NBA Draft winners and losers: Good day for the Sixers, rough day for their fans

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Let’s just admit this up front: Projecting the draft winners and losers just hours after the draft is a fool’s errand. There is no way to know how these players are going to pan out long term — guys we think were steals will fade away, guys we shrugged at tonight will be the guys fans ask their GM “how did you pas on this guy?” a few years from how. An injury or two will change everything.

That said, I’m willing to play the fool tell you who won and lost. And do it fully expecting to be proven right in five years.

This was a quieter draft than expected, what was supposed to be a beehive of trades saw only a few. Teams were drafting for themselves and some did it better than others.

Winner, Denver Nuggets. They were my biggest winners on draft day. Over the course of Thursday they turned Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott and a second round pick into Arron Afflalo, Gary Harris — maybe the steal of the draft after he fell to 19 — and potential future big man Josef Nurkic (stashed in Europe for a couple years). Two guard was the Nuggets weak spot 24 hours ago, no more. The Nuggets got better without giving up much.

[MORE: Every trade involving a 2014 NBA draft pick]

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers. They took a smart gamble and got maybe the best player in the draft in Joel Embiid — when you’re rebuilding and you need elite talent you swing for the fences not play it safe. Put Embiid next to Nerlens Noel in a couple years and if they can stay healthy they can be a force in the paint. The Sixers got a good future point forward in Dario Saric (who will spend the next two years in Turkey, developing. They picked up the very athletic Jerami Grant out of Syracuse, who should make some plays and fits an up-tempo system like the Sixers run. They rolled the dice on a few Europeans as well who may pan out down the line.

Loser: Philadelphia 76ers fans. This team lost 26 games in a row late last year and isn’t going to be much if any better next season. Embiid could pan out to be a great pick (and is likely at least a good one) in a couple years, and when Dario Saric comes to the NBA in a couple years he could be a big boost. But neither of those guys is playing next season. It’s going to be the largely same tanktastic roster in Philly, and that sucks for fans asked to sit through another year of it. Intellectually Sixers fans get the building plan, but it’s hard to watch right now.

[MORE: Top five players passed over in the draft]

Winner: Charlotte Hornets. Two great picks… see what happens when Michael Jordan lets GM Rich Cho do his job. First they got Noah Vonleh. Indiana power forward slipped down the board on draft night, right to the Hornets. He is a great fit — they have Al Jefferson banging inside and needed a stretch four to space the floor, Vonleh is that guy (he shot 48.5 percent from three last season). Then later on they traded with the Heat and got one of the underrated studs of the draft in P.J. Hairston — the guy can flat out shoot the rock and after much of a D-League season he is more ready to step in and contribute from Day 1 then most of the other guys in the draft.

Winner: Adam Silver. The handling of the Isaiah Austin situation, selecting the Baylor star for the league and brining him on stage, was almost as masterful as how he handled the Donald Sterling situation. Classy act. Silver continues to just kill it as commissioner so far (except for the age limit thing).

Loser: Zach LaVine. The UCLA prospect did not exactly want to go to Minnesota. Way to endear yourself to a fan base already pissed their star player is trying to push his way out of town.

Winner: Andrew Wiggins. He’s the No. 1 overall pick and he’s going to have Kyrie Irving feeding him the rock. The owner is desperate to make the playoffs and if everyone can just stay heathy the roster as it is now can do that in the East.

[MORE: Wiggins goes No. 1 overall, just like he always planned]

Loser: Kevin Love. He and his agent pushed to get traded before the draft and to a destination he wanted, but he is still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves as you read this. Wolves president Flip Saunders doesn’t feel the need to make a move until he is ready, and he’s willing to wait for a better deal. Even if that means Love has to come to Timberwolves training camp, which would be very awkward.

Winner: Boston Celtics. Marcus Smart fell to them at No. 6 and with Rajon Rondo potentially being on the move this is a brilliant pick. Smart defends, competes and is going to be a good PG in the Association for a decade. Then they got another guy with great potential in James Young down at 17. Two guys who can be part of the future Celtics.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers. Julius Randle is a guy who can step right in and play for them now and can be part of whatever the post-Kobe future is for the Lakers. He was long projected to fall all the way to 7 but this was a guy the Lakers liked and is a guy that may well pan out better than a number of guys taken ahead of him.

[MORE: Julius Randle hopes to learn plenty from Kobe Bryant]

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

Meek Mill gets out of jail, takes helicopter to 76ers-Heat, rings bell pregame

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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had been one of the most notable NBA players leading the charge for the #FreeMeekMill movement. The rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan, has been incarcerated for violating the terms of his probation multiple times.

At the heart of the movement to free Meek Mill is the idea of comparative justice, that he has been unfairly targeted because of his race as an absorber of punishment from the penal system despite it being a decade since he committed his crime. People from Embiid to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made their voices heard on the subject.

Today, Meek Mill was released from prison and was sent a special gift: the opportunity to fly via helicopter, provided by 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin, to Game 5 between the Sixers and Miami Heat.

When he arrived at the game, the rapper rung the ceremonial bell before tip-off.

Not a couple of hours fresh out of the joint.