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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers rise after Tobias Harris trade

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers rise after Tobias Harris trade

It’s time for a post-trade deadline Eastern Conference power rankings. Let’s get right into it: 

1. Bucks (41-13) Last week: 1 
The Bucks still have the best record in the East and made a big move before the deadline, adding Nikola Mirotic. They’re at the top until results suggest otherwise.

2. Sixers (35-20) Last week: 4
We got a glimpse last night of how “scary” good this new Sixers team can be. Tobias Harris is the rare 20-point scorer who doesn’t need to see a ton of the ball to thrive, and all five players the Sixers added are average or better defenders. It might take time for all the pieces to work in perfect harmony, but the Sixers have a big, versatile team that can adapt to just about any opponent.

3. Raptors (40-16) Last week: 2 
There’s a very strong case for having the Raptors at No. 2. Perhaps the best reason to do so would be that Toronto still matches up well against the Sixers. Their pre-deadline win Tuesday in Philadelphia, despite 37 points from Joel Embiid, was convincing. Yet the Sixers improved more through their trades than the Raptors did through their acquistion of Marc Gasol. Though Gasol is a quality addition, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles is not an insignificant trio to give up.

4. Celtics (35-20) Last week: 4 
Anthony Davis isn’t a Laker, which is good news for the Celtics. But Boston didn’t do anything to upgrade their roster for this season at the deadline. The prospect of facing Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and company in the playoffs is still daunting, though. Marcus Smart having by far the best three-point shooting season of his career (37.1 percent) helps make up for Gordon Hayward’s struggles.

5. Nets (29-28) Last week: 5
It’ll be fascinating to watch how the Nets re-integrate Caris LeVert, who is somehow already back on the court after dislocating his foot in November. Though his first game back didn’t go very well, a 19-point loss to the Bulls on Friday, Brooklyn doesn’t look like an opponent you’d want to draw in the first round of the playoffs.

6. Pacers (36-19) Last week: 8
Wesley Matthews is a nice pickup for the Pacers, who have won four straight. But they’re still not going to win the East without Victor Oladipo. 

7. Hornets (26-28) Last week: 7
Charlotte didn’t get any help for Kemba Walker before the deadline, which general manager Mitch Kupchak understandably found disappointing

8. Heat (25-28) Last week: 8 
The newest member of the Heat, Ryan Anderson, is probably not going to be the difference in a seven-game series against one of the elite teams in the East. 

9. Wizards (23-32) Last week: 10
Welcome to Washington, Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and Wesley Johnson. Goodbye, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. The Wizards are free from Porter’s massive contract, which is nice for them, but the long-term future of the Wizards isn’t looking too great after John Wall ruptured his Achilles tendon. 

10. Pistons (25-29) Last week: 9 
The Pistons added Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker, giving up Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson. Detroit is also reportedly going to sign Wayne Ellington and waive Henry Ellenson. All reasonable moves with the future in mind, but certainly not trades that put the Pistons anywhere close to contention conversation. 

11. Magic (21-31) Last week: 11 
The Markelle Fultz era begins in Orlando.

12. Hawks (18-36) Last week: 12 
Atlanta remains the “best” of the bottom four teams. That could change if Dewayne Dedmon, Jeremy Lin or Vince Carter are bought out. 

13. Bulls (13-42) Last week: 13 
Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Porter Jr. combined for 75 points in Friday’s win over Brooklyn. When you add the injured Wendell Carter Jr. to that group, Chicago might have an interesting young core to build around. 

14. Cavs (11-44) Last week: 14
It’s not official yet, but it doesn’t look like Cleveland is going to repeat as Eastern Conference champions. 

15. Knicks (10-44) Last week: 15 
The Knicks better nail it this summer. 

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Everything fell into place for Mike Scott when he got traded to Sixers

Everything fell into place for Mike Scott when he got traded to Sixers

You don't have to be a star to be a fan favorite. It's something Mike Scott has learned from Sixers fans.

Scott had always been “the go-to guy” for all his teams growing up. When he was in grade school, high school, even at Virginia where he led the team in scoring his last two seasons.

Then he got to the NBA and that all changed. He didn’t get off the bench much his first two seasons in Atlanta. He was then part of a Hawks team that won 60 games under head coach Mike Budenholzer and featured veterans like Al Horford and Elton Brand.

After up-and-down stops in Washington and L.A., Scott new things had to change ... eventually.

Coaches always told me my role would be, if I wanted to earn more playing time, to dive for loose balls — kind of like (the Rockets’) P.J. Tucker, sort of do the dirty [work] that people don't want to do,” Scott said at a roundtable at the Sixers practice facility. “I always thought it was going to be scoring — I just like to score. Finally it clicked — it only took seven years for me to actually figure it out. Doing the dirty work, not trying to score 20 every night. Maybe I'll have six points, five rebounds, four assists. Do the dirty work, do every little thing and just play with energy.

Fast forward to his time with the Sixers and it seems like a perfect fit. Scott figured out his role and the way to star in it after being traded to Philly — and also won over the hearts of the fans with the Mike Scott Hive. With franchise players like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons already in place, the Sixers needed to surround them with role players like Scott.

Scott admitted that he was "hype" when he learned he'd been traded here, but it wasn’t a sure thing that Scott was coming back this offseason. The seven-year veteran said he had offers from three or four other teams, but that Philadelphia was always his first choice if the sides could make it work. The Sixers retooled their roster yet again, adding Horford and Josh Richardson to a starting lineup that featured All-Stars Embiid and Simmons and borderline All-Star Tobias Harris.

