76ers

Charles Barkley sure had a lot to say about the Sixers

Charles Barkley sure had a lot to say about the Sixers

Charles Barkley sure had a lot to say about the Sixers in the last 24 hours.

With the team on national television against the Pacers Thursday, Barkley had some poignant comments about the team’s usage of Joel Embiid. Embiid was questionable prior to the game with back tightness, but played through it despite looking visibly uncomfortable. 

During TNT’s halftime show, Barkley went in on the Sixers for allowing Embiid to play:

Let me just say this about the Philadelphia 76ers: they’ve got to be the stupidest organization in the history of sports. You’ve got a franchise player who’s got a bad back, who’s injury-prone. He can barely walk and you’ve got him out there playing in a regular-season game. You have to be the stupidest organization.

(h/t Deadspin)

Then, less than 24 hours later as a guest on the Mike Missanelli Show, Barkley had some high praise for “the stupidest organization in the history of sports,” saying that he’d “take my chances right now with the 76ers winning the Eastern Conference.”

You can understand Barkley’s perspective considering Embiid’s injury history and his effusive praise for the Sixers’ big man.

For what it’s worth, Embiid downplayed the injury postgame, saying it’s something he’s gone through before and that he knew how to handle it. He also looked much better in the second half Thursday as he began to loosen up, helping lead the Sixers to arguably their best win of the season.

As for the Sixers' standing in the East, the team does appear to be clicking as it embarks on a brutal stretch of the schedule.

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers look ready to climb

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers look ready to climb

In our Eastern Conference power rankings this week, the Sixers may be ready to start climbing. 

1. Raptors (34-13) Last week: 1
Despite Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics, it’s hard to take the Raptors off the top spot. Kawhi Leonard continues to play at an MVP level and Pascal Siakam is one of the most unique players in the league. Kyle Lowry hasn’t quite rounded into form since returning to the lineup, but expect him to soon.

2. Bucks (32-12) Last week: 2
If it wasn’t for James Harden going bonkers recently, Giannis Antetokounmpo would easily be the MVP favorite. Milwaukee has won 14 of its last 17. While there’s no star complementing the "Greek Freak," the Bucks’ depth is serious. 

3. Celtics (26-18) Last week: 3
The Celtics may be the most confounding team in the NBA. In between crushing the Pacers and a dramatic win over the Raptors, they lost three straight to the Heat, Magic and Nets, respectively. Gordon Hayward seems to be a big part of the equation. Still not all the way back from a gruesome leg injury, Hayward is shooting 48 percent in wins and just 34 percent in losses.

4. Sixers (30-16) Last week: 4 
Speaking of confounding teams … the Sixers followed up what might have been their worst week of the season with arguably their best. After demolishing the Timberwolves, they took care of the Pacers in convincing fashion. The Sixers have hit a brutal stretch in their schedule, but they’re currently playing their best basketball. They stay at No. 4, but if they keep playing like this, look out.

5. Pacers (29-15) Last week: 5
The Pacers are just clearly a tier below in the East. They’re deep, but what they really need is another star to complement Victor Oladipo and take up some of the offensive load.

6. Nets (23-23) Last week: 7
When Brooklyn was on the outside looking in, I said in this space that it would be a playoff team. That prediction is looking pretty good right now. While the Nets have been led by their scoring guards, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, second-year center Jarrett Allen really looks like a player.

7. Miami (21-21) Last week: 6 
Turns out an injury to Goran Dragic may have been a blessing in disguise for the Heat. Justise Winslow has stepped into Dragic's spot in the starting lineup and been a revelation. Over his last 12 games, Winslow is averaging 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 40 percent from three and 49 percent overall.

8. Hornets (21-23) Last week: 8
Since they appear dead set on re-signing Kemba Walker, you have to get the man some help. If they do, they should be able to hold onto this spot.

9. Pistons (19-24) Last week: 9
It was super fun watching Blake Griffin go for 44 against the Clippers and also telling owner Steve Ballmer to go somewhere with his handshake offer. Other than that? The Pistons just aren’t good.

10. Wizards (19-26) Last week: 10
Bradley Beal has been fantastic since the calendar turned to 2019, posting 30.6 points per game since Jan. 1. Too bad he’s stuck in D.C. as the Wizards refuse to “Trust the Process.” Bold strategy, Cotton. 

11. Magic (19-25) Last week: 11
It appears Orlando will value trying to get the eighth seed in the East over getting value for the expiring contracts of Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross.

12. Hawks (14-30) Last week: 12
Atlanta might be playing a little too well. Kevin Huerter is one of the culprits as the rookie is averaging 15.6 points and shooting 42 percent from three over his last eight. With John Collins, Trae Young and Huerter, the Hawks have a few intriguing pieces.

13. Knicks (10-34) Last week: 13
Tank …

14. Bulls (10-35) Last week: 15
… for …

15. Cavs (9-36) Last week: 14
… Zion.

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Sixers 'not bulls---ting,' looking like a team that's starting to click with win over Pacers

Sixers 'not bulls---ting,' looking like a team that's starting to click with win over Pacers

It’s been a weird couple weeks for the Sixers.

Between drama surrounding the fit of the team’s stars, the poor performance of the bench and just some overall bad basketball, they've had a rough go recently.

But here we are on Jan. 18 with the Sixers at 30-16, just 3½ games out of the top spot in the East after a 120-96 win — perhaps their best of the season (see observations) — over the Pacers Thursday night.

The Sixers have the look of a team that’s starting to figure things out.

We’re growing, we’re learning,” Ben Simmons told reporters postgame. “Everybody’s trying to play the right way with each other and we’re continuing to build each game …

“I think everybody’s just buying in and really trying to get better and not bulls---ting.

If there were ever a time for "not bulls---ting," it would be now for the Sixers. The game Thursday kicked off a brutal 12-game stretch with an impressive win. 

The Pacers had the best record in the NBA since Dec. 1 coming in. They have the third-highest defensive rating in the league and are the second-best shooting team in the NBA. On Thursday, the Sixers had 38 assists on 46 made field goals and held Indiana to just 40 percent from the field.

More importantly, it’s the team’s three stars leading the way in “sharing and caring” as Brett Brown said postgame.

“To be able to come to Indianapolis and be able to set the table with our defense and then get and share the ball [was big],” Brown said. “To have 38 assists with Jimmy [Butler], Joel [Embiid] and Ben having eight each and having 38 of our 46 made baskets assisted is a statement that we’re proud of. You guard, you share — it set the table for a good night.”

While so much attention has been on the Sixers trying to make their stars fit on offense, their two biggest deficiencies have been their defense and a lack of production outside of those stars (and JJ Redick).

The team’s defense has been a big factor in their last two wins. While Simmons pointed toward communication as being a part of the improvement, he also pointed simply to the team’s effort.

Maybe personnel is another part of the equation. 

While Elton Brand may have a move or two up his sleeve before — and possibly after — the trade deadline, Brown appears to have found a rotation that works. 

Rookie Jonah Bolden earning a role as the team’s backup five has been a big development. It’s allowed Mike Muscala to move to the four and Wilson Chandler to play more three.

But the Sixers are only going to go as far as Embiid, Simmons and Butler will take them. The last two games have been a positive sign that, though they may be an imperfect fit, maybe they can make it all work.

With a tough Oklahoma City team up next on this grueling 12-game slate, it looks like the Sixers are getting their act together at the right time.

“It’s a matter of wanting to learn and get better as a team and I think we’ve been doing it,” Embiid said. "The connection is better — on and off the court — and that’s something I’m excited about."

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