76ers

With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

Even Brett Brown had to admit just how much of a whirlwind this month has been for him.

“This has been a really different June,” he said after the 2018 NBA draft.

That’s certainly an understatement.

In a matter of weeks, Brown went from drawing up plays during the postseason to orchestrating his first draft as interim general manager. And there’s no time to take a breath with free agency barreling down the calendar on July 1.

While Brown has been tasked with running the Sixers’ front office operations for the time being (see story), he has also been put in charge of an even bigger challenge: reshaping the team’s image.

No matter your feelings on the Bryan Colangelo saga, there is no denying it was a black eye for the Sixers. One the franchise could ill afford heading into such an important summer.

So Brown set out to show that the Sixers are truly all about the player-friendly, tight-knit and development culture they have cultivated throughout “the process.” The reinforcement started with grabbing a pair of players in the draft with not only first-round talent, but first-rate character.

“When you look at sort of the values that were most important to us as we decided how to grow this team and select our players, there were none more important than just good people and character,” Brown said Friday of first-rounders Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet. “Personally, when you would see me work the players out and then intermittently we would call people into my office, there was a connection and a comfort level that I had just talking to them as people.”

Of course talent trumps everything and Brown admitted the duo was ultimately snagged because of basketball ability above all else. However, it’s no coincidence that both players are soft-spoken and eager to grind for whatever minutes come their way on the court.

“I just want to come in here, put my work in and let it play out,” Smith said.

“At the end of the day, I just want to be a player that’s known to do whatever a coach needs me to do,” Shamet said. “Whatever the staff or my team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to be. … Coming in and working hard and doing what I can on a day-to-day basis.”

What’s a little competition between family?

Oh, make no mistake, the Sixers see the program they’ve constructed as a family. And now that the branch of the tree that tends to talk way too much on social media is gone, Brown wants every draft pick that enters the building (and superstar that is willing to listen) to know this organization is a place you want to be.

“We’d like to welcome Zhaire’s family, we’d like to welcome Landry’s family to our home,” Brown said. “As I told these two young players, [they have] the ability to walk into this building and look up behind us and recognize the true history of this organization. To be able to look around and see the backyard that they now have and see sports science, and see a strength and conditioning program, and see an analytics department, and seeing the medical staff, and seeing the video area, and looking at our kitchen, which we kind of designed almost like a college atmosphere where we all go up as a team, as a family, an organization and spend time. This is their backyard where they’re going to get better.”

Now Brown hopes the franchise is stable enough again to add a high-profile name to the family by the time the July 4 BBQ rolls around.

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Short night (and negative X-rays) for Joel Embiid, encouraging game from Tobias Harris in Sixers’ loss

Short night (and negative X-rays) for Joel Embiid, encouraging game from Tobias Harris in Sixers’ loss

BOX SCORE 

Minutes before the Sixers tipped off Wednesday vs. the Raptors, we learned that their game that night was, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. The Pacers’ win over the Rockets ensured that the Sixers will play the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. 

So, while Wednesday’s result was irrelevant and the game was decided entirely by the reserves in the fourth quarter, it's worth noting that the Sixers did lose to the Raptors, 125-121. A short Stanley Johnson jumper in the lane with 4.9 seconds remaining was the winning basket for Toronto. 

The Sixers' final seeding game is Friday night at 9 p.m. against the Rockets. 

Here are observations on the game: 

A short night for Embiid  

Joel Embiid’s decision-making against double teams had been a major positive in Florida, but he committed a handful of mistakes in the first half, turning it over five times. One of those turnovers came when he was slapped on the right wrist by Marc Gasol, which appeared to cause Embiid some pain. He checked back into the game later in the first quarter but did not play the second half.

Embiid had X-rays on his right hand that were negative, according to a team spokesperson, and was scheduled to play limited minutes.

This didn’t resemble a playoff environment — Serge Ibaka was out because of a right knee contusion and the Raptors, like the Sixers, limited their starters’ playing time — but it was solid experience for Embiid (albeit brief) against Gasol, a player who has had success against him in the past, and against a defense that double teams unpredictably and aggressively. He couldn’t find many opportunities to attack, scoring just five points on four field-goal attempts, and didn’t have the poise or rhythm he’d shown in the Sixers’ first few seeding games. 

