Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

CAMDEN, N.J. — Tuesday’s series-clinching victory was a monumental achievement for the Sixers. And while the team briefly savored Brett Brown’s first playoff series win as a head coach in memorable fashion, it was back at practice Thursday afternoon, with its focus shifted to Round 2.

“It was fun,” Joel Embiid said of the celebration with Brown. “I was happy for him because obviously after what he’s been through, two years ago he had a team that only won 10 games and this year he’s at, what, 56? I was really happy for him, and that was the first playoff series that he won, so it was something we felt like we needed to celebrate. But we’re on to the next one.”

That next opponent will be either the Celtics or the Bucks. Boston leads the series, 3-2, and can advance with a win in Game 6 Thursday night at 8 p.m. If the Celtics win, the Sixers will play Game 1 of the second round in Boston on Saturday night.

“Because we don’t know who you’re going to play, you don’t have that luxury of time,” Brown said. “No matter who you play, you better get back in transition defense and you better rebound. But it’s easier for sure when you can zoom in and say, ‘OK, you got Giannis, or you got Marcus Smart.’”

Though they don’t have the advantage of knowing their opponent, the Sixers do have a few extra days to recover from what was an extremely physical series against the Heat. They also have a chance to hone their own sets and to sharpen their execution. Ersan Ilyasova mentioned that, among other things, the Sixers worked on creating space for Embiid post-ups.

“At the end of the day, whoever comes out, I think it’s up to us,” Ilyasova said. “Recently, the way we’ve played, we have to focus on ourselves and if we do the right things, it’s going to be in our favor.”

Boston or Milwaukee is just not the primary concern at the moment. Sure, the Sixers will tune into Game 6 with interest. Embiid said he’ll be watching at home as usual with Markelle Fultz and Justin Anderson. But the intense, team-specific preparation won’t start in earnest until that series concludes.

“We just prepare for both teams,” Embiid said. “We’re going to be ready for whoever. We played them in the regular season, so we have a lot of scouting reports, so I’m sure the coaches will do their job to get us ready.”

The Sixers went 1-3 against the Celtics in the regular season, while they had a 2-2 record against the Bucks. However, Kyrie Irving, who is out for the playoffs with a left patella injury, played in three of those matchups with Boston. And the Sixers crushed the Bucks in the regular-season finale, 130-95. Regardless of who they play, the Sixers will be favored. If they play close to the level they’re capable of, they should advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Playing in his first postseason, Embiid gave the mature answer of a seasoned veteran when asked if he’d prefer to face Milwaukee or Boston.

“It’s the playoffs. I don’t think it matters,” Embiid. “As long as you play your game and stick to your concepts, you’re going to be fine.”

Giannis returns as Bucks end Spurs' win streak

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Giannis returns as Bucks end Spurs' win streak

MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from an ankle injury to score 25 points, and the Milwaukee Bucks held on in the final few minutes after building a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter for a 106-103 win on Sunday over the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs trailed by 15 points with 8 minutes left before rallying to get within three with 35 seconds left on Pau Gasol's putback.

Eric Bledsoe missed a 3-pointer on the other end for the Bucks. San Antonio rushed down court to get one last shot off, but Milwaukee's Khris Middleton blocked Dejounte Murray's 3-point attempt from the right wing with 3.7 seconds left.

The loss snapped the Spurs' six-game winning streak (see full recap).

James scores 37, Cavs beat Nets for 5th straight win
NEW YORK -- LeBron James had 37 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Brooklyn Nets 121-114 on Sunday for their fifth straight victory.

James kept up his latest sensational stretch by going 14 for 19 from the floor. He reached 2,000 points in a season for the 10th time, joining Karl Malone and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to do that.

Kevin Love added 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who came in averaging 122.5 points during the streak and just about reached that even with a slow start. Jordan Clarkson had 18 points, George Hill scored 17 and Rodney Hood finished with 16.

Former Cavs guard Joe Harris scored a career-high 30 points for the Nets, who lost their third straight. Just as they did Friday in Toronto, the Nets hung in against one of the East's best but didn't have enough to pull it out (see full recap).

