Joel Embiid shows off his skills in NBA Africa Game

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Joel Embiid shows off his skills in NBA Africa Game

It’s only August, but Joel Embiid’s celebrations are in midseason form. His handles don’t look too bad either.

Embiid, a Cameroon native, starred in the NBA Africa Game Saturday in Pretoria, South Africa, posting a game-high 24 points on 9 for 18 shooting to go with eight rebounds and four assists. Team Africa fell to Team World in the third edition of the NBA Africa Game, 96-92.

Embiid spent the past week taking part in various community outreach events honoring Nelson Mandela’s legacy. He also showed the campers in the Basketball Without Borders program a few of his dance moves and threw down a fierce dunk on the Hornets’ Bismack Biyombo (see story)

In 2011, Embiid himself participated in the Basketball without Borders program. That’s the year he began playing basketball. He looked a little different. 

“I feel [it’s] a way for me to kind of give back, and show them how it’s done,” Embiid said, per Sixers.com’s Brian Seltzer. “At the same time, it’s also a way for me to grow the game of basketball in Africa. I feel like we have a lot of talent, undiscovered talent, that can have a chance just like I did. They just need an opportunity.”

There were plenty of highlights on Saturday for Embiid, who was the last player introduced and sounded like he got the loudest cheers from the crowd. 

When Hassan Whiteside checked in, it felt just like the playoffs all over again, with Embiid drawing two quick fouls on the Miami Heat center and going coast-to-coast for a layup after picking off a pass intended for Whiteside. 

Embiid connected with former Sixer Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot late in the first quarter, finding Luwawu-Cabarrot for an open three-pointer. Luwawu-Cabarrot, now a member of the Thunder after the Sixers’ mid-July trade, scored 16 points, second-most on Team Africa.

Embiid’s smooth behind-the-back move and step-back jumper on JaVale McGee in the third quarter was a crowd-pleaser. 

And he added a few of his patented and-one celebrations. 

At the end of the game, Embiid went back and forth with the Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari, another Basketball without Borders alumnus. Embiid kept Team Africa close throughout the game, but Gallinari sealed the win for Team World, nailing a number of tough step-back jumpers. He earned MVP honors with 23 points on 9 for 10 shooting.

You don’t want to read too much into how Embiid played, given the All-Star Game-like setting. After all, he often brought the ball up the floor, playing a point-center role, and the game wasn’t played with much intensity until the final few minutes when the outcome was in the balance. But Embiid’s performance was a reminder of his immense talent. His MVP ambitions don’t sound so crazy when you watch him gliding down the floor, finishing with authority inside, and crossing up defenders.

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Sixers complete trade for Mike Muscala, sign Jonah Bolden

Sixers complete trade for Mike Muscala, sign Jonah Bolden

For a team without a full-time GM, the Sixers have been awfully busy.

The team on Wednesday announced the trade for Hawks big man Mike Muscala and the signing of 2016 second-round pick Jonah Bolden. As part of a three-team deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to Atlanta, the Sixers sent swingmen Justin Anderson to the Hawks and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to the Thunder.

In Muscala, the Sixers get a stretch big that can help mitigate Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica backing out of his agreement to sign with the team. A five-year veteran out of Bucknell, Muscala has shot 38 percent from three in 243 NBA games.

“Mike Muscala joins our program at a fantastic stage of his career,” head coach and interim GM Brett Brown said in a statement. “He has enjoyed some NBA success and his upside in the future is extremely bright. 

“We will use him both as a backup five and, at times, a power forward. His ability to shoot the ball and the energy with which he plays will help our basketball team.”

Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot are first-round picks — Anderson by the Mavericks, Luwawu-Cabarrot by the Sixers — that haven’t quite panned out. 

Anderson, acquired in the Nerlens Noel trade, has provided physical defense but has been inconsistent with his jumper. Luwawu-Cabarrot flashed at the end of his rookie season but struggled with injuries and inconsistency as well last season.

With the Sixers, Anderson averaged just 16.7 minutes, scoring 7.1 points a game in 62 games. Luwawu-Cabarrot played in 121 games with the team but averaged just 6.1 points in 16.5 minutes per contest.

