76ers

Sixers will find plenty of challengers in attempt to take over Eastern Conference

Sixers will find plenty of challengers in attempt to take over Eastern Conference

“Run it back.”

After striking out on the big fish in free agency, the Sixers essentially appear to be going this route for next season.

They have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal to bring back JJ Redick and a trade for Denver Nuggets swingman Wilson Chandler to help offset the departures of bench standouts Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. A little juggling to add a reserve center, and you will be looking at your 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers (barring a blockbuster deal for Kawhi Leonard, in which case all bets are off).

And there’s no reason to believe that won’t be enough to take another leap next season. Think about it, from a personal standpoint the Sixers had Joel Embiid be named a starter in the All-Star Game and finish as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. Despite all of the noise, Ben Simmons snagged Rookie of the Year in a landslide. Plus, the team had Robert Covington (first) and Embiid (second) each be named to All-NBA defensive teams.

All of those individual accolades helped propel the team to a 52-win campaign (24 more than the previous season), a playoff berth for the first time in six seasons and a first-round series victory.

With that level of production under their belt, there is no reason to believe the Sixers won’t continue climbing up the Eastern Conference ranks.

Just don’t think it will be easy.

Even with LeBron James’ exodus to the West, the Sixers’ path to the NBA Finals won’t all of the sudden become a cakewalk. Some other squads will have a say about that, starting at the top.

Toronto may have ditched its head coach, but the Raptors appear to be sticking with the core that won a franchise-record 59 games last season. That group beat the Sixers in three of the four regular-season meetings by an average of 18.3 points.

Of course, the Boston Celtics had the Sixers’ number all season long. Between the preseason, regular season and playoffs, the C’s won nine of the 11 matchups by an average of 9.2 points. Plus, you’ve likely heard they’ll be getting a couple All-Stars back in the lineup come next season in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Even the teams a step below have reason for hope. The Indiana Pacers have faith in their own young core led by Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo. The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the game’s best players in Giannis Antetokounmpo and boosted their bench by swiping Ilyasova from the Sixers and drafting Villanova standout Donte DiVincenzo. The Washington Wizards (John Wall, Bradley Beal) and Detroit Pistons (Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond) have prolific tandems that could cause trouble for anyone.

It’s all wide open in the East now that the King’s throne has shifted to Hollywood. And the Sixers have to feel as good as any team about being able to secure the crown, but it definitely won’t be an easy task.

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Sloppy Sixers drop 10th straight road game to Wizards

Sloppy Sixers drop 10th straight road game to Wizards

BOX SCORE

Something about Washington, D.C., that causes the Sixers to play bad basketball.

They dropped their 10th straight in the nation’s capital, falling to the Wizards, 119-113, at Capital One Arena Thursday.

The combination of turnovers (21) and a red-hot, 19-point second quarter from Davis Bertans sunk the Sixers as they played Washington’s up-tempo style and not the "bully ball" we’ve seen.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) missed his sixth game of the season while the Wizards were without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction).

The loss drops the Sixers to 15-7 and 5-7 on the road. They return to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night against the Cavaliers.

Here are observations from the loss.

Simmons shines on D but struggles on O

If it wasn’t for Bertans going absolutely nuts from three in the first half — 6 of 6 — this game would’ve looked a lot different early. Bertans cooled off in the second half, but rookie Rui Hachimura picked up the slack (27 points).

Ben Simmons' defense on All-Star Bradley Beal was excellent. Simmons chased Beal around and continued to play at an All-NBA level on defense. Before Bertans erupted, Washington’s offense looked stagnant with its focal point kept in check. For the game, Beal was held to 7 of 24 from the field.

Offensively, Simmons did not have a banner night. He had seven turnovers, far too many against a team in the Wizards who have the lowest-rated defense in the NBA. His unwillingness to shoot and stopping drives short without a plan continues to be issues. He had 17 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and three steals.

Not enough from Embiid

With the Wizards missing their starting center, it made sense for the Sixers to feed Embiid early and often. And that’s exactly what they did early on. Washington doubled frequently but Embiid had a double-double in the first half, putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds.

