Sixers' week ahead: Jimmy Butler rests, Boban Marjanovic returns, James Ennis winning 'the tournament'

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Sixers' week ahead: Jimmy Butler rests, Boban Marjanovic returns, James Ennis winning 'the tournament'

Joel Embiid returned to the lineup and the Sixers won a huge game against the Pacers Sunday.

Now in the driver’s seat for the Eastern Conference’s third seed, the team has to take care of business against the lowly Cavaliers with two difficult matchups coming this weekend.

Let’s take a look at the Sixers’ week ahead.

Butler’s rest day and who could be next

Jimmy Butler will be out for tomorrow’s game against the Cavs for a planned rest day. Brett Brown said after practice Monday that Butler’s absence is not related to the “discomfort” he felt in his foot at the end of the win vs. Indiana.

Giving Butler off Tuesday gives the veteran swingman extra time. With the team not playing again until Friday against the Kings, Butler will get four days of rest. The Sixers shouldn’t have an issue beating Cleveland without Butler.

Butler is 29 and has logged a lot of minutes. Brown has done a good job with Butler, who is averaging 33.1 minutes with the Sixers, his lowest mark since 2012-13. 

Embiid also mentioned Sunday that he’s likely going to sit out at least one more game before the playoffs start. It’s all about delivering healthy players to the postseason.

With that in mind, who could be next the next to rest?

“I suspect JJ [Redick] will get one coming up soon,” Brown said. “Ben [Simmons] is incredibly reliable, durable and I think we got to pay attention as much to him as some of the obvious ones we just talked about. I think none of us should be surprised if these guys miss some games.”

Simmons and Tobias Harris have logged a ton of minutes — especially lately while Embiid was out —and both players have played 66 games this season. They’re both still young and have proven to be durable during their careers. It’ll be interesting to see if Brown rests either player or scales back their minutes as the postseason approaches.

The return of Boban

Boban Marjanovic will return to the lineup Tuesday after missing the last six games. Marjanovic was recovering from a sprain and bruise in his right knee, but the injury certainly looked scarier when it happened on Feb. 25, in New Orleans.

“He’s spectacularly genuine as a teammate,” Brown said of Marjanovic. “I’m just so happy for him that what we all thought was going to maybe a season-ending injury in New Orleans wasn’t the case. Here he is [on the practice floor] and we’ll see him [Tuesday].”

Marjanovic is a fan and teammate favorite, but he’s also given the Sixers some solid minutes. There’s still concern about his lack of athleticism in defending pick-and-rolls and stretch bigs, but he does offer some rim protection and has an underrated offensive game.

Ennis winning ‘the tournament’

In “the tournament” for bench minutes, James Ennis seems to have pulled ahead of Jonathon Simmons. With regular minutes in his last three games, Ennis has looked more comfortable and showed a little more of what he brings to the table.

“I think there’s a quiet athleticism that has surprised me,” Brown said. “He’s had some sneaky dunks that you wouldn’t have expected. He had an offensive rebound last night off a missed free throw. There was an explosion, there was an athleticism that caught me pleasantly by surprise.”

So why has it taken so long for Ennis to look comfortable? Just think about the offense he came from in Houston. It was the James Harden show and all Ennis was asked to do was spot up in the corner and look for open threes.

Brown’s pace-and- space system is much more dependent on ball and player movement. It’s taken Ennis time to adjust.

The Sixers won’t be asking a ton from Ennis, but they’ll need at least 10 minutes per game from a wing player if Brown does go to a nine-man rotation once the playoffs begin. Ennis is looking like the frontrunner for that role.

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NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

“The Latvian Laser” might not be for sale.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the Wizards haven’t been listening to offers for sharpshooter Davis Bertans. 

“Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal,” Mannix reports. “Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline."

NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and Mannix have all reported that the Sixers have interest in Bertans, who’s shot 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game. That’s the best percentage in the league among players who have attempted at least eight threes per contest. 

Hughes reported on Jan. 6 that the Wizards were “fielding calls” for Bertans despite general manager Tommy Sheppard saying the team had “every intention of retaining” the forward in free agency. The Celtics, Lakers, Hawks and Nuggets are also suitors for Bertans, according to Hughes.

