Sixers' drastic transformation continues with series win over Heat

Sixers' drastic transformation continues with series win over Heat


For years, the notion of winning four out of five games was a reach for the Sixers. Getting four wins could take weeks at a time, not just over one week. 

That was then, this is now. And how different now is. 

The Sixers eliminated the Heat with a 104-91 win in Game 5 Tuesday to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012 (see observations). They had not won a best-of-seven series in five games or less since 1985. 

The team that started the season with a goal of making the playoffs and transformed into aspirations of 50 wins, home-court advantage and the third seed has proved to be a true contender in the East (see highlights)

Quite a dramatic turnaround from finishing 10-72 only two seasons ago. 

“I'm just thankful to be here because it goes back to three or four years ago when it all started for me here,” Joel Embiid said. “Two years ago, we won 10 games, so to be in this position, I'm just excited.”

The Sixers won 75 games in Brett Brown’s first four seasons as head coach. Reaching .500 would have been a significant accomplishment. The Sixers blew past that mark with 52 wins, including 16 straight to end the regular season. 

The organization envisioned this level of success years ago when it began thinking of its current “Phila Unite” playoff campaign. The Sixers had the pieces; it was a matter of everything coming together. From Ben Simmons’ standout rookie year after injury to Embiid’s dominant sophomore season to the compilation of a roster deep with veterans, this relatively newly-constructed squad clicked … quickly. 

“I was hired in 2013 and I sat with Josh Harris and David Blitzer and a few of the other owners, and we talked about the vision, what we hoped to build,” Brown reflected. “Through rough times, through adversity, we didn’t blink. We stayed strong in what we were trying to do. 

“We’ve got more to do. We’ve got more to give. We’re excited for sure and there was a sense of just gratitude and I’m proud of all of us for just staying together — owners, team, direction that we’re heading — we didn’t blink. We didn’t pivot out of what we said we were going to do and I think slowly we’re reaping the benefit of that.”

Instead of looking ahead to the NBA draft lottery in May as the key to the Sixers’ future, they are eyeing a deep playoff run during that time. The Sixers will find out their second-round opponent possibly as soon as Thursday night. They will face the winner of the series between the Celtics (No. 2) and Bucks (No. 7), which Boston leads, 3-2. 

The Sixers have high expectations for success. For as many years as they were a losing team, many of the current players were not part of it. They know winning, an unwavering standard they’ve set for themselves they will carry throughout the playoffs. 

“On to the next series,” Simmons said. “We've got to focus on that. But for me, this is my first season playing so this is what I'm going to expect now. Going into it, we've got to lock in and focus on that next team we play." 

Sixers at Heat: 3 storylines to watch

AP Images

Sixers at Heat: 3 storylines to watch

The Sixers put up a good fight against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, despite being limited to just nine available players. Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala are both available tonight, although Chandler will be on a 20-minute restriction. Shake Milton and Demetrius Jackson have also been called up from the G-League and practiced with the team in Miami. Here are three storylines to watch for in tonight’s game.

Offensive rebounds/second chance Points

Led by one of the best rebounders in the game right now in Hassan Whiteside, Miami is one of the top five offensive rebounding teams in the NBA, so it should be no surprise that second chance points are their bread and butter. Currently tied for fourth in the NBA, Miami is averaging 16.4 second chance points per game. The Sixers are the third-best defensive rebounding team in the NBA, so expect a battle on the glass tonight.

Joel Embiid vs. Hassan Whiteside

Speaking of a battle on the glass, there are just certain players that Embiid gets up for, and with the history between him and Whiteside, Monday could certainly be one of those nights. It all started in last years preseason, after the two had some fun on Twitter, and then carried into the regular season after Embiid said Whiteside tried to hit him in the back (remember the infamous, "I won’t forget that.") Tonight will be their first meeting on the court since the Sixers eliminated the Miami Heat in last years playoffs (and also since Embiid’s most recent social media jab on Whiteside).

Integration of Wilson Chandler

Chandler will be starting at the four tonight, alongside Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, JJ Redick and Joel Embiid. Brett Brown intimated that Chandler is going to be a lot more than just a role player for the Sixers this year once he’s fully healthy, and hinted that we’re going to be seeing a lot of him at the four. Granted it’s still going to take some time for Chandler to pick up all of the new offensive and defensive concepts, but I’ll be imagining how Chandler will fit in at the four in the rotation, once Jimmy Butler is officially on the roster. 

When: 7:30 p.m. EST 

Where: American Airlines Arena

Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia (Pregame Live starts at 7 p.m. EST)

Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams by NBC Sports app 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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NBA trade rumors: Is Kyle Korver Sixers' next trade target?

NBA trade rumors: Is Kyle Korver Sixers' next trade target?

The Cavs entered the season thinking they could compete for the 8-seed in the East with a re-signed Kevin Love and a combination of veterans and "hungry" young players.

A dozen games into the season, they're 1-11, Love is hurt and they legitimately look like the worst team in an NBA filled with awful teams.

Kyle Korver is their most likely trade piece and the Sixers have already been connected to him. On their podcasts the last two weeks, both Woj and Brian Windhorst have brought up the connection and indicated that a trade would already be done if the Cavs were willing to accept two of the Sixers' second-round picks in the 2019 draft.

There will be a huge market for Korver's services — every team needs more shooting — so Cleveland is right to not jump on the first offer it gets. But it's hard to imagine any team offering a first-round pick, even if it's a late first. Korver is a great shooter but he's 37 years old.

That's where the Sixers' collection of second-round picks comes into play. They have three: their own and the ones belonging to the Kings and Bulls, two teams projected to pick toward the top of the second round. That's an advantage.

The only other NBA team with three second-round picks in next year's draft is the Hawks, who obviously won't be making a win-now trade.

What makes Korver even more attractive to a shooting-needy team like the Sixers is that he's under contract next season as well. He's slated to make $7.5 million next season but only $3.44 million of that is guaranteed, meaning if he suffers a long-term injury, the Sixers can waive him before July 7, 2019 and pay only the $3.44M.

The Lakers have just as much of a need for Korver as the Sixers but seem unlikely to trade for him because they want a completely clean cap sheet next summer to chase stars.

We saw last season the impact Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli had on the Sixers' second unit, and we've seen this season that the Sixers' second unit needs a boost. They just don't have the same depth from a year ago.

Korver is a better shooter than Ilyasova or Belinelli. He's shot 45% from three over the last nine seasons. Insane. Nearly a decade of elite, elite shooting from distance, and that's on nearly five attempts per game.

If JJ Redick and Korver were to share the court, the spacing would be terrific. The defense would suffer, but it would give the Sixers an offense-based lineup for when they're trailing by 10 points with six minutes to go.

Unfortunately, the best, perhaps only course of action for the Sixers here is to wait out the Korver trade market. It doesn't make much sense to trade a first-round pick for him, and once the Cavs come to that ultimate realization, the domino could fall.


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