76ers

Sixers get most improbable win of all on road trip

Sixers get most improbable win of all on road trip

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND — Of the games on the Sixers’ three-stop road trip, a win over the Cavaliers seemed the least likely. The Wizards and Heat? Sure, that should have been doable. A victory in Cleveland? The Sixers hadn’t achieved that since March 29, 2013. 

Yet it was in the more improbable matchup against the third-seeded team in the Eastern Conference that they came out on top, 108-97 (see observations)

"We won't get too ahead of ourselves,” Brett Brown said. “We're proud of the win. Anytime you can beat a team that LeBron James plays on, you must have done something fairly decent."

The Sixers knew from their previous two losses they would have to clamp down defensively, especially with the new-look Cavs averaging 114.6 points since the trade deadline roster overhaul.

Cutting back on turnovers was critical; they committed 10 against the Cavs compared to 23 against the Heat on Tuesday. They also had to take advantage of the Cavaliers’ missing pieces — Kevin Love (left hand fracture) and J.R. Smith (team suspension). 

And then there’s containing James. He’s capable of going for 40, 50 points any given night. On Thursday, that number was 30. James led all players in scoring while adding nine rebounds and eight assists. 

James, the potentially soon-to-be free agent who wore blue sneakers amid rumors of him touring Philadelphia-area schools (which he denied), was complimentary of the ascending Sixers. 

“You give credit where credit is due,” James said. “I think Philly played well.”

This matchup always is a good measuring stick on both ends of the floor for Ben Simmons, who now has faced James three times his rookie season. Simmons neared a triple-double (18 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) while learning from facing his big brother-type.

“It’s fun because I know he’s a great, competitive player and I’m the same way,” Simmons said. “Playing against him, obviously one of the best to play the game, so it’s a great vibe out there. The whole team is into it and it’s very competitive. That was a big win for us.”

The game wasn’t all handshakes and smiles. With the Sixers up eight and 12.2 seconds to play, Dario Saric dunked to push the lead. Jordan Clarkson took exception to Saric scoring rather than holding the possession and threw the ball off Saric’s back. Clarkson was ejected.

“Basketball," Clarkson said. "That’s it. Part of the game. If anybody says different or they want to think they would’ve done something different or anything else, they’re lying, especially if it was that point in the game.”

Saric was taken aback by Clarkson’s reaction but offered an apology on the play. 

"I thought we are NBA players," Saric said. "To be mad on something like that, for me, is like a little bit weird. But I want to apologize to the organization, to them, to fans. It's not against somebody. It's not like intentional."

The Sixers are looking to bring this momentum back to the Wells Fargo Center for Friday’s game against the Hornets before heading back on the road to face another series of playoff teams, starting Sunday in Milwaukee. 

Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

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Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

We’re counting down the hours now until the 2018 NBA draft, which means all of the chatter surrounding teams is heading into overdrive.

That includes the Sixers, who are reportedly still attempting to move up the draft board.

Per a report Tuesday by Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer, the Sixers are continuing to make calls about moving into the top five. However, “they have offered packages of picks, but have thus far rebuked including oft-mentioned Robert Covington and Dario Saric,” according to the report.

There has still been no mention of exactly which prospect the Sixers are interested in trading up for since former Cavaliers GM David Griffin made the claim during a radio interview last week (see story).

With six total selections in Thursday’s draft, including Nos. 10 and 26 in the first round, it makes sense that the Sixers would offer draft picks first in any potential trade.

However you feel about the streaky Covington, the team was high enough on the All-NBA defender last season to lock him into a long-term deal while Saric has proven to be a rock-solid contributor that keeps improving every day.

We’ll see if the Sixers ease off those demands as we get even closer to the draft.

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NBA draft profile: Miami G Bruce Brown Jr.

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NBA draft profile: Miami G Bruce Brown Jr.

Bruce Brown Jr.

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 195

School: Miami

After his freshman year, Bruce Brown Jr. would have been a no-brainer first-round pick and most likely a lottery selection. Now, it would be a big surprise to see him go in the lottery, and even the first round is far from a sure thing.

There are two main reasons for Brown’s stock falling, the first of which is the regression in his play as a sophomore, especially his shooting. Brown’s three-point percentage dropped from 34.7 percent to 26.7 percent and his free-throw shooting went from 74.4 percent to 62.9 percent. The second reason is the left foot injury Brown suffered in late January, which caused him to miss the second half of the season.

There don’t appear to be any serious concerns about the injury for Brown, who worked out with the Sixers Wednesday. But questions about his shot and why he couldn’t build upon an impressive freshman year are certainly lingering.

Strengths
Brown is an outstanding athlete and competitor. He bench pressed 225 pounds 17 times at the combine, the most by any guard, and that's not at all surprising given the strength with which way he plays. He’s an intense, physical defender with a knack for turning defense into offense. For a guard, he’s an exceptional rebounder, posting 7.1 boards per contest in 2017-18. Offensively, Brown is a solid passer who’s comfortable in pick-and-rolls, which he ran a lot at Miami. He looks capable of being a secondary NBA ball-handler.

Weaknesses
His sophomore shooting dip is obviously a major worry. That 62.9 percent free throw percentage and the fact Brown made only 7 of 46 attempts from NBA three-point range last season are ominous signs. Like his teammate Lonnie Walker IV, Brown was inconsistent on offense. In 19 games last season, he shot 50 percent or better from the floor nine times and 25 percent or worse seven times. Brown has a variety of dribble moves, but his handle isn’t the most tight or fluid. His pull-up game, in terms of shot selection, rhythm and balance, has a lot of room for improvement.  Given how talented an athlete he is, Brown isn’t a great finisher (he shot 58.5 percent at the rim last season) and he doesn’t seem to like using his left hand.

NBA comparison
Brown has said he models his game after Russell Westbrook. He definitely has a little bit of Westbrook in him, especially with his intensity and explosiveness. He also seems to have some Westbrook-like confidence – he thinks he’s the best guard in the draft. And like Westbrook, Brown left college after his sophomore season without a great offensive résumé.

All that said, it’s not fair (or at all realistic) to compare Brown to a player who has averaged a triple-double in back-to-back seasons. Lance Stephenson is a much better comparison. Like Brown, Stephenson is a strong defender, excellent guard rebounder and subpar shooter. It’s important to note, however, that Brown won’t come with any of Stephenson’s notorious, ear-blowing antics.

How he’d fit with Sixers
On the defensive end, Brown will help any NBA team immediately. With his ability to guard one through three at a high level, he’ll have a role off the bench. There’s no doubt Brown’s defense and rebounding would make the Sixers better in two areas where they’re already strong. His athleticism would also be a boost for a second unit lacking in that department last season. 

Draft projection
Because of his injury history and disappointing sophomore campaign, Brown has a slightly wider range than most prospects. He’s expected to be taken in the late first or early second round. He could be an option at No. 26 for the Sixers, or he could be a potential steal at No. 38 or No. 39.  

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