76ers

This time, Sixers flip 2nd-half script

This time, Sixers flip 2nd-half script

BOX SCORE

DENVER — The Sixers on Saturday night picked up their second win of the season without Joel Embiid thanks to a third-quarter comeback that led to a 107-102 victory over the Nuggets.

They moved to 2-7 without the big man, who sat out of the first night of a back-to-back because of his medical restriction. The Sixers had not won an Embiid-less game since Nov. 7.

Jamal Murray led all players with 31 points. Dario Saric led the Sixers with 20 (see more below).

The Sixers took this game back with disciplined ball. They trailed by 14 with 7:29 to play in the third before going on a 19-4 to run to take the lead. The Sixers did not commit a turnover during that stretch. They made the push with Ben Simmons and Redick on the bench. Saric scored seven points and Jerryd Bayless added six in the quarter. Bayless finished with 14 points (6 for 10 from the field).

The game wasn't a guarantee, though. The Nuggets crept back into it, as both teams' offenses stalled in the fourth. The Sixers led 103-97 with 4:10 to play. From that point on, the Sixers didn't score again until 19.5 seconds left (Robert Covington free throws).

• Amir Johnson got the start in place of Embiid. Richaun Holmes clocked 19 minutes off the bench after not playing in the last two games. So how does Brett Brown decide who to start?

“One's better at defense, one's better at offense,” Brown said at shootaround. “It's really that simple. Amir is a better defensive player and rebounder at this stage of his career. Richaun is lightning in a bottle, can change a game, got a bounce, probably more capable in bursts offensively.” 

Johnson scored eight points, five rebounds and five assists. Holmes posted 14 points, three rebounds, three assists in 19 minutes off the bench. He fouled out with just under three minutes to play.

• Wilson Chandler said the Nuggets’ approach to Simmons was keeping him out of the paint. Simmons took (and made) one shot outside of the area. He finished the game with six points (3 for 9 from the field), six rebounds and six dimes.

• The Nuggets were game planning to limit Saric, which didn’t pan out. Before the game, head coach Mike Malone broke down why he considers Saric “a really skilled basketball player.”

• Covington started after leaving the last game with a left middle finger injury. He finished with a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Covington explained how he was hurt against the Trail Blazers.

"I got hit directly on with the ball," he said. "My finger just kind of drooped. It was weird and I didn't have feeling in it for a while. Then we had to put it in a splint right after the game."

• Justin Anderson was inactive. His status was in question leading up to the game because of shin splints. He has not played since mid-November.

• The Sixers travel to Phoenix Saturday night to take on the Suns Sunday evening.

Nemanja Bjelica spurns Sixers, reportedly talking deal with Kings

Nemanja Bjelica spurns Sixers, reportedly talking deal with Kings

What exactly is going on with the Sixers?

After missing out on LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and any and all superstar free agents this summer, even their bench, fill-out-the-roster type of guys are dodging the Sixers like a plague.

The latest being forward Nemanja Bjelica, who was in Philly (but not really) for just a bit longer than Eagle-for-a-second Frank Gore.

Bjelica, 30, reportedly agreed to a deal with the Sixers on July 5, providing a boost off the bench and an upgrade over Ersan Ilyasova. 

That was all grand until Tuesday, when news broke that Bjelica had spurned the Sixers and was going back to Europe, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark.

But in the greatest (or lamest) twist in a strange and sad offseason for the Sixers, Bjelica is now looking to stay in the NBA and is working toward a deal with the Sacramento Kings, according to a report by Yahoo! Sports' Shams Charania. That can't be right. No one would willingly sign with the Kings.

Bjelica posted career bests in points (6.1) and three-point percentage (41.5) last season. While he would have been a nice bench addition, it's not the end of the world. But it sure isn't a great look that the Sixers were toyed with and lost out to a lowly team like the Kings. 

After the Bryan Colangelo debacle and the star-hunting strikeout, we're officially at the "Player X would rather sign with the Kings" stage of the offseason.

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What now for Sixers after Kawhi Leonard trade to Raptors?

What now for Sixers after Kawhi Leonard trade to Raptors?

LeBron James is a Laker. Kawhi Leonard is a Raptor.

The Sixers went star hunting and came up empty. So now what for a team that won 52 games but is likely one more superstar away from winning a title?

You may not like this answer, but the correct course of action is … nothing — at least not this offseason.

The only star that could possibly be available is the Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler — if you choose to believe the rumors. Butler, who is an outstanding two-way player, will be 29 entering next season and has an expiring deal. He already forced his way out of Chicago and reportedly wants to force his way out of Minnesota. How much are you giving up for that?

On a smaller scale, the Sixers lost Nemanja Bjelica, who reportedly agreed to sign with the team for the mid-level exception. The Serbian forward decided instead to take his talents back to the EuroLeague ... or maybe not. Bjelica certainly wasn’t a star but he appeared to be a solid bench piece that might’ve actually been an upgrade from Ersan Ilyasova. So what should the Sixers do with their MLE?

Nothing — again, at least this year.

Who do you want that’s left? Joe Johnson? Michael Beasley? Jamal Crawford? That’s three hard no’s for me.

The Sixers should go into camp with what they have and let the competition play out. Maybe they’ll figure out what to do with Jerryd Bayless’ deal or waive Richaun Holmes or sign Jonah Bolden or make a small trade, but this roster is mostly set. And that’s fine.

This team, that again won 52 games, should be better. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons should only improve. Markelle Fultz can only go up. Dario Saric took a huge leap in Year 2 and we know the kind of worker he is. Wilson Chandler is an upgrade over any player the Sixers had on the bench last year, especially when you factor in defense.

They’re not the favorites to win the East, nor should they be. But that’s fine. With the Warriors continuing to load up and James now out West, what chance does any team in the East have? (Zero is the answer, by the way). 

Fast forward to next offseason. Leonard, Butler, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving are among a loaded free-agent class. Any one of those players would be a fit and a huge upgrade for the Sixers and they’d be joining the team at the right time. Embiid and Simmons will both be a year more mature and developed and the Warriors will be a year older with their cap situation tighter.

As for the MLE, if the Sixers go star hunting again next offseason and wind up with someone like Leonard, they could use it on a ring-chasing, veteran mercenary. That’s much more valuable than one year of Johnson, Beasley or Crawford on a team that doesn’t have a realistic shot at a title next year.

Brett Brown may have set a tough bar for the offseason. When he did his now infamous star-hunting presser, it raised expectations from the fan base. Since the Sixers came up empty in their quest, most look at the offseason as a bad one.

There’s no nice way to put it: Missing out on James and Leonard sucks for the Sixers. But all is far from lost. Name another team in the NBA that has two superstars the caliber of Embiid and Simmons both under the age of 24. You can’t because such a team does not exist.

Would the Sixers have been better off if they landed a star this offseason? Of course. But now knowing that they swung and missed, their best course of action is inaction — for now.

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