76ers

Wizards play the role of thief in Boston thriller

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Wizards play the role of thief in Boston thriller

BOSTON -- Bradley Beal scored 34 points, including a three-point play with 1:25 left in the second overtime, and the Washington Wizards beat the short-handed Boston Celtics 125-124 on Wednesday night.

Jayson Tatum missed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer that could have won it for the Celtics, who were without six players and missed several opportunities to put away the Wizards.

Otto Porter Jr. finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Markieff Morris scored 20 points, Ian Mahinmi added 14 and Tomas Satoransky had 10 points for Washington, which played the night before but still had enough energy at the end to rally past the weary Celtics, who blew a 20-point lead.

Boston patched together a lineup without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (knee) and center Al Horford (illness), two of the four regulars who were sidelined.

Marcus Morris led Boston with 31 points and pulled down 19 rebounds, but made a costly defensive error in the closing seconds of regulation. Terry Rozier added 21 points and nine assists, and Tatum scored 19 points for the Celtics (see full recap).

Simmons, Augustin power Magic to upset
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Jonathon Simmons scored a career-high 35 points, D.J. Augustin added 32 and the Orlando Magic bounced back from an embarrassing defeat to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 126-117 on Wednesday night.

Simmons was 7 of 12 from 3-point range and Augustin hit 6 of 9, three of them in the fourth quarter to help Orlando pull away.

Nikola Vucevic had 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for the Magic, who were routed 108-72 Tuesday night in San Antonio, their fifth straight loss.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 38 points for Milwaukee, which has lost seven of 10.

Augustin and Simmons combined for 20 points as the Magic closed out the first quarter on a 27-7 run to take a 16-point lead.

Milwaukee (36-32) erased most of it by scoring the first 10 points of the second quarter, but did not regain the lead until Eric Bledsoe converted a turnover into a layup with 4:50 left in the third quarter.

Orlando (21-48) scored the final 14 points of that period to take 91-80 lead into the fourth.

The Bucks never got within five in the fourth quarter (see full recap).

Kings recover after blowing late lead 
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- De'Aaron Fox made a layup at the buzzer to force overtime, Zach Randolph scored the first three points of the extra period and finished with 22, and the Sacramento Kings recovered after blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter to beat the Miami Heat 123-119 on Wednesday night.

Randolph added a key block on Justise Winslow with 1:19 remaining in OT as Sacramento swept Miami for the first time since 2001-02.

That overshadowed an impressive night by Miami's Goran Dragic, who scored 11 straight points in the fourth quarter to fuel the Heat's comeback and matched his season high of 33 points. But Dragic missed a tying turnaround jumper with 20 seconds left in overtime, then stepped out of bounds with the ball with 12.3 remaining.

Randolph had the first three points in overtime with a free throw and 17-foot jumper. Fox made a short runner, Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a 28-foot 3-pointer and Buddy Hield added four free throws.

Hield finished with 24 points, Fox had 20 and Bogdanovic added 14 for Sacramento.

The Heat, who began the day in eighth place in the East, lost their second straight.

Wayne Ellington had 22 points with six 3-pointers, James Johnson added 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and Winslow scored 13 points for Miami (see full recap).

Jimmy Butler isn't freaking out over Sixers' loss to Hawks and neither should you

Jimmy Butler isn't freaking out over Sixers' loss to Hawks and neither should you

NBA teams don't go 82-0.

The Bucks lost their season series to the lowly Suns. The Raptors were swept by the Pistons. The Celtics have lost both of their matchups to the Magic this season.

So when the Sixers fell to 1-2 against the young Hawks this season after a 129-127 loss Saturday night (see observations), it was disappointing, but not completely surprising.

These types of games happen. The Sixers had finally beaten their boogeyman Boston, their sixth straight win. They were 7-1 with their new-look starting lineup intact. They couldn’t afford to rest on that and overlook a hungry Atlanta team.

But they did.

I think it’s the fact that we think we’re a really good team so we can just come in and do whatever we’re going to do and still going to win,” Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we can fall into that trap. I’m telling you, I think that’s what it was. Thinking, ‘Yo, we won [six] in a row.’ That’s from everybody. From top to bottom. I don’t think you can play like that in order to go where we want to go.

Give credit where it’s due, former Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce has his Hawks buying in and playing much better basketball recently. 

With their win Saturday, they’re now 7-8 since the All-Star Game. That may not sound like much, but when you consider they were just 18-40 before the break, it’s a stark improvement.

Rookie Trae Young abused the Sixers all night. He exploited their weak pick-and-roll defense in route to 32 points — including the game-winning floater with .01 seconds left —  and 11 assists.

Though Young was a handful, the Sixers didn’t offer much resistance. After going on a 15-3 run to close out the third to tie the game and eventually take the lead in the fourth, they were also sloppy down the stretch.

“The game at stages was bizarre to me, really,” Brett Brown said. “Some of the turnovers in the fourth period were head scratching. I think some of that, some of the defensive lapses we had in the first half, were head scratching. Then you put it into the melting pot of them playing good basketball — they had some offensive firepower to sort of punish those areas that I just mentioned.”

And before the #FireBrett crowd comes charging with its pitchforks, Brown did try to make adjustments. It wasn’t a matter of game plan. It was execution.

“We had probably three or four different things from blitzing to switching to hedging to dropping,” Brown said. “If you really dug in and looked at that you would have seen that. I can’t say that any of them were incredibly effective, but they did force us to try and make different adjustments in the pick-and-roll.”

