76ers

Sixers are a 'sleeper' in the Eastern Conference, Charles Barkley says

Sixers are a 'sleeper' in the Eastern Conference, Charles Barkley says

Charles Barkley’s opinion of the Sixers has fluctuated this season.

Back in September, he predicted the team would win the NBA title. By December, he was criticizing Joel Embiid’s effort level and said the Sixers “ain’t got no chance.”

If the NBA is successfully able to execute its plan to finish the season at Disney World, Barkley is back on board with the Sixers. He named the team as one of his two “sleepers,” along with the Portland Trail Blazers, in a video interview Wednesday with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Michael Barkann.

I’ll tell you what, the one team in the Eastern Conference that scares the hell out of me — I don’t want to see Ben (Simmons) and Joel (Embiid) and Tobias Harris,” he told Barkann. “I would not want to play the 76ers in the playoffs. … Other than Giannis (Antetokounmpo) — I want to make sure I don’t leave anybody out — the Sixers are going to have the best two players against any team in the Eastern Conference. With the exception of Giannis, any team they play in the Eastern Conference, they’re going to have the two best players on the court in every series — except against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

"So I think they’ve got a legitimate chance. I’d be surprised if they don’t do well. Ben has had a chance to get healthy. I hope Joel was able to stay in shape — that’s gonna be a biggie — but if those two guys are healthy, the Sixers have got a good chance.

Barkley’s claim that Simmons and Embiid will be the two top players in any Eastern Conference series not involving Antetokounmpo is a bold one, and certainly open to pushback. His point about the Sixers having two stars who’ve had the chance to rehab during the league’s hiatus is not controversial. Simmons had missed the team’s last eight games with a nerve impingement in his lower back, while Embiid’s 30-point, 14-rebound performance on March 11 was his first game back after being sidelined for nearly two weeks with a left shoulder sprain.

Barkley remains wary about the NBA’s plan to play in Orlando during the coronavirus pandemic. He’d said in May that he hoped the league wouldn’t “do something stupid just for money.”

“It’s scary to me,” he told Barkann. “When we’re doing this interview, Florida’s like the hottest spot for the virus in the world. You’re taking 22 teams, a bunch of people. I know the WNBA is going down to Florida. I know MLS is going down to Florida. It’s a scary situation. I hope nobody gets sick, nobody dies.”

In the event that the league plows ahead despite those concerns, Barkley thinks a key factor will be how teams adapt to playing without any fans in attendance. The Sixers were, of course, an NBA-best 29-2 in front of their home crowd at Wells Fargo Center, compared to 10-24 on the road. 

“I think that’s really huge,” Barkley said. “This is when your leaders are going to really have to step up. I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on Ben and Joel because they’re going to have to make the rest of the guys play without crowd noise. They’ve just gotta tell guys, ‘We’re gonna play.’

"This is when you’re going to find out who your leaders are. Because your leaders are going to have to make you play hard every day. … It would really suck to play without fans. With this virus and no fans, this is going to be the most interesting playoffs ever.”

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2020 NBA schedule: Sixers set to play 3 scrimmages before season resumes

2020 NBA schedule: Sixers set to play 3 scrimmages before season resumes

The NBA on Saturday released its scrimmage schedule for the 22 teams participating in the league’s restart in Orlando. 

The Sixers are set to play three scrimmages:

July 24, 3:30 p.m. — Grizzlies
July 26, 12 p.m. — Thunder
July 28, 8:30 p.m. — Mavericks

The scrimmages are intended to serve as a final ramp-up into the resumption of the season. The Sixers, who began holding mandatory individual workouts at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, starting on Wednesday, are scheduled to arrive at Disney World next Thursday.

Brett Brown said Wednesday he’d like his team to be at a “B” fitness base that he can help improve to an “A” by the time seeding games start. It’s been challenging for many players to stay in shape because of restrictions related to the coronavirus. Matisse Thybulle, for one, said Thursday he doesn’t like running but it was his “only choice.”

"It’s obviously not basketball-type conditioning,” Thybulle said, “but it kept me at a cardio fitness level to where now that we’ve come back and started, and I’ve started doing my basketball workouts, I have a really solid baseline to build off.”

