Loss sends Philadelphia into summer of uncertainty sooner than they expected

8 Comments

Understandably, nobody on the Sixers wanted to talk about the future Sunday night.

“I’m not worried about that right now, after losing. I’m not going to talk about anything but basketball,” Jimmy Butler said when asked about his impressions of the Sixers.

Soon enough all the talk around the Sixers will be about the future.

GM Elton Brand ended “the process” and turned Philadelphia into a “win now” team with a target of the Conference Finals – at the very least — as the goal by trading a lot of assets this season to land Butler and Tobias Harris. Philadelphia entered the playoffs with the second-best starting five in the NBA: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid.

Only two of them are under contract for next season.

And this team only reached the second round of the playoffs (although in part because of a Kawhi Leonard shot that was a punch to the gut).

Coach Brett Brown could be the scapegoat, with reports he would be let go if the team faced a second-round exit.

“The club can respond to that,” was how Brown answered a question about his job security after the loss.

The bigger issue this summer in Philly is Butler, Harris, and Redick are unrestricted free agents. Philly owner Joshua Harris said he will pay whatever it takes to keep this starting lineup together — and the Sixers can offer more money than other teams — but each of those players will have multiple teams calling and offering different roles on the court and potential lifestyles off it. If any one of them were not happy or comfortable, they have options.

For the Sixers, they have yet to really see what this roster — thrown together during the season — can do.

“We haven’t been together for a while with this group but there’s a lot of potential,” Simmons said of the Sixers starting five. He said team grew a lot in the last couple of months.

What did the Sixers learn from the loss? “It’s simple, we got to get better,” Simmons said.

Beyond the three free agents, Brand and Philadelphia need to deal with a couple of big questions.

For one, can Simmons and Embiid win at the highest levels together? No doubt both are talented players — both are All-Stars, and someday Simmons will join Embiid on All-NBA teams — but do their games pair well? Simmons does not have a jump shot to speak of and needs the ball in his hands to drive and create, but Embiid should operate more down low, where he is a beast but clogs the lanes for those drives. Simmons is best in transition but Embiid is never going to be a gazelle running the floor. In the playoffs, as Butler became more and more the primary ball handler and shot creator in the half court, Simmons was relegated to the dunker’s spot. He had some quiet games.

That said, the Sixers were +8.1 per 100 possessions this season when Simmons and Embiid shared the court (in 1,431 minutes) and that jumped to +19.8 in the playoffs.

Philadelphia’s other big question this summer is where do they find more depth. Against the Raptors, Embiid was +90 when on the court, but when he sat the Sixers were -109. Brand traded away a lot of “assets” — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Robert Covington, and a couple of first-round picks — to get Butler and Harris, but it sapped Philly of its depth. That was an issue in the playoffs (see Embiid’s +/- number above). The Sixers will have little room to maneuver but need to find quality depth at a fair price.

All that combined is a lot of uncertainty. A lot of decisions need to be made and questions answered.

Nobody was doing that Sunday night, but they will soon.

Watch Damian Lillard put up 51 on shorthanded 76ers

Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Everything is back to normal for Damian Lillard.

The All-Star point guard scored 51 points after a frustrating finish a night earlier, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 124-121 on Sunday.

On Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Lillard missed a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to go and a 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in a 122-117 loss. Clippers players Paul George and Patrick Beverley were seen laughing at Lillard’s misfortune.

Lillard got the last laugh Sunday by scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” he said. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Portland bounced back and pulled within a half-game of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers increased their chances of qualifying for the play-in series, which will start Saturday.

The 76ers lost much more than the game. All-Star center Joel Embiid left in the first quarter with what the team called a left ankle injury, and he did not return. He contested a shot, then backed up and stepped awkwardly into the stanchion. He had been averaging 30 points per game since the restart.

76ers coach Brett Brown wouldn’t say whether Embiid would miss time.

“I’m going to learn more physically,” Brown said. “I don’t know enough to comment on it.”

It was more bad injury news for the 76ers. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with an injured left knee.

Josh Richardson scored a season-high 34 points and Alec Burks added 20 for Philadelphia. The 76ers would have moved into a tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win.

Without their stars, the 76ers fell behind by 17 in the second quarter and trailed 67-58 at halftime.

The game tightened up late. Philadelphia’s Al Horford hit a 3-pointer to trim Portland’s lead to 122-121. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put his team up three. Richardson missed a 3-pointer for Philadelphia, and the 76ers couldn’t get another shot off after a scramble for the rebound.

