76ers

Sixers summon 'dark' boxing analogies, make the highly unusual seem normal in blowout Game 5 win over Nets

Sixers summon 'dark' boxing analogies, make the highly unusual seem normal in blowout Game 5 win over Nets

As an observer, it was difficult to process what you were watching. 14-0. 20-2. 30-6. 

The Nets missed their first eight field goal attempts. Joel Embiid had 10 points before Brooklyn had any. In their last chance to preserve their season, the Nets had their lowest first-quarter scoring output of the year — 15. 

None of the numbers made sense, and it felt like nobody at Wells Fargo Center could quite believe what was happening besides the Sixers’ players.

They understood this was a possibility, JJ Redick said after their 122-100 win to advance to a second-round playoff matchup against the Raptors (see observations)

We had talked about how a team’s mindset down 3-1, if you can take their heart early, you might have a chance to put them away, deliver the knockout punch, all the boxing analogies I can come up with. I have some dark analogies, but I shared those with the team. I don’t want to share them with you guys, but they’re dark. But yeah, you gotta put people away. 

The Sixers put the Nets away so early there wasn’t much of the exultation, relief or sense of profound fatigue that might typically correspond with winning a a playoff series — especially one that featured various skirmishes, trash talk and fines.

Joel Embiid’s analysis was understated.

“Tonight was a good game,” he said. “If we're as focused as we were tonight, then we got a pretty good chance to accomplish what we want. After the type of game like tonight, you go back and watch the tape and see what worked out and what didn't. Obviously we've got to lower our turnovers (19), but other than that I thought our defense was great.”

With the exception of Game 1, the Sixers ultimately did what they were supposed to do against the Nets. It’s exciting to move on to the second round, sure, but it isn’t foreign or unexpected.

After winning the first playoff series of his eight-year NBA career, Tobias Harris acknowledged he’s likely never been involved in a game that began the way Tuesday night’s did.

“Probably not,” Harris said. “I think our start really dictated the whole pace of the game. We said it after last game — we get out to a good start, really kill their momentum, kill their vibe all around. I thought the start to this game was impactful, was powerful for us. When we talk about imposing our will, that was a sound example of that.”

Taking a 24-point lead in the first quarter, depleting an opposition of whatever energy they might have had left, matching playoff records — none of those things should be easy to accomplish against the Raptors.

The expectations will change in that series as well, with the Sixers no longer assuming the role of favorites. The boxing analogies Redick employs might need to shift.

The Sixers’ reaction to Tuesday night’s obliteration of the Nets, though, indicates that they don’t feel much of anything is beyond their capabilities. 

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James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option and become a free agent, his agent, Scott Nichols from Rize Management, confirmed Monday morning.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Ennis’ player option was for $1.85 million.

According to Nichols, Ennis is seeking a more lucrative, multi-year deal. Nichols said Ennis, after being acquired by the Sixers in February in a trade with the Houston Rockets, enjoyed his stint in Philadelphia, and it’s possible he could return to the Sixers. 

“He’s built good relationships within his short time there with his teammates like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and has found a quiet leadership role there, too,” Nichols told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ennis talked at his exit interview last Monday about the close friendship he’s developed with Simmons, mentioning that Simmons talked him into getting a Cane Corso dog, the same type of dog Simmons has. 

Ennis boosted his stock during the postseason as a key member of the Sixers’ bench, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11 playoff games. During the regular season, Ennis won the “tournament” for wing minutes off the bench in a landslide, beating out Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Kokrmaz.

“It was tough at first because it was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach [Brett] Brown allowing me to play.”

At 28 years old, Ennis has already played for six teams. The Sixers, if they’re willing to offer a deal that Ennis and Nichols like, may offer the stability that’s been lacking during his career.

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The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

Last year, the Sixers’ pre-draft process was, for some time, a mystery. As the team investigated then-president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s alleged use of burner Twitter accounts, the typical pre-draft routine was interrupted. Then, with the search underway to replace Colangelo, the Sixers took on the NBA draft with Brett Brown as the interim general manager at the head of a collaborative leadership structure.

Elton Brand was a part of that group that helped shepherd the organization through the draft — and came away with a commendable haul of Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Shake Milton. 

Now, Brand is the man in charge. He attended the team’s first pre-draft workout on May 6 in Camden, New Jersey — the team will hold its second group workout Monday — and was at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this past week. The draft is a month away and then, soon enough, the Sixers will shift into free agency mode.

Brand said at his end-of-season press conference Tuesday that he’s looking forward to it all. 

I’m excited. We have a great group. Dynamic core. I look forward to being the GM for the first time going into free agency, going into the draft. We were in [Game 7] until the last shot to go into overtime and win and get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Disappointed we didn’t get there, but highly optimistic and I’m proud of what we've done. I look forward to this offseason. I know we’re going to grow and get better.

Things change rapidly in professional sports, but let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that, even by the warped standards of the Sixers, it’s been quite a year.

Brown famously proclaimed on draft night that the team was “star hunting, or star developing.” The “star hunting” part ended up falling on Brand, since the Sixers’ two biggest summer acquisitions under Brown were Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler. Brand later traded away both players in the early-morning, pre-deadline deal for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic that confirmed, if there was any lingering doubt, his willingness to be bold.

Though Brand didn’t hold much back in his first attempt at lifting the Sixers to title contention, he gave himself ample flexibility this offseason. The Sixers have more free agents than players under contract for next year, and they have five draft picks, tied with Atlanta for the most of any team. There’s no undoing the moves he made in his first season, but Brand has the choice to fundamentally reshape the Sixers again if he’d like.

Another path Brand could take is paying what’s necessary to bring back Harris and Butler and figuring out the rest at the margins. (Regardless, upgrading at backup center will be a priority.) It’s also very possible Brand tries to find a middle road.

Owner Josh Harris said Tuesday he’s comfortable going into the luxury tax, though Brand added, “We’re going to be fiscally responsible. We’re not just going to be jumping into the luxury tax with the moves we make.”

Brand will, of course, have a team to support him with all the minutiae of the salary cap — trade exceptions, the mid-level exception, you name it — in his first offseason. After experiencing a bizarre last summer in a peripheral role, Brand is in the limelight. 

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