shy of a triple-double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. After a quiet start to the Butler era, Simmons has averaged 21 points and 13 shots in the last two games.

Butler has been effusive in his praise of Simmons. Monday night, he talked glowingly about Embiid.

I always thought he was an extremely talented player. Just glad that he’s on my team now. He makes everybody’s job so much easier. He causes so much attention when he has the ball and he’s a great passer. Obviously a tremendous scorer and a great defender. With him on our team, him challenging and blocking shots, scoring some buckets, he’s going to win us a lot of games.

Butler was quiet offensively, scoring 16 points and taking just nine shots. He continued to make a difference on the defensive end of the floor, but he deferred to Embiid and Simmons for most of the night.

And that’s the beauty of having the third star this team had coveted and now has in Butler. One of these guys is bound to have it going on any given night. If two — or all three — of them are cooking, good luck.

We’re only four games into this thing. Butler, as sensational as he has looked at times, hasn’t even fully asserted himself into a game offensively. He took just nine shots Monday. The last time Butler took nine or less shots in a game in which he played at least 32 minutes was Feb. 11 of last season. 

The other factor for Butler is his minutes. He’s “not old” at 29 as he pointed out last week, but he’s not exactly young either. Tom Thibodeau is infamous for playing all his best players huge minutes. Butler averaged almost 40 minutes a night in his last five games in Minnesota.

He played 32 minutes Monday night and in his debut. He played 32 minutes or less just twice in 10 games this season with the Timberwolves: His first game of the season and in a 30-point blowout loss to Milwaukee.

No matter who plays how many minutes or who takes the most shots, the Sixers are glad to have their three stars. 

The most exciting part is that this is only the beginning.

“I think it’s going great,” Butler said. “Hell, I’ve got my first practice tomorrow to really work everything out and know exactly where I’m supposed to be on every call and every play and all that good stuff. It all comes with time and I think, and I don’t like to say this, but I feel like we have a lot of time.”

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Sixers vs. Blazers: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Blazers: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

The Sixers (38-21) match up against the Portland Trail Blazers (35-23) on Saturday afternoon. Both of these teams look very different since their last meeting in Portland back on Dec. 30, where the Blazers steamrolled the Sixers, 129-95.

Here are the essentials for the Saturday matinee:

• When: 1 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch.

Bobi

One of the things that remains the same is the Sixers are without Joel Embiid, who is resting with left knee soreness. But this time around, the Sixers have Boban Marjanovic, who is expected to start in his place. In Thursday night’s win over Miami, Marjanovic finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Brown said his tolerance level is "wide" with Marjanovic, as they best figure out how to utilize him in the rotation. The biggest challenge is when opponents go small and are effective in pick-and-roll situations (as the Blazers are). Saturday will be another test.

Twin towers

Without Embiid in the lineup, the Sixers will have their hands full down low, as Enes Kanter made his Blazers debut on Thursday night against the Nets. Kanter finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes, backing up Jusuf Nurkic, who recorded 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Jonah Bolden, who finished scoreless in his 15 minutes Thursday night, will have another opportunity to show what he can do on Saturday.

Tobi vs. Blazers

It appears that Tobias Harris likes matching up against Portland. In his last two games against the Blazers while a member of the Clippers, Harris averaged 36.5 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 66.1 percent. Not too shabby.

Might he go off again on Saturday?

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Why Sixers feel well-equipped to deal with unique Zhaire Smith situation

Why Sixers feel well-equipped to deal with unique Zhaire Smith situation

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown knows all about lingering injuries, hazy timelines and young, talented players working their way back into game shape.

Zhaire Smith’s situation — while certainly unusual, with the added layer of medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction — is not foreign to him.

With the Blue Coats set to face the Maine Red Claws on Friday night, Smith took part in the Sixers’ light, early-afternoon practice. It was his second official practice with the team. He was assigned to the Blue Coats on Jan. 24 and has been primarily practicing and working out in Delaware. 

“At the start, he did some low-minute cardio,” Brown said. "It’s great to see him sort of run around. … There is a bounce. There really is a bounce. He looks good physically. When that translates into him playing G-League-type stuff, I still don’t have any comment on that. But it’s great to see him run around.”

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade with the Suns, suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, then had a serious scare with an allergic reaction to sesame, per a team source, a previously undiscovered allergy (see story). He lost significant weight as a result. 

While general manager Elton Brand said on Feb. 7 the Sixers’ moves at the trade deadline did not alter his expectation that Smith would play this season, Brown has been more cautious with his public statements.

Given the Sixers’ recent history, you can understand why he wouldn’t expect a rapid recovery.

What I do have confidence in, and it’s not for a great reason, is we have so much practice over the years with having injured players be out for a significant amount of time. I think that historically we’ve gotten better. We’ve learned from back in the day when we had — pick ‘em — Nerlens [Noel] and Joel [Embiid] and keep on going, Jahlil [Okafor] for that period, and Markelle [Fultz] — just on and on and on and on about long — Ben Simmons — long injuries. I feel like Zhaire has reaped the benefit of studied work, thoughtful work on how do people learn, what’s the environment that can still inspire and educate as there’s clearly disappointment on not being able to play basketball. … How much of that do you feel like he’s absorbed? It’s hard to guess. I think you do know when you start seeing him play. 

Unlike the names Brown mentioned, Smith has spent time with the Blue Coats. It’s a resource the Sixers don’t want to overuse, but for a player like Smith with a raw offensive game who played power forward at Texas Tech, time practicing and playing in the G-League makes sense. 

“We’ve learned that bouncing back and forth is not the way to do it,” Brown said.

Yet Furkan Korkmaz yo-yoed between Delaware and Philadelphia plenty last season. Jonah Bolden has gone up and down a few times this season. 

Brown said it’s ideal for a player to have at least two consecutive weeks with one team, either the Blue Coats or the Sixers, though he treats each player’s situation differently.

Smith is a unique case, but for a team that’s dealt with injury after injury after injury to its rookies, he’s not an unprecedented one.

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