Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3

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Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3

Updated: 4:54 p.m.

MIAMI — Joel Embiid has been upgraded to probable for the Sixers' Game 3 tonight against the Heat.

Embiid was listed as doubtful after Thursday's shootaround. An official decision does not have to be made until closer to the 7 p.m. start time. Embiid has been sidelined with a left eye orbital fracture suffered March 28.

“He went through stuff yesterday that was decent,” Brett Brown said Thursday before shootaround. “He had a little bit of contact, trying to get used to the mask, felt some bodies. But at this stage this morning, we are listing him as doubtful.” 

Embiid once again was taking threes before the start of shootaround. He posted he was "(expletive) sick and tired of being babied" on Instagram following the Sixers' Game 2 loss, their first since he was injured. The series is tied 1-1. 

If Embiid does not play, the Sixers could start either Amir Johnson (Game 1 starter) or Ersan Ilyasova (Game 2 starter). Heat center Hassan Whiteside was unfazed by the uncertainty of the matchup. 

“I’m not even thinking about what Philly’s doing,” Whiteside said. “I’m just thinking about what the Heat’s doing.” 

One decision the Sixers have made is to play Markelle Fultz more in Game 3. He had been receiving Ben Simmons’ backup minutes but was on the court for less than five minutes in Monday’s loss. Brown cited the physicality of the game as the reason he went with T.J. McConnell instead. 

“I will go back to Markelle,” Brown said. “He deserves the opportunity to play basketball in that role again. … My belief is that he will learn from the last situation.” 

Brown will watch to see how Fultz is getting into the paint, handling pressure and is getting the Sixers into their offense. Fultz is looking to be a playmaker and use his length as an advantage on defense. 

“I just want to go out there and play as hard as I can,” Fultz said.

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Furkan Korkmaz

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Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Furkan Korkmaz

Furkan Korkmaz

Position: Shooting guard/Small forward

Status for 2018-19: Signed for $1,740,000

Korkmaz in 2017-18
And you thought Markelle Fultz had a roller-coaster rookie season. Korkmaz’s first professional season in the U.S. was anything but smooth. 

Despite a promising performance in summer league and the preseason, the Turkish swingman was always going to be buried on the Sixers' bench. However, it wasn’t even clear which jersey he would be wearing on a nightly basis, as Korkmaz was assigned to the Delaware 87ers (now Blue Coats) and recalled by the Sixers 10 different times during the first two months of the season.

Things got even worse in mid-December when Korkmaz suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot while playing in the G League.

By the time Korkmaz returned toward the end of March, his season was a wash. In all, he played 24 total games (15 with the Sixers and nine with the 87ers). While he was able to show glimpses of why he was a first-round pick in 2016 in the Gatorade League (15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals in 31.9 minutes a night), his action in the NBA came mostly in garbage time (1.6 points, 0.7 rebounds, 0.2 assists and 0.1 steals in 5.7 minutes a contest).

The 2017-18 served as the ultimate learning experience for the 20-year-old Korkmaz.

Signature game
It’s hard to have a signature game when you only play in 15 total NBA games and none of your minutes actually come in meaningful moments. So we’ll go to the G League for this one. 

On Nov. 20, Korkmaz notched 27 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the 87ers’ 119-111 loss to the Wisconsin Herd (see highlights).

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Korkmaz’s proving ground for next season will start this summer when he is expected to take the court in summer league again.

The Sixers hope there he can regain the shooting touch he showed overseas that helped make him a first-rounder. The step up in defensive intensity clearly affected Korkmaz as he shot just 28.6 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three-point range for the Sixers. He was even worse in one aspect in the G League where he connected on 35.0 percent from the field and a dismal 19.4 percent from three.

Spending another summer in the Sixers’ program will also help benefit Korkmaz’s body. He was able to add some weight to his lean frame this past season but certainly still needs work to take the physicality at this level.

If he is able to work on his shot and physique, perhaps Korkmaz can find some more minutes for Brett Brown next season other than when the games are already decided.

On Korkmaz
“The NBA’s totally different, but [when] you get used to it, it’s real fun. You really enjoy it. I’m playing with very good players, and everybody here is a good person. They try to help me every day. We are practicing hard, we are working hard, and when you try to know how to play with each other, you start to feel better and you start to play better.”

- Korkmaz on adjusting to the NBA

Ageless LeBron James proving his potential worth in free agency

Ageless LeBron James proving his potential worth in free agency

LeBron James made his NBA debut on Oct. 29, 2003. 

Fourteen years and nearly seven months later, he scored 44 points in a critical Eastern Conference Finals game and passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the all-time leader in postseason field goals made. 

At 33, James is not showing signs of slowing down.

That’s why potentially hitting the free-agent market ahead of his 16th season puts him in a unique situation for teams pursuing the coveted MVP candidate.

This is a point in most NBA careers when players begin to wind down. The wear and tear of more than 1,100 regular-season and 230 playoff games start to catch up. The grind of 40.7 minutes a night this postseason alone should be a grind. 

But James is not most players. He seems to be immune to breakdowns that tend to happen after 15 years of ultra-high level basketball. The three-time NBA champion has played in every game this season. 

Veterans often sign shorter-term deals or take less money to play for a contender. James, though, isn’t a supplementary contributor. He is the go-to. 

James is following up his 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists (including 18 triple-doubles) from the regular season with 33.7 points, 8.7 boards and 9.0 assists in the playoffs. On Monday, he became the first player since Allen Iverson in 2001 to score 40 points in six games during a single postseason.

James once again will be the most sought-after player on the market as he approaches free agency. He has a $35.6 million player option next season with the Cavaliers. It remains to be seen where he will be suiting up next season, whether he stays in Cleveland or shakes up the league and goes elsewhere. 

The Sixers are among the teams with salary cap flexibility to go after James. President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and head coach Brett Brown have been candid about the need for additional talent to take the Sixers to title contention (see story)

“I think that another high-level free agent is required,” Brown said. “I feel like we have the ability to attract one. At some point, when the time is right, I think we need help to win a championship.” 

Colangelo said, “To say this group can do it now, they obviously proved they couldn’t. Adding another talent and another piece is certainly something we’re striving for.”

The Sixers have been measured in their free-agent acquisitions to maintain flexibility for scenarios like this. While making a major commitment to a 15-year veteran usually is a financial risk, James has proved he’s anything but the usual.