76ers

Sixers assistant coach Kevin Young remembers Ben Simmons, Sixers feeding of Heat's physicality in 2018

Sixers assistant coach Kevin Young remembers Ben Simmons, Sixers feeding of Heat's physicality in 2018

Aside from Joel Embiid ringing the bell before Game 1 as the Phantom of the Process and Meek Mill doing so after just being released from prison before Game 5, there was one thing that stood out during the Sixers-Heat series in 2018: It was physical. 

Luckily for the Sixers, they were prepared for it. 

“Two things really stand out from the lead-up to that series,” Sixers assistant coach Kevin Young told NBC Sports Philadelphia in a phone interview. “It was really the physicality that we knew Miami was going to bring, because that's kind of what they do, and then the physicality that the playoffs will bring, because that's what the playoffs do. … As that series played out, obviously a lot of that physicality came to fruition.”

And how.

The Sixers carried the momentum of a 16-game winning streak — led by rookie Ben Simmons — into a Game 1 drubbing of Miami in which they hit a team playoff record 18 threes. In Game 2, Dwyane Wade had a vintage performance in leading the Heat to a win to even the series.

Game 3 in Miami marked the return of Joel Embiid — and also when the series got ugly.

Embiid was playing his first ever playoff game in an “annoying” mask to protect his previously fractured orbital bone. Heat forward Justise Winslow, likely annoyed by Embiid’s brashness and caught up in the intensity of the series, stomped on Embiid’s mask at one point. This was also the game where Justin Anderson — remember him? — got locked up with Wade and the players were called for double technicals.

The physicality of the Heat and the NBA playoffs, just as the Sixers had planned for, had gotten real.

That also ignited Simmons, who had elevated his play during the Sixers’ streak and was having a coming out party during this series.

“Ben's a guy that thrives on physical play,” Young said. “Even that year and as we've moved forward since then, he's consistently been one of our best screeners. He loves using his strength to free teammates up, using his ability to rebound as a strong, big, athletic guy. So he fed off it. In that series, I think it fueled him a little bit and that type of environment is where he can really shine as opposed to sometimes when teams play off him and things like that.”

While the physical play and theatrics may have grabbed all the headlines, it was a series with plenty of momentum-changing shots. Whether it was Josh Richardson, then a member of the Heat, making “a lot of timely shots” or Dario Saric making a big three to help seal Game 3, those are the plays that stick out to Young.

One that stood out to Young above the rest was a shot in Game 4, which NBC Sports Philadelphia will re-air Tuesday night. For as physical and competitive as the series was at the time, this was truly the only close game.

The Sixers shot just 7 of 31 from three and Simmons and Embiid combined for 15 turnovers. They found themselves down four going into the fourth quarter and staring down going back to Philadelphia with the series tied 2-2.

Then, led by Simmons and Embiid, the Sixers took their defense up a notch in the fourth, opening up a six-point lead with a little over two minutes left. Just when it seemed like Wade may deliver the same magic he did in Game 2 by getting the Heat to within one, JJ Redick made a huge shot with 30.1 seconds left to put the Sixers back up three.

Though Simmons did turn the ball over a bunch in Game 4, he still finished with a triple-double and four steals. Throughout the five games, he was superb.

Watching Simmons in that series, you sort of forgot he was just a rookie.

“One thing with Ben that I think the whole group would probably say has always been impressive with him," Young said, "is he's never been a guy who really gets fazed by much. Obviously, you guys see it from your seat, too. He's very stoic, and not a lot of things rattle him. With that kind of makeup, it's like he's kind of built for some of these moments, and I thought that kind of showed itself in his first series.”

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2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

A day after the NBA’s Board of Governor’s approved a 22-team return to play format, the NBPA did so Friday evening, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

All 28 player reps approved the plan, which would see 22 teams head to Walt Disney World in Florida to finish out the 2019-20 season beginning July 31. The league will play eight regular-season games with the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth seed. The playoffs will follow the traditional format.

One of the new pieces of information presented Friday is that there will also be two or three preseason games before the season resumes.

On TNT Thursday night, commissioner Adam Silver said the league is in the “first inning” in its quest to return to play. The NBA suspended the season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to Charania, players will undergo testing every day and there will be a minimum seven-day quarantine for any player that tests positive. If a player does contract the virus, play would continue.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

Another sticking point was a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under this return-to-play plan. The NBPA told the players it’s “unlikely” the 2020-21 season would start on Dec. 1 and that it’s still being negotiated, per Charania.

With no fans in the stands, the two sides have also discussed pumping fan noise in courtesy of NBA2K.

The league and NBPA are still continuing to work out the health and safety details in the weeks leading up to a return.

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2020 NBA Draft profile: Jordan Nwora is a proven scorer, shooter

2020 NBA Draft profile: Jordan Nwora is a proven scorer, shooter

Jordan Nwora

Position: Forward
Height: 6-7
Weight: 225
School: Louisville

Six months ago, Jordan Nwora seemed like a lock to be selected in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. Nwora was the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, poised to lead Louisville to a big season and cement his status as one of the best players in all of college basketball.

By all accounts, he had a very good — if not great — junior season. Nwora averaged 18 points and just under eight rebounds per game for a Louisville team that finished with a 24-7 record. He was named First Team All-ACC and finished second in conference player of the year voting behind Duke’s Tre Jones.

Yet here we are looking ahead to the draft and Nwora is considered a fringe first-round pick who is more likely to be selected in the second round. 

So, what went wrong? There are a couple theories. One, Nwora struggled in a handful of marquee games last season. He scored just eight points on 2 of 10 shooting in a loss at Kentucky and was held to six points on 3 of 12 shooting at Duke a couple weeks later. To make matters worse, he scored a total of seven points in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson in mid-February.

There are also doubts as to whether Nwora showed enough improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons. Does he work hard enough? Is he committed to improving his game? These are questions that will follow Nwora as the draft approaches.

Strengths

Nwora is a proven scorer. He averaged 17 points as a sophomore and 18 points as a junior. He did so wearing a target on his back, particularly this past season. Opponents game planned to slow him down and he still put up big numbers against very good competition. 

He’s also a very efficient three-point shooter. Nwora shot better than 37 percent from long range during his sophomore year. He was even better last season, making 40 percent of his three-point attempts. His combination of size and shooting ability is very attractive to NBA talent evaluators.  

Weaknesses

Ball handling and defense top the list. Nwora should be an effective spot-up shooter in the NBA but his ability to create his own shot is questionable. His ball handling skills need significant improvement to be considered NBA-ready.

There are also legitimate concerns about his ability to defend on the pro level. Is he quick enough to guard smaller players on the perimeter? Is he strong enough to hold his own in the paint and on the boards? If Nwora ends up slipping to the second round, the defensive question marks will be the biggest reason why. 

Fit

Nwora could very well be selected early in the second round. The Sixers currently own the 34th and 36th picks and they need shooters. Nwora certainly fits that description. 
    
The Sixers could target him for his shooting ability and live with his shortcomings on the defensive end of the floor. Nwora to the Sixers isn’t a far-fetched scenario and definitely warrants serious consideration.  

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