76ers

Could Sixers, Pistons see each other in postseason?

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Could Sixers, Pistons see each other in postseason?

For all the talk of early games against the Celtics, Warriors, Cavaliers and Rockets being a measuring stick, the Sixers' first two meetings with the Pistons were just as significant.

There are the teams to beat around the league, the ones who have already proven to be title contenders. Then there are the teams on the rise who are showing signs of being trouble to compete with in the future.

Put Detroit in the latter category.

“This is a team that we’ve got to beat if we want to make the playoffs and if we want to have potentially homecourt advantage in the first round,” JJ Redick said of the Pistons. “I don’t look at them as a team like us; they’re a team that’s been in the playoffs. They’re a team that, to me, is good and is playing as well as anybody in the East right now.”

Both the Pistons (14-8) and Sixers (13-9) are on the upswing. They hold two of the top five spots in the Eastern Conference (the Pistons sit fourth and the Sixers sit fifth, as of Sunday morning) and could very well be a playoff pairing this season. The Sixers are looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012. The Pistons' last postseason appearance was in 2016, when they were swept by the Cavaliers in the first round. 

While upsetting conference finals mainstays is a mark of notable progress, learning how to beat a potential postseason opponent is critical. The Sixers have won both of their matchups with Detroit this season, including a 108-103 victory on Saturday. The Sixers won, 97-86, in Detroit on Oct. 23. 

“They’re a really good team,” Joel Embiid said after Saturday's victory. “That’s a good win for us. We’ve dropped a lot of easy ones this year, so getting those wins against what we could be opening in the playoffs if we make it and if they make it is always good, learning their style of play.”

The Sixers are turning the franchise around with Embiid and Ben Simmons at the helm. They are rounded out with depth from Robert Covington and the veteran Redick, as well as a balanced roster that is proving to be able to withstand injuries. 

Over on the Pistons, Andre Drummond is figuring out how to hit free throws, Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson are pesky in the backcourt and Tobias Harris is playing career-best basketball. 

“Trying to balance out the Drummond rolling and still giving attention to those good wings is a trick,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “You learn a little bit about physicality and halfcourt execution, and then you learn how physical they are on defense. It gets back to being strong, secure with the ball and respecting things, not trying to make home run passes.”

The Sixers face the Pistons again twice more, including an April 4 game that could have postseason seeding implications. 

“They gave us a run [Saturday] off a back-to-back,” Covington said. “They fought with us the entire team. That team is different than what we saw the first time. We’re going to have to see them two more times —  potential playoffs. It’s a matter of us locking in and making sure we continue to grow.”

Should Ben Simmons shoot right-handed? He doesn't seem to think so

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Should Ben Simmons shoot right-handed? He doesn't seem to think so

For those sharing the conspiracy theory that Ben Simmons should be shooting with his right hand, prepare to be disappointed.

The Rookie of the Year appeared to shoot down the notion on Twitter, commenting on a story suggesting the Sixers’ point guard is shooting with the wrong hand.

This story stemmed from a piece by The New York Times basketball writer Marc Stein, but questions of the 22-year-old’s handedness were first posted by Kevin O’Connor — formerly of SB Nation, now with The Ringer. O’Connor has been charting Simmons’ shots since LSU. In a feature for SB Nation back in 2016, O’Connor noted that Simmons used his right hand on 81.5 percent of his shots. That’s pretty much reverse for any lefty currently in the NBA.

Since O’Connor first presented this theory, it’s picked up some steam.

Below is a video of Simmons taking free throws right-handed during warm-ups last season.

You have to admit, it looks pretty smooth. It’s a tough angle, but his elbow looks more tucked in than when he shoots with his left. His wrist action and follow through look smoother as well. 

Let’s also not forget when Simmons was given the chance to throw the first pitch at a Phillies game earlier this season.

That’s a pretty nice right-handed strike.