Rozier's career high sends Celtics to 50th win
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Terry Rozier scored a season-high 33 points and nearly matched the Celtics' franchise record for 3-pointers, Jaylen Brown made consecutive buckets to break open a close game in the fourth quarter, and Boston held on to beat the Sacramento Kings 104-93 on Sunday.

Making his sixth start in place of injured All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, Rozier shot 12 of 16, including 8 of 12 on 3s, in the rookie's most impressive game of the season. Rozier, who had been averaging 16.2 points in Irving's absence, also had five rebounds and three assists.

The eight 3s were one shy of the Celtics' single-game record of nine shared by Isaiah Thomas and Antoine Walker. One of Rozier's missed 3s came on a rushed attempt with the shot clock winding down early in the fourth.

Brown had 19 points in his return after missing two weeks with a concussion. Al Horford scored 14 points while Jayson Tatum added 12 points and seven rebounds to help Boston win in Sacramento for the first time since Feb. 1, 2011 (see full recap).

Hinkie's old boss expected Giannis to be a Sixer

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Hinkie's old boss expected Giannis to be a Sixer

The 2013 NBA draft was one of the strangest in recent memory. There was no consensus first overall pick, which is how Anthony Bennett happens.

Nerlens Noel was viewed as a candidate to be the top pick before tearing his ACL late in his lone college season. The Sixers, then under Sam Hinkie, bought the upside on Noel and traded Jrue Holiday for the sixth overall pick to take him. 

Five picks later, the Sixers took another big, athletic, upside-based player in Michael Carter-Williams.

Four picks after that ... Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, Hinkie's boss before the protege left for Philly, said on The Bill Simmons Podcast this week that he was convinced the Sixers were set to take Giannis.

"I was actually really surprised Philly didn't take him," Morey said. "They ended up taking the Rookie of the Year (MCW) so they did fine. But [Giannis] was this super-high-upside guy. We had bet that [Hinkie] might take [Giannis] because we were like, 'Super-high upside, might as well go for it.'"

Could you even begin to imagine ...

Keep in mind, though, that these types of what-if conversations require more context. Had the Sixers taken Giannis then, they're probably not bad enough to pick high enough to get Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in two of the next three years. (Same concept to remember whenever someone says the Sixers should have taken Kristaps Porzingis over Jahlil Okafor. Of course they should have, but if you draft Porzingis, you probably don't get Simmons.)

Giannis was by far the best player in that draft, with Rudy Gobert (27th), C.J. McCollum (10th) and Victor Oladipo (2nd) the only other standouts. Otto Porter (3), Dennis Schroder (17) and Steven Adams (12) are good players, but that's pretty much it. Everyone else in that 2013 draft is either a fringe rotational player, a non-factor or out of the league. 

That was a rough draft for GMs to navigate, as opposed to the year before when Anthony Davis was the consensus No. 1 and Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond were all top-10 picks. The only surprise outside the top 10 that previous year was Draymond Green, a huge steal but one of the only steals of 2012.

The Giannis draft (2013) was Hinkie's first as the Sixers' GM. Though Hinkie was a swing-for-the-fences type, perhaps even he couldn't justify trading an established player in Holiday for the ultimate risk-reward player in Antetokounmpo. Not many execs had seen the Greek Freak more than a few times, and it was difficult to gauge how his work against inferior competition would translate to the best league on Earth.

Alas ...

Hinkie's final days
Morey clearly still rides for Hinkie, and he had an interesting take on how his former colleague's tenure with the Sixers ended.

Should Hinkie have been more front-facing?

"If you know it's gonna end how it's gonna end, I think he would say for sure," Morey said when Simmons referred to Hinkie as "Howard Hughes-ish." 

"He felt like he had ownership's support there to execute on the plan and part of the plan was to not be as out there, especially during the down times," Morey continued. "Sam can be more communicative, it's just he thinks it's better for the team, especially at that point when he was there, it didn't make sense to be that communicative.

"That said, if he knew he didn't have the support (from ownership) that he thought he had, I'm sure he would have been out there more.

"Hopefully, someone will give him a shot. I think he can obviously help a lot of teams."