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Basketball Insiders: Week in Review 3/23/14

Basketball Insiders looks back at some of the articles from last week in case you missed them the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Ilyasova Frustrated In Milwaukee?

By Lang Greene

The Milwaukee Bucks (13-53) are currently on pace to record the worst record in the league this season. Of course with large doses of losing comes frustration and an active front office attempting to reverse the process and build for a better future.

At the trade deadline the Bucks traded guards Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for guard Ramon Sessions and forward Jeff Adrien. Roughly a week later the team waived veteran forward Caron Butler.

While the Bucks didn’t make a ton of moves at the deadline there were more than enough trade rumors swirling around the franchise in the month prior. One player who was prominently featured in the trade deadline rumor circuit was forward Ersan Ilyasova.

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Who Has To Show Big In The Tournament?

By Steve Kyler

The 2014 March Madness Tournament will get underway tomorrow with the play-in “first round” games and with the full “second round” getting underway on Thursday.

While the tournament rarely impacts a player’s NBA draft stock significantly, the March Tournament is a chance to put an exclamation point on a player’s college career or it can open more doors for questions. At this point in the process most NBA teams have done their homework on players, but the tournament is a big stage for teams to either validate what they believe about a player or to illustrate what they don’t like about a player.

There are a few players that need to show up big in the tournament, if only to silence some of their critics, here are a few of them:

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Fredette Still Working Way Into Bulls’ Rotation

By Joel Brigham

A few weeks ago, when winter buyout free agents were hitting the open market and latching onto playoff teams, a lot of fans got really excited about potentially valuable players joining their favorite team at a time of year when there just wasn’t much else going in the NBA.

During that time, few players sparked more excitement than Chicago’s Jimmer Fredette, because a charismatic former lottery pick bringing shooting and three-point efficiency to a solid playoff team severely lacking in both is admittedly pretty newsworthy.

So far, though, the marriage has been relatively uneventful, as Fredette has only played in four games for the Bulls since signing at the beginning of the month. Even when he does see the floor, it’s in garbage time.

Of course, he’s learning a new system, new city and new teammates, which takes a lot longer than two-and-a-half weeks, but he still feels pretty confident that he’ll be a major contributor for the Bulls by the time the postseason rolls around.

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Anthony Davis Emerges as Superstar

By Alex Kennedy

Until one week ago, Anthony Davis couldn’t purchase alcoholic beverages or check into a room at many hotels. The New Orleans Pelicans power forward just turned 21 years old on March 11, which is a terrifying thought for the rest of the NBA.

It’s easy to forget how young Davis is because he has quickly become one of the league’s best players in just his second NBA season. Four years ago, Davis was a high school student in Chicago. Today, he’s an NBA All-Star and one of the most productive players in basketball.

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NBA Power Rankings: Sparkling Spurs

 By Moke Hamilton

The New York Knicks may not have any cap space this summer, but that surely did not stop the team from making what may be the biggest acquisition that the league sees this year.

On Tuesday, Phil Jackson will officially be announced as the president of basketball operations for the Knicks and that is the major storyline after 20 weeks of the 2013-14 NBA season. Interestingly enough, though, as Zen-mania took over Gotham City, the Knicks have quietly pieced together a season-high six-game win streak and have kept their playoff hopes alive. With the longest current win-streak in the Eastern Conference, they need some help from the Atlanta Hawks to get into the postseason, but impossible is nothing.

Out West, the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs have risen to the top of our hearts as the Houston Rockets seem to have run out of fuel. After the Rockets posted a very impressive 4-0 week during Week 19, an 0-3 road trip last week has James Harden’s team licking its wounds.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Miami HEAT have been doing a fair amount of wound-licking themselves. Losers of five of their last seven, the HEAT still trail the Indiana Pacers, who visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

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Phil Jackson States Goals as Knicks President

By Yannis Koutroupis

Move over Carmelo Anthony, you’re no longer the New York Knicks’ biggest star. That distinction now belongs to Hall of Fame head coach Phil Jackson, who was officially introduced on Tuesday as the team’s new president.

