76ers

Relationship between Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid continues to grow after Game 3 win vs. Raptors

Relationship between Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid continues to grow after Game 3 win vs. Raptors

When Elton Brand landed Jimmy Butler, there was excitement, but also concern.

Butler’s reputation — fair or not — was in question after an unceremonious departure from Minnesota. There was worry that he didn’t get along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, two young players the Timberwolves were building around.

With the relationship between Butler and Joel Embiid growing on and off the court, those concerns appear to be well in the past. The duo starred in the Sixers’ impressive 116-95 win over the Raptors in Game 3 Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

It was a glimpse of what they can do with their powers combined.

"There is a recognition that they need each other,” Brett Brown said pregame. “There is a recognition that they will be paired together a lot in crunch-time situations. There is an appreciation I see from a distance, watching the two evolve, for each other’s talent. There is a steady growth emerging — it’s two excellent players with strong personalities recognizing everybody needs a little bit of help. The belief that they can help each other, that they need each other, I think is genuine.”

Brown couldn’t be more on point with that “strong personalities” bit. These are two players that are never afraid to speak their mind and certainly aren’t afraid to hurt feelings.

But Butler’s ultra competitive nature hasn’t hurt the Sixers in the least. While there was the report that Butler had “aggressively challenged” Brown in a heated film session, there hasn’t been much else. There certainly hasn’t been anything to suggest that Butler hasn’t enjoyed his time with the Sixers’ two budding stars in Embiid and Simmons.

In fact, it seems to be the exact opposite.

“Obviously, he is a force to be reckoned with,” Butler said of Embiid, “especially when he is making trey balls like he does, but then attacking the rim at the same time. I think that’s how we’ve got to play, you know, you get the ball to him, he’s going to score, make the right play. Same thing with myself, same thing with Ben [Simmons], you can go down the line, but all in all, we share the ball.”

Since his arrival, Butler has been criticized for sharing the ball a little too much. In Games 2 and 3, he seemed to strike a pretty good balance, especially Thursday night with 22 points and nine assists. He also added nine rebounds and two steals. The only other Sixer to achieve those numbers in the playoffs is Charles Barkley.

It’s evident that Butler has elevated his game since the postseason began. As the players shared the podium postgame, a normal occurence lately, Embiid acknowledged that playoff Jimmy Butler is a whole different animal.

Obviously, he’s a great player. I’ve noticed a difference. Playoff Jimmy is a different player. It doesn’t matter. Both playoff or regular season Jimmy, both guys are the type of guys you want on the team because when it matters, you know when it’s the last shot or the fourth quarter, you know that he’s going to be there. He’s going to show up, no matter what he has going on. The way we’ve been adjusting and the way we’ve been playing together, I still feel like we have so much potential, especially with Tobias [Harris], Ben [Simmons], JJ [Redick].

It’s scary to think that the Sixers, just 17 games into their version 3.0, could just be scratching the surface, but it’s possible.

Embiid struggled through Games 1 and 2, but Game 3 unlocked the potential of what the team can be when he and Butler are both clicking. Embiid looked more like himself, pouring in 33 points while adding 10 rebounds and five blocks in just 28 minutes.

He also looked like he was having an absolute blast out there, celebrating a made three with a shimmy and throwing down a windmill dunk when the lane opened up in the fourth quarter.

Just Jo being Jo.

“I think for everybody that knows me, you know, I need it,” Embiid said. “When I have fun, my game just changes. I’m always told that if I don’t smile during the game, I’m either having a bad game or I’m not into it. When I know that to get my game going, I got to have fun on the court. At the same time, I got to make plays, but that part of the theatrics, it has to happen for me and the game is more fun that way. We all have fun as a team. You can see it lifts my teammates and we all do a good job.”

Of course everything is more fun when you win — especially in convincing fashion to take a 2-1 series lead.

“I do believe we played incredibly hard tonight,” Butler said, “which is how we have to play at home or on the road, but I think more than anything we enjoyed ourselves. Like [Embiid] said, we were out there having fun. Obviously, it’s fun to win. It’s fun to make shots. But if we keep that energy up I think we’ll be fine.”

