76ers

Brett Brown makes it clear what he wants from Ben Simmons

Brett Brown makes it clear what he wants from Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons had arguably the finest game of his young NBA career. He set a career high in points (34) and made his second NBA three. He also made 9 of 12 from the free throw line.

Yes, it was against a bad team in disarray in the Cavaliers who the Sixers crushed in a 141-94 win at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night (see observations).

But it showed us the blueprint of what Brett Brown is looking for out of his All-Star point guard.

This is what I want, OK — you can pass this along to his agent, his family and his friends and to him — I want a three-point shot a game, minimum. The pull-up twos, I'm fine with whenever he's open but I'm interested in the three-point shot. And the mentality that he has where he's turning corners and taking that long step, that gather step and bringing his shoulders to the rim and trying to dunk or finish tight, will equal higher efficiency or getting fouled. That's the world that interests me the most — those two things. And when you say, 'OK, what's the number?' I immediately throw out eight [free throws]. For whatever reason, I'm not sure, but that's a number that I think is attainable.

After an abysmal performance Thursday night where he was indecisive and turned the ball over seven times, Simmons was the complete opposite against Cleveland.

Missing Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson, the Sixers needed this version of Simmons. He attacked the rim, got to the line, hit midrange jumpers and, of course, made another three.

But what happens if/when Embiid returns to the lineup in a juicy matchup against the Raptors Sunday night? The pair have always been an imperfect fit with Simmons’ ability to push the basketball and Embiid’s dominance on the block.

If the evolution of Simmons’ game is what we saw Saturday, it could go a long in way in the duo figuring things out.

“Just learning with Jo,” Simmons said. “It’s great to have somebody like that that’s so dominant and helping him with the double teams, and just putting him in the best position to help us win games. So, having him back tomorrow is going to be great.”

For the record, there’s been no official update on Embiid, who missed the game against the Cavs with a left hip contusion.

But one the biggest things that could help Embiid navigate double teams and aid him against his boogeyman Marc Gasol is Simmons consistently attempting outside shots.

Much like the first three of his NBA career, Simmons reacted as if he’d hit 1,000 before it.

“What do you want me to do? Jump up and celebrate?”

Simmons has taken two legitimate threes this season and buried both, so the confidence isn't totally irrational. If it gets to the point where it truly isn’t newsworthy that Simmons hits a three, look out.

While Brown has been careful not to make too big a fuss over it and chosen his words carefully when talking about Simmons shooting, he couldn’t help but ponder what it would mean for Simmons — and for his basketball team as a whole.

I think the drama of it is overblown,” Brown said. “The reality that he can shoot and it ultimately, it's going to need to come into his game in a more pronounced way just from an attempt standpoint, that's not overblown. I think the drama surrounding it is completely overblown. When I just put on my coaching hat and I'm looking at a 23-year-old young man trying to grow his game, it's completely — first in his wheelhouse and secondly, he will be liberated. His world will open up. And I think, in many ways, so will ours.

His coach gave him the blueprint. Now it’s up to Simmons to implement it.

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

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

Updated: 1:25 p.m.

The Sixers (28-16) are looking for their second straight road win in Brooklyn against the Nets (18-23) on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Joel Embiid will miss his seventh straight game as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Al Horford, who was listed as questionable (sprained left hand), will play. Norvel Pelle, who is running low on NBA days with his two-way deal, will not play.

The Nets are also banged up. Kyrie Irving (right hamstring tightness) DeAndre Jordan (dislocated right middle finger) is out. They’ll also be without former Sixer Wilson Chandler (left hamstring tightness).

Here are the essentials:

When: 3 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Hurting at the five

The Sixers have gone 4-2 since Embiid went down. Though Horford’s play has been up-and-down, he’s a big part of the reason why. He played through the hand injury late in the game against Knicks Saturday and will gut it out Monday.

Pelle is coming dangerously close to his 45 NBA days running out. When that happens, the Sixers will either have to offer him a full NBA deal or Pelle will be able to sign with another team. He is not with the team today.

The other main option is veteran Kyle O’Quinn, who saw his first action of 2020 against the Bulls Friday. Jonah Bolden is with the team in Brooklyn. In a pinch, they could have him dress.

Road woes over?

The Sixers barely snapped their six-game road losing streak at Madison Square Garden Saturday night in a 90-87 win over the Knicks. Yes, it was against a bad team, but it has to help their psyche just to put one in the win column away from the Wells Fargo Center. 

