Julius Erving on Sixers: 'We should make a good run at the playoffs'

Julius Erving on Sixers: 'We should make a good run at the playoffs'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Julius Erving stood underneath the Sixers' championship banners hanging above the practice court. The Hall of Famer has experienced winning in Philadelphia and is eager for his former team to bring it back to the city. 

“I think we should make a good run at the playoffs,” Erving said. “There’s enough young talent on the team and the system is good enough, it’s proven itself, that, if we can keep a healthy team out there, then we should be able to make a run at the playoffs.” 

Erving is in town for the Julius Erving Golf Classic, a three-day event supporting the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia. On Saturday he hosted the Erving Youth Basketball Experience at the Sixers training complex. 

Markelle Fultz made a special appearance and Erving got to spend some time with the No. 1 pick. 

“I think he’ll have an understated type of leadership because I don’t know whether he’s a verbal leader or whether he’s a lead-by-example type guy,” Erving said of Fultz. “Either way, he’s a significant piece to the puzzle.”

Another key piece is Joel Embiid, whose name drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd of children while Erving held a Q&A. Erving referred to watching Embiid play last season as “a welcome sight.” 

“Having had conversations with Coach (Brett) Brown, he had such high expectations of Joel,” Erving said. “From a skill standpoint, he knew he was as as skilled as any big man in the league. Now it’s just a matter of maturity and confidence, and Joel seems to be very confident.” 

Erving pulls for the Sixers from afar. He tries to catch their games when they are in Atlanta, where he resides, and if his travel schedule overlaps with their road games in other cities. 

“I’m ready,” Erving said of a turnaround. “We want to have a team that’s a contender for the title.”

Sixers' week ahead: Well-deserved rest for Joel Embiid, don't overreact to Tobias Harris' struggles and more

Sixers' week ahead: Well-deserved rest for Joel Embiid, don't overreact to Tobias Harris' struggles and more

Off the heels of their biggest win of the season, the Sixers will have to play a game without their “crown jewel.”

“Sixers 3.0” should be back together as they try to conquer their Boston demons and head back out on the road against an improved Atlanta team.

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

No Embiid in Charlotte

After a clutch 40-point performance in which he also spent a good portion of the game guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, this seems like as good a time as any to get Joel Embiid some rest.

The Hornets are falling out of the playoff picture and they’re a team the Sixers should be able to beat without Embiid. Kemba Walker did hang 60 on them earlier this season, but the Sixers still won that game. Walker has also slowed down after a torrid start, shooting just 40 percent from the field and 32 percent from three over his last 13 games.

There are only 12 games left in the regular season, but the Sixers’ schedule does soften up. You can expect Embiid and possibly other veterans to get rest days when appropriate. Delivering their starting five to the postseason healthy is — and should — be the team's top priority.

Don’t overreact to starters ‘struggling’

Tobias Harris is averaging just 16.8 points and shooting 32 percent from three over his last eight, which means we should totally freak out and panic, right? Nope. Not even close.

Before Harris’ “slump,” it was Jimmy Butler that everyone was freaking out about. Then Butler went out and had two very good offensive performances against the Kings and Bucks. Everyone also lost their minds when JJ Redick was struggling after the All-Star break. He’s shooting 58 percent from three over his last four.

It’s understandably hard to ride the ebbs and flows of an 82-game season, but that’s why you go out and get Butler and Harris. This team has multiple options now. Harris will have moments to shine — as will Redick, Butler, Ben Simmons and, of course, Embiid.

No luck vs. C’s

The Sixers’ recent struggles against the Celtics are no secret. 

The most important thing to remember is that this is the not the same team that lost to Boston in five games in the playoffs last season. This is not the same team that lost to them on opening night or in overtime on Christmas. This isn’t even the same team that lost by three to the Celtics before the All-Star break.

If everyone is present and accounted for, Wednesday will mark just the eighth game for this version of the Sixers. As Sunday’s win in Milwaukee showed, this team can be scary. It’s another stiff test, but one this iteration of the Sixers can pass if they’re clicking on all cylinders.

