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.

Watch LeBron James miss a wide open dunk against the Celtics in Game 4 (VIDEO)

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LeBron James did not have a good first half on Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics. The Cleveland Cavaliers star had four fouls in the first half, the first time that had ever happened according to ESPN.

Things were not going well for James when he went up for a dunk with nary a defender in front of him and he still wound up being unable to convert the bucket.

This is something you don’t see every day.

Via Twitter:

Of course, thanks to a 23-point quarter by Kyrie Irving the missed dunk didn’t seem to mean much. LeBron’s playoff entry to Shaqtin’ A Fool will be duly noted.

Meanwhile, the Kyrie Irving saved the Cavaliers in Game 4 with a 42-point effort. The Cavaliers beat the Celtics, 112-99, and will have a chance to close the series Thursday night in Boston in Game 5.

Kyrie Irving scores 23 in third quarter, saves Cavaliers in Game 4 win over Celtics

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The Boston Celtics led by as many as 16 points, but Kyrie Irving‘s 23-point third quarter sparked a Cleveland Cavaliers comeback that the visiting squad could never match. With LeBron James struggling early, Irving’s incredible play helped Cleveland grab a win in Game 4, 112-99.

James was the big storyline as the game opened, as the King again struggled with scoring. James got himself into foul trouble hilariously early, racking up his fourth foul in the second quarter. It was the first time in his career that James had four fouls in the first half, and it hamstrung the Cavaliers.

Boston continued their effective play on offense, seemingly less predictable with Isaiah Thomas out with a hip injury. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder were the stars for the Celtics, but after an incredible Game 3 performance Marcus Smart failed to deliver.

Irving’s big third quarter was of course the main storyline of the game, with the star guard going nuts on Celtics defenders with a bevy of crossovers, twisting layups, and pull up 3-pointers. He did all this after rolling his ankle, seemingly using the adrenaline to fight off both injury and a series tie at 2-2. Irving’s 23-point quarter fueled a 40-point period for Cleveland, helping them turn the tables and take a 7-point lead going into the fourth.

LeBron seemed to reactivate off Irving’s stellar play, and he wound up scoring 34 points on 15-of-27 shooting, adding six assists, five rebounds, a steal and a block. Irving finished with 42 points, going 4-of-7 from 3-point range to go along with four assists and three rebounds.

Boston was led by Bradley, who scored 19 points but went just 1-of-7 from 3-point range. Crowder added 18 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Al Horford dropped 16 points, seven assists, and three rebounds.

Cleveland now has a chance to put us out of our misery and close this series in Boston in Game 5 on Thursday.

If the Cavaliers do close, the big questions that remain will be whether LeBron can perform steadily and if the Cavaliers have what it takes on defense to slow down the Golden State Warriors.

Celtics G Isaiah Thomas visits specialist, surgery undecided

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CLEVELAND (AP) Boston Celtics star guard Isaiah Thomas has visited one hip specialist and plans to see others.

Thomas, who is done for the season with a right hip injury he sustained in March and aggravated in the playoffs, told Celtics coach Brad Stevens that he intends to get “one or two more opinions” before a course of action is set. It’s possible Thomas could undergo surgery on his hip. The Celtics have described Thomas’ condition as a tear in his hip.

Stevens reiterated before Game 4 that Thomas will not play again this season, even if the Celtics push the defending champion Cavaliers beyond five games in the Eastern Conference finals.

Thomas was ruled out for the remainder of the postseason on Saturday, ending his inspiring playoff run following the tragic death of his younger sister.

Stevens said Thomas told him he’s still sore and there is still significant inflammation in his hip.

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

J.R. Smith takes daughter Dakota, born premature, home from NICU for first time (PHOTO)

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Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith‘s daughter Dakota received some good news on Tuesday. The 5-month-old Dakota had spent her entire life at the NICU at a local hospital, but before the Cavaliers took on the Boston Celtics Smith was able to take Dakota home for the first time.

The news came amid some good news as of late, including Smith and wife Shirley buying flowers for all the NICU mothers for Mother’s Day.

Smith shared the good news with fans on his Instagram.

Via Instagram:

Hopefully this means progress for the Smith family for what no doubt is a tough road ahead.

Cleveland and Boston square off for Game 4 on Tuesday.