76ers

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: As Bucks limp to finish line, Sixers starting to look dangerous

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: As Bucks limp to finish line, Sixers starting to look dangerous

In this edition of our Eastern Conference power rankings, things are getting interesting at the top as we inch closer to the playoffs.

1. Bucks (53-19) Last ranking: 1
Milwaukee had one of its toughest weeks of the season. After the Bucks lost to the Sixers at home, they beat the Lakers before losing to the lowly Cavs. The biggest culprit is the injury bug which has ravaged their deep roster. Giannis Antetokounmpo missed two games with an ankle injury. Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic are both out for an extended period. George Hill and Sterling Brown are also out. Milwaukee is limping to the finish line.

2. Raptors (51-21) Last ranking: 2 
There’s a chance Toronto could catch Milwaukee, though the Raptors are dealing with injury issues of their own. Kyle Lowry missed their win over the Thunder and will miss the rematch Friday night. Kawhi Leonard is still on his back-to-back restriction. The other thing I’m still curious about is Marc Gasol. He’s been OK. Meanwhile, Jonas Valanciunas has been really good for Memphis. He had a monster 33-point performance against the Rockets and has averaged 19.4 points over his last 11 games.

3. Sixers (47-25) Last ranking: 3 
Don’t look now, but the Sixers are the hottest team in the NBA. They’ve won six straight — including wins over Milwaukee and boogeyman Boston — and are now 7-1 when all five members of their new starting five are in the lineup. The Sixers have one of the easiest remaining schedules, but it seems unlikely that they’ll catch the Bucks. They appear to be a near-lock for the three seed.

I’m keeping them at three here only because of the body of work this season. With that said, the Sixers have to be looked at as a team nobody wants to face in the postseason. We’re just eight games into “Sixers 3.0.” This new starting unit may just be scratching the surface. Scary.

4. Celtics (43-29) Last ranking: 4
Boston continues to be one of the most confounding teams in the NBA. On some nights, they look unbeatable. On other nights … not so much. There still appears to be a struggle to mesh Kyrie Irving’s abilities as an iso player with Brad Stevens’ offensive system. It’s also evident that the Sixers picked on Irving defensively with great success Wednesday night. We won’t truly learn about the Celtics until the playoffs begin.

5. Pacers (44-29) Last ranking: 5
Indiana has dropped four in a row and that’s to be expected while missing All-Star Victor Oladipo and having one of the toughest schedules in the league to close out the season. The Pacers are clinging to the four seed but will likely drop and face off against Boston in the first round.

6. Pistons (37-34) Last ranking: 8
Detroit came back down to earth after its ridiculous run, but this is a team that’s figured some things out. The Pistons will go as far as Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond will take them, but it’s the recent resurgence of their perimeter players like Reggie Jackson, Wayne Ellington and Langston Galloway that’s fueled their recent success.

7. Nets (37-36) Last ranking: 6
I did struggle to drop Brooklyn because they did have a brutal road trip that took them to Oklahoma City, Utah, Los Angeles (to play the good L.A. team), and Sacramento. As their monster comeback against the Kings — in which D’Angelo Russell dropped 44 — shows, they can be wildly entertaining when playing well.

8. Heat (35-36) Last ranking: 7 
Miami is doing its best to hang on to that eighth seed with three impressive wins this week over the Hornets, Thunder and Spurs. Goran Dragic is rounding into form since returning to the lineup and has given Miami a huge boost off the bench. He averaged 22.3 points in the three wins and shot a sizzling 64 percent from three.

9. Magic (34-38) Last ranking: 9 
Orlando kept pace with Miami, winning three in a row as well. All three wins occurred after the arrival of Michael Carter-Williams. Coincidence? Yes, definitely.

10. Hornets (32-39) Last ranking: 10 
Charlotte gave the Sixers quite the scare, but it’s looking like the Hornets will come up short in their quest for the playoffs. It’s not surprising. All season in this space we referenced the need to get Kemba Walker help. That help never came.

11. Wizards (30-43) Last ranking: 11
Thomas Bryant looks like he might be a legitimate prospect. Other than that … #FreeBradleyBeal

12. Hawks (25-48) Last ranking: 12 
You have to respect what Lloyd Pierce is doing in Atlanta. The Hawks are coming off a nice win against Utah and Trae Young is making a late push to overtake Luka Doncic as Rookie of the Year. They won’t be a pushover for the Sixers Saturday.

13. Bulls (21-52) Last ranking: 13 
Same deal with the Bulls, who look like they might have something with the quartet of Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. Though they’re playing to win, it would be something if they got the No. 2 pick and wound up with Murray State’s Ja Morant.

14. Cavs (19-53) Last ranking: 14 
Speaking of Morant, he’s looking like one hell of a consolation prize if Cleveland can’t get the No. 1 pick (again). A backcourt duo of Collin Sexton and Morant could run a few teams out of the building.

15. Knicks (14-58) Last ranking: 15 
They’re watching the NCAA Tournament with bated breath, hoping Zion Williamson gets delivered to them healthy.