Young Hawks can be dangerous

The Hawks are a rebuilding team, but that doesn’t mean the Sixers can take them lightly. They have played better basketball recently as rookie Trae Young has started getting acclimated to the NBA. Young is averaging 25.3 points and 8.2 assists while shooting 42 percent from three since the All-Star break.

We also can’t forget about Kevin Huerter, who dropped a rookie career-high 29 points in a win over the Sixers back on Jan. 11. Second-year forward John Collins also hit a big shot late in that game and has had a strong sophomore campaign overall.

Granted, Embiid didn’t play in that matchup, but the point is, the Sixers can’t afford to take Atlanta lightly. Perhaps the Sixers will feel like they owe the young Hawks one.

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Latest version of Sixers shows how dangerous it is in win vs. NBA-best Bucks

Latest version of Sixers shows how dangerous it is in win vs. NBA-best Bucks

The last time the Sixers played the Bucks, it wasn’t pretty.

Back on Oct. 24, Milwaukee took control early and the game was a blowout. The Sixers’ starters that night: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz.

What a difference a few months and a couple blockbuster trades can make.

The Sixers’ new-look starting five, playing in just its seventh game together, turned in its finest performance with a 130-125 win in Milwaukee Sunday afternoon (see observations), clinching a playoff spot in the process.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was a monster with 52 points, but Joel Embiid was no slouch with 40 of his own along with 15 rebounds and six assists.

“I think when you ask about Joel, the thing that most stood out to me was there was a fierce level of competitiveness that he played with tonight,” Brown said to reporters postgame. “It was at an A-level. It was at a playoff level. And the physical side of things — throwing his body into things — just was extremely competitive.”

In a game against the NBA’s best and in a fight for the East’s third seed, there was a playoff feel to this one.

There’s been a lot made of the Sixers’ inability to beat the Eastern Conference’s elite. Going into Sunday, the Sixers were just 1-7 against the Bucks, Raptors and Celtics — that one win coming against a depleted Toronto team.

But that was then and this is now. This team looks nothing like the first iteration Milwaukee saw. In what could’ve been a possible playoff preview, “Sixers 3.0,” as JJ Redick called it, turned in its most impressive win of the season.

“We had only played six games. Think of that number. Truly, think about that number,” Brown said. “And to play against one of the more consistent teams in the league — as it sits, best team in the NBA [and] the best defensive team in the NBA — and try to learn and grow our team and move it forward. 

“There’s some talent in that room, no doubt about it, but there’s no right to have a fluid side and a chemistry and a symmetry. They have no right to have that — not to anybody’s fault except the calendar. So growing that and be excited about that and trying to polish it up before the playoffs begin is our goal.”

That calendar now reflects that there’s less than a month to go before the postseason. There are 12 games — including the rubber match against the Bucks — left in the regular season. That doesn’t leave much time for Brown to figure out his newest starting unit.

But luckily for Brown, the most promising thing this starting lineup has shown is the willingness to play a selfless brand of basketball. While Embiid may be the “crown jewel,” there are four other players that are supremely gifted offensively.

On Sunday, it was Redick who sparked them early by hitting 7 of 10 shots and going a spotless 4 of 4 from three for 19 points. It was Jimmy Butler who continued his aggressive ways and played closer yet again with 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. It was Embiid being Embiid.

Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris weren’t spectacular, but they were efficient. Simmons was 4 of 8 for eight points, but also added nine rebounds and nine assists. Harris shot just for 4 of 7 for 12, but added seven boards and four dimes.

The beauty of having five guys as immensely talented as what the Sixers have is that you don’t need everybody to go off. 

“I think we have so many guys that score the ball in so many different ways that any given night somebody’s going to get hot,” Butler said. “You’re not going to be able to guard everybody. We do a good job of finding guys in spots where they’re comfortable — I think that’s the best part about our offense. 

“When the ball is moving around and of course when we’re playing defense, [we’re at our best]. But I think everybody is having fun and when you’re having fun, the basketball game is easy.”

If “Sixers 3.0” keeps this up, the rest of the Eastern Conference won’t be having very much fun.

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