76ers

Sixers give away too many gifts as losses pile up

Sixers give away too many gifts as losses pile up

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TORONTO —  The Sixers stayed within striking distance, but by the time the third quarter was over Saturday night, a familiar story was unfolding against the Toronto Raptors. 

The Sixers crept to within four points during the quarter, but then the Raptors took control and led by 18 points entering the fourth quarter.

DeMar DeRozan, who had a career-best 45 points against the Sixers on Thursday, came back with 29 Saturday in Toronto’s 102-86 victory.

The Raptors are 18-1 against the Sixers since the 2013-2014 season, with two of the wins coming this week.

Toronto has won six in a row and 12 of their last 13, while the Sixers have lost five in a row and nine of 10.

 Joel Embiid, who had a fast start, returned the Sixers' lineup, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes. Dario Saric led the Sixers with 17 points.   

• Embiid (back tightness) started after being listed as questionable up until game time and was loose enough to score the team’s first eight points of the game, including a three-pointer. He also missed one of two free throws, had three rebounds and a blocked shot during his opening six-minute spree. After Embiid took the Sixers' first six shots, Ben Simmons took the next two, hitting one.

• JJ Redick (right hamstring tightness) missed his second consecutive game Saturday.

• Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot closed out the first-quarter scoring with a three-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 27 apiece.  

• Neither team had a second-chance point in the first quarter. The Sixers did not even have a second-chance opportunity, while the Raptors were 0 for 3 on their second-chance efforts.

• Sixers coach Brett Brown was tabbed with a technical foul with 4:21 to play in the first half and DeMar DeRozan converted from the foul line to give Toronto a 44-38 lead.

• The process is a road littered with turnovers, it seems. The Sixers, entering the game with a league-leading average of 18 turnovers, had 14 in the first half, leading to 21 Toronto points. The Sixers finished with 23 turnovers.

• The Raptors led by 13 early in the third quarter, but the Sixers whittled that deficit to four with 6:15 left in the quarter on a free throw by Dario Saric. Then the Raptors got busy, with DeRozan hitting a couple of three-pointers. Delon Wright making a driving layup and by the time the surge was over, Toronto led 81-63 after three quarters.

• Toronto’s Serge Ibaka made an impressive dunk late in the game to give the Raptors a 16-point lead, and a parade of reserves came on. It was game over. The Sixers, however, did outscore Toronto 23-21 in the fourth quarter.

• The Sixers will visit the Knicks on Monday, a noon start on Christmas Day.

Trainer Drew Hanlen details offseason workouts of Sixers' Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid

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Trainer Drew Hanlen details offseason workouts of Sixers' Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid

We’re now deep into the NBA offseason, which means we’ve reached the peak of players showing off their latest workouts on social media.

Unless you’re Markelle Fultz.

The 2017 No. 1 overall pick has mostly kept his sessions with CEO of Pure Sweat Basketball and famed skills coach Drew Hanlen, behind closed doors. 

Hanlen recently joined Alex Kennedy on the HoopsHype podcast and said the silence surrounding Fultz’s training is for a good reason.

“What I can tell you is that he’s doing very well,” Hanlen said. “I think that a lot of people think that we’re hiding him and we’re not hiding him. We’re just being very strategic in what we share because obviously, you don’t want to ever add pressure to a player when you don’t have to. 

“Fans and the media would love to be able to witness every workout of every player that I work with, especially guys like Markelle. All I can say is that it’s going really well and that we’re purposely doing things just to protect him right now. But I think Philly fans will be very excited.”

Meanwhile, Fultz’s Sixers teammate Joel Embiid is on the complete opposite end of the court when it comes to posting his workouts online.

So far this summer, Embiid has shared glimpses of everything from welcoming Orlando Magic draft pick Mo Bamba to the league to trash-talking with Boston Celtics phenom Jayson Tatum. The latest moment included a savage montage of Embiid dunking all over Portland Trail Blazers big man Myers Leonard.