For a franchise that has not been a serious title contender since the late 1990s, Jackson provides hope, credibility and most importantly a much needed change in direction. Knicks fans have become increasingly impatient and frustrated with the state of the team. Most of the criticism has landed on the desk of team owner James Dolan and rightfully so. He’s had full autonomy over personnel moves, but that now lies with Jackson.

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Can the Bulls Bring Over Nikola Mirotic?

By Nate Duncan

One enormous benefit of Phil Jackson’s hiring by the New York Knicks is that it has quelled the breathless speculation of Carmelo Anthony joining the Chicago Bulls this summer as a free agent. Assuming Anthony does not join the Bulls, their prime addition this summer would likely be Real Madrid power forward Nikola Mirotic. The 23-year-old Mirotic was the Spanish ACB League MVP in 2012-13 and has only improved this season. Much ink has been spilled elsewhere on his game (including my own after an in-person scouting trip last June), but it will suffice to say that his combination of shooting, skill, agility and feel are top-notch for the power forward position.

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Chris Babb and the Real Life of a 10-Day Contract

By Jessica Camerato

Chris Babb couldn’t sleep. He lay in bed, restless with a replay from that night’s game repeatedly running through his mind. The Boston Celtics had landed an hour earlier from a road loss against the Indiana Pacers, but Babb hadn’t left that moment behind. Why did he commit that turnover? Why did he force the pass? Why didn’t he just play basketball like he knew how?

Around 2 a.m. Babb left the hotel where he has been staying during his pair of 10-day contracts and drove to the Celtics practice facility in search of clarity. He let himself into the dark, empty gym, flipped on the lights and began blasting music from his iPhone. The minutes – and the shots – began to pass. By the time he was nearing 4 a.m. he had put up, he estimates, five to six hundred shots. His arms felt weak, but his mindset was strong.

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2014 Cap Space Projections – Atlantic Division

By Eric Pincus

The 2013-14 regular season is starting to wind down with some teams fighting for playoff position — others for the best possible position in May’s NBA Draft lottery.

Looking ahead to the 2014 offseason, a number of teams in the Southeast and Southwest divisions could have significant cap room this summer.

The league’s early projections for next year’s salary cap is $62.9 million, up from this year’s $58.7 million.  The luxury tax threshold is also expected to climb to approximately $75.7 million from $71.7 million.

In the third part of a series, where do the five teams in the Atlantic Division stand this offseason?

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Phil Jackson’s First 100 Days in Office

By Tommy Beer

It has been all hugs and handshakes in and around Madison Square Garden this week. The New York Knicks have won seven straight games, breathing life into a nightmarish season once assumed to be dead as a doornail. And, more importantly for the long-term future of the franchise, the organization officially announced Phil Jackson has been hired as president of the basketball operations.

At the introductory press conference, owner Jim Dolan shockingly proclaimed that he would “willingly and gratefully” cede control to Jackson, and that Jackson will “be in charge of all basketball decisions.” It was sweet music to Knicks fans ears.

Nevertheless, once the applause dies down, Jackson will have to start the actual, arduous process of rebuilding the Knicks from league-wide laughingstock into legit contender. Listed below are the central issues Jackson will have to address during his first 100 days in office.

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Lakers: Fix It Now Or Fix It Later

By Jabari Davis

Even though much of the Los Angeles Lakers’ fanbase appeared to favor a return to the franchise in some form or fashion for Phil Jackson, his ultimate hiring by the New York Knicks had to finally provide a sense of closure. Not that seeing the 13-time (11 as a coach, two as a member of the Knicks) champion casually take his talents back to familiar stomping grounds was the preferred outcome of most, but no longer having Jackson as a viable option at least gives them the ability to finally move on. Whether fans like it or not, the fate of their future still rests in the hands of owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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NBA AM: Dwight Howard’s Quest For Redemption Begins

Dwight Howard says he has been unfairly blamed for previous shortcomings. In Charlotte, he gets a chance to prove it.

Buddy Grizzard

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Prior to the start of training camp for the Charlotte Hornets, newly-acquired center Dwight Howard made an appearance at a charitable event for the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. At that event, Howard laid out the stakes for his first season in Charlotte.

“This [is an] opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” said Howard, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

In an August interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard seemed to imply that the primary thing that had been taken from him was a major role in the offense of teams he’s played with since he left Orlando, noting that his shot attempts had decreased from double digits to about six per game in Atlanta.

