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).

Jimmy Butler isn't freaking out over Sixers' loss to Hawks and neither should you

Jimmy Butler isn't freaking out over Sixers' loss to Hawks and neither should you

NBA teams don't go 82-0.

The Bucks lost their season series to the lowly Suns. The Raptors were swept by the Pistons. The Celtics have lost both of their matchups to the Magic this season.

So when the Sixers fell to 1-2 against the young Hawks this season after a 129-127 loss Saturday night (see observations), it was disappointing, but not completely surprising.

These types of games happen. The Sixers had finally beaten their boogeyman Boston, their sixth straight win. They were 7-1 with their new-look starting lineup intact. They couldn’t afford to rest on that and overlook a hungry Atlanta team.

But they did.

I think it’s the fact that we think we’re a really good team so we can just come in and do whatever we’re going to do and still going to win,” Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we can fall into that trap. I’m telling you, I think that’s what it was. Thinking, ‘Yo, we won [six] in a row.’ That’s from everybody. From top to bottom. I don’t think you can play like that in order to go where we want to go.

Give credit where it’s due, former Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce has his Hawks buying in and playing much better basketball recently. 

With their win Saturday, they’re now 7-8 since the All-Star Game. That may not sound like much, but when you consider they were just 18-40 before the break, it’s a stark improvement.

Rookie Trae Young abused the Sixers all night. He exploited their weak pick-and-roll defense in route to 32 points — including the game-winning floater with .01 seconds left —  and 11 assists.

Though Young was a handful, the Sixers didn’t offer much resistance. After going on a 15-3 run to close out the third to tie the game and eventually take the lead in the fourth, they were also sloppy down the stretch.

“The game at stages was bizarre to me, really,” Brett Brown said. “Some of the turnovers in the fourth period were head scratching. I think some of that, some of the defensive lapses we had in the first half, were head scratching. Then you put it into the melting pot of them playing good basketball — they had some offensive firepower to sort of punish those areas that I just mentioned.”

And before the #FireBrett crowd comes charging with its pitchforks, Brown did try to make adjustments. It wasn’t a matter of game plan. It was execution.

“We had probably three or four different things from blitzing to switching to hedging to dropping,” Brown said. “If you really dug in and looked at that you would have seen that. I can’t say that any of them were incredibly effective, but they did force us to try and make different adjustments in the pick-and-roll.”

These types of games are going to happen during an 82-game season. With just nine games left in the regular season, the Sixers have one of the easier remaining schedules in the league.

But as the Hawks proved Saturday, any team can beat you on a given night. For the Sixers, it’s just a matter of learning whatever you can from a disappointing loss and getting ready to take on Orlando in a couple days.

This game surely will not define their season or the potential of their new starting five.

“We’ll be alright,” Butler said. “We got nine more left. We good, man. Forget about it. We got another one coming on the road [Monday]. 

“So let’s go to dinner. Forget about it. I’m not drinking right now so I can’t have no wine, but I can damn sure eat.”

Yeah, the Sixers are going to be fine.

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A star with the Blue Coats, could Shake Milton help Sixers? And what about Zhaire Smith?

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A star with the Blue Coats, could Shake Milton help Sixers? And what about Zhaire Smith?

WILMINGTON, Del. — When we talked with Shake Milton back in December, he was focused on “being a star in the role I have right now” with the Sixers.

With the Delaware Blue Coats, he’s just been a star — no qualifiers needed.

The rookie scored 25 points to lead Delaware to a 124-117 win over the Maine Red Claws on Saturday night in the Blue Coats’ season finale. Since returning from a broken finger on March 5, he scored 23 or more points in nine of 10 games.

Head coach Connor Johnson said before the game that Milton, fellow two-way player Haywood Highsmith, Zhaire Smith and Jonah Bolden will all join the Sixers for the remainder of their season.

