Selfless Sixers are rising to sky-high expectations

Selfless Sixers are rising to sky-high expectations

We’re now two games into the Tobias Harris era and the returns have been impressive.

The Sixers are now 2-0 with Harris after a 143-120 win over the Lakers Sunday (see observations), with the starting unit playing at a flat-out dominant level when on the floor together. In two games and 30 minutes together, that five-man lineup is a plus-17.

With all of that comes heightened expectations. When Brand made the deal for Harris, many thought it could catapult the Sixers into the top spot in the East. 

It also comes with added pressure, something the Sixers are embracing.

“I’ll just be straight up, honest, the expectations are really high,” Harris said. “I was telling Mike Scott at halftime, I was like, ‘We’re up seven points and we kind of look like we’re down 17.’ But we were just kind of talking about the expectations of the team when you’re going into the game, you’re expecting to impose your will and that’s a good feeling."

What some may view as a daunting challenge to live up to the hype, the Sixers are looking at as an opportunity.

How many players in the NBA are in the position that the Sixers’ five starters currently find themselves in? Other than the Warriors’ starters, how many players find themselves surrounded by this overwhelming amount of talent?

There are certainly still kinks that need to be worked out, but the unselfish brand of basketball these guys are playing is a huge first step.

If any of the players in the starting unit are upset about touches or shots, they sure have a funny way of showing it. The Sixers are third in the NBA averaging 27.4 assists per game. They had 33 on Sunday to just eight turnovers.

At times, their ball movement is mesmerizing. 

“Our culture was built on sharing the ball,” Joel Embiid said. “Making sure the ball goes through everybody’s hands and at the end of it, if they need me or if they need a bucket or if the play is broken down, that’s when I come in … It’s all about sharing the ball.”

While the defense is a little bit behind, you certainly see the potential with all of the length and athleticism the players possess. Much like the selfless play on offense, the effort they're bringing defensively is encouraging.

It’s only two games, but the mind does wander when thinking about how good this unit can be. It’s not like they’re playing the weakest competition. They took down the Nuggets, the second-best team in the West, on Friday. They beat the best player on the planet Sunday.

They face even more stiff competition Tuesday when they host the rival Celtics, who they’ve already dropped two games to this season.

But that was then. This is now.

“It’s only been two games but I think we’ve got a chance,” Embiid said. “We got a lot to work on obviously. Our whole offensive package hasn’t been used. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think the potential we have, especially come playoff time, matching up with other teams, I think we got a chance.”

The Sixers embarked on a brutal 12-game stretch back on Jan. 17. After 11 games, they’re 7-4. With a win over Boston, that number would improve to a remarkable 8-4. 

But it's not just about the here and now. It's about what this team could be come late April and beyond.

“I think as we continue to build our chemistry and grow, it’s only going to be something that, every single night, we’re out here playing for something bigger,” Harris said. “Even being in the huddle with the team, we’re not really playing these games just to win. We’re playing them to win, but also be the best team that we can be all around. We’re just trying to get better each and every nigh, any way possible.”

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NBA owners reportedly expected to approve plan for return

NBA owners reportedly expected to approve plan for return

Updated, Wednesday, 3 p.m.

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, NBA commissioner Adam Silver intends to propose a 22-team plan to resume the 2019-20 season at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the NBA's Board of Governors has a call at 12:30 p.m. ET Thursday and is expected to approve Silver's plan. 

Silver is targeting a date of July 31 to resume play, per Charania. The season has been suspended since March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What exactly would a 22-team return look like? Each team would play eight regular-season games to determine playoff seeding, and the six teams outside of those in a playoff position at the moment would be the Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards, Wojnarowski reported.

According to Yahoo Sports' Vince Goodwill, teams would continue with their schedule as originally planned. If a team is slated to play one of the eight teams not included, it would move on to the next game on its schedule. The Sixers had a relatively easy remaining schedule, so the elimination of non-contending teams would be a slight negative for them. They had a stretch of games set for March 19-26 against Charlotte, Atlanta, Minnesota and Chicago.

