NBA Season Preview: The Philadelphia 76ers

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jrue_holiday_rodrigue_beaubois.jpgLast season: They went 27-55, which is wholly unspectacular. They weren’t as bad as the Nets or the Timberwolves, but the Sixers were in that next group of teams that stand out only for their failure to compete. 

Head Coach: Doug Collins, who’s here to win friends and influence people.

Key Departures: Samuel Dalembert, Allen Iverson, Rodney Carney, more of Elton Brand’s dignity.

Key Additions: Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, lots of weight to put on Turner’s shoulders.

Best case scenario:
Real improvement. The Sixers regressed last season — their offensive efficiency dropped from 107.9 points per 100 possessions in ’08-’09 to 106.1, and their defensive efficiency from 107.8 points allowed per 100 possessions allowed to 110.3 — and obviously they’d like to reverse course. Evan Turner could help in both regards in his first season, as he’s a more versatile offensive weapon and a superior defender in comparison to most of the Sixers’ other options on the wing. Should he take away some of the team’s heavy reliance on Andre Iguodala, it’ll be best everyone.

Iguodala will get into open space more often and more easily. Jrue Holiday will have more breathing room to do his thing. The offense will balance itself, meaning Elton Brand, Marreese Speights, and Spencer Hawes will see real benefit. It probably wouldn’t make the Sixers terribly competitive, but it’d be a step in the right direction.

For that to happen:
Turner needs to show that his Summer League woes were a fluke. He needs to prove that he can thrive against NBA athletes, and that the Sixers were right to use the No. 2 overall pick on him in this year’s draft. Turner will get his chances, but if he doesn’t flat-out impress, the Sixers won’t have much of a shot to improve this season.

Jrue Holiday also needs to take a step forward. Holiday’s rookie year was both remarkable and unheralded, but he’s about to enter a full season as one of his team’s primary options. Holiday is in the scouting report, and you’d better believe that opposing teams will be ready for him.

In addition, Spencer Hawes will need to play stop-gap. Samuel Dalembert didn’t have a tremendous year in ’09-’10, but he still blew Hawes out of the water on defense and especially on the glass. Their rebounding rates aren’t even comparable, and yet Hawes will be asked to provide what Dalembert did and more. Hawes is the superior offensive talent, but at what cost? If he can somehow improve his rebounding and interior defense to hold the center position steady, then he gives the natural growth of the roster a chance to make an impact in the win column. 

More likely the Sixers will: If not, the Sixers will end up treading water or even sinking a bit.

Let’s take Jrue Holiday’s improvement as a given, considering the way he ended his rookie campaign. Andre Iguodala might be slightly better than he was last season, and utilized in a more effective manner.

Yet beyond those two, so many things have to go right for the Sixers to make strides in ’10-’11. Turner needs to launch, Hawes needs to board, Brand needs to show up, Speights needs to share the ball, Nocioni needs to do enough without trying to do too much, and Louis Williams needs to produce without as many opportunities. Someone needs to score more, everyone needs to force their opponents to score less, and Doug Collins needs to find a way to make a bunch of odd pieces work together.

The Sixers were bad last season, and Evan Turner should be good down the line. He just won’t be productive enough this year for Philadelphia to make substantial progress.  

Prediction: 28 wins. Philly has an interesting young core, and if all of the pieces can grow and bend in just the right places, this roster could be a hell of a thing in a few years. For now, their best player is still Andre Iguodala, and though they’ve added three rotation players, the team is still fundamentally the same. Internal improvement will only take the Sixers so far, and in ’10-’11, that ‘so far’ is but a single win ahead of their previous season’s total.

Karl-Anthony Towns carries Wolves past Nuggets, 111-108

Minnesota Timberwolves teammates Karl-Anthony Towns, center, and Tyus Jones (1) celebrate their lead in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Wolves won 111-108. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns had 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists and hit the go-ahead shot with 42.5 seconds to play to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 111-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

Towns hit 13 of 19 shots and also had four blocks and Andrew Wiggins scored 24 points in Minnesota’s fourth straight home win. Shabazz Muhammad scored 20 points off the bench and the Wolves rallied from nine points down midway through the fourth quarter for the win.

Gary Harris scored 22 points and Nikola Jokic had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back. Wilson Chandler and Jamal Murray added 17 points each for Denver, which played without Emmanuel Mudiay because of a sore back.

Kris Dunn had 10 points and nine assists for the Wolves while starting for Ricky Rubio, who missed the game to attend his grandmother’s funeral.

The Wolves were down 100-91 midway through the fourth quarter when Towns and Muhammad keyed a 12-2 run. Muhammad finished the spurt with a layup for a 103-102 lead, Wiggins hit a 3-pointer and Towns knocked down a jumper from the baseline to put the Wolves up for good in a thriller.

The game featured two of the best young big men in the game in Towns and Jokic. Both are considered the new breed of NBA center, able to shoot the ball like a shooting guard, pass it like a point guard and run the break like a small forward.

Denver coach Mike Malone said the Nuggets offense took off when he inserted Jokic into the starting lineup, and the Serbian gave his coach the luxury of being able to weather Mudiay’s absence by running the offense through him. Rookie Jamal Murray saw extended minutes at point guard, running the pick-and-roll with Jokic to perfection.