You’d expect Bolden will remain a backup big man option for Brett Brown, with his athleticism, three-point shooting and ability to hang with more agile centers. Bolden posted 17 points (6 for 11 from the floor, 2 for 6 from three-point range) and 12 rebounds Saturday.

As far as the other three players are concerned, Milton appears the most likely candidate to play meaningful minutes for the Sixers in the team’s final nine regular-season games, and perhaps even the playoffs. 

The SMU product plays at a pace that is comfortable for him, running the offense with exceptional poise and balance. Johnson aptly called him a “sneaky-good athlete.” His smooth jumper (36.9 percent from three-point range in the G League, 42.7 percent in college) might be his calling card in the NBA, but he’s gotten plenty of opportunities to hone other skills in Delaware, including his ball handling and playmaking.

Drawing more fouls has been a point of emphasis as well, Johnson said, and Milton seems to be catching on quickly. He drew the fifth and sixth fouls on Process-era Sixer Thomas Robinson on Saturday, removing a player who’d given the Blue Coats trouble all night with 34 points.

“Just watching film and talking with coaches,” Milton told NBC Sports Philadelphia, “trying to get little tidbits of information and then trying to apply it on the court. Most of all, just being aggressive.”

Johnson said he hasn’t been given a sense of whether Milton or Smith might play a role for the Sixers, though he sounds like a believer in Milton’s ability.

I don’t know. That remains to be seen and out of my hands, but I do think they’ve shown, especially Shake, has shown that he can come in and kind of command a game, and I think that definitely translates. And just continuing to build on Z’s ability to sit down and defend. They’ve got a whole development staff that we’ve worked with really closely that are excited to get those guys back up there. 

Milton said he has not heard from the Sixers about what to expect when he returns, and that it’s been helpful to focus solely on his play in the G League. 

Still, when discussing how he hopes to develop his game in the offseason, Milton seemed to have a pretty clear idea of what the Sixers might want out of him. 

“Continuing to develop everything,” he said. “I feel like in my time with the Sixers, I’m going to have a real focus on guarding multiple positions and knocking down shots, but then also continuing to work on playmaking and all parts of my game.”

Whereas Milton’s athleticism might catch some by surprise, Smith’s often leaps right at you. He converted two lobs for the Blue Coats’ first four points of the game and, with his head near the rim, narrowly missed on a reverse alley-oop dunk attempt early in the third quarter. Smith finished with 12 points and five rebounds, and he knocked down 2 of 3 threes. After missing the first 13 long range attempts of his pro career using his new form, Smith made 5 of his last 11. The rapid rate of his progress and his potential to be a quality perimeter defender at the NBA level continue to make him an alluring prospect. 

It would be surprising to see Smith immediately seize a role with the Sixers, although of course much stranger things have happened with the team. Highsmith, a wing who’s typically been asked to guard one of the opposition’s top scorers and hit three-point shots, had 13 points and nine rebounds vs. Maine. He’s another player whose development has been encouraging but likely won’t receive any significant playing time this season.

Milton might be different. While there’s risk inherent in trusting a rookie with 13 games of NBA experience, Milton’s best traits are all things the Sixers could use off the bench — three-point shooting, scoring and serviceable defense on point guards and shooting guards.

Brown loves T.J. McConnell, and you can understand why. His effort is exemplary, he’s an excellent mid-range shooter, and he takes the assignment of harassing an opposing point guard very, very seriously. In all likelihood, Milton won’t supplant McConnell in the home stretch. But there’s little doubt Milton deserves NBA minutes in some way, shape or form.

Though he won’t be a star in the NBA, at least not this season, the experience of leading the Blue Coats has served Milton well. You can’t just automatically dismiss the thought of him seeing legitimate time in a playoff series.

“Knowing my coaches and teammates have confidence in me has really given myself the confidence to go out there and just be sure of myself in whatever I do with the ball,” Milton said, “whether I’m shooting, scoring, playmaking, getting other guys involved — they’ve all just given me confidence.”

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