76ers

'Hot guy' James Ennis oozing confidence for Sixers

'Hot guy' James Ennis oozing confidence for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — James Ennis came over to his media availability after practice Tuesday with a little extra pep in his step.

And why not?

He’s playing arguably the best basketball of his NBA career and doing so for a team that wants to compete for an NBA title. Ennis has been on a torrid shooting pace, hitting 50 percent of his threes (17 of 34) over the last 11 games.

“So I'm considered a ‘hot guy’ now,” Ennis said, “so a lot of guys are flying at me, so I have to put the ball on the ground and I can definitely get to the lane a lot easier now.”

The term “hot guy” is what you think: Opposing teams will have him on the scouting report as a player they need to keep tabs on beyond the arc. That’s led to Ennis’ defenders having more aggressive and, at times, reckless closeouts, opening things up for him to drive.

It’s a label Ennis is clearly enjoying.

“Definitely. I want to be known as a ‘hot guy,’ [that's why] I wanna knock down shots,” Ennis said. “I can get people with my shot fake now, 'cause I'm a ‘hot guy.’”

This is a man simply oozing with confidence right now.

It hasn’t always been easy for Ennis in his professional basketball career. After being drafted in the second round by the Hawks in the 2013 NBA draft, his rights were traded to the Heat. Ennis decided instead to play overseas in Australia. After a stint in Puerto Rico, Ennis joined Miami and began his NBA journey.

The bouncing around continued as Ennis had stops in Memphis, New Orleans, Memphis (again), Detroit and Houston before landing in Philly. After coming over at the trade deadline from the Rockets, Ennis was a big part of the Sixers’ rotation into the postseason. There was clearly a mutual interest in bringing Ennis back this offseason.

His head coach, who knows plenty about basketball in Australia, was asked if he’s seen a swagger to Ennis lately.

“It seems so. I guess there is. And good for him,” Brett Brown said. “He's a great story. We all kind of follow his career and he too, has an Australian experience in Perth, a great part of Australia on the Indian Ocean, sort of all on the western side of the country all by itself. And he's come from sort of hidden with Miami and then went overseas and had a taste with Houston. And now here he is with us and he's having a hell of a year, and he has been shooting the ball well, and I think he's been playing pretty good defense.”

At one point in Monday night’s win over the Jazz, Ennis nailed a three on the wing and was also fouled. Much to the delight of the crowd, Ennis began doing pushups. 

Is that a new celebration?

“I did them back in Australia, but it was nothing,” Ennis said. “I just did it because it was an and-one. I just wanted to show my strength a little bit.”

Unfortunately, Ennis missed the ensuing free throw. He admitted he may have been a little too amped from his on-court workout.

“I did miss, long. So I think it did affect me a little bit, so I probably won't be doing no pushups before my free throws next time.”

Brown was jokingly asked if Ennis would face any discipline for the pushup celebration.

“I’ll have to think about it,” Brown said.

It would probably take a lot more than that to bring this "hot guy" down right now.

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Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

Joel Embiid honors Kobe Bryant, channels his own 'Mamba Mentality' in return

It was a strange night at the Wells Fargo Center. Then again, everything has felt strange since we found out that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash Sunday.

But on Tuesday, it was time for Joel Embiid and the Sixers to play basketball again. The team honored Bryant, the NBA great and Philadelphia native, in a touching pregame tribute.

Embiid did it by returning to the floor after missing nine games and scoring 24 points in a 115-104 win over the Warriors (see observations), drawing upon the way Bryant played his decorated 20-year career.

“It was tough,” Embiid said. “Like I keep saying, Kobe meant something different than anybody else. It was tough, but I know just looking at his career and what he was about, that 'Mamba Mentality.' It was about outworking your opponent, outworking everybody else and I know he would want everybody to go out and compete hard and play the game and try to win. That's what he was about. It was tough but that's how you honor him.”

Beyond his play on the floor, Embiid reached out to another Hall of Famer for help to honor Kobe.

Bobby Jones’ No. 24 was retired by the Sixers in 1986. Known as “The Secretary of Defense,” Jones was a five-time All-Star and an 11-time All-Defensive Team pick. Sixers equipment manager Scotty Rego, who’s been with the team for over 32 years, had a hand in helping arrange everything. A phone call was arranged for Embiid and Jones earlier in the day.

Jones’ only caveat was that Embiid have a strong defensive effort — like Jones and Bryant, a 12-time All-Defensive Team pick himself.

“Bobby, he's a legend,” Embiid said. “He's got his number retired. He's a Hall of Famer. It's always tough to be in that situation, but he was incredible. He was forthcoming. I'm really grateful that he let me have this opportunity to wear that number. It's a tough decision, but he was all for it and I'm really thankful.”

Will he continue to wear it?