They’re playing a dangerous Brooklyn team. The Nets have lost three straight, but those games were to the red-hot Jazz, the Sixers and the NBA-best Bucks.

Unlike last season, the Sixers are well-equipped to handle the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. We saw what Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle were able to do to that the Nets last week in Philly. This should be a good one.

MLK Day

The slate of NBA games on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become a tradition. It’s one that players around the league don’t take lightly.

Tobias Harris addressed the Wells Fargo Center crowd before the Sixers’ last home game before MLK Day. Harris spoke about King’s message of love and equality.

“Martin Luther King stood for equality. He stood for love. Amongst everybody, all the different individuals of life, to be able to walk out and embrace each other and cherish everything that we do on a daily basis. In our world, what he and his message brought to everybody, is meant for now more than ever. On behalf of myself, the NBA, the organization and my teammates, we want to thank you guys for being here tonight and to also celebrate and cherish the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Harris was excellent that night, scoring 11 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.

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2019-20 NBA power rankings: Taking stock heading into the second half of the regular season

2019-20 NBA power rankings: Taking stock heading into the second half of the regular season

With the trade deadline a little over two weeks away, every team in the NBA has played at least 41 games.

Let’s take stock as the second half of the regular season begins: 

The top 10

It took the second triple-double of Markelle Fultz’s career Wednesday to snap the Lakers’ nine-game winning streak. 

Jimmy Butler has gotten to the free throw line in every game he’s played besides one this season and is third in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (9.3).

Mike Conley returned from a hamstring injury Saturday for Utah, and the Jazz have won 16 of 18.

The Rockets have lost three straight and the Mavs have won four straight, but Dallas has a difficult upcoming schedule with the Clippers and Jazz on tap this week. 

Ben Simmons has been stellar in just about every way besides fourth-quarter scoring for the Sixers in Joel Embiid’s absence and is averaging 21.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists over his last four games. 

Though Marcus Smart set a franchise record with 11 threes and scored a career-high 37 points in Saturday’s defeat to the Suns, Boston has lost three in a row. 

1. Milwaukee Bucks (38-6) 
2. Los Angeles Lakers (34-8)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (30-13)
4. Denver Nuggets (29-13) 
5. Miami Heat (29-13) 
6. Utah Jazz (29-13) 
7. Dallas Mavericks (27-15) 
8. Houston Rockets (26-15)
9. Sixers (28-16) 
10. Boston Celtics (27-14)

The middle 10

The Raptors shot over 50 percent from the floor in every game this week and could easily be higher in our rankings — it’s tightly bunched in the six through 12 range. 

Memphis has seven straight wins. Ja Morant is mesmerizing, and both he and Jaren Jackson Jr. are shooting over 40 percent on threes. 

Kyrie Irving talked Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center about the Nets requiring “one or two more pieces,” then reached out to teammates to clarify his comments.

Zion Williamson is expected to debut Wednesday vs. the Spurs, exciting news if you enjoy basketball. 

After their trade with the Kings, Portland got 34 points from Damian Lillard and a career-high 30 from flu-stricken Gary Trent Jr., and they still lost by 13 to Oklahoma City.

11. Toronto Raptors (28-14)
12. Indiana Pacers (28-15) 
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-19) 
14. Memphis Grizzlies (20-22)
15. Brooklyn Nets (18-23) 
16. San Antonio Spurs (18-23) 
17. Orlando Magic (20-23)
18. Phoenix Suns (18-24) 
19. New Orleans Pelicans (16-27) 
20. Portland Trail Blazers (18-26)

The bottom 10 

The Bulls’ last win over a team currently in playoff position was on Dec. 14, but Zach LaVine is putting up big numbers, including 42 points Saturday vs. Cleveland, and trying to push for a home All-Star appearance

Sekou Doumbouya, the league’s youngest player, scored 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting Wednesday night at TD Garden. 

It appears that a clear bottom four has separated from the pack. Stephen Curry is targeting a March 1 return, according to The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson. 

21. Chicago Bulls (16-28)
22. Sacramento Kings (15-27) 
23. Detroit Pistons (16-27)
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (15-27) 
25. Charlotte Hornets (15-29)
26. Washington Wizards (13-28)
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-31)
28. New York Knicks (11-32)
29. Golden State Warriors (10-34)
30. Atlanta Hawks (10-33) 



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