The hiatus has allowed Ben Simmons to recover from the back injury that sidelined him for the Sixers’ last eight games, and Simmons noted he's added muscle and feels more explosive.

Al Horford also said, “I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be this season” in terms of health, and that the time off has been helpful for him. 

Below is the Sixers’ schedule for the final eight games:

Aug. 1, 7 p.m.: Indiana
Aug. 3, 8 p.m: San Antonio
Aug. 5, 4 p.m.: Washington
Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m.: Orlando
Aug. 9, 6:30 p.m.: Portland
Aug. 11, 4:30 p.m.: Phoenix
Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m.: Toronto 
Aug. 14: Houston 

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How bubbly Matisse Thybulle is taking things in stride during bizarre rookie year

How bubbly Matisse Thybulle is taking things in stride during bizarre rookie year

Matisse Thybulle was his usual bubbly self Friday. The Sixers’ rookie literally hopped — like he actually jumped into his seat — on a video conference call with reporters. He signed off by calling all of us nerds.

The 2019 first-round pick was having a standout first season before play was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though his playing time had fluctuated, head coach Brett Brown said earlier in the season that he was grooming the young wing for the playoffs.

Still, Thybulle won’t take anything for granted as the team prepares to leave for the Disney World “bubble” next week.

“For me, every time I get out on the court, it’s a challenge to maintain, to keep my spot on the team,” Thybulle said. “And then with keeping the spot, you can never be stagnant.”

On opening night, Thybulle was asked to defend All-Star guard Kemba Walker. Walker had given the Sixers problems in the past and the rookie didn’t get off to a great start, committing two quick fouls. As the game went on, Thybulle settled in and showed the defensive prowess the Sixers drafted him for.

All season long, Thybulle has done well to take things as they come during a bizarre rookie year. He’s planning to take that same mentality to Florida.

Nobody really knows what’s going to happen," Thybulle said, "nobody really knows what to expect, or how things are going to go, or what anybody or any team looks like. Instead of setting expectations for myself or what I think the experience is going to be like, it’s been just trying to take each new step of this process as a new challenge, and then figuring out, when I get there, how I’m going to get through it.

"If you want to look at all the unknowns, you’ll just go crazy. Taking what I know and what I can control and trying to make the best out of that.

What we know about Thybulle is he has a propensity for disruption on the defensive end. He leads all rookies in steals — by a healthy margin — and is fifth in blocks. He’s one of only eight players in the NBA to have at least 80 steals and 40 blocks.

In order to get so many deflections and wreak havoc defensively, you need to be in top shape. If you’ve seen Thybulle’s Tik Tok adventures from early in the quarantine, you know that he lives in a small apartment and didn’t have the opportunity to keep up with basketball activities.

So, he turned to the only form of exercise he thought could help — even if he didn’t enjoy it.

“I don’t like running. I really don’t like it,” Thyulle said. “But through the quarantine, it was like my only choice. ... It’s obviously not basketball-type conditioning, but it kept me at a cardio fitness level to where now that we’ve come back and started, and I’ve started doing my basketball workouts, I have a really solid baseline to build off. In a matter of two weeks, I feel like I’ve gotten back into really good shape and I think it’s going to be easier to build on after this.”

Thybulle has been given a bunch of tough assignments this season. While he’s looked like a rookie at times, when he’s kept his fouls down and his three-point percentage up, you see a player that should be able to help come the postseason.

And in a year where nobody knows what the NBA playoffs will be like, it could be to the rookie’s advantage during his first postseason run.

“I think what I’ve heard about the playoffs is a little different than what the playoffs are going to look like this year,” Thybulle said. “Obviously, I’ve heard amazing things. Especially playing in Philly, I’ve heard so many great things about having our fans behind us.

"We’re finding ourselves in a situation where that’s not going to be the case, so I think it’s going to be new for everyone, even vets who have been part of the playoffs, trying to get a feel for what this is going to be like. But I’m open to the challenge and I’m excited for what’s in store.”

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