“No, I'm not keeping it. It was just for one game. You can't disrespect the greatness of Bobby Jones. He was a great player at his time. His number is retired. Like I said, I'm extremely grateful that he let me have that opportunity to wear that. I'm back to my number.”

Embiid getting the opportunity to play and wear the number wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Embiid was listed as questionable pregame and had to be cleared by a hand surgeon. He'd missed the past two and a half weeks after tearing a ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. 

When he spoke to reporters last week for the first time since his surgery, he mentioned the team’s spot in the standings has fueled him to want to get back in the lineup faster. With their win tonight, the Sixers are a half game ahead of the Pacers for the fifth seed and just 2 ½ games behind the Raptors for No. 2.

They also have a difficult stretch of games upcoming. After traveling to Atlanta to take on the lowly Hawks, they finish the road trip with games against the Celtics, Heat and Bucks — all teams ahead of them in the conference.

Embiid is gearing up for that slate but didn’t look all that rusty Tuesday aside from his five turnovers. Most importantly, he said his finger wasn’t in any pain.

“No, it's not,” Embiid said. “I'm fine. I'm wearning a lot of straps on it. I will probably blame that on the amount of turnovers I had today. So that was the reason, but I'm wearing a lot of straps on it so takes a lot of adjustment, but it's fine.”

With the Sixers beginning to pull away in the fourth, Embiid got the ball in the post on Eric Paschall. It was an obvious mismatch and Embiid went to work. With a double team looming, Embiid turned toward the baseline.

He hit a fadeaway. Wearing No. 24. Earning his 24th point of the game.

“Well, that was cool. I didn't know it was actually 24 points as I shot that fadeaway — that was what [Kobe] was about. I actually yelled ‘Kobe.’ A lot of us, since I started playing basketball, that's how we've always done it. You shoot something in the trash and you just go ‘Kobe,’ so that was cool. And then for it to be the 24th point and me wearing 24 means a lot.”

It was a fitting end to a difficult night.

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Zhaire Smith changes number to honor Kobe Bryant, has keepsake for his future 'man cave'

Zhaire Smith changes number to honor Kobe Bryant, has keepsake for his future 'man cave'

Zhaire Smith scored the first NBA basket of his second professional season Tuesday night, driving in for a dunk early in the second quarter of the Sixers’ 115-104 win over the Warriors at Wells Fargo Center.

His teammates enjoyed that moment, but the 20-year-old had earned their respect before he’d done anything on the court. Smith, who’d previously worn No. 8, had on a No. 7 jersey Tuesday night. He’s decided to wear No. 5 moving forward, a number that he says has no real significance to him. (No. 5 wasn’t available Tuesday and No. 7 was a temporary replacement.)

Smith made that decision to honor the life of Kobe Bryant. On Sunday, Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were two of nine people who died in a helicopter crash. 

“When I decided, they respected me and gave me dap,” Smith said of his teammates. 

Bryant is the reason Smith had gone with No. 8. The Sixers have retired No. 2 in honor of Moses Malone, which would have been his first choice.

“Pre-draft, I really wanted 2 to come out of [Texas] Tech, but that’s retired,” he said. “And then I found out 8 was available and I said, ‘Oh, that’s Kobe.’ So, I did that for him.”

Smith isn’t usually one for extended, elaborate answers, but he added a little humor to a largely somber night with a tale about how he once tried to emulate Bryant. 

“I think I heard one of his stories where he was in the gym since 6 a.m., went home, came back,” he said. “I tried to do that for one day but my body was dead, so I never did that again.” 

Tuesday’s game was just the eighth of Smith’s NBA career. After being acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade, he’s broken his foot, suffered a severe allergic reaction, had feeding tubes in his stomach, lost and regained over 35 pounds and played 30 G-League games. Oh, and he sprained his left ankle Saturday night vs. the Lakers in his first NBA action of the season.

With the Delaware Blue Coats, Smith has been “hunting threes” and working on refining his guard skills after playing power forward in his lone year at Texas Tech. Still, his trademark quality is his athleticism. 

While Smith isn’t a scorer in Bryant’s mold and has been taught to avoid most two-point shots outside of the paint, he admired the five-time NBA champion’s game and referred to him as his “idol” growing up. 

“His fadeaway,” Smith said. “Even though that’s kind of a bad shot in the league right now, that was unguardable.”

Surrounded by a scrum of reporters likely larger than any he’s seen since becoming a Sixer, there was one question of the flurry fired his way that especially made Smith light up.

He was asked what he planned to do with the warmup jersey hanging in his locker with “PHILA” on the front, Bryant’s name and the number 8 on the back. 

“I’m going to hang it in my man cave when I get a crib,” he said. “In about 10 years, it’ll be in my man cave.”

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