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What did Ben Simmons do during his sidelined season? Apparently grow two inches.

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We saw only a quick glimpse of him against the pseudo-NBA competition of Summer League, but in that window you could see how Ben Simmons could be special. He was 6’10”, had handles, and showed a vision of the game, a passing gift that cannot be taught.

Then came the Jones fracture to his foot that has sidelined him the entire season. Hopefully, next season we can see what the Sixers look like with Simmons and Joel Embiid healthy and together on the court.

What did Simmons do with his season “off?” Grow a couple inches. That’s what World B. Free, the Sixers director of player development, said during the Sixers radio broadcast recently (hat tip Ball Don’t Lie).

It seems like Ben Simmons grew about another two inches since he’s been here. I told him that the other day, I said, ‘Ben, you look like you’ve grown another two inches since you’ve been here.’ His arms are long, he’s lean, he’s in shape. When I watched him in practice — just in practice — he’s like a baby Magic Johnson.

You would be right to be skeptical of that, but Jon Johnson, who helps cover the Sixers for 94 WIP Radio in Philly, went and asked the man himself.

So Simmons is basically Kevin Durant‘s size.

It’s not uncommon for one-and-done players to grow a little more once in the NBA (often their diet improves too, which helps). Simmons just needs to work on filling out the frame a little.

I cannot wait to see Simmons’ career unfold. He should pour a shot of rum for Jobu or whatever deity he chooses in an offering to stay healthy next season.

Three Things We Learned Thursday: Another Celtics’ loss hurts dream of No. 1 seed

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If you were busy Thursday night planning your summer vacation to go hunt the Loch Ness monster, and that kept you from watching the action around the NBA, don’t worry we’ve got your back. Here are the big takeaways from Thursday night.

1) Boston loses to Atlanta, making the dream of No. 1 seed look like a long shot. After the Celtics had been routed by the Cavaliers Wednesday night, it was going to take some Irish luck to get the No. 1 seed in the East back. Boston basically needed to win out, then get some help by having someone else beat Cleveland.

The first part of that fell apart Thursday night — Boston fell behind early to Atlanta and went on to lose 123-116. To the Celtics’ credit they fought back and got within a couple of possessions in the fourth, Brad Stevens got to play around with lineups and maybe found something that works. If nothing else, Isaiah Thomas and Paul Millsap put on a show.

With this loss, the Celtics are 1.5 games back of the Cavaliers now. But even finishing with the two seed is not bad, Boston will face a first-round matchup they should win (against whom is hard to say, the bottom of the East is still up in the air), then will come a tough second-round series against Washington or Toronto (they would have had to face one of them anyway). Boston has still had a season where Brad Stevens has gotten them to overachieve, they are just not going to get the one seed.

For Atlanta, the win put them half a game ahead of the Hawks in the battle for the five seed.

2) Chicago, Indiana help their playoff causes with wins. The bottom of the East is still the most interesting race as the season winds down — 1.5 games separates the six-seed Bucks from the nine-seed Heat. Anything can happen, which is why every team in that race needs wins.

Chicago and Indiana helped themselves with their victories Thursday night.

The Bulls got a triple-double from Jimmy Butler — — and Nikola Mirotic added 22 as the Bulls beat the Sixers. Add in a soft schedule the rest of the way and the expected return of Dwyane Wade this weekend, and things are looking up for the Bulls.

Indiana had a much tougher matchup but got 23 from Paul George and the Pacers handled the Bucks easily, 104-89. Those wins move the Pacers and the Bulls to 39-40, half a game ahead of Miami, which has a tough game against Toronto on Friday.

3) Highlight of the night: The end of Matthew Dellavedova as we knew him. Indiana’s Jeff Teague stopped up, and that’s when Dellavedova went down like there was a sniper in the building.

Brandon Jennings says Carmelo Anthony trade talk “definitely took a toll” on team

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Brandon Jennings was the Knicks backup point guard to start the season, playing fast and having impressive flashes but generally being erratic. Phil Jackson waived him after the trade deadline to give more run to Ron Baker (the right move), and Jennings landed in a better spot backing up John Wall in Washington.

Back in New York with his new team, Jennings said all the trade rumors around Carmelo Anthony at the trade deadline — and the ham-handed way Jackson handled that situation — did impact the team. Here’s his quote, via Ian Begley at ESPN.

