76ers

Robert Covington has surgery on his middle finger of left hand

Robert Covington has surgery on his middle finger of left hand

Robert Covington underwent surgery Thursday for a finger injury first suffered in late December.

The procedure was done to repair the extensor tendon in Covington's left middle finger, which he injured on Dec. 28 against the Trail Blazers in Portland. He left the game early (see story) but did not miss time after that.

Covington, who has been cleared to use his hand, will wear a splint during the recovery process. His finger will be evaluated in approximately two-to-three weeks to determine when he can resume basketball activities. 

Covington averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in his fourth season with the Sixers. For more on Covington's year, click here

Markelle Fultz stock watch: Yet another weird week

Markelle Fultz stock watch: Yet another weird week

In a season full of weird weeks, the last one may have been the weirdest for Markelle Fultz. 

With the arrival of Jimmy Butler, Fultz lost his spot in the starting lineup. As Brett Brown stated, it’s nothing that Fultz did wrong, it’s a matter of having a superstar player like Butler and using the team’s optimum starting five.

If anything, this move could benefit Fultz in the long run. Instead of trying to fit on the court with Ben Simmons, he’s now just leading the second unit and playing with the ball in his hands. 

Stat-wise, there’s nothing that will blow you away. He averaged 6.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 19.8 minutes a night in four games. He shot 44 percent from the field, which is fine for a perimeter player.

The inconsistent shot is maddening on a couple fronts. A few times last week he came off screens and took confident mid-range jumpers that he buried. Then he got to the free throw line and I have no idea what happened. 

In Miami, the now infamous pump fake free throw took place. There had been a hitch over the past couple games that culminated in that attempt. Fultz said the shot slipped but it’s hard to buy that. Witnessing that shot, I just plain felt bad for Fultz. We all saw the work he put in during the offseason and to be scrutinized for that one weird shot is rough.

On Friday vs. Utah, he revealed an odd juggle as he raised the ball up to his release point. A couple of the shots looked better and it clearly eliminated the hitch from his shot. The difficult thing will be repeating that motion.

It's a little disappointing that Fultz hasn't taken a three since Oct. 30 in Toronto. He hasn't taken a jumper outside of the mid-range since that ugly jumper in Brooklyn on Nov. 4.

Fultz has said it’s a “trial and error” thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. The concern would be if Fultz kept struggling and was too stubborn to fix the issues. The kid has at least proven to be coachable and willing to work. That’s no small thing.

He’s also shown he’s willing to fight and scrap on the floor. This is just one example of plays he’s made this season where he’s hustled and earned his team an extra possession.

What also makes watching Fultz struggle with his shot difficult is how much he’s improved in other areas. Defensively, he’s already grown by leaps and bounds from the first game of the season. He’s doing such a better job physically and mentally. His on-the-ball defense is a little inconsistent but he’s just 20. If he ever figures out how to use his length and athleticism more on that end, he could be special defensively.

Offensively, he continues to be aggressive in getting to the basket. The most impressive thing I’ve noticed is how he takes on elite shot blockers. You’re told as a driver to go straight into the shot blocker’s chest. Fultz did that twice against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. One drive he finished, and he forced Gobert into a foul on the other.

You see the work, you see the progress. You just have to hope it all comes together one day.

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Sixers weekly observations: Welcome to Philly, Jimmy Butler

Sixers weekly observations: Welcome to Philly, Jimmy Butler

Last week, we speculated about how the Sixers would integrate Jimmy Butler into the team. 

This week, it’s fair to say Butler looks like he belongs. 

The Sixers went 3-1 over the past seven days to move to 11-7 overall, winning in Miami, losing in Orlando, and beating Utah and Charlotte.

Butler was fantastic all night in his home debut Friday vs. the Jazz, and he was great when it mattered Saturday against the Hornets, making a huge block in overtime on Kemba Walker, then nailing the game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.

• One of Butler’s best qualities is how simple he can make the game. His knowledge of the playbook and his teammates is obviously limited, but he’s not the kind of player who needs to know the nuances of every set to win his team games. At the end of Saturday night’s game, all Brett Brown had to do was get the ball in Butler’s hands and clear out the floor. It’s been a while since the Sixers had a player like that.

• It doesn’t spoil a very positive week, but the Sixers keep blowing big lead after big lead. In each of the last three games, they gave up leads of 16 or more points. Not good.

• Joel Embiid actually hasn’t shot the ball well since Butler arrived (34.9 percent), but he’s still averaging 25 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 blocks in the past three games. Because of his ability to draw fouls, he doesn't need to have a great shooting night to be dominant offensively. 

• Saturday was Ben Simmons’ best performance of the season. While the stat line of 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists was impressive, his balance between patient point guard play and aggression in transition was most striking. He went 9 for 11 from the foul line, season highs for both attempts and makes.

• Markelle Fultz’s body language might not exude hustle, but he deserves credit for making winning plays through sheer effort. 

Friday night, he tracked down his missed free throw and found Butler for a pivotal and-one layup at the end of the third quarter. Saturday, he soared in to steal a rebound from Miles Bridges and dished it to Mike Muscala for a dunk.

Fultz’s unusual free throws have gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so. His pump-fake free throw Monday in Miami, which Fultz claimed slipped out of hand, was alarming to watch. And his juggling free throw routine Friday night was also rather bizarre, though it did appear effective at removing most of the hitch from Fultz’s shot.

Through all the concern over his shot and conjecture about what the Butler trade means for his future with the Sixers, Fultz has continued to play hard.  

• Even after acquiring Butler, general manager Elton Brand said Tuesday at his new star’s introductory press conference that  “the championship talk is a little premature for me.” 

One way he plans to get the Sixers closer to title contention is through filling the open roster spot. He acknowledged the team “needs shooting.”

Over the past week, their lack of quality options at the backup power forward and center spots has been easy to see as well. Amir Johnson has not had a very good start to the season — his minus-9.0 net rating is second-worst on the team. His 19.3 turnover percentage is the highest of any Sixer. 

Brown seems to recognize that Johnson is usually a liability; he’s only playing him 10.2 minutes per game, which would be a career low for Johnson. The ripple effect of that has been 23.9 minutes per game for Mike Muscala, which would be a career high.

With Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup, leaning so heavily on Muscala and trying to steal 10 solid minutes from Johnson each night does not look like a viable plan. In the short term, it might make sense to give Jonah Bolden a chance.

• The Sixers have played 18 games, most in the NBA, and five back-to-backs. The schedule finally eases up a little starting this week, with a three-game homestand Monday vs. the 3-12 Suns, Wednesday vs. the 9-7 Pelicans and Friday vs. the 2-12 Cavaliers. With their 8-0 record at Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers are the last team in the NBA without a loss at home.

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