76ers

#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

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#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

Well, it certainly doesn't feel like the Philadelphia 76ers never trailed in that game against the Toronto Raptors, does it? The Sixers technically held on for the wire-to-wire 117-111 victory against Toronto, despite that lead getting Cliffhanger precarious down the stretch, getting back to .500 on the season thanks to big efforts from Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell and Joel Embiid. 

Of course, if the Raptors were on their game, the Sixers might not have escaped with this one. Following a hard-fought loss to the Warriors (and in Kyle Lowry's first game back since missing a few games with a bruised tailbone), the Raps seemed out of rhythm for most of the afternoon. The Sixers' stout defense certainly played a part in that, but the Raps also just missed shots, and generally lacked the tenacity they attacked Philly with in their two meetings this December. 

Nonetheless, the Sixers played well enough to win for three quarters, and snapped out of their usual late-game momentum funk in time to not totally give the game away. Credit for that part has to go to Simmons, who rolled in a layup and the kicked out to Dario for an open three with minutes to go, expanding a dangling one-point Sixers lead to a relatively secure six they were able to protect from there. He also made the Raps pay for intentionally hacking him late, calmly sinking two to keep Toronto at bay. Embiid also helped clinch things with late free throws, part of his 34-point, 11-rebound afternoon (see video), and with mighty defense around the basket that closed things off for the surging Raps. 

And yet, this was once again the T.J. McConnell game. He tangled early with Raptors star (and professional Sixers torturer) DeMar DeRozan, and that seemed to ignite an unusually aggressive T.J., as Timothy John went on to score a career-high 18 on 8-13 shooting, to go with eight dimes, six boards and three steals (see video) — also helping to hold DeMar to a manageable 24 points for the afternoon. He did get passive late, which he kicked himself for a little in his post-game interview, but it was still a magnificent afternoon for Teej, and his buckets were invaluable on an afternoon where our shooters weren't hitting much (6-25 from deep) and nobody besides JoJo was doing much in the half-court. 

Even though they had to work for it at the end a little more than we'd like, there's no denying the size of this win for the Sixers. Aside from giving them a statement W over one of the East's elite, it keeps them from falling too far back of the playoff pack, while the Pacers are surging and while the Sixers still have some tough games immediately ahead of them, I figured if they got one win in their four-pack against the Celts, Raps, Celts again and Bucks, they'd be in decent shape — now, they have two more chances to come out with a split. 

What's more, you can now add Toronto to the list of very good teams the Sixers don't have to worry about playing again this season — a list that already includes the Warriors and Rockets, and is one game away from also including the Celtics. Though it's dampened their 20-20 record until this point, it's pretty incredible to be halfway through January and already be done playing arguably the league's four best teams, two of which are in their division. Smooth sailing is on the horizon, and in the meantime we're officially in the midst of #SixersJanuary. Salvation is free. 

Sixers rookies Landry Shamet, Shake Milton receive good (!) injury news

Sixers rookies Landry Shamet, Shake Milton receive good (!) injury news

Finally, some good health news, Sixers fans.

While Zhaire Smith continues an unfortunate trend of Sixers’ rookies suffering injuries, two other 2018 draft picks are progressing.

First-round pick Landry Shamet (sprained right ankle) and second-round pick Shake Milton (stress fracture in his back) are both asymptomatic, the team said Monday.

Shamet has been cleared for “light basketball activities” while Milton can “resume limited basketball activities.”

Shamet, a guard out of Wichita State, got banged up in the first half of the Sixers’ first summer league game against the Celtics. Shamet logged just 12 minutes before suffering the ankle sprain. He hit 2 of 5 from three for six points during the stint.

Milton never got the opportunity to play in summer league having suffered his injury during the pre-draft process. The 6-foot-6 guard/forward out of SMU is on a two-way contract with the Sixers, meaning he’ll spend the majority of his season with the Delaware Blue Coats and can spend no more 45 days with the big club.

Smith, the 16th overall pick acquired in a draft-night trade with the Suns, suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot and underwent successful surgery last week. There’s been no timetable for his return.

