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Give and Go: How dangerous is Sixers' 3-game road trip?

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Give and Go: How dangerous is Sixers' 3-game road trip?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine the Sixers’ upcoming three-game road trip to Cleveland, New Orleans and Minnesota.

Harris
With a 13-11 record, including back-to-back home losses to the Suns and Lakers, all of a sudden the three-game road trip through Cleveland, New Orleans and Minnesota looks much more daunting. I have the Sixers going 2-1 on the trip. However, things could easily go badly and the Sixers could have a five-game skid on their hands.

Cleveland is a loss. Sometimes you just have to accept the reality that regardless of how a team performs, it's not taking down LeBron James and the Cavs without its best player. With Joel Embiid sitting out Saturday (see story), pulling off the upset goes from unlikely to nearly impossible. James is coming off a loss to Victor Oladipo and the Pacers. They're not trying to lose two in a row.

That brings us to Sunday and a meeting with DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Look, A.D. is just returning from a groin injury, which caused him to miss three games before Friday's loss to the Kings. This should be a fun game with Embiid back and picking up where he left off with last season's butt-slapping love fest with Boogie. I've got the Sixers winning a close one, thanks in no small part to superior guard play.

That brings us to Tuesday's matchup with Minnesota. It may very well be the most difficult because of the addition of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to an already formidable duo of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. This is where I think Embiid will make his mark on the defensive end of the court. Want to be Defensive Player of the Year? Then show it with strong back-to-back interior displays against the Pelicans and Wolves.

If the Sixers can shoot closer to their averages from the perimeter on this trip than they did in the last two games of their homestand, winning two of three shouldn't be a problem. But things could go the wrong way in a hurry if the threes, in particular, don't get back to falling regularly.

Haughton
Things change fast in the NBA. To start this week, the Sixers were sitting in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference and looked poised to climb even higher with some winnable games on the slate.

A pair of ugly losses later, and now they are down in the eighth seed and could possibly fall out of extremely early playoff positioning with a rough road trip.

Speaking of the trip, I agree with Marshall that it opens with a loss. Even with Embiid, it was always going to be a difficult task to come out of Cleveland on the winning end. Throw in the center’s absence, the fact that the Cavs are upset about the end of their recent streak and James’ desire to remind the NBA world that Ben Simmons isn’t anywhere near his level yet, and you can pencil in a defeat.

Things should get good Sunday. Embiid will return to find himself locked in a battle of the bigs against Cousins and Davis. The Sixers can only hope Richaun Holmes can duplicate his recent effort against the Lakers in New Orleans. Either way, the Sixers’ advantage in perimeter play should be enough to escape with a victory.

That leaves Tuesday’s clash with the Timberwolves. It should be another good one with Embiid and Towns locking horns down low while Robert Covington and Wiggins face off on the wing. However, Butler will make the difference for the T-Wolves. He has finally stopped trying to fit in with his new team and has taken over. Look no further than his averages of 26.0 points (50.7 percent shooting), 6.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals nightly averages so far in December.

A loss to the Timberwolves would put the Sixers at 1-2 on the trip and losers of four out of their last five games. That’s a stretch the young team would hope to avoid in the jumbled Eastern Conference standings.

Nemanja Bjelica spurns Sixers, reportedly talking deal with Kings

Nemanja Bjelica spurns Sixers, reportedly talking deal with Kings

What exactly is going on with the Sixers?

After missing out on LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and any and all superstar free agents this summer, even their bench, fill-out-the-roster type of guys are dodging the Sixers like a plague.

The latest being forward Nemanja Bjelica, who was in Philly (but not really) for just a bit longer than Eagle-for-a-second Frank Gore.

Bjelica, 30, reportedly agreed to a deal with the Sixers on July 5, providing a boost off the bench and an upgrade over Ersan Ilyasova. 

That was all grand until Tuesday, when news broke that Bjelica had spurned the Sixers and was going back to Europe, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark.

But in the greatest (or lamest) twist in a strange and sad offseason for the Sixers, Bjelica is now looking to stay in the NBA and is working toward a deal with the Sacramento Kings, according to a report by Yahoo! Sports' Shams Charania. That can't be right. No one would willingly sign with the Kings.

Bjelica posted career bests in points (6.1) and three-point percentage (41.5) last season. While he would have been a nice bench addition, it's not the end of the world. But it sure isn't a great look that the Sixers were toyed with and lost out to a lowly team like the Kings. 

After the Bryan Colangelo debacle and the star-hunting strikeout, we're officially at the "Player X would rather sign with the Kings" stage of the offseason.

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What now for Sixers after Kawhi Leonard trade to Raptors?

What now for Sixers after Kawhi Leonard trade to Raptors?

LeBron James is a Laker. Kawhi Leonard is a Raptor.

The Sixers went star hunting and came up empty. So now what for a team that won 52 games but is likely one more superstar away from winning a title?

You may not like this answer, but the correct course of action is … nothing — at least not this offseason.

The only star that could possibly be available is the Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler — if you choose to believe the rumors. Butler, who is an outstanding two-way player, will be 29 entering next season and has an expiring deal. He already forced his way out of Chicago and reportedly wants to force his way out of Minnesota. How much are you giving up for that?

On a smaller scale, the Sixers lost Nemanja Bjelica, who reportedly agreed to sign with the team for the mid-level exception. The Serbian forward decided instead to take his talents back to the EuroLeague ... or maybe not. Bjelica certainly wasn’t a star but he appeared to be a solid bench piece that might’ve actually been an upgrade from Ersan Ilyasova. So what should the Sixers do with their MLE?

Nothing — again, at least this year.

Who do you want that’s left? Joe Johnson? Michael Beasley? Jamal Crawford? That’s three hard no’s for me.

The Sixers should go into camp with what they have and let the competition play out. Maybe they’ll figure out what to do with Jerryd Bayless’ deal or waive Richaun Holmes or sign Jonah Bolden or make a small trade, but this roster is mostly set. And that’s fine.

This team, that again won 52 games, should be better. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons should only improve. Markelle Fultz can only go up. Dario Saric took a huge leap in Year 2 and we know the kind of worker he is. Wilson Chandler is an upgrade over any player the Sixers had on the bench last year, especially when you factor in defense.

They’re not the favorites to win the East, nor should they be. But that’s fine. With the Warriors continuing to load up and James now out West, what chance does any team in the East have? (Zero is the answer, by the way). 

Fast forward to next offseason. Leonard, Butler, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving are among a loaded free-agent class. Any one of those players would be a fit and a huge upgrade for the Sixers and they’d be joining the team at the right time. Embiid and Simmons will both be a year more mature and developed and the Warriors will be a year older with their cap situation tighter.

As for the MLE, if the Sixers go star hunting again next offseason and wind up with someone like Leonard, they could use it on a ring-chasing, veteran mercenary. That’s much more valuable than one year of Johnson, Beasley or Crawford on a team that doesn’t have a realistic shot at a title next year.

Brett Brown may have set a tough bar for the offseason. When he did his now infamous star-hunting presser, it raised expectations from the fan base. Since the Sixers came up empty in their quest, most look at the offseason as a bad one.

There’s no nice way to put it: Missing out on James and Leonard sucks for the Sixers. But all is far from lost. Name another team in the NBA that has two superstars the caliber of Embiid and Simmons both under the age of 24. You can’t because such a team does not exist.

Would the Sixers have been better off if they landed a star this offseason? Of course. But now knowing that they swung and missed, their best course of action is inaction — for now.

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