76ers

More Sixers vs. Thunder, please

More Sixers vs. Thunder, please

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The season series between the Sixers and Thunder isn’t really over, is it?

These teams could play each other 20 more times and each game would be one to watch.

What started in Philadelphia on Dec. 15 as a triple-overtime thriller carried over to Oklahoma City Sunday night as a high-intensity battle that resulted in a 122-112 win for the Thunder on their home court (see observations).

While the Sixers and Thunder will not face off again until next season, these two contests were just a glimpse into what already has the making of a must-see matchup. 

“After a little talk after game one, leading into this game, kind of was looking forward to it,” Russell Westbrook (37 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds) said. “But, you know, Oklahoma City, 2-0.” 

Their first meeting of the season at the Wells Fargo Center wrapped up with a preview of what was to come Sunday night. During the Thunder’s 119-117 victory, Joel Embiid waved goodbye when Steven Adams fouled out. That didn’t set well with Westbrook, who sent his own message to Embiid after the buzzer.

“He told me to go home,” Embiid said that night. “And this is my home and I ain’t going nowhere.”

When the Sixers traveled to the Thunder’s home, the Thunder put their mark on the game with a second-half push and improved to 19-7 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. They extended their current winning streak to eight games and recorded their 18th straight win over the Sixers dating back to 2008. 

“You come into this building and you know with the roster that they have that you are going to be in for a fist fight,” Brett Brown said. “They are a big team. They are a physical team. You roll out three gold medalists and All-Stars and you sort of have Steven Adams at the center of it all, you know you are in for a long night.”

It was clear from the start both teams hadn’t forgotten their first battle. There were hard fouls, players hitting the floor and aggressive drives to the basket. The Sixers’ and Thunder’s combined 106 points in the paint was reflective of the jam-heavy ballgame. Ben Simmons, Adams and Westbrook rank in the league’s top 10 in points in that area. 

“They are so many athletes,” Embiid (27 points, 10 rebounds) said. “There was a lot of dunks. It’s just a show. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to be in. But I wish we would have had the win, but these games are fun.”

Entertaining with a strong undertone of fast-paced intensity. The similar styles of play fueled this up-and-down contest. Paul George (31 points) considers the Sixers and Thunder’s styles to “mirror” one another. 

Then there’s the shared desire to win.

“I thought the atmosphere in Philly was a great atmosphere to be a part of and go on the road and play that game. That was our first time enjoying ‘The Process,’” Carmelo Anthony (16 points) said. “Tonight was just, we knew it would be a fun, physical game. Those guys, they just play hard for the full 48 minutes regardless of what’s going on out there. I think Coach (Brett) Brown does a great job keeping those guys engaged throughout the course of the game.”

The teams could look different next season, with no guarantees of trades and moves in free agency, especially Paul George. But both Embiid and Westbrook are locked in for long-term deals, creating the foundation for an Eastern-Western Conference showdown that isn’t going away anytime soon.

What should Sixers' rotation be for playoffs?

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What should Sixers' rotation be for playoffs?

After Sunday night's All-Star Game, we still have three days to kill before the Sixers are back in action. 

Today, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick discuss who should be part of the Sixers' playoff rotation. 

Tuesday, they'll look at how the Sixers can overcome the Celtics, and Wednesday they'll review their expectations for the rest of the season.

Hudrick

Brett Brown has said that his rotation will be at 10 players for now and will go down to nine when the playoffs come. You could make the argument that number should perhaps be eight given how elite the starting five is.

Looking at the five bench guys now, Brown has mentioned that veteran Mike Scott is a lock as the backup four. You figure T.J. McConnell will also be in as the backup point guard. Brown also seems determined to see how much he can use Boban Marjanovic. The other two guys off the bench should be James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons, without a doubt.

Jonah Bolden has been the odd man out, but that may not continue into the postseason. He lost his job as Joel Embiid’s backup really by no fault of his own. He’d been doing a nice job as the backup five and makes a ton of sense as a rim protector that is capable of switching onto guards and can hit the occasional open three.

As we saw in the game against the Celtics, Marjanovic is a liability against bigs like Al Horford and Daniel Theis with the ability to hit shots from the perimeter. Marjanovic was exposed big time in the pick-and-roll, already a sore spot for the Sixers.

With McConnell, he seems more like a matchup-type player as he can be exposed by bigger guards. That’s where the Jimmy Butler point guard experiment comes into play. If I were Brown, my playoff bench would be Scott at the four, Bolden at the five and then either Ennis or Simmons as a backup wing while Butler runs the point. The nice thing about having useful, versatile pieces is you can match up against other teams and also swap players that maybe don't have it on a given night.

If the starters all play around 40 minutes, that leaves about 40 minutes — 13 apiece — for three players. That should be manageable given the strength of the starting unit.

Levick

The playoff rotation is going to have to be largely matchup-dependent. That’s a good thing.

The Sixers now have the personnel to adapt off the bench to most situations. For instance, if you’re playing the Bucks and have to deal with the threat of Brook Lopez as a three-point shooter, you’d likely prefer Jonah Bolden’s quickness and ability to defend away from the rim over Boban Marjanovic. If you’re playing the Hornets, Jonathon Simmons could get more minutes as a physical defensive option against Kemba Walker. T.J. McConnell might play a more prominent role against the Celtics, a team he thrived against last postseason.

Furkan Korkmaz should not be part of the equation; Simmons, Ennis, McConnell and Mike Scott all offer more reliable value. Korkmaz is dependent on hitting three-point shots, and he hasn’t done that consistently. And unlike Korkmaz, Simmons, Ennis, McConnell and Scott all have playoff experience.

We also shouldn’t forget about Zhaire Smith. According to general manager Elton Brand, the expectation is still that he’ll play this season. If Smith gets back on the court and his stint with the Blue Coats goes well, he deserves a shot to show what he can do this year at the NBA level. And if Brett Brown likes what he sees, Smith’s perimeter defense and athleticism could be an intriguing playoff option. 

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All-Star night is more than Ben Simmons could have hoped for

All-Star night is more than Ben Simmons could have hoped for

There aren't a ton of things that faze Ben Simmons. At least, that’s how it usually seems.

Until you’re being announced as an NBA All-Star for the first time in your career and waiting to sub in on Team LeBron.

“Here we go, don’t mess up,” Simmons thought to himself as he took the court.

Next to him was Dwyane Wade. Across from him was Dirk Nowitzki.

“I’m playing with legends, D-Wade … [Nowitzki] hit a three on me” Simmons said with a smile, before going on to talk about the influence that Nowitzki had on him as an international basketball player.

For playing just 16 minutes, Simmons sure had an impact, finishing with 10 points on 5 for 5 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds and zero turnovers.

He also had a little something in him that not everyone else had. While the majority of players said they started to feel the game get competitive midway through the fourth quarter, Simmons had a different answer.

“That first second I stepped on the court, just stepping in with the mentality of trying to get a win," he said.

Simmons, alongside Team LeBron got that win Sunday night, but it was clear from his demeanor there was something bigger he took away.

“I had a great time," he said. "Nothing was what I expected, but it was just fun to be out there, something new, something I hadn’t done before.”

Simmons walked out of the arena with a little extra pep in his step, which got me thinking about the day he was announced as an All-Star.

“I grew up thinking about championships, honestly," he said then. "I didn’t really think about All-Star appearances.”

But now, I’d think Simmons would admit that tonight was a little bit more special than even he imagined.  

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