76ers’ Jerami Grant using late nights to become most-improved rookie

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BOSTON – After many home games, 76ers rookie Jerami Grant goes about 15 north to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

There, he uses his key (or sometimes the help of a security guard) to access the locker room and gym the team uses for practice. He works on whatever skills failed him during that night’s game. Sometimes, he bumps into coaches reviewing film, but this work – which has lasted until 1:15 a.m. – largely occurs alone.

“It helps me think,” Grant said. “It allows me to think of what I need to do.”

If it sounds as if Grant’s mind is constantly on improving as a basketball player… so do the results.

Grant – the No. 39 pick – has probably progressed more than any other 2014 draft pick since last season. The forward has gone from second rounder to possible All-Rookie second teamer.

Sure, those gains might seem modest. But on a tanking 76ers team that has traded all is best players the last two years, Grant shines as a bright piece for the future.

Nerlens Noel deservedly gets plenty of attention for his production since the All-Star break (12.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.4 steals per game). Grant’s season numbers (6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 19.8 minutes per game) are comparatively weaker, but don’t overlook Grant.

“He’s been as big a story as Nerlens has,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

Grant sprained his ankle early in training camp, missed the entire preseason and the first 15 games of the regular season.

Brown told him most rookies in that position wouldn’t get an opportunity until after the All-Star break. But the coach also assured Grant he’d get his chance immediately when healthy.

Deep down, though, Brown believe Grant would be too far behind to earn playing time.

“I really thought I wasn’t going to see much of him during the course of a year,” Brown said.

Grant doesn’t mind the mixed message.

“I guess he just tried to give me as much confidence as he could by telling me that,” Grant said. “Just him giving me the confidence actually helped me to go forward.”

Grant doesn’t mind the words of his previous coach, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, either. Boeheim, completely misrepresenting the facts, said Grant wasn’t ready for the NBA.

“I was going to prove him wrong – just like everybody else,” Grant said. “I’ve been proving people wrong my whole life. It’s just another person that I had to prove wrong.”

Did Boeheim give him any second thoughts about turning pro?

“Not at all,” said Grant, the son of Harvey Grant and nephew of Horace Grant. “I know my work ethic. I know how talented I am.”

Both traits have shown.

After not making a single 3-pointer during his sophomore year at Syracuse (0-for-5), Grant is shooting 36.1 percent (39-for-108) in the NBA. He’s learning defensive positioning while guarding everyone from point guards to power forward, using his 7-foot-2 wingspan to hound his man and contest shots.

Grant, a 6-foot-8 combo forward, is one of just three players – with Serge Ibaka and Danny Green – who’s shooting at least 35 percent on 3-pointers (minimum 100 attempts) and blocking at least a shot per game.

Brown sees Grant’s versatility, length and broad shoulders and compares him to Kawhi Leonard.

“He’s way beyond what I expected him to be at this stage,” Brown said.

Jason Richardson, Philadelphia’s oldest player, also gushes about Grant.

“Jerami could be really special in this league,” Richardson without even being asked about the rookie.

For now, Grant is focused on improving. He signed a four-year contract before the season, eschewing the one-year route of former teammate K.J. McDaniels. Grant enjoys the 76ers’ emphasis on player development, and he has the freedom to augment it with his own workouts without worrying about burning himself out before meaningful games.

Grant says he’s comfortable in Philadelphia, where he has proven he can grow.

“It’s an ideal situation for a young guy like me,” Grant said.

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

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MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

Trae Young blocks 7-foot Mo Bamba at rim (video)

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Trae Young might be the NBA’s worst defender.

He’s small (6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan). His athleticism is far from imposing. He also carries a massive load for the Hawks offensively, leaving little energy for defense.

But he still blocked 7-foot Magic center Mo Bamba at the rim.

Not a great moment for Bamba.

Joel Embiid leaves 76ers game with shoulder injury (video)

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Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons?

The debate has gained attention this season after the 76ers spent years retooling around their stars. The answer clearly isn’t neither. But that’s what Philadelphia now faces.

With Simmons already injured, Embiid got hurt in the 76ers’ game against the Cavaliers tonight.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Losing Embiid for an extended period would be a huge blow to Philadelphia, especially with Simmons already out. The 76ers (fifth place, half a game out of fourth) are right on the edge of getting home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Embiid had been playing so well lately. This is an especially tough time for a setback.

At least Philadelphia has depth to cope. Al Horford can easily slide from power forward to center. Tobias Harris might be better off at power forward than small forward, anyway. This is where Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks, acquired just before the trade deadline, come in handy as additional wing options. Kyle O'Quinn can also play behind Horford.

But the loss of talent is the biggest development, and there’s no overcoming that until Embiid and Simmons get healthy.

Zach LaVine: Trash talk directed at Dennis Schroder, not Bulls coach Jim Boylen

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During the Bulls’ loss to the Thunder yesterday, Zach LaVine appeared to say, “I have f—ing 40 points!”

Many assumed LaVine was snapping at Chicago coach Jim Boylen. But LaVine clarified his target was Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder.

Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

I take LaVine at his word.

Want to make a case LaVine dislikes Boylen? You’ll just have to point to all the other evidence.