76ers

Key matchups for Sixers' 5-game road trip

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Key matchups for Sixers' 5-game road trip

The Sixers are riding high at the moment.

They rallied last Friday for a 121-110 win over the Indiana Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center. It marked the Sixers’ fourth straight win, the first time they have accomplished that feat since a stretch from Dec. 29, 2013 to Jan. 4, 2014.

The victory also pushed the Sixers’ record to 5-4. That means they are above .500 for the first time since Nov. 13, 2013.

Now comes a real test. The Sixers open up a difficult five-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz.

How they handle this stretch could go a long way toward determining the Sixers’ standing around the league.

With that said, let’s break down a key matchup that might help determine the outcome of each game.

Sixers-Jazz (Backup centers vs. Rudy Gobert)
You had to know it was coming. You just didn’t know when.

Joel Embiid was ruled out for Tuesday’s clash in Salt Lake City for what was deemed “load management.” The big man has played in eight of the Sixers’ nine games to this point, and with a lengthy road trip on tap, he was always likely to sit out at least once.

That means the Sixers’ backup bigs such Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes (does Jahlil Okafor even count at this point?) will have to deal with the forceful Rudy Gobert. Gobert is averaging 13.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and a league-leading 2.5 blocks per game this season. 

About the only thing the Sixers have going for them in this instance is that the Jazz’s balanced attack allows for Gobert to have a usage rate of only 17.1 percent.

Either way, good luck climbing “The Stifle Tower” without Embiid.

Sixers-Kings (T.J. McConnell vs. De’Aaron Fox)
This spot would have been reserved for a battle of lottery selections with Markelle Fultz lining up against the speedster Fox. However, the No. 1 overall pick is still sidelined with a shoulder injury.

That doesn’t mean a battle between McConnell and Fox should be any less intriguing. 

Fox has proven to be a solid contributor early on. The No. 5 overall pick leads the Kings in points (12.7) and assists (5.0). He also averages 3.7 boards a night. Despite his sagging shooting percentages (41.2 from the field and 27.3 from three-point range), the lightning-quick lefty has provided a serious spark off the bench.

McConnell will certainly be accepting of the challenge as he relishes being a stopper on defense. He has already locked horns this season with superstars John Wall, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, so Fox will be just another high-profile name on the log.

Sixers-Warriors (Ben Simmons vs. Kevin Durant)
Ordinarily, the point guard Simmons would be matched up on is two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. But shortly into his NBA career, Simmons has proven to be anything but ordinary.

The rookie is coming off his second triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Sixers’ win over the Pacers. He also contributed three blocks and two steals.

While Simmons’ offensive ability is not at all in question, his defense will be put to the test against Durant. The supreme scorer has looked even more lethal coming off his first NBA championship. 

Durant is still pouring in the points with 25.2 a game. However, it’s his shooting percentages that have really set him apart to this point in the 2017-18 campaign. He entered Monday shooting career highs from the field (54.2 percent) and three-point range (49.2 percent).

Simmons will likely switch with Robert Covington throughout the game guarding Durant, but that would potentially mean he’ll just shift to Klay Thompson. Pick your poison.

Sixers-Clippers (Dario Saric vs. Blake Griffin)
Saric has started to find his footing after a bumpy start to the season.

But next Monday he’ll get a close look at arguably the best power forward playing the game right now.

After Chris Paul’s departure for the Houston Rockets, Griffin has completely taken over the offensive load for the Rockets. The veteran is averaging 23.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists. More importantly, his increased offensive load hasn’t affected his efficiency as Griffin is scoring at a 49.3 percent clip from the field and a career-best 42.2 percent clip from long range.

The Clippers have cooled off (5-4) after winning their first four games to start the season. Still, Griffin is a legit early-season MVP candidate, and Saric better be prepared or he could find himself on one of those infamous posters.

Sixers-Lakers (Everyone vs. Lonzo Ball)
This one doesn’t need much setup. You all know the deal by now.

It started throughout the pre-draft process when LaVar Ball continually made it known that he wanted his son to play for the Lakers. After the storied franchise selected the UCLA product at No. 2, the elder Ball proclaimed on draft night that his son would also take the team to the playoffs. 

That evoked a tweet of “crazy pills” from Simmons, as well as Embiid asking Simmons to dunk on Lonzo Ball so hard that his dad would have to come save him (see story).

The tweets only stoked the flames as LaVar Ball proceeded to say the Sixers need to get off Twitter and get in the gym. That didn’t sit too kindly with Embiid, who bluntly said on July 4, “F--- LaVar Ball” in a video, which drew a fine from the league (see story).

Things between the Sixers and the Ball family have pretty much calmed down since that point (unless you’ve checked out the Twitter account of Simmons’ sister Olivia in the recent past).

But expect the Sixers to try to go at Lonzo early and often in that game, with LaVar likely sitting courtside for a clear view of the action.

Sixers rookie Landry Shamet, Shake Milton receive good (!) injury news

Sixers rookie Landry Shamet, Shake Milton receive good (!) injury news

Finally, some good health news, Sixers fans.