“It definitely took a toll, I think, on the team. Because it wasn’t even about basketball anymore, it was more about what was going on with Melo,” Jennings said, adding that it was one of the wildest situations he has been in during his eight seasons in the league…

“I think it was just a roller coaster, an emotional roller coaster for (Anthony) this year with everything he had to deal with, which isn’t fair,” Jennings said. “For a player to wake up every day and you’re hearing trade rumors and you might be gone and this and that. It was like a two-week span where everybody was hitting your phone, (reading reports) about Melo leaving.”

Jennings is saying what was fairly obvious watching the team at the time.

Trading Anthony would have been the right move — and it will get revisited this summer — the problem was the way Jackson handled it. Jackson gave Anthony a no-trade clause which means to move him required a partnership, they needed to work together (with ‘Melo’s agent) to find a landing spot he liked for a deal that worked for the Knicks. Instead, Jackson started playing mind games through the media trying to make Anthony off-balance and uncomfortable, which was a terrible read of the person — faced with that, Anthony dug in his heels and said he didn’t want to be traded anywhere.

It was a lot of unnecessary drama. Not that the Knicks were going to be good either way with this roster, but combine this distraction with the push-and-pull over the style of play, and the team never had a chance this season.

Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr. boost Hawks past Celtics

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ATLANTA (AP) —  Paul Millsap scored 26 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 and the Atlanta Hawks snapped a two-game skid with a 123-116 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.

Isaiah Thomas scored 35 points, Jae Crowder had 24 and Marcus Smart 18 for the Celtics. They have dropped two in a row after winning five of seven.

Rookie Taurean Prince finished with a career-high 20 points, and Dennis Schroder added 18 for Atlanta. The Hawks had lost nine of 11.

Schroder hit a straightaway 3 to make it 116-107 with 2:07 remaining before Thomas’ corner 3 with 55.3 seconds to go cut the lead to five. The Celtics didn’t get any closer the rest of the way.

Boston fell 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the East lead, but is still two games ahead of third-place Toronto. Fifth-place Atlanta, which led by 20 in the third, moved one game ahead of Milwaukee. The regular season ends next week.

One night after losing by 23 at home to the defending champion Cavaliers, Boston allowed 71 points in the first half and trailed by 16 at halftime.

The Celtics were sluggish defensively and looked tired during much of the night on Atlanta’s end, getting outrebounded 52-38 and getting called for too many fouls underneath.

The Hawks used a 12-0 run to take a 14-point lead in the final minute of the first. After Boston pulled within one early in the second, Atlanta pushed the lead to 16 on putback jams by Prince and Millsap in the closing seconds of the second.

Boston cut the lead to 10 on Smart’s 3 at the third-quarter buzzer.

The Hawks improved to 32-7 overall, 17-2 at home, when entering the fourth with a lead.

ON THE MEND, ON THE FLOOR

Millsap didn’t start for the second straight game as Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer works him back from a sore left knee. The four-time All-Star won’t play Friday at Cleveland, missing his ninth game in the last 11.

NOT WELCOME HOME

Al Horford, in his second game back in Atlanta after spending his first nine seasons with the Hawks, was whistled five times by the middle of the third and went to bench with just two points, two rebounds and three assists. He finished with four points on 1-for-7 shooting. Horford was a classy citizen and tireless worker on the court, but fans, still upset that he left as a free agent, again booed him every time he touched the ball.

STREAK SNAPPED

Dwight Howard‘s streak of double-doubles ended at 10 games, his longest since last season with Houston and the longest Hawks streak since Kevin Willis had 21 straight in 1991-92.

 

Aaron Gordon finishes off-glass alley-oop while leaping out of his shoe (VIDEO)

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There haven’t been a lot of highlights for the Orlando Magic this season, but Thursday night they picked up a win over Brooklyn and had the kind of dunk they will show for years as a highlight.

Aaron Gordon starts the play with a steal of the pocket pass in the lane, then throws the ball ahead to initiate the break. It eventually ends up in the hands of Elfrid Payton, who throws it off the backboard to Gordon for the huge dunk — and Gordon literally leaps out of his shoe to finish it.