But while Embiid is just being his usual outgoing self for social media, Hanlen made it clear that the All-Star center is putting in real effort to sharpen his craft.

“Our big three things this summer, No. 1 was just low-post dominance,” Hanlen said. “Obviously he was really good in the mid-post last season, but when you look at the game where he had like 46 points, the Lakers game, and the game before when I think he had [32] against the Clippers, he was a bully down low. Our first thing is just becoming a bully on the block.

“Our second thing is being able to consistently make threes. When he’s making threes at a high clip, no one in the NBA can guard him. It just stretches the floor out so much and it opens up driving room.

“No. 3 is playing on the perimeter slash taking care of the ball. We noticed that he turned the ball over too much (3.7 turnovers per game) and most of those turnovers came from drives on the perimeter or drives from facing up in the triple threat in the mid-post. So our third thing is just being able to make plays while facing up. That means tightening your handle, making more plays off the bounce, changing directions and adding some kind of face-up moves so he can be better in that category as well.”

Hanlen touched on a bunch of other topics, including how his team is trying to model Bamba’s offensive game after Embiid and which player he would really like to work with in the gym. Check out the full podcast right here.

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Sixers put bench under construction, but is second unit now any better?

Sixers put bench under construction, but is second unit now any better?

After a relatively quiet offseason, the Sixers’ roster has suddenly turned into musical chairs over the past few days.

In are Mike Muscala and Jonah Bolden. Out are Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Richaun Holmes.

Not exactly earth-shattering moves, but moves nonetheless.

Of course, all of those changes were directed at the Sixers’ bench. That’s because the team already has one of the best starting rotations in the entire NBA. The Sixers’ five-man combination of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid was plus-21.4 points per 100 possessions in 600 minutes of action together last season.

The reserves were a different story. The Sixers’ bench was among the league’s worst scoring-wise in 2017-18 before buyout veterans Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova pumped life into the group. With that duo on the squad, the Sixers posted a 20-3 record to close out the regular season and made quick work of the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

Those results changed against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Sixers’ bench was exposed defensively and smothered on offense in the five-game series.

“I’ve said on record, and I’ll say it again, I believe that anything that kind of matters, you’re probably going to bump into the Celtics,” Brett Brown said during the Sixers’ exit interviews. “So they’re always going to be sort of on our mind in relation to how do you compete with them?”

Competing with the Celtics and beating them are two very different things.

Did the Sixers’ tinkering with their bench put them any closer to knocking off their longtime rival? That’s a tough one to answer right now.

Despite shipping away Anderson, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Holmes, you can argue that the Sixers’ second unit will still be more athletic next season. A fully healthy Markelle Fultz will likely start out as the sixth man, and we know he’s got some incredible bounce to his game. Zhaire Smith already gave a glimpse of what type of athlete he is during summer league. And while 31 years old, Wilson Chandler can still rise up to throw it down.

Defensively is where that athleticism should really shine for the latter two. The rookie Smith has continually said defense is his best skill as he was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team during his lone season at Texas Tech. Chandler possesses the ability to defend both forward spots and takes pride on that end of the floor.

Meanwhile, Muscala and Bolden aren't anywhere near leapers of Holmes' caliber. However, they are still bigger bodies that have the ability to move their feet to keep up with their man. That’s in addition to known hustlers T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson putting forth their maximum effort guarding opponents.

But is that enough when a healthy Celtics team gets its projected roster back and rolls out a reserve lineup of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes?

If the Sixers are unable to contain Boston’s talented starters and deep reserve blend, they might really run into problems trying to keep pace with offense of their own now that they lack a serious three-point threat outside of Redick. Belinelli and Ilyasova, who both departed moments into free agency, gave the team a one-two punch off the bench that could drain shots from anywhere. Now the only serviceable shooter in a backup role is the 6-foot-11, 240-pound Muscala (a career 37.8 percent shooter from long range). Kyle Korver, anyone?

The bench reset was necessary if the Sixers planned on getting to the next level. Is it enough to put them on the same level as the Celtics or will they remain green with envy?

We’ll see.

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