NBA Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

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Last season: 41-41, resulting in a competitively uncompetitive first-round loss to the Miami Heat.

Head Coach: Doug Collins, who still wants to be your friend. Need a ride to the airport, Thaddeus? He’s your guy. Need someone to help you move, Elton? Please, you don’t even have to ask. Dog-sitting? His pleasure! Creating a stable defensive front that allows the team to succeed in spite of its offensive flaws? Don’t even mention it.

Key Departures: None

Key Additions: None (Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes were re-signed)

Best case scenario: Philly parlays another strong defensive season into a low playoff seed, but runs into a bit of a wall. Jrue Holiday takes a legitimate step toward stardom, but the Sixers find themselves in oddly familiar territory: an initial struggle before finally caving under the weight of one of the East’s more effective squads.

For that to happen: As I mentioned, Holiday will need to continue on course with his development, particularly as an offensive player. This team doesn’t have a ton of reliable shot creation, and if Holiday can make scoring a bit easier for the Sixers in a general sense, they’ll have a nice two-way product. Evan Turner could theoretically chip in, too, as the second-year guard will have further opportunities to settle into the pro style. If Holiday, Turner, and the point-forward-esque Andre Iguodala can create a trio of reliable shot creation from the perimeter, Philly would be much better off.

Not better off enough to cause a first-round upset, but better off nonetheless.

More likely, the Sixers will: Be yet again a solid club, but trade incremental improvements for Holiday, Turner, and Young for regressed production from Elton Brand and Andres Nocioni. The Sixers are hardly encapsulated by yin and yang, but there does seem to be a strange universal balance to their team by nature of its awkward timeline. Every day that Holiday creeps toward his prime, Brand spends by falling further from his. There’s definitely talent on Philly’s roster, but most of the team’s key contributors are at very different places in their careers — a fact that makes it quite difficult to really build on a season-to-season basis.

Prediction: 34-32, good for the lower, unremarkable playoff seed of your choosing.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.

Kristaps Porzingis officially day-to-day, questionable vs. OKC

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Knicks fans can exhale now.

There was understandable concern after face of the franchise Kritaps Porzingis had to leave the game in Brooklyn Thursday night following a non-contact injury.

Turns out there is nothing to worry about. After the game, Porzingis spoke to the media and was standing on the leg, a good sign. By Friday, after a day of treatment, he was doing well. Officially Porzingis is day-to-day and may sit out Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden Saturday, but the injury is nothing serious. Ian Begley of ESPN has the details.

Porzingis’ knee was “worked on” on Friday and the discomfort in his knee decreased, league sources told ESPN. It is unclear if Porzingis underwent an MRI or had X-rays to further determine the extent of the injury but sources say he did not undergo significant testing because it wasn’t warranted based on the state of the injury.

Good. We don’t need another star down with a major injury this season.

Especially Porzingis, who has led the Knicks to a 15-13 record (sixth in the East, in the playoffs) while putting up All-Star numbers: 25.5 points per game, shooting 39.5 percent from three, plus grabbing 6.6 rebounds a game. Maybe more impressive is how he has anchored a solid Knicks defense this season with his rim protection. Stay healthy and he should make his first All-Star team this season.