One knock on Embiid has been him not running rim to rim. To close out the first quarter, there were two sequences where Raul Neto knocked corner threes. On both plays, the attention that Embiid drew led to good ball movement and space.

In the second half, Embiid looked sluggish at times. He also had issues with turnovers, committing eight. On a night when Embiid should've dominated, he put up 26 points on 7 of 12 shooting. Part of that is on the Sixers and Brett Brown for not getting it into Embiid enough. He did have 21 rebounds.

Tobias the scorer

We’ve heard Brown talk a ton about Tobias Harris needing to have a “scorer’s mentality.” Even after practice Wednesday, Brown again said that he felt like Harris was passing up a couple looks a game that he should be taking.

Harris was feeling it early and looking awfully confident with 16 points in the first half (2 of 4 from three, 7 of 14 overall).

And another example of Harris attacking.

Harris did all he could, putting up 33 points on 13 of 28 (3 of 8 from three). He just didn’t get much help. 

Thybulle looking comfortable

We all understand what Matisse Thybulle brings on the defensive end of the floor. He continued to be his usual disruptive self and helped cool off Bertans when nobody else on the Sixers could. As the Sixers made a run in the fourth quarter, it was Thybulle who had a series of impressive plays — including a couple on Beal. He had a pair of steals and blocks.

Thybulle has shot the ball well lately, but on Thursday, his driving and passing were on display. He dished a season-high six assists.

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Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (15-6), winners of four in a row and eight of their last nine, will look to get to the .500 mark on the road when they visit the Wizards (6-13) Thursday night.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) remains out. He did individualized workouts the last two days at practice, but the team is being cautious as Richardson will miss his fourth straight game. Shake Milton (right hip discomfort) will be available.

Washington will be without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction) and veteran wing C.J. Miles (left wrist). Backup bigs Ian Mahinmi (right Achilles strain) and Moritz Wagner (left ankle sprain) are available. 

Here are tonight's essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Capital One Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

The competition

Rookie Matisse Thybulle has wreaked havoc on the defensive end in almost every one of his appearances this season. He leads all rookies with 29 steals and is third among them in deflections — despite playing far less minutes than the other first-year players at the top of the list.

But it hasn’t just been Thybulle that’s been so disruptive. Ben Simmons, who looks well on his way to earning some type of All-Defensive team honors, leads the NBA in steals and is second in deflections.

A competition has formed.

“I’d say it’s me, him and J-Rich when it comes to steals, trying to see who can get the most, within reason, without trying to put guys in tough positions,” Thybulle said after practice Tuesday. “I think it’s cool that we have that competitiveness. You’ve seen it with Ben, he’s changed games — he’s won games — with steals down the stretch. I think it’s cool to have that little competition within ourselves.”

The caveat of not “trying to put guys in tough positions” is important here. Thybulle has been walking the fine line all season of being disruptive and not leaving his teammates out to dry. To Thybulle’s credit, you can see the improvement. And to Brett Brown’s credit, he admitted before the Jazz game that he needs to be more tolerant with Thybulle.

Despite playing at the fastest pace in the NBA, the Wizards are one of the better teams in the league at taking care of the basketball. Something will have to give Thursday night.

Feed Embiid

Joel Embiid is the focal point of the Sixers’ offense and that shouldn’t change against Washington. He’ll likely see plenty of rookie Rui Hachimura playing the five with the Wizards’ frontcourt so banged up. With that, Embiid is likely to see plenty of double teams and possibly even some zone.

It’ll be on the other Sixers to make plays and shots around Embiid, who has improved greatly in navigating double teams. They should be able to expose Washington’s defense. The Wizards have the worst-rated defense in the NBA and give up the third-most points per game.

Beal is the real deal

News flash: Bradley Beal is really freaking good. And he’s having one of his best seasons. He’s averaging 28.7 points and 7.2 assists a game — both marks would be career highs. He’s taking the most threes he ever has so his percentage is down, but he’s getting to the line just a little under seven times a game. 

And Beal’s supporting cast is no joke on the offensive end. The Sixers will have their hands full with how Davis Bertans (44.6 percent) and Isaiah Thomas (41 percent) are shooting from three. With that said, both players can be exposed on the defensive end.

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