“I think it’s all opportunity, the system,” Howard told Wojnarowski. “I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Earlier this week, Hornets GM Rich Cho told NBA.com that Charlotte was the right place to give Howard that opportunity because of his relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who coached Howard as an assistant at two previous stops.

“With the relationship that Cliff has with Dwight, I know ‘Cliff is going to get the best out of him like he has done with past players,” said Cho. The Charlotte GM also went into detail about how the trade for Howard fit the goals the organization set for the offseason.

“When we entered the offseason, there were a number of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Cho. “One was, we wanted to get a rim protector and some shot blocking. Two, we wanted to add some more physicality. And three, we wanted to add a lot more depth overall and improve our bench play.

“So with Dwight, I think we’ve added all those things. He’s a great rim protector and shot blocker. He’s averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the league. It adds a lot of physicality with him going to the starting lineup and moving Cody [Zeller] into a backup role. It also increases our overall depth.”

Controversy has followed Howard after every NBA stop, and his brief stint with the Hawks was no different. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on a podcast that he was told that a former teammate of Howard celebrated when informed he had been traded to Charlotte. If Lowe’s story is true, it only shows how divided and factional Atlanta’s locker room was last season. Several of Howard’s younger Hawks teammates took to Twitter to refute Lowe’s account, and Howard was voted Best Teammate by Hawks players in the NBA Players Association’s 2017 Players Voice Awards.

With so many contradictory accounts, it’s understandable why Howard sees a fresh start with the Hornets as an opportunity to counter the narratives that have followed him from stop to stop.

“Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am — to just shut people’s mouths,” Howard told Wojnarowski.

With that goal in mind, Howard’s quest for redemption got off to a rocky start in Detroit in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Pistons. Howard came close to the double-digit shot attempts he craves, hitting five of nine for 10 points and 15 rebounds. Only Kemba Walker (13) and Jeremy Lamb (10) shot the ball more for Charlotte. But Detroit’s Tobias Harris erupted for 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists to help the Pistons open the new Little Caesars Arena with a win.

“We’re going to get it right,” Howard said after the loss. “We’ve just got to stay together, stay focused and get Game 2.”

Awaiting the Hornets in that second game for tonight’s home opener are the same Atlanta Hawks that cut him loose after just one season. In addition to trading Howard, Atlanta allowed All-Star forward Paul Millsap to depart to the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. The Hawks appear to be rebuilding, but Atlanta didn’t look like a team aiming for lottery balls in Dallas Wednesday as the team won its season opener. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the team with 28 points and seven assists while rookie John Collins scored 14 with five rebounds off the bench — the highest-scoring debut by a Hawks rookie since Rumeal Robinson in 1990 — including several thunderous dunks.

In the preseason, Collins addressed the low external expectations for the young Hawks.

“It’s on us to do what we need to do to get these wins,” said Collins. “The chemistry’s great. I’m not really too worried about it.”

While chemistry could help the young Hawks exceed expectations, it will play a key role in Howard’s quest to prove that he was not the root of all the ailments of his past teams. Zeller had a breakout season for the Hornets before the Howard trade moved him to the bench. With Cho declaring that Howard addressed most of the team’s offseason goals, Charlotte should be much closer to a finished product than the retooling Hawks.

Howard is in the best possible position to succeed, with a coach that believes in him and the central offensive role he says he’s been denied in the past. Howard has stated his case, and now it’s up to him to prove it on the court.

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Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid Are Trying To Run Into The Playoffs

The Sixers are going to get out and run. If they want to make the playoffs, Joel Embiid will have to start catching up.

Dennis Chambers

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“We were up on the NBA champions 19 to zero,” Brett Brown said as he recalled his first game as the Philadelphia 76ers head coach back in 2013.

Brown continued his recollection of the events that night, Oct. 30 to be exact, of how a ragtag roster upended LeBron James and the Miami Heat on opening night.

“We won three in a row,” Brown said. “I felt we surprised ourselves and the league. We were in great shape. We were in great cardio shape, we ran.”

Despite a three-game winning streak to start that season, Brown’s Sixers would end the year with just 19 victories. But the head coach kept his team in shape and running, all the way to being the fastest paced team in the league that season.

