76ers

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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'Tired as s---' Jimmy Butler plays closer, seals the deal vs. Celtics

'Tired as s---' Jimmy Butler plays closer, seals the deal vs. Celtics

It was just a couple weeks ago that everyone was questioning Jimmy Butler’s role in the Sixers’ offense.

Why is he deferring so much? Does he not fit into the system? Has he lost a step?

Well, so much for all of that.

Butler’s role as the team’s closer was never more evident than in the Sixers’ 118-115 win over the rival Celtics (see observations).

The four-time All-Star put the team on his back, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a dagger jumper with 5.5 seconds left. He helped the Sixers conquer their Boston demons while showing just what he brings to the team’s elite starting unit.

“They put the ball in my hands in the fourth and tell me to make plays and make shots,” Butler said. “I think as of late I’ve been a doing good job of that, but that could be anybody to tell you the truth. As many weapons as we have on this team, anybody could get the hot hand, anybody could put the ball in the basket — it’s just the last few nights it’s been me.”

All this begs the question: Why can’t Butler do this through the first three quarters?

Butler was just 2 of 9 for seven points as the Sixers managed to cut a 15-point deficit to five entering the fourth quarter. Having just played 38 minutes in Charlotte on the first night of a back-to-back, Butler offered a pretty simple explanation for why he couldn’t get going early Wednesday.

I was tired as s---. I’m not even going to lie to you. That back-to-back got me. And we didn’t have [Joel Embiid] last night either. So quarters one through three I was trying, it wasn’t going my way, but we won, so I don’t care about quarters one through three.

While it’s certainly fair for Butler to blame fatigue, there is probably a better analytical explanation.

When the Sixers’ offense is going, there’s a focus on pace and space. Brett Brown’s system is predicated on player and ball movement. Even on a poor shooting night, the Sixers had more assists than the Celtics despite 11 fewer made field goals.

Butler is a player that excels in iso and pick-and-roll situations. While that may not fit perfectly into what the Sixers do offensively, in grind-it-out games like Wednesday against Boston and Sunday in Milwaukee, it’s necessary.

Before Butler’s arrival, there was no player Brown could turn to and just say, “Go get me a bucket.” 

Butler is that guy.

I don't think his demeanor changes. I think he's more comfortable in that static set where we're playing at a slower pace,” JJ Redick said. “There's a real value in having someone who's capable of making plays against a set defense, somebody who can shoot over the top of guys and really take advantage of mismatches. I don't know that you want to play that way for four quarters, but certainly at times going down the stretch, there's value in that.

While Butler sealed the deal, it was Joel Embiid who willed the Sixers back into the game in the third quarter (see story). Embiid dominated and kept the Sixers afloat until it was time for Butler to play the closer role.

And that wasn’t an accident.

“We talked about it before the game,” Embiid said. “I told him that I needed him tonight, that I needed this win and he told me to get him to the fourth and he was going to take over. That’s all I tried to do and obviously in the fourth, he’s our best closer. [We’ve] got to put the ball in his hands in the fourth and I’m going to do my thing whenever I have the ball, but that was my job tonight and he showed up and in the fourth he was fantastic.”

Embiid sets ‘em up, Butler knocks ‘em down.

Sounds like a hell of a plan.

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How long has Joel Embiid been trolling Marcus Smart? Look at his first Instagram post ever

How long has Joel Embiid been trolling Marcus Smart? Look at his first Instagram post ever

It turns out, Joel Embiid has been trolling Marcus Smart for way longer than we think. Even back into their college days. This trolling scheme has been five years in the making, in fact.

In honor of March Madness kicking off today, we’re going to bring you back to Embiid’s college days and his very first interaction on Instagram that cemented his legendary status as the GOAT of social media trolling. 

His very first Instagram post, which features him dunking on Marcus Smart in January of 2014. What a time. Here it is, in all it’s glory.

Guess Embiid really did invest in some real estate in Smart’s head, about five years ago and Smart has not forgotten about it. 

That much is clear, as tensions during the Celtics-Sixers game escalated to the point where Smart shoved Embiid from behind in what the center called a ‘”cheap shot” later in postgame. Smart was ejected from Wells Fargo Center for this incident. 

 

Bet he was thinking about that Instagram caption from 2014, which has aged so very well. 

So Smart, how much is the rent? Embiid will probably tell you it’s free.

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