Here's what their remaining schedule could look like, based on Goodwill's reporting:

Vs. Indiana 
Vs. Washington
Vs. Toronto 
Vs. Phoenix 
Vs. Portland 
Vs. Houston
At Washington
Vs. Orlando 

At 39-26, the Sixers are currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. While they're 8.5 games ahead of the Nets, the seventh seed, the Sixers could have an opportunity to rise in the standings. The final regular-season games could also impact the Sixers in the NBA draft. The team owns Oklahoma City's first-round pick, but that selection is top-20 protected, meaning it won't convey if the Thunder don't finish with one of the league's 11 best records.

There would be a play-in tournament if the ninth seed is within four games of the eighth seed at the end of the regular season, Charania reported. If that's not the case, the eight seed would go straight to the playoffs. That won't apply to the Sixers, since they're not on the playoff bubble.

Still, the play-in tournament might impact the probability of early upsets, one way or another. It remains to be seen whether a team performing well in the play-in tournament would carry over to the playoffs, or whether it would be adversely impacted by the extra games played. Both factors could have an influence. 

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Sixers' Tobias Harris delivers strong message about racism, police brutality in personal essay

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Sixers' Tobias Harris delivers strong message about racism, police brutality in personal essay

In an essay published Wednesday morning in The Players’ Tribune, Tobias Harris delivered a strong message about racism and police brutality in America while also providing insight into how his perceptions about race have been shaped. 

The piece is headlined, “Y’all Hear Us, But You Ain’t Listening.” Harris begins by framing the conversation about the death of 46-year-old black man George Floyd, who was killed last week in police custody when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for over eight minutes. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while the three other officers on the scene were fired but haven’t been charged.

“But if we gon’ talk about what happened to George Floyd,” Harris writes, “there needs to be a baseline acknowledgement of the reality: A white police officer killed an unarmed black man, and he was able to do it in broad daylight, with three other cops watching, because of the color of his skin.

“And don’t reply to me with, ‘Oh, but this person did this.’ Don’t try and make excuses, or say this isn’t about race. In a lot of my conversations with white people lately, I’m getting that statement over and over again: ‘Let’s stop making this about race.’” 

Harris draws a sharp juxtaposition between President Donald Trump’s characterization of protestors against stay-at-home orders in place because of the coronavirus pandemic and Trump's language about protestors who have marched around the country in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. 

Last month, armed men took over the steps of Michigan’s capitol building. To protest the QUARANTINE.

And what did the President call them?

'Good people.'

But we go out and protest that another black life has been taken senselessly, and we’re 'THUGS.'

Come on.

This is why black Americans are angry.

Harris writes that “the killing of Trayvon Martin was a turning point for me.” 

“When he was killed, all because he looked ‘suspicious’ for wearing a black hoodie at night in his own neighborhood, I realized that that could have been my brother,” he writes. “Once you really sit with that, it’s a really scary feeling. I had to get out of my own NBA bubble, and understand that there’s a different world out there. Not everybody can get in a nice car every day, drive to work, come home, work out, and be O.K. People go through different s---. Every. Single. Day. I had to come to grips with that.”

He later reflects on the obligation he feels to speak on behalf of black people who don’t play in the NBA or have celebrity status and cites the late Muhammad Ali as an inspiration.

The way I look at it? If people in my community are oppressed, then so am I. Shout out to Muhammad Ali, one of the biggest role models in my life, for showing the way. He was never scared to take a stand against INJUSTICE.

"I’ve also had to get uncomfortable in knowing who I am — knowing that, yeah, I made it to the NBA, and that’s changed some things for me in terms of how I’m treated. I don’t have it the same as the next person. I’ve come to grips with the fact that yes, I’m black, but that dude that’s getting pulled over by a cop in his car, he don’t have the luxury of that officer recognizing him.

"That’s the problem. The difference between a cop recognizing you or not shouldn’t be life or death. 

Harris says he’s glad he protested on Saturday in Philadelphia after regretting a missed opportunity to march in Orlando in 2013, about a year after Martin’s death.

“On Saturday in Philly, it was about a togetherness of people pushing out a message. And that message was really about respect. It was about people respecting others, and understanding their hurt and their pain.”

Another interesting topic Harris covers is the deficiencies he sees in what kids are taught about black history, and his individual efforts to fill in knowledge gaps. He also covers his own work mentoring young people in the Philadelphia area and the disparities he’s observed “between a school in North Philly out here, and a school in the Main Line of Lower Merion.”

The entire piece is worth a read. 

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