76ers

Pistons gain ground on Sixers for 8th seed

usa-andre-drummond-pistons.jpg
USA Today Images

Pistons gain ground on Sixers for 8th seed

DETROIT -- Andre Drummond had 23 points and 20 rebounds, and Blake Griffin made a key 3-pointer in the final minute to lift the Detroit Pistons to a 111-107 victory over the Miami Heat on Saturday night.

Ish Smith added 25 points for the Pistons, including a late 3-pointer of his own. Detroit has won three in a row, the last two with Griffin in the lineup after acquiring him in a trade.

Griffin's 3-pointer with 44 seconds to play put the Pistons ahead 108-101, but Goran Dragic responded with a four-point play, making a 3-pointer while being fouled with 32 seconds left. Detroit ran the clock down on the next possession, and Smith sank his only 3-point attempt of the game, from the right corner with 14 seconds to play.

Dragic scored 33 points for the Heat, who have lost three in a row. Miami was without center Hassan Whiteside, who was out with an illness.

Smith, who has struggled at times while trying to replace injured point guard Reggie Jackson, went 11 of 14 from the field and finished three points shy of his career high. His previous season high was 19 points.

Griffin had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists (see full recap).

Wizards win 4th straight without Wall
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Otto Porter scored 20 points and Tomas Satoransky had a career-high 19 to lift the Washington Wizards to a 115-98 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night.

Bradley Beal had 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Wizards won their fourth straight without injured All-Star point guard John Wall. Washington shot 54 percent and had 35 assists, the fourth straight game with 30 or more.

Mario Hezonja and Johnathon Simmons led Orlando with 15 points apiece. The Magic had seven players in double figures, including 14 points from Elfrid Payton, but couldn't keep up with Washington's unselfish play.

The Wizards were in control offensively the entire game, using crisp passing to get easy shots inside and out. Washington shot 62 percent in the first quarter and didn't go under 55 percent until the final minute of the game.

Most of that was the result of quick ball movement and unselfish play by every player on the court. Reserve point guard Tim Frazier had seven assists, Satoransky had six and Porter added five.

The Wizards seized control of the game with an 18-5 run in the middle of the third quarter that gave them a 23-point lead.

They had assists on six of the eight baskets in a run that featured four layups and ended with a resounding dunk by Markieff Morris off a pass from Satoransky. That made it 82-59 with 4:10 left in the third period and Orlando never got closer than 17 the rest of the game (see full recap).

Rockets roll past Cavs
CLEVELAND -- Chris Paul had 22 points and 11 assists, Ryan Anderson added 21 points and the Houston Rockets became the latest team to thump Cleveland on national TV, beating the disconnected Cavaliers 120-88 on Saturday night.

James Harden only scored 16 -- 15 below his league-leading average -- but Houston rolled to its fourth straight win and improved to 11-2 since Jan. 8.

Meanwhile, the Cavs' downward spiral accelerated.

Since losing at Golden State on Christmas, LeBron James and his teammates are 0-8 in network broadcasts and have been embarrassed in several matchups against quality teams. They lost by 28 at Minnesota, 34 in Toronto, 24 at home to Oklahoma City and 32 to the Rockets, who toyed with the defending Eastern Conference champs.

James finished with just 11 points and didn't play in the fourth quarter as the Rockets were too far ahead. Isaiah Thomas scored 12 for Cleveland.

The Cavs played their second game without injured All-Star forward Kevin Love, who could be out two months with a broken left hand suffered earlier this week (see full recap).

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Richaun Holmes

ap-sixers-richaun-holmes.jpg
AP Images

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Richaun Holmes

Richaun Holmes

Position: Forward/center

Status for 2018-19: Club option that must be exercised by June 29 at $1,600,520

Holmes in 2017-18
The Sixers made it quite clear from the beginning of the season that they were going to opt for substance over flash at the backup center position. That meant Amir Johnson would receive the bulk of the playing time behind Joel Embiid instead of Holmes.

Sure, Holmes can be the prototypical spark off the bench that comes in throwing down monster dunks, grabbing boards and blocking shots. The 24-year-old can also miss reads on offense and lose his man for easy baskets on the defensive end.

Johnson is nowhere near the level of athlete as Holmes, but the veteran provided a steady approach to the game that Brett Brown favored for the Sixers.

