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This month going a lot better than expected for Sixers

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USA Today Images

This month going a lot better than expected for Sixers

I remember looking at the calendar at the beginning of 2018 and wondering if three weeks in, we weren't already going to be looking at the playoffs as a near-impossibility for the Sixers. Ten of their next 12 games were against teams in the playoff picture as the calendar turned -- including each of the next seven -- while the Sixers were two games under .500, having just finished a 5-10 December that included losses to the Kings, Bulls, Suns and Lakers. A 2-5 or 1-6 start to the new year and we would've had some serious work to do in order to catch up in February and March.

Well, uh, the Sixers appear to be slightly ahead of schedule. Instead of kicking off the year on a 2-5 or 1-6 run, they've instead burst through the door on a 5-1 tear -- still undefeated in North America in 2018 -- with the most recent win coming Saturday night with a closer-than-it-looked-but-also-not-totally 116-94 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, the Sixers don't have catching up to do to make it back on the right side of the postseason bubble; hell, at 22-20, they're already sixth in the East. 

Say this for last night's game: The Sixers are really discovering every permutation of the blown-double-digit-lead game this season. It happened again last night, of course -- looked like they'd pull away in the second, instead let the Bucks battle back to recapture the lead in the second half -- but they got the cycle out of the way early enough that they were still able to reach escape velocity in the fourth quarter, ultimately winning by 22. Until they figure out the don't-blow-the-lead-at-all game, this is probably the most preferable version of the game so far. 

Joel Embiid went for 29 and 9 on 12-19 shooting and dominated on both ends, ho-hum. Dario Saric (13-6-7) and Ben Simmons (16-8-9) both got most of the way to triple-doubles, while Robert Covington (13-5-3-4) hit multiple triples for the first time in four games. T.J. (11-3-7) was T.J. Even Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, filling in for an injured (and bad) Jerryd Bayless, was sparkling, scoring 16 on 5-9 shooting, with a +21 for his 30 minutes on the court. If he can give us anywhere near that production level on a consistent basis, it'll make the loss of JJ Redick for the rest of the month a whole lot more palatable for Brett Brown & Co. 

And speaking of players being out -- boy, teams have sure been doing us a favor in spotting us one or two this month, huh? After a 2017 portion of the season where it felt like the Sixers were always the undermanned squad -- aside from one game against the John Wall-less Wizards which we nearly blew, and one against the Blazers without Damian Lillard which we actually did -- Philly has in six 2018 contests already faced the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard (and assorted other rotation cogs), the Celtics without Kyrie Irving and the Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo or Malcolm Brogdon. Easier to deal with the Deer with Khris Middleton as your only real offensive concern, certainly, and we'll see Brogdon in Milwaukee soon enough.

Anyway, understandable that even our most formidable opponents are doing what they can to duck #SixersJanuary. The team is once again trending entirely in the right direction, the home crowd is feeling it, and Philadelphia basketball is as fun and as fearsome as it's been since... well, last January. This is our month, and we'll deal with all the weird crises sure to beset the squad in the months to come after Groundhog Day. For now, with absolutely nothing else going on in the world of Philadelphia sports, let's just be sure to take the time to enjoy it. 

Kevin Hart and Ben Simmons get icy on LeBron James

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Kevin Hart / YouTube

Kevin Hart and Ben Simmons get icy on LeBron James

Kevin Hart had his favorite basketball player from his hometown Sixers on his YouTube show “Cold As Balls” in an episode the diminutive funnyman dedicated to the city of Philadelphia.

Hart takes extra special care of Ben Simmons as he’s getting in and out of the ice bath to make sure there’s no freak accident that could derail the Sixers’ title run this season.

Hart, who is frequently seated courtside at Sixers games, asked Simmons his thoughts on Hart’s infamous trash talking.

“There was this one time against the Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade — you were talking sh** to him the whole time — he hit a big shot right in my face. I remember I was like, ‘Why is Kevin talking to him! He’s got to sit down and enjoy the game,’” Simmons said.

Hart brought up the meeting LeBron James, a mentor of Simmons', took with the Sixers during his free agency this past summer before he opted to join the Los Angeles Lakers.

Simmons said Philly may have been more of a consideration earlier in James' career, which kind of implied winning may not be James’ sole focus in Los Angeles. Yep. Hart and Simmons joked that the Sixers don’t need him anyway.

“We got this,” Simmons said.

Perhaps the best moment from the icy chat was when Hart asked Simmons what he would say to Simmons' Rookie of the Year competition Donovan Mitchell if he had the opportunity.

“Nothing,” Simmons said with big smile. “He knows.”

The two also talk Philly, video games, burner accounts, wild animals, Australia, Bentleys, and much more. You can watch the segment below. It's pretty much the polar opposite of Joel Embiid on "Hot Ones."



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Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid share special moments with legendary Dirk Nowitzki at All-Star Game

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid share special moments with legendary Dirk Nowitzki at All-Star Game

The NBA All-Star Game is a polarizing event. Some people find it to be a no-defense embarrassment while others revel in the pure entertainment of a glorified three-point shooting contest with a smattering of impressive dunks mixed in.

As Dwyane Wade put it during a mid-game interview, the game is a chance for the legends of the league on their last leg to interact with the young guys they’ll pass the torch to when they finally retire.

Credit to NBA commissioner Adam Silver for giving Wade and Dirk Nowitzki a final curtain call down in Charlotte this past weekend. The gesture paid dividends.

Nowitzki entering the game on Sunday and promptly drilling a handful of long three pointers was among the most wonderful moments of the weekend.

It also allowed the Sixers' young stars to interact with a guy they both marveled at as kids growing up watching the NBA.

Simmons even had an up-close look at Nowitzki's game when the Dallas Mavericks' legend hit a three in his face.

It provided some great levity as well when the TBS cameras captured Nowitzki thanking Simmons for not really D’ing him up on the play.

“Appreciate it, kid.”

Simmons had a chance to talk about what Nowitzki meant to him following his first All-Star Game victory.

“He is one of those guys that came over from overseas, dominated the game and changed it,” Simmons told reporters following the game. “Just the way he played the game, he played the right way, was not a selfish player, and was always willing to give the ball up and he could also score it. One of those guys who had a huge impact internationally for guys like me, Joel and so many others.”

Embiid also had the chance to share in a Dirk moment prior to the game when the two were interviewed together.

“When I started playing [basketball] back in 2011, one of my coaches gave a tape of all the great big men and [Dirk] was part of it. I remember the only move I used to do, I would catch the ball on the block, dribble, spin, and then his fadeaway off of one leg. I used to do it all the time. That’s when I started getting better and learning the game," Embiid said.

A smiling Nowitzki looks on and says how humbling it is to hear he inspired the next generation of stars.



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