The 76ers are legit. But can they win big playoff games?

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The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night. Yes, a Bulls team without Luol Deng or Richard Hamilton, but still the team with the best record in the east and the reigning MVP Derrick Rose.

As I said in the recaps, this was another clear sign that the Sixers are legit. They are a top three/four seed in the East, they are going to win a lot of games and be a tough team to beat come the playoffs. They are balanced, have fantastic ball movement and play great defense.

But in the playoffs, will Philly be able score at the end of close games without a superstar? Conventional wisdom is you need a star who can create his own shot late in tight games (like Dirk Nowitzki did for the Mavericks last year). Can the 76ers really be considered a contender without one?

In an interesting, wide-ranging interview with Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated, Sixers GM Rod Thorn says we are all going to find out about that together.

So Rod, can the Sixers win regularly in the payoffs, can they score enough late in the game without a superstar to give the ball and get out of the way?

That’s the $64,000 question: Can you do that night in and night out in close games? It’s an advantage to have someone who can get a good shot, or get fouled late in the ball game. Even the bad teams, if the games are close late, on the defensive end of the court, they get much harder and much better. And it’s harder to just run plays. Patterns you’ve run all night — it’s harder to do late. So ultra-talent certainly helps late. But with us and with Denver, you don’t know where it’s coming from.

If you’re playing the Lakers, you know what they’re going to do down the court every time late in the game.

So, are the Sixers contenders right now?

That’s a leap for us right now. We just made the playoffs as the seventh-place team. We’re definitely better this year when we have all of our pieces healthy. Spencer [Hawes] was an incredible plus for us in the first eight games. It put us on another level. We haven’t had him for a while. I think we can compete with anybody, but we have to prove we can play at that level, with those really, really elite teams.

I think the Sixers are good. Probably the third best team in the East, but the gap up to one and two is huge. Wednesday night was a good win for the 76ers, but it was an early season win with the Bulls missing some key pieces. I like Jrue Holiday, I love Lou Williams off the bench, I love how Spencer Hawes has stepped up. I still don’t think the Sixers can beat the Bulls or Heat over a seven game series.

But both the Sixers and Nuggets are good teams without a classic superstar this season, and come the playoffs they are going to be interesting to watch. Unless you are the Bulls, Heat and Thunder, in which case they are teams to avoid.

As expected, Nets release Iman Shumpert with the return of Wilson Chandler

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Iman Shumpert was never the long play for Brooklyn.

When Caris LeVert went out a month ago due to a ligament issue with his thumb, and with Wilson Chandler out due to his PED suspension, the Nets needed to add depth for the short term (and the league granted them a roster exception). They turned to Iman Shumpert.

However, with Chandler set to return this weekend and LeVert is not far behind, that means the Nets had to clear a roster spot. Shumpert was the guy without a chair when the music stopped.

Shumpert played 18.5 minutes a game for Brooklyn, and while he wasn’t putting up numbers — he averaged 4.2 points and 2.6 rebounds a game — he played solid defense for him and the Nets are 9-4 with him in the rotation. Shumpert was helping the Nets win now, but Brooklyn remains focused on the long term and developing players such as Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa.

Shumpert took it all in stride.

Shumpert’s play could land him with another team soon.

Rumor: Paul George was indicating Pacers fans should boo Larry Bird

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Pacers fans booed Clippers forward Paul George earlier this week, which seems logical enough. After all, he’s a star who left their favorite team (without putting them over the top for their first championship).

But George said there’s more to the story of his Indiana exit, “and I promise you, I’m not the one to boo.”

Brian Windhorst on ESPN:

I spent this morning talking to some people in Indiana, and only Paul really knows. I guess we’ll have to wait tell-all digital short, Uninterrupted special. But the belief in Indiana is that he’s referring to Larry Bird.

It’s important to reiterate: George didn’t say Larry Bird. This is other people speculating. People who might know, which is why this is relevant. But other people speculating, nonetheless.