“We thank both Timmy Luwawu and Justin Anderson for their contributions in growing the 76ers strong culture,” Brown said. “They are fantastic people, extremely dedicated NBA players and will be missed. I believe their new situations will afford them the opportunity to find themselves and give them every chance to stay and grow in the NBA.”

Brown and company have always preached patience but were obviously ready to cut ties with two young players in Anderson (24) and Luwawu-Cabarrot (23).

The Sixers have been patient with Bolden since they drafted the Australian in 2017. The 22-year-old spent a season at UCLA before opting to play overseas. The Sixers stashed Bolden this past season with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. 

Bolden’s shot hasn’t come along like maybe the team had hoped, but he’s impressed by being an active and versatile defender.

“We have been following Jonah Bolden for a while and are very excited to bring him into our program as a young, up-and-coming prospect,” Brown said. “He experienced positive growth and development last season at Maccabi Tel Aviv, a team led by Neven Spahija, who is a friend of our program and an excellent coach. 

“Jonah’s style of play is that of a modern-day player and we’re thrilled to grow our team with him.”

There may be more moves coming with Jerryd Bayless still on the roster. The Sixers are likely to buyout or stretch his deal if they’re unable to trade him.

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Sixers put bench under construction, but is second unit now any better?

Sixers put bench under construction, but is second unit now any better?

After a relatively quiet offseason, the Sixers’ roster has suddenly turned into musical chairs over the past few days.

In are Mike Muscala and Jonah Bolden. Out are Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Richaun Holmes.

Not exactly earth-shattering moves, but moves nonetheless.

Of course, all of those changes were directed at the Sixers’ bench. That’s because the team already has one of the best starting rotations in the entire NBA. The Sixers’ five-man combination of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid was plus-21.4 points per 100 possessions in 600 minutes of action together last season.

The reserves were a different story. The Sixers’ bench was among the league’s worst scoring-wise in 2017-18 before buyout veterans Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova pumped life into the group. With that duo on the squad, the Sixers posted a 20-3 record to close out the regular season and made quick work of the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

Those results changed against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Sixers’ bench was exposed defensively and smothered on offense in the five-game series.

“I’ve said on record, and I’ll say it again, I believe that anything that kind of matters, you’re probably going to bump into the Celtics,” Brett Brown said during the Sixers’ exit interviews. “So they’re always going to be sort of on our mind in relation to how do you compete with them?”

Competing with the Celtics and beating them are two very different things.

Did the Sixers’ tinkering with their bench put them any closer to knocking off their longtime rival? That’s a tough one to answer right now.

Despite shipping away Anderson, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Holmes, you can argue that the Sixers’ second unit will still be more athletic next season. A fully healthy Markelle Fultz will likely start out as the sixth man, and we know he’s got some incredible bounce to his game. Zhaire Smith already gave a glimpse of what type of athlete he is during summer league. And while 31 years old, Wilson Chandler can still rise up to throw it down.

Defensively is where that athleticism should really shine for the latter two. The rookie Smith has continually said defense is his best skill as he was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team during his lone season at Texas Tech. Chandler possesses the ability to defend both forward spots and takes pride on that end of the floor.

Meanwhile, Muscala and Bolden aren't anywhere near leapers of Holmes' caliber. However, they are still bigger bodies that have the ability to move their feet to keep up with their man. That’s in addition to known hustlers T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson putting forth their maximum effort guarding opponents.

But is that enough when a healthy Celtics team gets its projected roster back and rolls out a reserve lineup of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes?

If the Sixers are unable to contain Boston’s talented starters and deep reserve blend, they might really run into problems trying to keep pace with offense of their own now that they lack a serious three-point threat outside of Redick. Belinelli and Ilyasova, who both departed moments into free agency, gave the team a one-two punch off the bench that could drain shots from anywhere. Now the only serviceable shooter in a backup role is the 6-foot-11, 240-pound Muscala (a career 37.8 percent shooter from long range). Kyle Korver, anyone?

The bench reset was necessary if the Sixers planned on getting to the next level. Is it enough to put them on the same level as the Celtics or will they remain green with envy?

We’ll see.

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