76ers

How did that happen? No good answers for Sixers' collapse to Bulls

How did that happen? No good answers for Sixers' collapse to Bulls

The final 0.5 seconds of the Sixers’ 108-107 loss to the Bulls (see observations) on Wednesday night were weird, but you can at least explain them. The clock started early on the Sixers’ unsuccessful inbounds play, meaning the officials had to call everyone back on the court and do it all over again.

The defensive coverage on Zach LaVine’s game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds to go defies a good explanation. As Robin Lopez handed the ball off to LaVine — who finished with 39 points — both Mike Scott and Jimmy Butler darted toward Lopez. LaVine drove into the gaping lane and converted the layup (plus a foul) that effectively capped the Sixers’ collapse.

“That’s an environment where we switch,” Brett Brown told reporters in Chicago. “If we had to do it again, we would’ve and should’ve done that better.” 

Ben Simmons had a different perspective. 

“Every player on the court was in the right,” he said. “I think every player did the right thing. I think what we were in was what we really wanted to be in. That happens.”

And Butler, after posting a team-high 22 points, took responsibility for allowing his man an unobstructed path to the hoop.

“I think I should’ve just fought through the screen, stay with my man,” he said. “A lot of that’s on me. I think I just gotta be better on the defensive end.”

Perhaps Simmons and Butler wanted to shield Scott from blame. If, as Brown said, the Sixers intended to switch in that situation, then it was Scott’s job to pick up LaVine. Or maybe neither player felt like getting into too much detail about a painful loss. Regardless, the Sixers’ execution on that final defensive play couldn’t have been much worse. 

Up by as many as 10 points late in the fourth quarter, the Sixers squandered opportunity after opportunity to put the 19-47 Bulls away. They made life difficult for themselves, as they often have this season — and even in Tobias Harris’ 11 games with the team. The Sixers have recently escaped with wins over the Pelicans, Thunder and Magic despite late-game sloppiness and prolonged offensive droughts, but they weren’t so lucky Wednesday night.

“We’ve been in a couple games now where the fourth quarter has been tight," Harris said. "Really the exact scenario as this one tonight — too many home run plays, too many turnovers, and not really great execution on our end. I think the fourth quarter comes, we gotta find a way to get to the free throw line, get to the bonus and help ourselves a little bit. Something we can learn and progress from.”

Brown will inevitably receive ample criticism for this unpleasant trend. In hindsight, you can question why Scott was on the floor over Amir Johnson late, leaving the Sixers without a traditional rim protector. You can wonder why Brown didn’t start sending help defenders at LaVine, or why Harris wasn’t a more central part of the late-game offense.

But Brown can’t keep his players from making foolish turnovers, losing individual defensive matchups they’re capable of winning, and missing shots they usually make.

When the game was at stake, Butler, Scott and the Sixers somehow left the opposition’s best scorer all alone.

With the Rockets up next on Friday, that’s the unfortunate reality. 

“I ain’t even gonna lie,” Butler said. “I’m still kinda pissed off that we lost this one, so I’m not even really worried about them right now.”

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Who will be Sixers' backup point guard in 2019-20 season?

Who will be Sixers' backup point guard in 2019-20 season?

With training camp getting closer, there are plenty of topics to discuss involving the 2019-20 Sixers. Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick.

In this edition, we ask: Who will be the Sixers' backup point guard this season?

Hudrick 

This a tough call and should be a legitimate competition.

I like Trey Burke’s game and his ability to get his own shot. It’s a strong NBA skill and not one many of the other Sixers have. He also doesn’t turn the ball over — he’s averaged less than a turnover a game in 17.3 minutes a game the last three seasons combined. He also shot 37.4 percent from three during that span, meaning he could also play next to Ben Simmons. If it were me, Burke would get the first crack at the role.

But Raul Neto seems like the more likely candidate to get backup point guard duties. Neto is a pure floor general who will bring a calming influence that should delight Brett Brown. He started playing professionally overseas when he was 16 and has 20 games of playoff experience under his belt. Neto’s only issue the past couple seasons has been durability, but when healthy, he’s a decent offensive playmaker and shooter (37.7 percent for his career from three).