Scott brought up Tucker during his media availability and it’s a solid comparison of roles. Tucker does all the “dirty work” and hunts threes while the star players on his teams do their thing. 

“P.J. Tucker always comes to my mind, how he's always all over the place, doing the little things and not trying to force a lot,” Scott said. “He knows who the scorers are on his team. Same thing — I know who are our go-to guys are. Of course I'm going to play my game, but I'm not going to f— that up."

Scott didn’t arrive to this conclusion on his own. He learned from veterans like Horford, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver during his time in Atlanta. Doc Rivers and Clippers assistant Rex Kalamanian told him before last season started that he needed to find ways to affect the game when his jumper isn’t falling. He took all of that to heart and is thriving in Philadelphia — with his teammates and the fan base.

The occasional big shot may happen — like the one he hit in Game 4 at Brooklyn — but Scott knows that’s not why he’s here.

Sometimes you just get caught up in trying to score,” Scott said. “I've always been a scorer — Virginia, high school, I was always the go-to guy. Coming into the league, I wasn't. I still just wanted to score. Maybe a coach told me this at one point but I don't remember, but it just always stuck in my mind from when I had a meeting with Doc, saying, 'Do something else.' That just stuck out. I'm pretty sure a coach probably did tell me [something like that] and I was probably just like, 'F— you. I wanna f—ing shoot.

Luckily for the Sixers, it appears it all came together for Scott at the best possible time.

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To DNP-rest, or not to DNP-rest: That is the question facing Joel Embiid

To DNP-rest, or not to DNP-rest: That is the question facing Joel Embiid

It’s certainly not going out on a limb to say the Sixers’ success depends on the health and fitness level of Joel Embiid.

When he’s on the floor, he’s one of, if not the best center in the NBA. The issue for the Sixers is when he’s not on the floor — which happens more often than they’d like. The series against the Raptors was the most prime example. Embiid was a plus-89 in a series the team lost in seven games. Greg Monroe was a minus-9 in two (2!) minutes in Game 7. Yuck.

By now we all know about Embiid’s injury history. His knee tendinitis and illnesses dominated the headlines during the Sixers’ postseason run. The tendinitis could be attributed to Embiid playing 54 of the first 58 games of the season. Some have made the connection of Embiid's illnesses to a poor diet. Whatever the case, both mired Embiid's effectiveness.

There is good news: Embiid knows things need to get better. He knows he needs to be in better physical shape. He knows the Sixers will only have a long playoff run if he’s the best and healthiest version of himself. 

He also knows how he can accomplish that.

Looking at the way Toronto managed Kawhi [Leonard] all season … when you start thinking about back-to-backs and stuff like that, having a good team around you helps,” Embiid said during exit interviews. “Most of the time I kind of feel bad because I feel like I let everybody down by not playing or sitting out. If you see that and you know guys are going to take over and get the win — we have the talent to do so. I guess it’s an easy decision for me. I think as long as we got it all covered and we have an opportunity to win games without me, I’m open to it. … Just gotta keep working on my body. It’s only going to get better.

He has been looking rather svelte in his Instagram posts and shouldn’t have to feel bad about sitting out with the talent that’s been brought in.

Elton Brand was aggressive in signing veteran Al Horford. Horford will play with Embiid in the starting lineup at the four, but will also be the team’s primary backup center. There may not be a better backup five in the entire league. Horford’s abilities on both ends of the floor will soften the blow of having Embiid on the bench.

And let’s not forget about Kyle O’Quinn. The veteran big is solid defensively and would’ve served as a better option than any backup big Brett Brown went to against the Raptors. He’s a strong insurance policy as the team’s third-string center.

It also helps that the schedule makers were kind to the Sixers — and it doesn’t seem like it was an accident. The Sixers have no nationally televised games on the second half of back-to-backs, something our NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh pointed out as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast last week. Clearly, those networks don't want to get burned if Embiid decides to rest.

Haberstroh actually wrote a piece about the very topic of the DNP-rest epidemic, discussing a company called Fansure. Fansure should appeal to Sixers fans as “an analytical start-up company that helps protect fans by offering reimbursement plans for tickets to games in which star player(s) sit out due to either rest or a last-minute injury.” (Then maybe angry fans will be less likely to be in reporter’s mentions … probably not.)

It’s also fair to wonder if medical personnel decisions will have any effect on all this with Embiid.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Philadelphia 76ers handle Embiid’s rest regimen," Haberstroh writes. "The team signed big man Al Horford to start next to him and potentially start at center in Embiid’s place if he needs a night off. Those decisions will come down to Embiid and new members of the medical staff after the team parted ways with two major voices — vice president of athlete care Dr. Danny Medina and director of performance research and development Dr. David Martin.

It’s tough to know the significance of Medina and Martin no longer being with the Sixers. The team has already begun filling in roles in the athlete care department. They’ve hired Lorena Torres-Ronda, formerly of the Spurs, as performance director. Expect more new names to be announced this week, per a team source.

While breathing new life into the athlete care department could help, it ultimately comes down to Embiid. 

Is he ready to listen to the advice of those around him and do what’s best for himself and the team? Will he feel comfortable letting his teammates try to win in back-to-back situations without him?

Guess we’ll find out starting Nov. 13, the second game of a back-to-back in Orlando.

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