Believe it or not, that was a kind of an encouraging Sixers fourth quarter

Believe it or not, that was a kind of an encouraging Sixers fourth quarter

This is all my fault, probably. When Dwyane Wade was traded back to the Miami Heat at the deadline this year, I cackled about how this was one of the best things that could've happened to the Sixers' playoff push. Wade isn't the player he once was, and as a no-three-or-D wing, he's pretty much the exact player the NBA is moving away from. With his reputation and oversized shadow in Miami, I figured he'd cost the Heat a few wins in the playoff race against Philly if anything, trying to take over games he no longer really had the capacity to take over.

Well, he had the capacity last night, for damn sure. Though he entered the game with abysmal numbers in his five previous Miami games, it was all classic Wade on Tuesday against Philly, as he scored 27 points -- 15 in the fourth quarter, most of it down the stretch -- and slayed the Sixers almost single-handedly, costing them a game they really probably shoulda won. Late-shot-clock threes, runners down the lane, sketchily drawn fouls and a final pull-up long two to put Miami ahead with six seconds to go -- Wade had it all going down last night, and it ended up being enough for a 102-101 Miami victory. Sorry everyone. 

It was as painful a loss as Brett Brown's crew has suffered in 2018 -- though judging by 2014-2017 standards, it still tops out at like a 7 -- but long-term, I think it actually shows some good signs for the Sixers. In the final 90 seconds, Miami was able to surge ahead and stay there, but the Sixers fought hard, executed some pretty smart plays, and played pretty good defense. Wade stole this game from them; they didn't just hand it to him. 

Not to scapegoat JJ Redick, who's been awesome for us in the clutch on multiple occasions this season, but this came down to two plays that the Sixers put him in perfect position to make, and he happened to flub. The first was an alley-oop to Ben Simmons with 90 seconds to go and Philly up three, with Simmons freed on a back-pick from Joel Embiid that had him wide open for the basket. All Redick had to do from the top of the key was to put the pass in Simmons' general vicinity -- but he threw it high, and the ball went off his hands out of bounds. Then, of course, in the game's closing seconds with Philly down one, Simmons backed down with the ball in the post and kicked out to Dario Saric behind the arc, who whipped the ball to a wide-open Redick with more than enough time to get off the potential game-winner -- which clanged off. If JJ connects on either one of those, it's a Philly win. 

Conversely, on the other side of the ball, they didn't let Wade get anything easy late. His final seven points for Miami came on a tough running floater, three free throws he was awarded on a Saric foul behind the arc (which I thought was a bogus call -- Dario avoided contact and Wade very obviously jumped sideways into him), and a step-back, pull-up 21-footer that Ben Simmons and Robert Covington couldn't have contested much better. That's the shot you want a historically iffy jump-shooter from distance like Wade to take -- but hey, he made it. Give it up for the future Hall of Famer, and curse the basketball gods that his one transcendent game of 2018 came against Philly. 

That's not to say the loss didn't sting like the dickens. But hey, remember those come-from-ahead losses earlier this year, where once the game reached its final minutes, the Sixers seemed to forget how to play competitive basketball altogether? The ones where every offensive possession ended in a live-ball turnover, a shot-clock violation or a laughably low-percentage three-point hoist? The ones where the other team got layups and wide-open threes at will, and there seemed to be nothing we could do to stop the bleeding? 

This wasn't that. The Sixers played well enough late to win this game: Embiid, who scored on a three-pointer and an excellent drive to the basket in the final minutes, remained particularly deadly, even as he struggled with the refs squeezing him all game. But sometimes over 82 games, the other team just makes the plays that your team doesn't, and that's what happened last night. That Wade had to play as well as he did, down to the final plays, to sink the Sixers is ultimately a very encouraging development. 