Both Shamet and Milton offer something the Sixers covet: shooting. Shamet shot 44 percent on 5.1 threes a game in 71 games. Milton was also proficient, shooting 43 percent on 5.1 attempts from distance in 87 games.

The Sixers’ rotation should be a tough one to crack this season, but being healthy for camp would be a fine start for Shamet and Milton.

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Despite Jamal Crawford's praise, Sixers should be wary of signing veteran free agent

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Despite Jamal Crawford's praise, Sixers should be wary of signing veteran free agent

Despite coming up empty in their goal of star hunting this summer, the Sixers are still currently one of the more desirable franchises in the NBA.

They reached the second round of the playoffs last season behind two up-and-coming stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Plus, the organization has a respected head coach in Brett Brown, state-of-the-art training complex, an intense fan base and much more to offer.

At least that’s how free-agent scorer Jamal Crawford views things.

“I like their city. I like how into it they are about basketball. I like their knowledge of basketball, how passionate they are,” Crawford said of Philadelphia last week to Brandon Robinson on Scoop B Radio. “I’ve always loved coach Brett Brown. I’ve been on record. I’ve been a fan of his for years. He just needed talent, and now he has that. He added Ben Simmons, I love his game. I love Jo-Jo. They’re both among my favorite players in the league to watch. Markelle (Fultz) is like a little brother to me. Obviously, he went to the University of Washington, and we talk every other day. JJ Redick is like a brother to me. We’ve been through wars together, so there’s so many things to love about Philadelphia for sure.”

That’s high praise from a three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner. High enough to the point that he would want to suit up for the Sixers?

“I think for me, especially being out there as a free agent, something could work out,” Crawford said. “I would be honored to play there, but things obviously have to take its course and I kind of got to sit back, but who wouldn’t want to play there?”

Well, that cleared things up. 

Now the Sixers, in a new position with players openly offering their services to them, have to be clear too: Crawford isn’t the answer.

No, not “The Answer” although Crawford does have some legendary crossover moves of his own. The 18-year veteran simply isn’t the right fit for this Sixers squad.

For all of Crawford’s accomplishments over nearly two decades in the NBA, the 38-year-old has been on a steady decline. His scoring has dropped in each of the past five years until he posted 10.3 points a night last season with Minnesota, his lowest mark since he averaged 10.7 a night way back in 2002-03.

While Crawford attributed his struggles with the Timberwolves to limited minutes, that doesn’t have anything to do with his efficiency or lack thereof. Crawford shot 41.5 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from three-point range in 2017-18. Those numbers aren’t outliers either as he has career averages of 41.0 percent field goal shooting and 34.9 percent three-point shooting.

And it’s not just the scoring itself. It’s also how Crawford scores the ball. Even though he received only 20.7 minutes per game with the T-Wolves, Crawford was 13th in the entire league in isolation frequency with 19.8 percent of his possessions coming in a one-on-one setting. For comparison, Simmons was the highest Sixer in isolation frequency at 9.0 percent (87th in the NBA).

It’s understandable the Sixers might be still be looking to replace the veteran scoring off the bench lost by the departures of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, but Crawford’s game doesn’t exactly scream the pace-and-space mantra preached by the club.

That just shows how Crawford isn’t an ideal fit offensively. We won’t even get into the defensive end of the court (*cough* Crawford had a defensive rating of 112.9 last season, which means opponents averaged that many points per 100 possessions he was on the floor, good enough for 490th out of 523 total players *cough*).

Crawford does still have a place in the league. He’s a volume scorer that can potentially get hot on any given night and pour in 30 points. He’s also great in the locker room, a reason he took home Teammate of the Year award in '17-18.

But with the above signs of decline as well as T.J. McConnell and a rejuvenated Markelle Fultz penciled in as the Sixers’ reserve backcourt, there might not be the opportunity in Philadelphia that Crawford is seeking out.

Part of the Sixers now being desired is having the power in their hands. This might be a perfect time to use that to their advantage and ignore Crawford’s interest.

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