Towns knows there is a segment of the NBA analytics community that believe Jokic should have won rookie of the year honors last year, and he went right at Jokic every time he had the chance on Sunday night. Towns dunked on Jokic twice and had another blow-by for a dunk in the second quarter that got the crowd on its feet.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver committed 18 turnovers leading to 31 points for Minnesota. … Mudiay stayed home in Denver to get treatment for his back. The hope is that it is a short-term injury.

Timberwolves: Gorgui Dieng was limited to six minutes in the first half after picking up three quick fouls in the first quarter. … Rubio is expected to rejoin the team on Monday.

SHABAZZ SHINES

Muhammad made 9 of 14 shots, including two 3s and hustled on defense as well, giving the Wolves some much-needed production off the bench. Zach LaVine had another quiet night as he works his way back from a hip injury, but Muhammad picked up the scoring slack. He reached double figures for the fourth time in seven games.

 

Eric Bledsoe’s career day leads Suns over Raptors 115-103

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) drives past Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during first-half NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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TORONTO (AP) — Eric Bledsoe scored a career-high 40 points and had 13 assists and the Phoenix Suns handed the Toronto Raptors their third straight loss, 115-103 on Sunday night.

Bledsoe was 11 of 17 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and Devin Booker added 20 points as the Suns won their second straight road game following Saturday’s win at New York. The victory also completed a season sweep of the Raptors for the first time since 2013-14 and improved Phoenix to 11-6 against Eastern Conference teams this season.

DeMar DeRozan had 22 points for Toronto and Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 12 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season. It’s the first time the Raptors have lost three straight since Nov. 6-10, 2015.

Kyle Lowry was ejected with 1:30 left after a flagrant-two foul following contact with the head of Brandon Knight. It capped a night to forget for Lowry, who had 15 points but shot just 5 of 17, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

Toronto led from the 2:13 mark of the second quarter until the Suns tied it at 95 on a banked hook shot from Tyson Chandler with 7:29 to play. After DeMarre Carroll and Bledsoe exchanged baskets, Phoenix went on an 18-6 run the rest of the way to take the game away from the Raptors.

After falling behind on Bledsoe’s 3-pointer just 19 seconds in, the Raptors responded with a 12-0 run, punctuated by a spectacular alley-oop dunk by Lucas Nogueira from Lowry’s pass. The Raptors led 31-28 after 12 minutes.

DeRozan led the way in the second quarter, going 4 of 5 from the floor for 12 points as the Raptors built their lead to seven on a driving layup with 1:51 to play in the half. The Suns countered with a 10-4 run to go into the interval down 60-57.

The Raptors extended their lead to seven in the third but only shot 36.8 percent from the floor and were unable to pull away, settling for an 85-82 edge after 36 minutes.

TIP-INS

Suns: One night after setting the mark, Chandler ended his franchise record and career high of consecutive 15-plus rebound games at seven with nine rebounds on the night. … F Dragan Bender left with 9:03 remaining in the second quarter with a sore right ankle and did not return.

Raptors: F Patrick Patterson (left knee) missed his sixth consecutive game. … The Raptors got double-digit points from all five of their starting players.

HOME AT LAST

Toronto’s prized free-agent signing Jared Sullinger played his first home game for the Raptors on Sunday night. After missing the first 41 games of the season following left foot surgery, the forward made his debut in Friday’s loss in Charlotte before entering the fray Sunday with 3:56 to play in the first. He ultimately played 13 minutes, scoring nine points.

DRAWING LEVEL

With 22 points Sunday, DeRozan tied Chris Bosh for second in franchise history with 265 games with at least 20 points. Vince Carter leads the way with 273 such games.

HIGHLIGHT REEL

With 7:10 left in the third, Marquise Chriss made a spectacular, one-handed alley-oop dunk from T.J. Warren‘s lob pass that was slightly behind him, falling to the floor before rolling over and popping right back up.

 

Magic had one highlight: Aaron Gordon in transition with dunk (VIDEO)

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Golden State didn’t have much trouble with Orlando Sunday, pulling away in the second half as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each had seven threes.

But the Magic did have one highlight: Elfrid Payton found Aaron Gordon in transition and we know the man can finish. Enjoy.

 

As expected, Last Two-Minute report says DeMarcus Cousins didn’t foul Dwyane Wade

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It was an obviously wrong call. NBA officials get far, far more right than wrong over the course of a game — there are not better referees on the planet (watch FIBA ball someday) — but they are human, and they make mistakes. Sometimes pretty egregious ones. And that’s what happened at the end of the Kings/Bulls game.

And that’s what happened near the end of the Kings/Bulls game. Dwyane Wade went up for a layup/dunk he missed, but he landed a bit awkwardly and a referee apparently thought that was because DeMarcus Cousins touched him. The foul was called, even though Cousins did not foul Wade in the least.

The NBA’s Last Two Minute Report agreed:

Cousins (SAC) has his hand on Wade’s (CHI) back while he is airborne, but he does not extend his arm and push him and the contact does not affect the shot attempt.

This was expected. Of course, that does not mean the teams will replay the end of the game, it just means the NBA admits there was a mistake. One that may have changed the outcome of the game. But that original outcome stands.

DeMarcus, how do you feel about that?