Unfortunately, it's two losses in a row for Philly, which keeps them in 7th place in the East -- with just a game now separating them and the 8th-seeded Heat, with Philly heading to Cleveland on Thursday night for the toughest remaining contest on their schedule. It's a bummer they couldn't get this one and give themselves some breathing room on this mini-road trip, but as I've been saying for weeks now, this is the last bad stretch for Philly this season, and whatever playoff ground we lose this week, we should have more than enough time to make up for in our final 20-plus games. If we play like we did last night, I like our chances of doing so. 

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Zhaire Smith has already unlocked the cheesesteak photo op

Cheesesteaks are great.

People who are new to Philadelphia should eat cheesesteaks. People who are not new to Philadelphia should also eat cheesesteaks.

New 76ers draft pick Zhaire Smith is new to Philadelphia so he went to eat a cheesesteak.

Thankfully, it was a pretty good one at Jim's Steaks on South Street. It appears as if there is no ketchup or other strange substances on his cheesesteak. Hot peppers are not only acceptable but encouraged, in my humble cheesesteak eating opinion.

Congrats, Zhaire for enjoying a cheesesteak successfully without embarrassment.

You can learn much more about Smith and his abilities and fit with the Sixers right here.

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's OK

Sixers put organization ahead of Mikal Bridges' feelings ... and that's OK

Brett Brown sold me.

I agree with my colleague Andrew Kulp that the moment the news of the Sixers trading Mikal Bridges broke that I was flabbergasted. His mother works for the Sixers! Bridges was literally talking about how excited she was for him to be in Philly when the news broke. His poor mother! It was pretty much as rough as it gets in terms of optics. 

It looked awful from a PR perspective. There are tons of disappointed Villanova alums today.

But it's an unfortunate situation, in my opinion, not an organizational embarrassment, as Kulp wrote.

An unprotected first-round pick though? Damn. That's enticing.

Then Brett Brown came out after the first round ended and put my mind at ease that the Sixers made the right move.

They did what they believed to be best for the Sixers, a "Godfather offer" if you will. Here's Brown's, incredibly honest and thoughtful opening statement. You can watch it in full above. I think it's worth watching to realize how much thought Brown and his decision-makers put into this one.

"We had 1A and 1B and when the ninth pick was selected you realize, we’re going to get one of our two, and we chose Mikal. And to see that play out knowing the history that he has had in this city and at Villanova, it was very much aligned and he was somebody that could come in a fit with what we had. And so it goes from that level of excitement in the extreme coincidence, given his history in this city, to a situation in between that the phones were active and we knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose him. We didn’t rate it to be a Godfather type of deal, something that really would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much."

"And then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected plus our 1B in Zhaire (Smith), who we value very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you really have a decision to make. And for me, and all of us in that room, what also rules our day is a few things. First — and in this order — what is always best for the organization, I’m going into my sixth season with the Philadelphia 76ers and so what is best for the organization and how do you win a championship, how do you acquire things that can attract stars or develop stars? That pick might be the key to all of this. That pick might be the thing that links a possible trade, and we have our 1B in Zhaire."

The trade was jarring emotionally. There's no sugarcoating that. Bridges is, by all accounts, a wonderful and thoughtful kid. Not to mention a hell of a basketball player who would absolutely help the Sixers in 2018.

Brown later added a line that should make you more comfortable with the Sixers moving on from him: "We are star hunting or we are star developing."

If the Sixers didn't believe that Bridges would be one of those stars, they added an incredibly valuable piece in the unprotected first that can help acquire a star. Either via trade or in a future draft. And they got their 1B on top of it.

Some very smart NBA people even believe that Smith is a better prospect than Bridges. Only time will tell on those two players. But the Sixers did what they believed put them in the best position to land a star.

Isn't that what the Process is all about anyway?

"I'm here to win a championship," Brown said at the introductory press conference for Smith Friday morning.

They pulled off this trade because they believe it helps them get closer to a championship. At the end of the day, are you worried more about one family's feelings or the Sixers winning a championship?

If you watched Bridges speak to the Phoenix media following the trade, he'll be just fine growing alongside Deandre Ayton. That kid is a pro. And the Sixers put them in the position they believe best sets them up to land a star.

Now they just need to go out and do it.

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