“I thought our guys fought,” Brown said. “I really thought the spirit of the group was fantastic. We called upon many different players that I think played with a spirit and a passion that you’re proud of.”

Zion Williamson, New Orleans eliminated from playoff chase; Kings, too

Leave a comment

There was no team hyped like the New Orleans Pelicans heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando. They had Zion Williamson healthy (or so they thought), and they had been playing the best of any of the teams in the playoff chase just before the coronavirus shut the league (and nation) down. A basketball-starved nation dreamed of a LeBron James vs. Zion showdown in the first round.

The reality of the bubble was not so kind to those dreams or New Orleans.

The Pelicans lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113, despite 25 points from Williamson. Combined with the Trail Blazers beating the 76ers 124-121, the Pelicans became mathematically eliminated from reaching the nine seed and getting into a play-in series in the West.

The Pelicans are out of the playoffs. New Orleans will go through the motions of two more games in the bubble, but don’t be surprised if key players rest. The Pelicans went 2-4 in the bubble with offensive struggles holding the team back.

The Sacramento Kings also have been eliminated, extending the franchise’s playoff drought to 14 years. The last time the Kings were in the playoffs was 2006.

The Memphis Grizzlies sit as the eighth seed in the West, with Portland the ninth seed and just half-a-game back. San Antonio (one game back of Memphis) and Phoenix (1.5 games back) are both alive in the playoff chase still.

New Orleans getting eliminated ends J.J. Redick‘s playoff streak at 13 seasons, the longest of any active player and tied for seventh-longest all-time (the record is a tie at 19 between Karl Malone and John Stockton, who did it together). Getting eliminated is what leads to a 1000-mile stare meme.

 

 

 

 

Joel Embiid will not return to 76ers game due to left ankle injury

Joel Embiid injury
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Philadelphia’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bubble continues.

Joel Embiid went back to the locker room during the first quarter of the 76ers game against the Trail Blazers and will not return to the court due to a left ankle injury, the team announced, via Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

There are no other details yet on Embiid’s condition. He has been far-and-away the best player on a Philadelphia team that has struggled through the NBA’s restart in Orlando.

The 76ers have already lost Ben Simmons, likely for the rest of this season, due to knee surgery.

Despite the injuries and rough play, Philly was 3-1 entering Sunday. However, the one loss was to red-hot T.J. Warren and Indiana, which essentially locked the 76ers into the six seed (and a likely first-round meeting with Boston).

Embiid is averaging 30 points a game in Orlando and put up a ridiculous 41 points, 21 rebounds line against Indiana.

If Embiid misses much time, the Sixers’ chances against any team near the top of the East are slim. At best.

Play-in series guaranteed in West after Toronto beats Memphis

NBA play-in
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s now official: There will be a play-in series to determine the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis’ 108-99 loss to Toronto on Sunday means that it’s no longer possible for more than a four-game difference in the standings between the eighth- and ninth-place finishers in the West when the seeding game schedule ends later this week.

By the rules the NBA set for this season’s restart, there had to be more than a four-game cushion for the No. 8 team to get the final playoff spot outright. The league decided to add the play-in series option in an abundance of fairness, since about 14% of the regular season schedule was eliminated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Memphis remains alone in eighth place, even after Sunday’s loss. Portland is one game behind and is in the nine seed (with a Philadelphia Sunday night). San Antonio (who beat New Orleans Sunday) and red-hot Phoenix are 1.5 games back of the Grizzlies. New Orleans is now two games back and with a difficult road to the postseason.

No team has clinched a spot in the play-in series; the Grizzlies could have assured themselves of no worse than that had they beaten the Raptors on Sunday.

Game 1 of the play-in series will be Saturday, with Game 2 — if necessary — the following day, Aug. 16. To advance and face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the eighth-place team will have to win one of the two games and the ninth-place finisher would have to go 2-0.

ABC will air Game 1 of the play-in series on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Game 2, if necessary, would be Aug. 16 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.

There will be no play-in series in the Eastern Conference; Brooklyn and Orlando have secured what were the last two available spots on that bracket, with Washington — the only other team that came to Disney with a chance of qualifying in the East — already eliminated.

The playoffs begin Monday, Aug. 17.

“Obviously, that’s what everybody’s goal is,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said Sunday.

The matchup for the play-in will be known no later than Thursday. There are four seeding games on Friday, the last day of the regular season, though none of them will have any bearing on the West matchup.