76ers

Nik Stauskas finding groove, developing as scoring threat off bench for Sixers

Nik Stauskas finding groove, developing as scoring threat off bench for Sixers

Sixers head coach Brett Brown has said all along the key to Nik Stauskas’ success is his confidence.

Stauskas is feeling it, and it’s showing on the court.

On Saturday, Stauskas scored a season-high 21 points off the bench in the Sixers' 120-105 win over the Suns. He went a perfect 3 for 3 from long range in the first half (11 points in as many minutes) and finished the game going 8 for 9 from the field and 5 for 6 from three. 

He even threw down an alley-oop from point guard Sergio Rodriguez. 

“There’s a cocky bounce that we love,” Brown said. “He looks like he’s having fun.”

Stauskas has scored in double-digits in the past six games. He is shooting 43.0 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 16.3 points over his last three contests. Saturday was his first 20-point outing of the season and his second of his career. 

“Any time my jumpshot feels great, my confidence starts to grow,” Stauskas said. “Even attacking the basket, too, I felt comfortable out there.”

Brown had moved Stauskas in and out of the starting lineup last season. Now, he has settled into a backup role with Gerald Henderson in the starting five. Brown believes Stauskas’ production boosts the second unit. He is averaging 10.2 points on the season.

“I like him coming off the bench and scoring,” Brown said. “All the good teams you look at have somebody that can come off a bench and get numbers. He is acting like that for us now and really having an outstanding season so far.”

Stauskas attributes improvements in his play to studying film, which he rewatches on his iPad after every game. He also has been working on his conditioning to be able to move better without the ball.

“We're seeing a skill package that everybody talked about when he came out of college,” Brown said. “You're seeing a lottery pick play. I'm personally happy for him because he cares sometimes too much and he's so self-conscious at times and extremely prideful and he's being rewarded for the work he has put in.”

What Victor Oladipo sitting out of NBA restart means for Sixers

What Victor Oladipo sitting out of NBA restart means for Sixers

Two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo will not play when the NBA season resumes in Orlando, he told The Athletic’s Shams Charania

Oladipo, who suffered a ruptured quadriceps tendon in January of 2019, returned to play 13 games this season for Indiana but decided it was best to be done for the year. He will still travel with the team to Disney World, according to Charania. 

I really want to play, and as a competitor and teammate this is tearing me apart,” Oladipo told Charania. “I feel like I’m at a great place in my rehab and getting closer and closer to 100 percent. With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble, I just can’t get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing. I have to be smart and this decision hasn’t been easy, but I truly believe continuing on the course I’m on and getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me. 

Oladipo’s decision is significant from the Sixers’ perspective. The Pacers and Sixers have identical 39-26 records, with Indiana sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference because they have a 2-1 edge in the regular-season series. The two teams are scheduled to play Aug. 1.

Indiana, Miami and Boston are the Sixers’ likely potential playoff matchups, which we explored in greater depth here

Joel Embiid missed both of the Sixers’ losses this season to the Pacers, first because of left knee soreness on Dec. 31 and then because of a torn ligament in his left ring finger on Jan. 13. Though the Pacers have a large starting frontcourt of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, Embiid has averaged 27.0 points, 11.7 rebounds and 10 free throw attempts per game in nine career matchups vs. Indiana. His presence would certainly improve the Sixers’ chances.

While Oladipo was an excellent two-way player at his peak, he’s clearly still working his way back to top form and full health. He posted 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest this season, and the Pacers were 7-6 in those 13 games. 

The Pacers are still a strong team without him, even if they’re not exceptional in any one category. Sabonis made his first All-Star Game this season, while Malcolm Brogdon has been a nice fit despite a drastic downturn in his three-point shooting. Indiana has good depth in brothers Justin Holiday and Aaron Holiday, Doug McDermott and T.J. McConnell. 

Brogdon on June 24 said he tested positive for the coronavirus, which is of course a bigger story than any on-court matters. He said that he’s doing well and plans to join the Pacers at Disney World.

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No excuses, but Al Horford makes a notable admission about his health this season

No excuses, but Al Horford makes a notable admission about his health this season

Way back on Nov. 12, well before the coronavirus was impacting all facets of life, Al Horford took a night off.

It did not appear a massive development at the time, though Horford said “there was definitely some pushback” on his end about the concept of load management.

He rested again on Nov. 29 against the Knicks. Horford also missed games on Dec. 12 and Dec. 13 because of left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness, and sat out Jan. 30 in Atlanta with left knee soreness. 

While playing 60 of 65 games looks fine on paper, Horford on Friday admitted he was not at his best physically this season. 

I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be,” he said. “I’m not going to make excuses but right now I’m in a much better place. The time off for me was beneficial. And getting to work now, the biggest challenge for us with the season coming back is doing everything at game-intensity level. 

“Going from not being able to get in the gym to start working out individually, and when we get to Orlando, we’ll start doing it together and then a quick transition to games — it’s really a process. So for me it’s really making sure that I continue to make strides and that I’m at my best, more specifically when the playoffs are ready to go.

For Horford, a veteran who tends to prefer keeping things close to the vest, it was a notable comment. While much of the disappointment about his first season with the Sixers so far stems from Horford’s well-documented struggle to be effective alongside Joel Embiid, his health is another factor to consider. 

Horford dealt with patellar tendinitis in his left knee last season with the Celtics. He’s 34 years old. At times this year, he appeared to have limited remaining supplies of explosiveness and agility. None of those realities are excuses, as Horford himself said, but they’re all relevant in thinking about Horford’s future with the team. 

In the short term, Horford again faces questions about what his role will be for the Sixers when the season resumes in Orlando and whether he’ll come off the bench. He was diplomatic on that subject, as usual. 

“For me, I just want us to be playing well and playing at a high level,” he said. “I’m going to continue to work … I do know that for us to be successful I have to play with Joel sometimes, I have to play with different people. It really doesn’t matter. I just think that this time off is going to benefit all of us, especially for Ben (Simmons), being able to be healthy now and being able to come in and have an impact. I really don’t think that’s going to matter that much, in my opinion.

“The way I’m going to look at it is I’m going to make the most of my situation, stay prepared, stay ready. Coach will have to decide how and when to play me, how much to play me, and I just have to be ready.”

A recurring line for the Sixers before the coronavirus hit the United States was that the team was “built for the playoffs.” Brett Brown used it again Wednesday, and Horford is still fond of it, too. 

I think it’s a great opportunity for our team,” Horford said. “The way the season was going, before it stopped, we had some positives. We got it going there toward the end, we felt, especially that last game we played. Ben’s future was uncertain, and now he’s going to be good to go. We have our full team and our full roster. I believe that our group is built for the playoffs. The regular season is always tough. We have new guys and everybody trying to mesh, but I believe this is a second chance for us and a great opportunity.

The Sixers do indeed have a healthy team, with the exception of Zhaire Smith, who will miss the rest of the season with a bone bruise in his left knee.

There are also, of course, gray areas during a season when players are able to play but below optimal health. It seems Horford fell into that category at times, and he’s surely not the only NBA player who will be fresher and feel better physically as a result of the hiatus.

We shouldn’t forget that he was playing well before the season was shut down, with the major caveat that he thrived when Embiid was out for five games because of a left shoulder sprain. Horford averaged 15.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists in the Sixers’ last six contests. 

He has not deviated, however, from believing that those distant regular-season performances matter much less than the postseason. 

“I do believe that there’s another level in the playoffs as far as the quality of the basketball goes,” he said. “My mindset is to make sure that I’m at my best on Aug. 17, when the playoffs start.”

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