Bertans is making $7 million this season but looks set to earn substantially more when he becomes a free agent. The Wizards hold Bertans’ Bird Rights after landing him in a trade this summer, which means they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him.

The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 6, so it’s certainly possible that the Wizards will be open for business when it really matters. It seems that it would make sense to at least consider offers. 

Regardless, Bertans is an attractive player for the Sixers, and for contending teams in general who want an elite shooter. 

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Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

CAMDEN, N.J. — Shake Milton hasn’t spent much of his second professional season playing competitive basketball. As a result of a left knee injury he sustained on Oct. 28 and an inability to find consistent playing time when he returned, Milton has only played in 19 games this year — 13 in the NBA, six in the G League. 

Suddenly, it sounds like he’s going to assume a prominent role.

Milton played a season-high 22:31 Wednesday night after Josh Richardson strained his hamstring early in the first quarter, posting nine points on 3 of 10 shooting (3 of 6 from three-point range), four rebounds and two assists. With Richardson set to be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, Brett Brown now sees a significant job for Milton to fill.

It’s always on my mind to try to find a pick-and-roll partner for Ben [Simmons],” Brown said Friday. “Then it’s on your mind, ‘Well, what do you do with the other players?’ Namely your center. Do you play Ben at a five? And so Shake comes in, he actually can run a pick-and-roll, he can shoot, and so that interests me. 

“We’ve seen [Furkan Korkmaz] in that environment. When you take out J-Rich, you’re wondering what’s it look like if I want to pursue and continue to grow that part of Ben’s game and our understanding of how do we take the group and maximize it. Shake, I think, has a chance to come in and play a role in that. So, my intention is to continue to look at that.

Milton’s background suggests he might profile well for what Brown desires. A major focus of his rookie season, when he was under a two-way contract, was developing as a ball handler and decision-maker. He averaged 24.9 points per game in the G League last year and worked on areas like learning how and when to attack the rim, drawing fouls and, of course, running the pick-and-roll (see story)

“Just get to my spots and knock down shots,” Milton told reporters Wednesday in Toronto. “Just play with confidence and once you get up the floor a couple times you get in your groove and it’s just like playing basketball again, so it felt good.”

Al Horford highlighted defensive communication as the biggest emphasis with Milton and without Richardson. The Sixers have often asked Richardson to guard top opposing scorers this season. 

“It's hard to replace Josh, first of all, and obviously we hope that he gets healthy and gets back to us, but with Shake, just making sure that we're helping him, on the defensive end especially, getting familiar,” Horford said. 

“Offensively, I'm not worried about him. He can really, really shoot the ball and he'll have his looks, his opportunities and I'm confident in him. And defensively, just helping him, talking to him, making sure that he's in the right places and doing the things he needs to do, because that's something that Josh is great at.”

Brown was straightforward in saying that another way he'll respond to Richardson's injury is by looking to give rookie Matisse Thybulle more minutes. 

He was less clear in describing what the future might hold for Zhaire Smith. The team recalled Smith Friday from the G League, and the 20-year-old will be available Saturday night vs. the Lakers. 

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a 2018 draft-night trade, had his rookie season derailed by a broken foot and severe complications from an allergic reaction. He’s been “hunting threes” with the Delaware Blue Coats and shooting the ball well recently (see story).

Brown said he’s been following Smith’s progress and is encouraged by what he’s seen and heard. 

“[Blue Coats head coach] Connor Johnson and I talk, we follow his statistical progress, namely how does he do at shooting threes in the corner. We get he plays hard, we get that he’s an athlete, and so now what? How can we maximize or tap into a little bit offensively what he’s been growing? 

“I think that there is an upward trend, a growth that we’ve seen for two reasons: First, him — he’s embraced the fact that he’s with the G League. Some people treat that as you’ve been scolded, and he’s handled it maturely. And two, there’s a symmetry with the programs that I think enables him to feel like there’s a progressive path in the next step when he comes up here — same words, same language, same system. And I think for those two reasons we’re looking at him a little bit more seriously, especially without J-Rich.”

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