76ers

Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

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Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

WASHINGTON — Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Marcin Gortat had 18 and the Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night in a possible playoff preview.

Washington (40-30) earned its second straight win to move into a tie with Indiana for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Wizards also claimed the first tiebreaker by taking two of three in the season series.

Gortat was 6 for 8 from the field and also grabbed eight rebounds. He scored a total of 17 points in his previous four games.

Washington went 10 for 20 from 3-point range and shot 54.8 percent from the field overall. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had 16 points for the Wizards, and Markieff Morris added 15 (see full recap).

Giannis' double-double helps Bucks hold on to beat Hawks
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 23 points and the Milwaukee Bucks held on for a 122-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

The Bucks finished off the Eastern Conference's worst team with a game-ending 11-5 run, pushing the pace after the Hawks lost ball-handler Dennis Schroder. The guard fouled out with 2:46 left, and was called for a technical foul after exchanging words with an official on the way to the sideline.

Middleton hit the free throw that started the run. The Hawks looked rushed on their next two possessions with a turnover and a blocked shot, allowing the Bucks to brush past them.

Trailing by 13 at one point, Atlanta put up a spirited fight before losing its 50th game of the year. Taurean Prince scored 38 points, while Schroder finished with 18 (see full recap).

LeBron gets 33 points in triple-double as Cavs beat Bulls
CHICAGO — LeBron James scored 33 points as part of a triple-double, Jordan Clarkson had a tiebreaking four-point play with 1:27 left and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Chicago Bulls 114-109 on Saturday night.

James had 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season, and Jeff Green added 21 points. Clarkson finished with 19 points to help the Cavaliers salvage a six-game split on their season-high six-game trip.

Denzel Valentine led Chicago with a career-high 34 points, hitting 8 of 11 from long range. The Bulls wiped out a 17-point halftime deficit even though they held out banged-up core players Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, only to come up short in the closing minutes.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue spent the second half in the locker room with an illness, another hit for an already short-handed team (see full recap).

Trey Burke showing why Sixers brought him here

Trey Burke showing why Sixers brought him here

When Trey Burke had an opportunity to sign with the Sixers this summer, he jumped on it.

He expressed his desire to get back to winning, like he did at Michigan when he was named national college player of the year. The fact that he’d be playing in the city where his idol Allen Iverson starred was also a great perk.

But ultimately, he just thought he had the skills that could help the Sixers and allow him to earn minutes. In Wednesday night’s 109-104 win over the Knicks, Burke proved that and more. 

Trailing by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, Brett Brown was looking for answers. He went to a lineup featuring Burke and Ben Simmons. It’s been a pairing Brown has been reluctant to go to, but it wound up winning the Sixers the game.

“We ended up leaning on Trey Burke as a two,” Brown said, “somebody that could do some stuff off a live ball and I thought his intensity changed the pace, the speed, the energy in the gym.”

When Burke had his first exposure to the Philadelphia media in a conference call, he said he was excited about the possibility of not only competing to back up Simmons, but also play alongside the young All-Star. Burke’s speed suits Simmons’ skill set. As does his ability to shoot the basketball and create his own shot.

Having two proficient ball handlers on the floor allowed the Sixers to get out and run and put the Knicks back on their heels.

“He gets it, I can just run and go. If I can get it, he can just run and go,” Burke said. “It’s our first time playing together so I can’t sit up here and be like, ‘Oh, we love playing with each other.’ But I loved that out there. I liked what I saw. I think coach liked what he saw, as well. I think we complemented each other well. We’ll see going forward.”

Burke numbers weren’t mind blowing (nine points, two assists), but he helped loosen things up.

As Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton both struggled defensively, Brown turned to Simmons to slow down New York’s guards. As Simmons took the game over on both ends, Burke was able to help by using his speed and quickness to take attention away from Simmons.

He also got a timely bucket during the team’s run and helped the Sixers close out the game thanks to his ability to take care of the basketball.

I kept searching trying to find something,” Brown said. “We tried Furk, I went away from him. We tried Shake, I went away from him. ... And then, as I said, you end up going to a point guard, a scoring point guard, like Trey is and treating him like A.I. Letting him just kind of run off the ball and looping him up and giving him the ball and put him in pick-and-rolls. I thought he was really good, but the iterations to get to that were frustrating.

Burke’s NBA road has been a winding one. After falling short of expectations as a top-10 pick, Burke has bounced around from Utah to Washington to New York to Dallas. He hasn’t followed his hero Iverson’s career trajectory, but he’s learned to star in his role.

He didn’t start the season as a regular contributor but has earned minutes recently as the Sixers’ backup point guard in front of Raul Neto. Burke admitted that the irregularity in playing is something that would’ve affected him when he was younger.

Now, he’s ready for whatever opportunity presents itself.

Knowing that I’ve been through it, knowing that I’ve turned it around,” Burke said when asked how he stays prepared. “Last year, playing in the G League … then, playing 30 minutes a night. So, situations can change depending on the mentality that you approach the day with. Besides all of that, just faith. It’s easier said than done. But you’ve gotta have something you can lean on when things get tough. Because we’re humans as well. We go home, face realities like everybody else.

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More on the Sixers

The story of the best day of Furkan Korkmaz's life is adorable

The story of the best day of Furkan Korkmaz's life is adorable

Furkan Korkmaz hitting a game winner for the Sixers in Portland earlier this month was a great moment for Philadelphia fans.

It was the best day of Korkmaz's life.

At least that's the story as told by ESPN's Zach Lowe who has a fantastic look at the state of the Sixers this morning with a focus on the great chemistry surrounding the team this season off of the court.

Lowe's piece opens with a scene in Portland that is just adorable:

The Philadelphia 76ers mobbed Furkan Korkmaz after his winning buzzer-beater in Portland on Nov. 2, but what they have cherished more than the win is the night that unfolded afterward. Tobias Harris organized a gathering at a local club to celebrate. Every player on the trip came but Al Horford, who says he was more or less a DNP-OLD.

They toasted Korkmaz. At one point, Josh Richardson approached Korkmaz and asked what he was feeling. "This is the best day of my life," Korkmaz replied with an earnestness that surprised Richardson. Mike Scott raised his voice an octave to imitate Korkmaz's giddiness in a separate conversation at the club: "'I never felt like this beforeeeeeeee!'"

Korkmaz has been a different player this season, one coach Brett Brown hopes to turn into a serious "bomber" from deep. He's gone from a fringe player on the roster to a guy who has filled in on the starting line up at times this season, including last night against the New York Knicks.

There's plenty of team bonding happening in the Lowe piece and we're also informed that Joel Embiid is a steakhouse kind of guy, which seems about right. There's also a scene in which Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are watching a Lakers game in the team's hotel lobby while on the road. 

You love to see it. 

The chemistry off the court is improving dramatically this season, hopefully that starts to translate to the work on the court. It'd be nice to see Korkmaz have a few more of the "best days of his life" before this season is over.