It should be nice for Brown to have options for once. I still like Shake Milton’s game and would like to see him get a little time as the backup point this season — despite a tough summer league experience. I could also see Josh Richardson getting a few minutes as the team’s primary ball handler. He had the most ball-dominant season of his NBA career last season and averaged 4.1 assists.

Whichever player gets the role will also be aided by Al Horford, an outstanding passer for a big man (4.6 assists per game the last three seasons) who can run some point forward.

Levick 

This is an interesting sequel to the Jazz’s starting point guard competition in 2015-16, when Neto won the job over Burke. I expect that to happen again, but for Burke to still be in the mix and even preferred over Neto in some matchups. Here’s my thinking:

Neto was signed before Burke and his contract is fully guaranteed, whereas Burke’s deal is partially guaranteed, according to reports. Those details don’t indicate the spot is automatically Neto’s, but they do suggest the competition might be slightly tipped in his favor to start.

Burke is a positive in several areas offensively. He’s excellent in the pick-and-roll, has a good assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6 assists to 1.3 turnover for his career) and can create offense out of nothing. Defensively, he’s poor, to the extent that you’d be worried whether he can be picked on in a playoff setting. The 6-foot-1 guard has a defensive box plus-minus of minus-3 or lower each of the last three seasons.

Neto isn’t great defensively, but you figure Brown would be inclined to trust him over Burke. He doesn’t have Burke’s “I’ll get you a bucket” sort of game, but the Brazilian can also put pressure on a defense. In just 12.8 minutes per game last year, he averaged 7.1 drives, shooting 51.9 percent on those possessions.

It’s a luxury to have someone like Burke who can explode for 42 points in a game or go on a solo scoring run, and he could become a necessity if Neto deals with injuries, as he has the last three seasons. Even in the event both are healthy, if the Sixers are struggling to score from the perimeter and/or facing a small point guard who’s a weak defender, Burke might be the guy.

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Uh Oh: Stephen A. Smith is predicting HUGE things for Sixers this season

Uh Oh: Stephen A. Smith is predicting HUGE things for Sixers this season

Stephen A. Smith's track record of predicting things is suspect to say the least.

So it's with great trepidation that Philadelphia 76ers fans should watch the below clip in which he predicts an NBA Finals appearance for Brett Brown's club this coming season.

Smith made the prediction on ESPN's First Take on Friday morning while sitting alongside NBA legend Magic Johnson (the joke about tampering with Giannis may have been the highlight of the segment).

"The Philadelphia 76ers are going to the NBA Finals," Smith declares. "I'm going to defer to my man Jalen Rose when he points out that Boston arguably has the best perimeter shooting team. We can't ignore that. Toronto lost Kawhi, ain't nothing to discuss. The Greek Freak, as phenomenal as he is, the combo of not having a reliable perimeter shot combined with Malcolm Brogdon being in Indiana..."

"My attitude is, I don't like the fact that Philly lost JJ Redick, that's a big loss to me," Smith continues. "The fact that Boston no longer has Al Horford and the Sixers do, not only somebody to pair with Embiid but to spell him whenever he's out. I'm going to believe Ben Simmons has been working on his shot. I'm going to believe Tobias Harris doesn't have to worry about co-existing with Jimmy Butler and that's a plus. I'm going to believe Josh Richardson can play at both ends of the floor..."

"I'm a little suspect on their bench, but I think the Sixers are going to be playing in June."

On the bright side for Philly fans, it's not like Smith is making some bold proclamation here. FiveThirtyEight's prediction model actually gives the Sixers the best chances of making the Finals of any team in the NBA given the East's weaker make up than the West. In fact, they give the Sixers almost twice as good a chance of doing so than the next closest Eastern contender the Bucks (54% vs. 27%).

So Stephen A. isn't going out on a limb, but it never feels great when he picks your squad in anything.

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