While Zhaire Smith continues an unfortunate trend of Sixers’ rookies suffering injuries, two other 2018 draft picks are progressing.

First-round pick Landry Shamet (sprained right ankle) and second-round pick Shake Milton (stress fracture in his back) are both asymptomatic, the team said Monday.

Shamet has been cleared for “light basketball activities” while Milton can “resume limited basketball activities.”

Shamet, a guard out of Wichita State, got banged up in the first half of the Sixers’ first summer league game against the Celtics. Shamet logged just 12 minutes before suffering the ankle sprain. He hit 2 of 5 from three for six points during the stint.

Milton never got the opportunity to play in summer league having suffered his injury during the pre-draft process. The 6-foot-6 guard/forward out of SMU is on a two-way contract with the Sixers, meaning he’ll spend the majority of his season with the Delaware Blue Coats and can spend no more 45 days with the big club.

Smith, the 16th overall pick acquired in a draft-night trade with the Suns, suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot and underwent successful surgery last week. There’s been no timetable for his return.

Both Shamet and Milton offer something the Sixers covet: shooting. Shamet shot 44 percent on 5.1 threes a game in 71 games. Milton was also proficient, shooting 43 percent on 5.1 attempts from distance in 87 games.

The Sixers’ rotation should be a tough one to crack this season, but being healthy for camp would be a fine start for Shamet and Milton.

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Despite Jamal Crawford's praise, Sixers should be wary of signing veteran free agent

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Despite Jamal Crawford's praise, Sixers should be wary of signing veteran free agent

Despite coming up empty in their goal of star hunting this summer, the Sixers are still currently one of the more desirable franchises in the NBA.

They reached the second round of the playoffs last season behind two up-and-coming stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Plus, the organization has a respected head coach in Brett Brown, state-of-the-art training complex, an intense fan base and much more to offer.

At least that’s how free-agent scorer Jamal Crawford views things.

“I like their city. I like how into it they are about basketball. I like their knowledge of basketball, how passionate they are,” Crawford said of Philadelphia last week to Brandon Robinson on Scoop B Radio. “I’ve always loved coach Brett Brown. I’ve been on record. I’ve been a fan of his for years. He just needed talent, and now he has that. He added Ben Simmons, I love his game. I love Jo-Jo. They’re both among my favorite players in the league to watch. Markelle (Fultz) is like a little brother to me. Obviously, he went to the University of Washington, and we talk every other day. JJ Redick is like a brother to me. We’ve been through wars together, so there’s so many things to love about Philadelphia for sure.”

That’s high praise from a three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner. High enough to the point that he would want to suit up for the Sixers?

“I think for me, especially being out there as a free agent, something could work out,” Crawford said. “I would be honored to play there, but things obviously have to take its course and I kind of got to sit back, but who wouldn’t want to play there?”

Well, that cleared things up. 

Now the Sixers, in a new position with players openly offering their services to them, have to be clear too: Crawford isn’t the answer.

No, not “The Answer” although Crawford does have some legendary crossover moves of his own. The 18-year veteran simply isn’t the right fit for this Sixers squad.

For all of Crawford’s accomplishments over nearly two decades in the NBA, the 38-year-old has been on a steady decline. His scoring has dropped in each of the past five years until he posted 10.3 points a night last season with Minnesota, his lowest mark since he averaged 10.7 a night way back in 2002-03.

While Crawford attributed his struggles with the Timberwolves to limited minutes, that doesn’t have anything to do with his efficiency or lack thereof. Crawford shot 41.5 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from three-point range in 2017-18. Those numbers aren’t outliers either as he has career averages of 41.0 percent field goal shooting and 34.9 percent three-point shooting.

And it’s not just the scoring itself. It’s also how Crawford scores the ball. Even though he received only 20.7 minutes per game with the T-Wolves, Crawford was 13th in the entire league in isolation frequency with 19.8 percent of his possessions coming in a one-on-one setting. For comparison, Simmons was the highest Sixer in isolation frequency at 9.0 percent (87th in the NBA).

It’s understandable the Sixers might be still be looking to replace the veteran scoring off the bench lost by the departures of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, but Crawford’s game doesn’t exactly scream the pace-and-space mantra preached by the club.

That just shows how Crawford isn’t an ideal fit offensively. We won’t even get into the defensive end of the court (*cough* Crawford had a defensive rating of 112.9 last season, which means opponents averaged that many points per 100 possessions he was on the floor, good enough for 490th out of 523 total players *cough*).

Crawford does still have a place in the league. He’s a volume scorer that can potentially get hot on any given night and pour in 30 points. He’s also great in the locker room, a reason he took home Teammate of the Year award in '17-18.

But with the above signs of decline as well as T.J. McConnell and a rejuvenated Markelle Fultz penciled in as the Sixers’ reserve backcourt, there might not be the opportunity in Philadelphia that Crawford is seeking out.

Part of the Sixers now being desired is having the power in their hands. This might be a perfect time to use that to their advantage and ignore Crawford’s interest.

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