His free throw shooting was an issue last season. As dominant as Simmons was at times, he shot just 56 percent from the line. In a game against the Wizards on Nov. 11, the Sixers held a big lead. Sensing the game was slipping away, Washington head coach Scott Brooks went to the hack-a-Ben strategy. Simmons took 29 free throws, hitting just 15. It allowed the Wizards to make the game a little too close for comfort.

With all that said, there have been instances where Simmons has showed promise with his left-handed shot. In the playoffs, Simmons shot 70 percent from the line.

He’s also flashed the ability to shoot in practice …

… and in games …

Would Simmons be better if he shot with his right hand? If Simmons’ reaction to that notion is any indication, we may never know.

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Sixers remain quiet as contenders make their case for Eastern Conference supremacy

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Sixers remain quiet as contenders make their case for Eastern Conference supremacy

These are truly the dog days of summer when it comes to the NBA.

Players are likely either putting in work with daily workouts or enjoying some vacation time before things get cranked back up in the fall.

However, those aren’t the only activities that are presented with that extra free time. There is also more opportunity for guys to do some boasting about what is to come. After all, they’re probably feeling good about the progress made during the offseason and the recent 2018-19 schedule release has put a jolt in their system.

Unless you’re a Sixer. They’ve remained relatively silent as members of one team after another have stated their case for the Eastern Conference crown now that LeBron James took his talents to Hollywood.

Boston swingman Jaylen Brown openly laid claim to the East during an appearance last week on Portland guard C.J. McCollum’s Pull Up podcast.

“Oh, we're getting to the Finals. No question about it,” Brown said.

And Brown made it clear that he didn’t feel that way about his Celtics just because James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, he said the C’s were going win next season regardless of whether James stayed in the Eastern Conference or not.

“I hate how everybody is like, ‘Oh, LeBron's gone in the East,’” Brown said. “I know he did have a strong hold on the East for the last seven years, but he barely got us out of there this year. And our mindset was like, ‘Man, he’s not beating us again.’”

That’s pretty bold, but the Celtics have a right to feel good about themselves. They were on the cusp of reaching the NBA Finals a year ago and are getting All-Star reinforcements back in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

New Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez was a bit more diplomatic with his expectations for next season. Still, he presented the case for his squad to become the new big dogs in the East.

“We definitely think the East is wide open,” Lopez said to Hoopshype a week ago. “It’s going to be such a fun, exciting time in the East and it’s going to be super competitive. There are a lot of teams that can do [big] things, from Toronto to Boston to Philly — you just go down the list and it’s clear that the East is as exciting as it’s been in a long time. I think we’re very confident that we can, no question, win the East.”

Even Washington Wizards guard John Wall explained why his group could be the one to rise to the top of the conference.

“I feel like we’re all equal,” Wall told Yahoo! Sports. “None of them won a championship. This is no knock on no other team. Don’t get me wrong. Boston is a hell of a team. Philly has great young talent with those guys (Joel) Embiid, (Ben) Simmons. And Toronto, losing DeMar (DeRozan), they still get Kawhi (Leonard). Y’all might have been to the Eastern Conference finals, where we haven’t been to, but none of y’all were going to the Finals. It was one guy going to the Finals. Ain’t nobody separated from nothing. I know one guy that separated himself from the Eastern Conference every year and that was LeBron James and the Cavs. Other than that … if you lose in the second round or the conference finals, you still didn’t get to your ultimate goal.”

Throughout all of the chest-puffing discussions, the Sixers haven’t made a peep. Not even the 7-foot-2 All-Star known for trash-talking anyone in sight. Embiid barely gave a response to No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton when the rookie recently decided to draw himself dunking on the Sixers’ center.

It’s a stark departure from Embiid’s normal back-and-forth nature, but it’s safe to assume that the big man and his team will wait until they step on the court to let their game do the talking.

With a healthy offseason under his belt for the first time as a professional, you can bet that Embiid — and in turn the Sixers — will have plenty to say at that time.

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