Sixers face, conquer late-game demons

Sixers face, conquer late-game demons


The Sixers on Monday exorcised two demons.

After nearly blowing a 21-point lead, the Sixers managed to take down one of the East's elite, holding on for dear life in a 117-111 win (see observations) over the Raptors during a Martin Luther King Day matinee game at the Wells Fargo Center.

Coming into today, they were 0-8 against the likes of Boston, Cleveland and Toronto — the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. They had managed just one against the Raptors in the last five seasons combined before today's win.

It took a strong defensive effort against Toronto's dynamic backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Philly native Kyle Lowry.

"We tried to keep fresh bodies on them and we ended up doing quite a bit of switching," head coach Brett Brown said. "I think that the rules, by and large, of what we were doing in pick-and-roll were solid, I thought we executed them well. But I think that individually we understood that those two, when they get going, generate most of their wins and we understood that and I give credit to our guys, a collective group of guarding them."

As a team, Toronto shot 40 percent from the field and just 28 percent from three. A big part of that, as Brown alluded to, was the Sixers' ability to stifle DeRozan and Lowry. The duo combined to score 37 points on 11 of 34 (32 percent) from the field.

Other than giving a stellar effort against Toronto's All-Star guards, the Sixers didn't help themselves out too much. They turned the ball over 21 times against the second-best team in the conference and lived to tell about it.

There were some anxious moments down the stretch, but the Sixers held on.

"I think it shows how good we can be," backup point guard T.J. McConnell said of the win. "Twenty-one turnovers is ridiculously bad. Obviously blowing that lead ... we just got to be more mature with leads like that and continue to execute and lock up on defense and limit turnovers."

McConnell was nothing short of spectacular. The third-year guard scored a career-high 18 points on 8 of 13 from the field. He also added eight assists, six rebounds, three steals and a dustup with DeRozan in the second quarter, which resulted in double technicals (see video).

Big man Joel Embiid, who was spectacular in his own right with 34 points and 11 boards (see video), was effusive in his praise for McConnell. 

"He was great the whole game," Embiid said. "He brought some energy. We moved the ball with him on the court and he found me. He's a great piece for us and he helped us a lot."

The Sixers had been in this situation before and they're likely to see it a lot more as the season goes on. There was a particularly odd sequence with the Sixers holding a 113-108 lead with 25.3 seconds remaining in the game. 

McConnell stole an inbounds pass, which led to a Robert Covington missed layup. After Lowry turned the ball over again, Ben Simmons came up with another steal. He proceeded to miss a dunk which Embiid rebounded and then missed a layup of his own before eventually getting fouled.

All of this could've been avoided if the Sixers just took the rebound and dribbled the ball out.

"All we've got to do is dribble it out and instead we're playing volleyball," Brown said. "Just dribble it out and spread it out and just win the game. 

"That's the stuff that keeps me up late — really, really late — at night, but we found a way to win. To our team's credit, we went on a 7-0 run when the game was in the balance. 

"It's not a mystery to me why this stuff happens. And it's not as simple as, 'OK, now you know why you're sick, here's the medicine to fix it.' It's growing a bunch of young guys. It's part of the challenge."

A second-half collapse avoided with a win over an Eastern Conference giant will hopefully provide the Sixers a remedy going forward. 

Source: Sixers will acquire Mike Muscala, send away Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson in 3-team trade

Source: Sixers will acquire Mike Muscala, send away Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson in 3-team trade

The Sixers were involved in a trade with Carmelo Anthony.

Exhale, Sixers fans, Anthony is not coming here. Instead, Anthony is being shipped to the Hawks — who will likely waive the veteran forward — with a 2022 protected first-round pick for point guard Dennis Schroder, according to a report Thursday by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Sixers in turn will send Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to the Thunder and Justin Anderson to the Hawks to acquire Atlanta’s Mike Muscala, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark.

Yahoo! Sports' Shams Charania first reported the Sixers' side of the deal.

The move makes sense for the Sixers on a couple fronts. After missing out on Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica, who reportedly agreed to a deal with the team and then backed out, Brett Brown gets a player with a similar skill set in Muscala. The former Bucknell star has great size (6-foot-11, 240 pounds) and the ability to shoot (37.8 percent from three for his career).