As always, Embiid’s health is paramount. He will, in all likelihood, need to be brilliant and able to play major minutes for the Sixers to go far in the playoffs. 

Starters gelling 

The Sixers’ first-choice lineup without Ben Simmons started Wednesday after every member besides Shake Milton missed Tuesday’s game because of either rest or minor injuries. 

On a night when there were many excuses available to coast through the action, the high intensity early on stood out as the Sixers built a 18-8 lead before their first substitution. The offense flowed well, with Tobias Harris hitting his first three shots and the team converting 6 of its first 7. 

Defensively, there was sustained effort throughout the shot clock, something that hasn’t been present at times in the seeding games. Everyone seemed to be on the same page and sharp in rotations. And, against a team like the Raptors with a small starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, you’re reminded just how much of a nuisance the Sixers’ size and length can be, even with Simmons out. 

Brett Brown said before the game he was looking for “common denominators,” areas that could apply to both the final seeding games and the playoffs. Defensive fundamentals would fall under that category, and they were strong overall from the starters in this one. 

Along with Harris, who had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists, Al Horford (nine points, five assists, four rebounds in 18 minutes) looked especially good. He made 2 of 5 threes vs. Toronto and is 8 for 16 from long range at Disney World. 

Ironing out the rotation 

Injuries have prevented the Sixers from fully solidifying a playoff rotation. Neither Alec Burks (left foot soreness) nor Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) was available Wednesday. 

Brown has indicated the rotation will likely be dictated in part by matchups. For instance, Mike Scott would probably be on the bench against a smaller Celtics lineup that would have him face a player like Gordon Hayward. In addition to Scott, who it appears could be classified as a situational player, Burks, Robinson, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz are in the conversation. 

Korkmaz had a strong shooting night, posting 21 points and making 5 of 9 three-point attempts, but his defense may be worrisome against Boston’s wings. If Robinson’s lingering hip injury isn’t a problem, Brown has said he likes his “clean” 3-and-D skill set. Thybulle, meanwhile, will surely have value because of his defensive talents. Burks has boosted his stock with efficient scoring and sensible playmaking. Since he turned it over four times against the Pacers on Aug. 1, he has 12 assists and two turnovers. 

Raul Neto is a ball handling option, but Brown said after the Brazilian’s 22-point performance Tuesday that he did not see him as part of his postseason rotation. In 27 minutes vs. Toronto, Neto had 17 points and five assists. 

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2020 NBA playoffs: Sixers will take on Celtics in first round

2020 NBA playoffs: Sixers will take on Celtics in first round

It’s seemed an inevitability for a while, but now it’s official: The Sixers will play the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

The Pacers beat the Rockets on Wednesday, which means the Sixers cannot finish ahead of Indiana. Though the Sixers could still end with an identical record to the Pacers', Indiana would hold the tiebreaker because of a 3-1 edge in the regular-season series. This will be the second time in the past three years that the Sixers have played Boston in the postseason. With the help of valuable contributions from current Sixer Al Horford, the Celtics won a tight five-game series in the second round in 2018. 

The winner of the Sixers-Celtics series will take on either the No. 2 seed Raptors or No. 7 seed Nets in the second round. 

The Sixers beat Boston in their first three regular-season meetings this season, then lost 116-95 on Feb. 1, a game in which Joel Embiid shot 1 for 11. Embiid, who is available to play Wednesday after suffering a left ankle injury Sunday, will be especially important with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee. While the Feb. 1 performance against the Celtics was one of his worst this year, his 38-point, 13-rebound, six-assist effort in a Dec. 12 win over Boston was one of his best. 

He expects to face relentless double teams from the Celtics — and from any opponent, for that matter. The 26-year-old had been responding to double teams well at Disney World before his injury and averaged 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the Sixers’ first four seeding games. 

“I’ve just gotta keep on getting better,” he said on Aug. 3, “because I know that every single game I’m going to get doubled, so I’ve gotta just figure that out to be the offense and create shots for my teammates. If I’m open and I’ve got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates.”

Perimeter defense will be a challenge for the Sixers without Simmons, especially against All-Stars Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle and Glenn Robinson III are among the players who should draw the most difficult assignments.

In addition to Robinson, trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks hasn’t played this season in a Sixers-Celtics matchup. He’s been a bright spot in the seeding games as a shot creator off the bench and has also made 12 of his 22 three-point attempts (54.5 percent). 

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