76ers

Deck stacked against Sixers tonight in Boston

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Deck stacked against Sixers tonight in Boston

After earning a strange, roundabout victory at home Wednesday night over the Wizards, the Sixers are in Boston tonight and they're undermanned.

Joel Embiid will sit in the second game of a back-to-back. This is only the Sixers' second back-to-back set of the season — the NBA lengthened the schedule this year to reduce back-to-backs and situations where teams played four games in five nights.

The last time the Sixers sat Embiid as part of a back-to-back, they were destroyed in Toronto 128-94, their largest loss of the season.

In addition to missing Embiid, the Sixers will also be without backup point guard T.J. McConnell, who won't play after suffering a left shoulder contusion Wednesday night.

Brett Brown said after the Wizards game that in a "twisted way," he's looking forward to seeing how an undermanned Sixers team measures up against the 18-4 Celtics.

"We'll go to Boston without Jo and T.J. and we'll fight," he said.

McConnell had been rolling before getting hurt against the Wizards, averaging 11.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists over his last four games while shooting 61 percent from the field and 3 for 4 from three.

With McConnell out, it would ordinarily be expected for floor general Ben Simmons to play additional minutes. But keep in mind that Simmons played a career-high 41 minutes last night and was questionable heading into that game with a sprained ankle.

Jerryd Bayless (14 points, four assists in 26 minutes vs. Washington) should see an uptick in playing time.

The last time the Sixers played the Celtics — a 102-92 loss on Oct. 20 — Embiid had 11 points and 14 rebounds but shot just 4 of 16 from the field and 0 for 6 from three. The Sixers shot just 38 percent that night against Boston's top-rated defense. (The Celtics have a defensive rating of 98.3, which is a full point better than the next-best team, the Blazers.)

It could still be a game, though, even with Embiid and McConnell out. The Celtics own the NBA's best record but have lost two of their last four games. As of Wednesday morning, the Celtics were favored by nine points. Boston hasn't played since losing to Detroit at home on Monday.

Sixers' Joel Embiid healthy but still feels sting of loss to Celtics

Sixers' Joel Embiid healthy but still feels sting of loss to Celtics

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid was his usual colorful self during Sixers media day Friday.

The charismatic Cameroonian, sporting a svelter figure, joked about dunking on his new GM (see video) and talked about his goals for this season.

The biggest thing for Embiid: he’s finally healthy and feeling good going into camp.

“I worked on everything,” Embiid said at the team’s practice facility. “This whole summer was more about working on my body and I feel like I’m a complete player. It was always about just perfecting everything because I’m not perfect. I still make a lot of mistakes and I’m still kind of young in basketball.”

While Embiid’s body is healthy, he still feels the sting of last season’s playoff loss to the Celtics. The issues that plagued Embiid during the regular season reared their ugly head. His tendency to force things created turnovers for Boston and his fitness level wasn’t high enough for a physical playoff series.

A slimmed down and more toned Embiid took the podium Friday, supremely confident that he had helped remedy some of his issues with the help of training guru Drew Hanlen. 

“I watched every game from this past season — playoffs included — probably twice,” Embiid said. “Especially that last game, I watched a lot. That game, the layup that I missed to tie the game … I watched it all and it was painful, but I have one goal in mind. Like I said, I was excited to go into the summer finally healthy and we’re going to see what happens this year.”

Embiid was active this summer. From dunking on random dudes on blacktops around the city to participating in the NBA Africa Game to trying to (unsuccessfully) win a fan $25K at a Drake concert, the All-Star center never stopped.

But all along, his focus was on basketball and taking his game to the next level. Sure, he was disappointed the Sixers couldn’t land LeBron James or another star-caliber player, but it’s just served as motivation. 

Embiid has already stated on more than one occasion that he expects to be an MVP candidate. With the goals he has set out for the team, he’ll need to be one.

“An appearance in the NBA Finals and winning it all,” Embiid said when asked of aspirations this season. “I feel like we’ve got the talent to make it happen. Last year was unfortunate, but it’s behind us. I think this year we’ll be much better and we added a couple pieces. It’s going to be exciting.”

Embiid’s huge personality is only outdone by his dominance on the court. He’s always talked a big game, even when he’s been sidelined with injuries. But the big man has always backed it up.

It’s easy to see why fans have fallen in love with Embiid and why he’s returned that admiration. From the time he was drafted out of Kansas and his two subsequent missed seasons because of injury, this fan base has, by and large, had his back.

“I always feel like I have a good connection with the fans,” Embiid said. “It’s not just on the court, it’s also off the court. I appreciate them, definitely, and I think they appreciate me a lot, too, so we both have a mutual respect. I love it. 

“I envisioned myself being in this situation when I got to Philly. That’s the place I want to be for the rest of my career. I’m excited. We’ve got a great connection. I’ve got a lot of love for the city and a great connection with the Sixers.”

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Confident Markelle Fultz has his swagger back

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Confident Markelle Fultz has his swagger back

This was a different person.

Markelle Fultz appeared to be a new man when he sat down at the podium Friday for Sixers media day, and not simply because he’s in better shape and sporting some fresh cornrows.

Fultz exuded confidence from the moment he stepped into the room, which was a far cry from the player that was unsure of himself during a much-scrutinized rookie season.

What a difference a few months can make.

“Everybody knows what happened last year, so this summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back. It was a very productive summer,” Fultz said. “I’m happy with the work I put in with Drew (Hanlen). We put up a lot of shots, a lot of hours in the gym. I’m happy with where I’m at right now going into training camp.”

Happiness was a fleeting feeling for Fultz a season ago. 

Injuries started accumulating right away for the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. Fultz sprained his left ankle during summer league and had right knee soreness during the preseason.

Then came the elephant in the room with the mysterious shoulder issue that forced the guard into that funky shooting motion and a 68-game absence. 

While Hanlen claimed it was actually “the yips,” Fultz, showing just how much more confident he is in himself, swatted down that assertion.

“I think it was a mis-term in words, but me and Drew have talked,” he said. “What happened last year was an injury. Let me get that straight. It was an injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through the certain paths that I needed to, to shoot the ball. 

“Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course, you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal.”

Unfortunately for Fultz, what also became normal were the critics. And he’s heard them all.

Broken jumper? Yep.

Inside of his own head? Uh huh.

Bust? You bet.

That was part of the motivation behind Fultz linking up with respected trainer Hanlen and putting in three-workout days that included hundreds of jumpers during each session.

Now looking back on all of the opinions about his game, Fultz actually considers it a positive. Just chalk it as fuel on the fire.

“The adversity I went through last year, I don’t think any 19-year-old ever went through what I went through last year,” he said.

“I normally work hard. I’m a hard worker, but I had a lot of motivation going into this summer. Last year I had an injury that stopped me from being able to be myself 100 percent. So this summer I was really focused on just working hard to get my shot back to how I would like it. Confidence-wise, I’m very confident going in. I’m very excited for this season.”

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