It also makes sense from a roster standpoint. The team had a bit of a logjam on the wing and had 16 players for 15 roster spots. By losing two players and getting only one back, the Sixers are now at 15 players under contract. That also includes Jerryd Bayless, who will likely be bought out or stretched, but does not include 2017 second-round pick Jonah Bolden or 2018 second-round pick Shake Milton.

Muscala had a career year for the lowly Hawks. He averaged 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20 minutes a game — all career marks. He also hit 37.1 percent of his threes on 3.2 attempts. A second-round pick by the Mavericks in 2013, Muscala has spent all five of his NBA seasons in Atlanta.

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Sixers fans need to relax about team's offseason

Sixers fans need to relax about team's offseason

Here’s a brief message that some Sixers fans can use right now: relax.

Remember that you have a team with two budding superstars that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals just last season and should only be headed upward from here.

Sure, there’s going to be some level of disappointment when Brett Brown proclaimed the Sixers were going “star hunting” this summer only to come up empty on the free-agent market outside of re-signing their own players.

But, more than anything, how things transpired for the Sixers over the past few weeks should let you know that much more goes into landing a free agent than simply basketball.

Look at the first major domino to fall in free agency, Paul George. The five-time All-Star didn’t hesitate to make his decision and announced he was rejoining the Oklahoma City Thunder at a Russell Westbrook party shortly after midnight on July 1.

Despite the Sixers being in the mix for George, the Thunder always had the upper hand. The Thunder had George in the fold for a full year after acquiring him from Indiana last summer and used every day to convince him OKC was the right place to move forward.

“They honestly check the boxes where I needed those boxes to be checked from what a player wants and needs out of a front office, out of a medical group, out of teammates, out of coaching staff,” George said during exit interviews. “I mean, honestly, they can't say it anymore [than] that. They checked the boxes on what needs to be checked.”

Even with George on the market, the Sixers always had their top focus on the biggest available fish in the game: LeBron James. They even secured a meeting with James’ camp, albeit only with agent Rich Paul and not the three-time champion himself. 

Still, the Sixers, with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid leading the way, were serious contenders for James as Paul confirmed.

"The teams that he looked at, he looked at for guys like Ben Simmons,” Paul, who is also Simmons’ agent, said on NBA TV during a summer league game. “There's a reason why he looked at Philadelphia, but ultimately he chose the Lakers.”

And what ultimately made James join the Lakers, no matter what his representatives say to the contrary, had little to do with basketball. James has turned himself into an entertainment mogul, so who better to learn from than Magic Johnson? 

After all, King James reportedly already had dinner in Los Angeles last week with Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio

We all love Philadelphia, but those types of Hollywood power brokers aren’t exactly making reservations for restaurants on Broad Street.

So the Sixers swung and missed on George for familiarity and James for off-court opportunities. 

Perhaps you can swallow missing out on two of the game’s best players, but now role players are spurning the franchise too? That’s enough to push a Sixers fan over the edge … until you dig a little bit deeper.

Nemanja Bjelica had his qualifying offer with the Minnesota Timberwolves rescinded and immediately jumped to the best situation for him when he reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Sixers.

However, Bjelica informed the team he was backing out of the deal and returning to Europe. That was until fellow Serbian and Kings general manager, Vlade Divac, came calling. Now the two sides are apparently deep in discussion on a multi-year contract.

Once you push through the initial wave of confusion, you find out that Bjelica simply didn’t want to move his family to Philadelphia for a year and be back on the hunt next summer. He was seeking what most of us do in a new job, which is stability. 

While that may seem a bit unreasonable for an NBA reserve big man, you can’t blame a guy for trying. And now it appears he may find some of what he desired in Sacramento.

Back here in Philadelphia, the Sixers are surely second-guessing what happened to their star hunt this offseason. While it came up empty-handed, the Sixers — and their fans — have to understand that so much more factors into securing a free agent than what actually takes place on the court and is not a red flag on the franchise.

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