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Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

We are paying tribute to a legend. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia will re-broadcast three of Kobe Bryant's landmark games Monday night — the 2008 Olympic gold medal game at 6 p.m., followed by Bryant's final game in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. and the 2012 Olympic gold medal game at 10:30 p.m. 

Bryant honed his Hall of Fame talents at Lower Merion High School and sharpened his skills and competitiveness in the Sonny Hill League and on playgrounds across the Delaware Valley. 

Bryant had his share of highs and lows as a professional in his hometown. 

He played 17 regular-season games in Philadelphia, finishing with a 7-10 record and a 22.8 scoring average. More importantly, he had a perfect 3-0 record in postseason games in Philadelphia, with all three wins coming in the Lakers' 4-1 series victory over the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals. Bryant averaged 25.7 points in those three games and captured the second of his five career NBA championships. 

Here's a look back at some of Bryant's most memorable moments in Philly. 

First NBA game in Philadelphia — Nov. 26, 1996
Bryant played his first professional game in his hometown as an 18-year old reserve, scoring 12 points in 21 minutes in a 100-88 Lakers win. He shot 4 of 10 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made both of his free throw attempts.  

Bryant's rookie counterpart Allen Iverson finished with 16 points on 6 of 27 shooting and 10 assists. Former Temple star Eddie Jones and Shaquille O'Neal each had a game-high 23 points for the Lakers. 

Bryant came off the bench in 65 of the 71 games he played as a rookie, averaging 7.6 points in 15.5 minutes per game. 

NBA Finals — June 2001
The Lakers and Sixers arrived in Philadelphia for Games 3, 4, 5 of the 2001 NBA Finals with the series even at one game apiece. The 22-year old Bryant famously proclaimed that he was coming to Philly to "cut their hearts out."

The Lakers went on to win the next three games in Philadelphia to secure their second straight NBA championship. 

Game 3 was the closest of the three games — the Lakers won 96-91 behind Bryant's 32 points. He had 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in a 14-point win in Game 4 before closing out the series with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a 12-point win in Game 5. 

2002 All-Star Game MVP — Feb. 10, 2002
Bryant's "cut their hearts out" comment was still fresh in the minds of Sixers fans eight months later when the 2002 All-Star game was played in Philadelphia. Bryant was booed throughout the night, but he fed off the negative energy to score a game-high 31 points and win the first of his four career All-Star Game MVP awards. 

He was subsequently booed during the All-Star MVP presentation and admitted that his feelings were hurt by the frosty reception from his hometown crowd.  

Bryant averaged 25.2 points during that 2001-2002 season and led the Lakers to a third straight NBA championship. 

44-point outburst — Dec. 20, 2002 
Bryant's best game in Philadelphia came 10 months after that 2002 All-Star Game, when he posted 44 points and 10 assists in a 107-104 loss to the Sixers. He shot 16 of 35 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made all 10 of his free throw attempts. 

Iverson led the Sixers to victory with 32 points, nine steals and five assists. Keith Van Horn had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. 

The 2003 Lakers came up short in their quest for a fourth straight NBA title, losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.

Snapping the streak — Dec. 21, 2007
Bryant and the Lakers got their first regular-season win in Philadelphia in nearly eight years, beating the Sixers 106-101 to snap a six-game losing streak at the formerly named Wachovia Center.

Bryant had 19 points in the win, but Andrew Bynum stole the show with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Andre Miller led the Sixers with 21 points and eight assists. 

The 2007-2008 season marked the first of three straight trips to the NBA Finals for Bryant and the Lakers. They would lose the 2008 Finals to the Celtics before beating the Magic in 2009 and winning a rematch with Boston in 2010. 

Last great performance in Philadelphia — Dec. 16, 2012
This was Bryant's last vintage performance in his hometown. The 34-year old Bryant had 34 points and six assists in a 111-98 win over the Sixers. Nick Young led the Sixers with 30 points, while Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes each scored 16 points. 

Bryant's 2012-2013 campaign ended with a torn Achilles tendon late in the 80th game of the regular season. The Kobe-less Lakers were swept by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. 

This turned out to be Bryant's last great season. He averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds to earn First Team All-NBA honors in his 17th NBA season. 

Final game in Philadelphia — Dec. 1, 2015
Bryant's last game in Philadelphia came nearly 14 years after he was booed during the 2002 All-Star Game. That proved to be plenty of time for old wounds to heal. He was showered with applause and tributes in his Philly farewell, and for a while it looked like he would deliver one final great performance in his hometown. 

Bryant opened the game by hitting 3 of his first 4 three-point attempts, whipping the Wells Fargo Center into a frenzy. But at 37 years old, Bryant eventually ran out of gas and finished 7 of 26 from the field in a 103-91 loss to a Sixers team that entered the game with an 0-18 record. 

Bryant scored 20 points and finished his 20th and final NBA season with a 17.6 scoring average.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

On this edition, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss:

(2:12) — Questioning Joel Embiid's fitness is like beating a dead horse; will the Sixers have a chip on their shoulder?
(13:22) — Charles Barkley calls Moses Malone trade a disaster to his career.
(20:20) — Would the season being cancelled be worse than watching our most hated rival winning the Finals?

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