While with the Pacers, George and Bird sometimes butted heads:

  • Their biggest public clash came in 2015. Bird wanted George to play more power forward. George resisted spending too much time at the position, preferring small forward. Bird noted he was the boss. George eventually came around.
  • Though he said George wouldn’t play until comfortable, Bird played up the possibility of George returning from his Team USA injury late in the 2014-15 season. George said he was on the fence about playing, and then-Pacers coach Frank Vogel tried to pump the brakes.  Ultimately, George played the final six games of the season.
  • Bird also reprimanded George for tweets about Ray Rice and domestic violence in 2014. George apologized for his comments.

In 2016, Bird said he had a standing max offer to George. So, if there were any major problems prior, they didn’t bother Bird too much.

Bird also resigned as Pacers president before George left. Adrian Wojnarowski’s report on George telling the team he’d leave even included this line:

George had a close relationship with the architect of those Pacers teams, Larry Bird, who recently stepped down as team president to become a franchise consultant.

It doesn’t really add up, which makes me wonder: Is the current Pacers regime – led by president Kevin Pritchard – trying to shift blame for something onto Bird? It’s also possible Windhorst’s sources have no nefarious intent and are just simply wrong about Bird being George’s target.

Or they could be right. Maybe Bird crossed George in a way unrelated to anything we know publicly. Or maybe George just holds one of these relatively insignificant issues in greater regard than the rest of us.

If George were referring to Bird – a homegrown basketball legend who coached the Pacers to their first NBA Finals then later took over in the front office and built them back into a contender – good luck convincing Indiana fans to boo Bird over George.

Report: Cavaliers seeking first-rounder for Kevin Love, other teams seeking first-rounder for taking Kevin Love

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Kevin Love doesn’t fit on the Cavaliers.

He’s a good veteran. They’re a bad team. His talent would be better served on a team ready to win now. Cleveland is unlikely to reach that level during Love’s remaining prime.

But…

Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

The Cavs are asking for a first-round pick in exchange for Love, one source with knowledge of the situation said. But teams are actually asking for a first-round pick from Cleveland just to absorb the final 3 1/2 years on his deal.

This is why Love didn’t crack my preseason list of players most likely to get traded this season. He has a $28,942,830 salary this season, and he’s due $91,459,342 over the next three years. The Cavaliers signed him to this contract to be an asset. Other teams view the 31-year-old as a liability.

A first-round pick going in opposite directions is a large gap to overcome.

Still, this is how negotiations work. There’s plenty of time for Cleveland and another team to find common ground.

With Love reportedly preferring a trade, the Cavs might want to help someone who helped them win a championship. They might also benefit from removing a sulking player amid resistance to coach John Beilein.

No other team looks desperate to add an offensively talented power forward. But that could change quickly with an injury, an unrelated trade or even just the progression of a season.

Love getting traded would be unsurprising. It also doesn’t appear close to happening.

Report: Knicks considering hiring new coach during season

Knicks coach Mike Miller
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The Knicks lost eight straight games then fired David Fizdale as coach.

The losing streak reached 10 games under interim coach Mike Miller, culminating with a 28-point setback to the Trail Blazers on Tuesday. New York blew a 22-point lead to the lowly Warriors last night, but rallied in overtime to finally end the skid.

Still, Miller hasn’t exactly galvanized the Knicks.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

there have already been ownership-level discussions about hiring a new coach in-season if the team continues to crater, according to sources.

I bet Knicks president Steve Mills wants to hire a new coach. Mills is on the hot seat, and he could sell owner James Dolan on getting a chance to build the roster around a new coach. It’d be like when Mills seized control of the front office by signing Tim Hardaway Jr. to a huge contract before Dolan could find another lead executive to replace Phil Jackson.

Dolan should fire Mills by the start of next offseason and let Mills’ replacement pick a coach. Mills has done a poor job. Hiring a new coach now would only bother potential replacement executives.

This is a lost year for New York. Maybe a better coach could help avoid some embarrassing setbacks, but the Knicks won’t accomplish anything notable this year. They might as well just enjoy the silver lining that all their errors will net another high draft pick.

In the last three decades, just two teams have ousted multiple head coaches for performance during a season:

  • 2014-15 Kings: Mike Malone and Tyrone Corbin to hire  George Karl
  • 2004-05 Nuggets: Jeff Bzdelik and Michael Cooper to hire George Karl

Karl is available. So are more-mentioned names like Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. Though it hasn’t happened in a while, a team could also pluck another team’s assistant coach during the season.