Present day, nearly four years after the events of Brown’s first night manning the sidelines for Philadelphia, and much has changed with the team. There are new faces, a new attitude, and certain expectations that are developing within the walls of the Sixers’ training facility.

But on the court, not much is changing.

“I feel like that part of it, and the base of it, this year is far superior because of the pieces,” Brown said referring to his offense. “We’ve had however many years to try to have our system in place and coach the coaches. I think from a ‘how do we do things’ perspective, we’re far advanced than that timeframe.”

As Brown kicked off his fifth season at the helm of the Sixers on Wednesday night in the nation’s capital against the Washington Wizards, his team’s play embodied the notion of being superior to years past.

Despite a 120-115 loss to arguably the second best team in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia flashed the promise of the new pieces the team’s head coach boasted about. Making his NBA debut as a 6-foot-10 point guard, Ben Simmons quickly asserted himself in the game and displayed his affinity for grabbing a rebound and beginning a fast break—just as his coach preached.

Against the Wizards, a team with a point guard in John Wall who is known for running himself, the Sixers outscored Washington in fast break points, handily. Although Philadelphia forced just 10 turnovers, they managed to score 23 points off of their opponent’s mistakes. On top of that, they pushed the paced and outscored Washington 19-4 in fast break points.

Things aren’t perfect for the team, however. Regardless of their superiority in comparison to the team and personnel four years ago, the Sixers still feature a rookie point guard in Simmons, as well as another in Markelle Fultz. Youth leads to mistakes. Whether directly caused by the newcomers or not, a bit of sloppiness led to 17 turnovers by Philadelphia on Wednesday night’s opener.

“I still want to have Ben play with a higher pace,” Brown said. “I want to act responsibly at the end of the break where we can be a little more organized, a little bit more disciplined at the end of a break. But putting up 115 points, and I don’t think we played that well offensively, 13 turnovers in the second half, four or five to start the third period. We have the answers to the test. When people say what’s it going to take for you to get into the playoffs, it’s Joel Embiid’s health and we gotta care way better for the ball.”

The biggest question mark for this Sixers team is obviously Embiid’s health. Starting the season on a minutes restriction, Embiid logged just 27 minutes. Still, that was more time than either Embiid for Brown expected.

During the early stages of this season, Embiid’s minutes will be dictated primarily on the big man’s conditioning. For a team that likes to get out and run the way the Sixers do, that could present a few bumps in the road from the get-go in getting Embiid adjusted to the pace of their game.

Monitoring Embiid’s minutes intelligently and effectively is always at the forefront of Brown’s mind, though. Just like the pace of his team’s play.

“I sat down with the sports science people this morning, and they’re very thoughtful with how they come up with this decision in relation to the loading,” Brown said in reference to Embiid’s minutes. “You can judge the loading scientifically in blocks. There was only one section of his loading, his chunk of minutes, that they deemed to be in the high area. It was torrid pace up and down. The other times he came in he played at a reasonable pace.”

Should the Sixers find themselves in a run-and-gun game, be it by their own doing or their opponent’s, Brown thinks Embiid’s minutes could see a drop off from the opening night number in those instances.

“We’ve done two things,” Brown said. “We still have his health at the forefront, and selfishly for me, and the team, and Jo, you’re able to get maybe eight more minutes than you thought you were gonna get from him.”

While the Sixers look to progress through the season, so will Embiid and his minutes total. Brown isn’t going to change the principles of his offense, with Simmons at the helm he’ll look to enhance the pace at an even higher rate. For the 7-foot-2 center, getting back into game shape so he can consistently run with his team is the most important thing for Philadelphia at the moment.

“It was all on me,” Embiid said about his minutes total. “The way I looked, if I wasn’t tired I was going to play. It’s just about the way I feel. If I look tired, they’re gonna take me out. If I don’t look tired, I’m gonna stay in and keep playing. I thought yesterday I was fine. There was a couple stretches that I was a little bit tired, but it’s all about pacing myself.”

As Brown mentioned, Embiid is Philadelphia’s answer to the playoff questions. For the 76ers, and Embiid himself, pacing will become the staple of their study guide over the course of this season.

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