76ers

Jonah Bolden stakes his claim to backup center role with impressive performance vs. Timberwolves

Jonah Bolden stakes his claim to backup center role with impressive performance vs. Timberwolves

Jonah Bolden has had a rollercoaster rookie season. Not to Zhaire Smith’s level, but the Australian big man has had his share of ups and downs.

He’s gone from G-League stints to an injury to earning a spot in the rotation to again being on the outside looking in.

But on Saturday night, the Sixers don’t hang on for a 118-109 win over the Timberwolves at Target Center Saturday night without Bolden (see observations).

Bolden finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, three assists and nailed 5 of 7 attempts from three. He’s the only Sixer ever to record at least eight rebounds, three blocks and three assists while making five threes. He’s just the second rookie ever to record those numbers.

Not bad for a guy who’s only played meaningful minutes once in the last nine games. 

“Same thing I’ve been doing since Day 1,” Bolden told reporters when asked what he’s been doing to stay fresh. “Just consistency, shooting and working on my game. Just working on my shooting ability, being able to stretch the floor. Whether I’m in the rotation or not, just consistently doing that on a day-to-day basis.”

Bolden is a springy athlete with quick feet and the ability to protect the rim. The defensive end is where the Sixers needed him the most Saturday with Joel Embiid sitting out and All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns on the other side. 

The threes are almost an added bonus with everything else Bolden brings to the table, but the Sixers wound up needing all five of them — especially the fifth one.

With just over two minutes left in the game, the Sixers’ once big lead had dwindled and was at six. After an Andrew Wiggins’ missed three, the Sixers needed a bucket. With the shot clock winding down, JJ Redick found an open Bolden.

And the rookie didn’t miss.

“He had a tough matchup with [Towns]. Defending him by anybody’s standards is difficult,” Brett Brown said. “Then offensively, for him to make the threes that he made — that last one was really timely. He was our bell ringer tonight and he had an outstanding game.”

Brown went on to say that “it’s been no secret” that the Sixers are still weighing their options when it comes down to backing up Embiid. 

When you look at Brown’s options, it pretty much boils down to Bolden or veteran Boban Marjanovic, who took Bolden’s minutes after arriving via trade. While Marjanovic has much more experience, Bolden may offer the better skill set — and one that most closely resembles Embiid’s.

To be clear, there is no center in the NBA that can do what Embiid does. He’s as special as they come and is the “crown jewel” for a reason. But Bolden’s ability to protect the rim, slide his feet against guards and knock down the occasional three make the drop-off not as dramatic. It also seems like the better skill set for modern playoff basketball.

There are only six games left in the season, but Embiid will miss at least the next two. That should give Bolden more of a chance to prove he deserves playoff minutes.

“When it comes down to crunch time, playoff time, the rotation does shorten up,” Bolden said. “Like I said from the beginning, the opportunity is now. Whether it is now or whether it’s in the playoffs, just making the most of it whenever it comes.”

If he continues to produce like he did Saturday over the next couple games, he’ll give Brown plenty to think about.

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Sixers vs. Cavs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Cavs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Before they have a chance to get one back on the defending champion Raptors Sunday night, the Sixers have a game to play Saturday at Wells Fargo Center.

Here are the essentials for the matchup between the 15-7 Sixers and 5-16 Cavs.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

It’s not rest this time

Joel Embiid has yet to have a “rest” game since saying load management is “BS.”

He’s out Saturday with a left hip contusion. A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers’ 119-113 loss Thursday to the Wizards and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had played in 11 straight games since sitting the last game of a back-to-back on Nov. 13 in Orlando. 

After tonight, he’ll have played in 18 of the Sixers’ first 23 games, and 30.4 minutes per night. He played every one of the team’s first 23 games last year, averaging 34.6 minutes. 

Missing the ‘dot connector’ 

Before the season, Brett Brown called Josh Richardson the “mortar” for the Sixers. On Nov. 20, he labeled him a “dot connector.” 

The Sixers have managed a 5-1 mark in games Richardson has missed — he’s out again Saturday with right hamstring tightness — but they’ve been much worse with him off the floor. The team has a plus-10.6 net rating with Richardson on the court, minus-0.6 with him off it.

Much of that can be attributed to him being paired with Embiid, who has similar on-off numbers and tends to boost the net ratings of whoever he’s playing with, but that disparity does suggest Richardson’s value. 

At a minimum, splitting up the Richardson-Embiid pairing has hurt the Sixers. 

Drama with the Cavs 

Three anonymous players were quoted in a story in The Athletic by Shams Charania and Joe Vardon about new Cavs head coach John Beilein. The players voiced their frustration with, among other things, the former Michigan coach’s emphasis on fundamentals and extended film sessions. And, according to the report, “all the team’s screens, cuts, and pivots are named after wild animals. A curl is a 'polar bear' in John Beilein's system.” That reportedly hasn’t resonated with a few of the Cavs’ veteran players.

Several players then responded to the report and spoke out in support of Beilein, including Tristan Thompson. 

“Y’all better find them names ‘cause I’ll pull up on ‘em right now,” Thompson told reporters. “You can’t do that s---. At the end of the day if you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that Chatty Patty s--- going on. That s--- is whack to me.”

That wasn’t the only notable news involving the Cavs on Friday. The team is prepared to listen to offers for Kevin Love, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported. The five-time All-Star missed Cleveland's 93-87 loss Friday to the Magic because of an illness. 

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Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

The Sixers will be down two starters Saturday night when they return to Wells Fargo Center to play the Cavs.

Josh Richardson will miss his fifth consecutive game with right hamstring tightness, while Joel Embiid is out with a left hip contusion.

A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers' 119-113 loss to the Wizards on Thursday night and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had 26 points, 21 rebounds and eight turnovers Thursday.

Richardson and the Sixers have been cautious with his hamstring. He told reporters in Washington, D.C., that this is the first hamstring injury he's dealt with and admitted that it's been a frustrating process.

“A hamstring is one of those things where you can think that you’re fine and then you take a wrong step and it’s a week or two-week setback," he said. "I don’t really want to get into that whole cycle. ... It’s just one of those things where I just don’t really know where I’m at most of the time. It always feels like I’m tiptoeing, trying not to do too much.”

The Sixers' preferred starting five of Embiid, Richardson, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford have played just 102 minutes together this season, posting a plus-21.3 net rating. 

Furkan Korkmaz has started the past four games in place of Richardson. Without Embiid, the Sixers will need to plug in another spot starter and perhaps search for further big man depth. Kyle O'Quinn hasn't played since Nov. 23, but he might be called upon vs. Cleveland.

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