These types of games are going to happen during an 82-game season. With just nine games left in the regular season, the Sixers have one of the easier remaining schedules in the league.

But as the Hawks proved Saturday, any team can beat you on a given night. For the Sixers, it’s just a matter of learning whatever you can from a disappointing loss and getting ready to take on Orlando in a couple days.

This game surely will not define their season or the potential of their new starting five.

“We’ll be alright,” Butler said. “We got nine more left. We good, man. Forget about it. We got another one coming on the road [Monday]. 

“So let’s go to dinner. Forget about it. I’m not drinking right now so I can’t have no wine, but I can damn sure eat.”

Yeah, the Sixers are going to be fine.

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A star with the Blue Coats, could Shake Milton help Sixers? And what about Zhaire Smith?

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A star with the Blue Coats, could Shake Milton help Sixers? And what about Zhaire Smith?

WILMINGTON, Del. — When we talked with Shake Milton back in December, he was focused on “being a star in the role I have right now” with the Sixers.

With the Delaware Blue Coats, he’s just been a star — no qualifiers needed.

The rookie scored 25 points to lead Delaware to a 124-117 win over the Maine Red Claws on Saturday night in the Blue Coats’ season finale. Since returning from a broken finger on March 5, he scored 23 or more points in nine of 10 games.

Head coach Connor Johnson said before the game that Milton, fellow two-way player Haywood Highsmith, Zhaire Smith and Jonah Bolden will all join the Sixers for the remainder of their season.

You’d expect Bolden will remain a backup big man option for Brett Brown, with his athleticism, three-point shooting and ability to hang with more agile centers. Bolden posted 17 points (6 for 11 from the floor, 2 for 6 from three-point range) and 12 rebounds Saturday.

As far as the other three players are concerned, Milton appears the most likely candidate to play meaningful minutes for the Sixers in the team’s final nine regular-season games, and perhaps even the playoffs. 

The SMU product plays at a pace that is comfortable for him, running the offense with exceptional poise and balance. Johnson aptly called him a “sneaky-good athlete.” His smooth jumper (36.9 percent from three-point range in the G League, 42.7 percent in college) might be his calling card in the NBA, but he’s gotten plenty of opportunities to hone other skills in Delaware, including his ball handling and playmaking.

Drawing more fouls has been a point of emphasis as well, Johnson said, and Milton seems to be catching on quickly. He drew the fifth and sixth fouls on Process-era Sixer Thomas Robinson on Saturday, removing a player who’d given the Blue Coats trouble all night with 34 points.

“Just watching film and talking with coaches,” Milton told NBC Sports Philadelphia, “trying to get little tidbits of information and then trying to apply it on the court. Most of all, just being aggressive.”

Johnson said he hasn’t been given a sense of whether Milton or Smith might play a role for the Sixers, though he sounds like a believer in Milton’s ability.

I don’t know. That remains to be seen and out of my hands, but I do think they’ve shown, especially Shake, has shown that he can come in and kind of command a game, and I think that definitely translates. And just continuing to build on Z’s ability to sit down and defend. They’ve got a whole development staff that we’ve worked with really closely that are excited to get those guys back up there. 

Milton said he has not heard from the Sixers about what to expect when he returns, and that it’s been helpful to focus solely on his play in the G League. 

Still, when discussing how he hopes to develop his game in the offseason, Milton seemed to have a pretty clear idea of what the Sixers might want out of him. 

“Continuing to develop everything,” he said. “I feel like in my time with the Sixers, I’m going to have a real focus on guarding multiple positions and knocking down shots, but then also continuing to work on playmaking and all parts of my game.”

Whereas Milton’s athleticism might catch some by surprise, Smith’s often leaps right at you. He converted two lobs for the Blue Coats’ first four points of the game and, with his head near the rim, narrowly missed on a reverse alley-oop dunk attempt early in the third quarter. Smith finished with 12 points and five rebounds, and he knocked down 2 of 3 threes. After missing the first 13 long range attempts of his pro career using his new form, Smith made 5 of his last 11. The rapid rate of his progress and his potential to be a quality perimeter defender at the NBA level continue to make him an alluring prospect. 

It would be surprising to see Smith immediately seize a role with the Sixers, although of course much stranger things have happened with the team. Highsmith, a wing who’s typically been asked to guard one of the opposition’s top scorers and hit three-point shots, had 13 points and nine rebounds vs. Maine. He’s another player whose development has been encouraging but likely won’t receive any significant playing time this season.

Milton might be different. While there’s risk inherent in trusting a rookie with 13 games of NBA experience, Milton’s best traits are all things the Sixers could use off the bench — three-point shooting, scoring and serviceable defense on point guards and shooting guards.

Brown loves T.J. McConnell, and you can understand why. His effort is exemplary, he’s an excellent mid-range shooter, and he takes the assignment of harassing an opposing point guard very, very seriously. In all likelihood, Milton won’t supplant McConnell in the home stretch. But there’s little doubt Milton deserves NBA minutes in some way, shape or form.

Though he won’t be a star in the NBA, at least not this season, the experience of leading the Blue Coats has served Milton well. You can’t just automatically dismiss the thought of him seeing legitimate time in a playoff series.

“Knowing my coaches and teammates have confidence in me has really given myself the confidence to go out there and just be sure of myself in whatever I do with the ball,” Milton said, “whether I’m shooting, scoring, playmaking, getting other guys involved — they’ve all just given me confidence.”

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