So Holmes, who missed the first eight games of the season with a broken bone in his left wrist, was limited to a career-low 48 contests and saw his minutes dip from 20.9 a night one season ago to 15.5.

Not an ideal situation for a player with a club option on his contract for next season.

Signature game
Holmes had a string of games in mid-December when he put up big numbers, scoring in double figures six times in an eight-game stretch. However, those numbers proved pretty hollow as seven of those eight games resulted in losses.

Let’s go with Dec. 30 instead, a 107-102 road comeback over the Denver Nuggets. With Embiid sidelined, Holmes came off the bench to record 14 points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 19 minutes before fouling out.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Unlike T.J. McConnell, Holmes didn’t get verbal confirmation that his option would be picked up from team president Bryan Colangelo at end-of-season press conferences.

While it seems unlikely the Sixers will bring back Johnson at a similar salary to what he made last season, the organization will likely see what else is available on the backup big man market.

Still, at 24 years old and with an extremely manageable salary of $1.6 million, Holmes should expect to be back with the Sixers next season. Anything after that will hinge on the amount of growth he shows in what could be his last chance with the team.

On Holmes
“It’s always a competition. Coach always lets it be known that we’re going to compete for spots, going to compete for playing time. Just have to come in next year ready to compete and ready to compete harder.”

- Holmes on whether he expects to be the backup center next season

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Markelle Fultz

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz

Position: Guard

Status for 2018-19: Second year of rookie contract for $8,339,880

Fultz in 2017-18
It’s not hyperbole to say Fultz had one of the most bizarre rookie seasons in NBA history. Let’s quickly run through the entire saga.

First, there was the mysteriously broken shot, the scapular imbalance in his right shoulder, the speculation about whether the injury led to the new shooting form or vice versa, and of course all the eyes on the brief videos of Fultz at practice, meticulously analyzing his jumper.

Then there was the surprise return on Mar. 26 against the Nuggets after missing the past 68 games, flashes of the handles and athleticism during the final 10 games of the regular season that compelled the Sixers to pick him No. 1, a chance to be part of the playoff rotation, and finally a return to the bench after three playoff games.

Got all that?

By the way, Fultz averaged 7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 14 regular-season games and posted 1.7 points, 1.7 assists and 1.0 rebound per game in his three postseason contests. Those stats obviously don’t tell his story.

Plenty of NBA players have had their rookie seasons derailed by injury, demonstrated flawed shooting mechanics, faced constant scrutiny from fans and media, and given glimpses of their potential. Until Fultz, nobody had combined all those ingredients into a single, surreal season.

Signature game
Fultz made history in the season finale on Apr. 12, a 130-95 win over the Bucks. With 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, he became, at 19 years and 317 days old, the youngest player in the NBA to ever record a triple-double.

After securing the accomplishment late with his 10th rebound, Fultz was immediately mobbed by his teammates and then doused with a unique cocktail of strawberry milk, chocolate milk and water afterwards in the locker room celebration.

That night, you saw Fultz’s immense potential. You also felt the human side of his odyssey and saw how much joy his teammates took from his achievement.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Until Fultz looks comfortable with his jumper, there’s going to be plenty of scrutiny on his shot. He shot 19 for 75 (25.3 percent) from three feet and out and made only 2 of 8 attempts from further than 15 feet.

Fultz and the team haven’t decided yet whether he’ll play in summer league, but that’s a possibility. It could be a good chance for Fultz to get some more time on the court and continue regaining his confidence, and his jumper as well.

While Fultz’s name will probably be tossed around by outsiders as a possible trade piece, it doesn’t seem like potential trade partners would place a very high value on a player with 14 games of NBA experience and a suspect shot. It also would be a huge surprise to see the Sixers give up on their No. 1 pick and a player with Fultz's natural ability after one season. They'll almost certainly give him ample opportunity to show why they took him No. 1. 

On Fultz
“I’ve been going through stuff like this my whole life really, going against the odds and a whole bunch of outside noise. I don’t really look to it. I’m with my team, I’m with family, and that’s all I really care about. All the other stuff doesn’t really matter to me on what other people think or what other people have to say. I’m just worried about how my team’s doing, how my coaches and teammates look at me, and how I look at myself.”

- Fultz on dealing with outside noise at his end-of-season press conference on May 10