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Sixers at Magic: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Magic: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 1:36 p.m.

The 7-3 Sixers will play against their No. 1 pick in the NBA draft two years ago Wednesday night in Orlando.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game against the 3-7 Magic and Markelle Fultz: 

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Amway Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

A long and winding road

It’s been less than a year since Fultz last suited up for the Sixers. Since a scoreless effort on Nov. 19 in the Sixers’ win over the Suns, he experienced a series of agent-recommended medical consultations, a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome, a trade minutes before the deadline in February and plenty of time watching on the bench as the Magic made a run to the playoffs. Of course, Fultz went through a lot prior to the last year, too, including a diagnosis in November 2017 of scapular muscle imbalance and the persistent inability, for whatever reason, to shoot the way he had at the University of Washington. 

Now, he’s started the last five games for the Magic. Fultz is averaging 9.7 points, 3.1 assists and 2.0 rebounds on the season. He’s already taken 22 three-point shots, seven more than he attempted in his 33 games with the Sixers, though he’s made just four of them.

Load management is in the spotlight 

Joel Embiid is out tonight in the second game of a back-to-back. He'll be listed as such with "injury maintenace/left knee soreness," but this is part of the plan to keep Embiid healthy, per a team source. As we saw with the Kawhi Leonard situation, league rules mandate that there be such a designation for a player sitting out.

Last night, it sounded like his preference was to play vs. Orlando.

“… At the beginning of the season, the goal was to limit my back-to-backs,” he said. “Obviously, the two-game suspension doesn't help. I feel like before that I was in a good rhythm and I kind of lost it. The last couple games I have not been good, especially when it comes to my efficiency and taking care of the ball. I feel like I need to get in a rhythm. So, we’re going to to figure it out.”

Al Horford will return after a load management night. Trey Burke will be listed as questionable and go through pregame warmups. He missed Tuesday’s game with left calf tightness. 

Don’t expect a shootout

The Magic are shooting a league-worst 28.2 percent from three-point range. At 33.4 percent, the Sixers are tied for 21st. 

This certainly looks like it might be a low-scoring game. All of the teams currently in the top 10 in defensive rating have a winning record besides the Magic, who are No. 3. They had the second-best defensive rating last season after the trade deadline, too, so their defense doesn’t seem to be a fluke. Jonathan Isaac has 30 blocks, the most in the league. 

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The highlight Mike Scott remembers to stay positive

The highlight Mike Scott remembers to stay positive

It’s hard to imagine Mike Scott being negative.

Since he arrived in a trade from the Clippers last season, Scott has become a fan favorite and steady, veteran contributor. He immersed himself even more into Philadelphia over the summer by crashing weddings and taking part in Nerf gun wars.

But even the most jovial and fun people can fall victim to negative thoughts. In the past, he’s let it affect his play on the court.

“You don’t want anything negative going through your mind because you’re not going to perform well,” Scott said. “I’ve done it before. I’ve had games or something off the court has happened and I was feeling bad or I just wasn’t myself. It factors in your play a lot."

As he’s gotten older, Scott has gotten better at staying positive.

One of his secrets? Watching old highlights of himself playing well. 

His biggest moment as a Sixers occurred when he hit a game-winning three in Game 4 of the team’s first-round playoff matchup against the Nets. That shot gave the Sixers a commanding 3-1 series lead.

“I always go back to that Game 4 Brooklyn shot,” Scott said. “That shot felt good. I felt like I wasn’t really contributing like I wanted to, I didn’t have the game that I wanted to, but that shot did feel good and I always go back to that shot. It makes me feel like I can play in this league, I belong in this league, I can hit big shots.”

Scott talked about the power of positivity and having teammates you can depend on in an interview, which you can watch above.

NBC Sports Regional Networks has launched a multi-platform campaign on mental health and men's health, HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports, for the month of November. You can find more information about the initiative here.

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