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Basketball Insiders: Week in Review 3/30

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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A Third MVP Candidate Rising?

By Bill Ingram

The NBA’s Most Valuable Player trophy is almost always a topic of protracted discussion among sports fans. Sometimes there is one player who is so dominant that there is little room for discussion, but over the last couple of seasons it has really come down to just two names: Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Miami HEAT forward LeBron James. There is another player, however, who is making an awfully strong case that he should be in that conversation.

Last season, the Houston Rockets made their triumphant return to postseason play, winning 11 more games than they had the previous season due largely to the contributions of trade acquisition James Harden. Harden took the NBA by storm last season, proving himself to be the best shooting guard in the game, but he was not mentioned in the MVP discussion because Durant’s Thunder and James’ HEAT were among the best teams in the NBA. Of course, both Durant and James had All-Star teammates to aid their cause, which was not true of Harden.

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It’s Decision Time For Prospects

By Steve Kyler

Playing deep into the NCAA tournament never hurts a prospect’s NBA draft stock, especially if there are looming doubts and questions about that player’s game. For the top of the draft board, however, getting bounced early may be something of a blessing in disguise. While the NBA has set April 27 as the deadline for underclassmen to declare their eligibility for the 2014 NBA Draft, having an early exit also allows for some early decisions.

Last year, a number of the top draft prospects waited until the very last minute to select agents and to get into training programs. A number of them took hits to their draft stock because they were not in premiere shape when the draft combine rolled around and were not necessarily ready for the scrutiny that a tight draft race includes.

With most of the top names projected to be in the 2014 NBA Draft class already out of the tournament, they can now shift to decision time. Here is what we know today:

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How to Fix the Detroit Pistons

 By Joel Brigham

The easiest way for the Detroit Pistons to fix the mess they’ve made for themselves would be to somehow get a hold of a Delorean with a flux capacitor installed, then drive it 88 MPH until it flashed into early July of 2013 so someone could keep them from paying out $54 million to Josh Smith.

Doing so would solve the team’s biggest problem, which is figuring out what to do with Greg Monroe, a restricted free agent this summer. Had the team never signed Smith, they could have awarded Monroe with an extension months ago and moved forward with a plan to build the team around him and burgeoning perennial All-Star Andre Drummond, but that might not be an option anymore.

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NBA Power Rankings: Brooklyn Brawlers

By Moke Hamilton

After 21 weeks and with April around the corner, we are now officially at that point of the NBA season where every single game could make a monumental difference.

Despite winning eight games in a row, with Sunday night’s home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New York Knicks have seen their playoff hopes take a tremendous blow.

With the recent struggles of both the Miami HEAT and Indiana Pacers, the HEAT have been unable to close the gap on Paul George’s team, but the two teams are set to meet on Wednesday night in the first of their final two battles of the regular season (the second is in a few weeks). Still, it looks quite simple: if they split those games, the Pacers will earn home court advantage, but if the HEAT sweep those two, it is them who will enter the playoffs as the number one seed.

Out West, a late surge by the Phoenix Suns has seen them close the gap on the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies for one of the two final playoff spots out West, and with the teams still having games coming up against one another, it is impossible to know which of those three teams will be sitting at home once the postseason begins. But one of them will.

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Spurs Showing Zero Signs Of Slippage

By Lang Greene

The San Antonio Spurs have entered every season for the last five years with questions on how long the franchise can remain among the league’s elite. On paper, the question is a legitimate one. Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan (37) continues to age, former Sixth Man of the Year Manu Ginobili (36) is nowhere near the caliber of player he was during his prime years and the team routinely adds new role players,  expected to play pivotal roles, to the roster each summer.

San Antonio was literally less than 30 seconds away from adding another Larry O’Brien trophy to their mantle last season before succumbing to the Miami HEAT in the Finals. Despite the sour taste still lingering from last season’s finish, the Spurs (54-16) have successfully rebounded and are currently in possession of the league’s best record with roughly three weeks remaining in the regular season.

While there are rising concerns about whether Duncan will honor the last year of his current deal next season, the Spurs are once again firmly entrenched in the role of a contender heading down the stretch.

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Five College Coaches on NBA Radar

By Yannis Koutroupis

As the field of competitors for the 2014 National Championship has shrunk down to 16, the college basketball coaching carousel is moving at a dizzying pace. With over 300 Division I men’s basketball programs throughout the country, there’s always a ton of movement throughout the coaching ranks year in and year out.

Everyone longs to be in a position like Duke’s Mike Kryzyewski. Throughout his tenure he’s had numerous of other job offers, but he built the Blue Devils program into one of the premier positions in the country. No one, not even the Los Angeles Lakers, could make him a good enough offer to leave what he has.

Typically, though, when NBA teams come calling, they get their guy. We saw it last season with Butler and Brad Stevens. Stevens was working his way toward sainthood at Butler, but the Boston Celtics were able to pry him away to be their head coach.

We’re at the time of year where successful college coaches’ stocks are rising while struggling NBA head coaches’ seats are heating up. With that in mind, we take a look at the five college basketball coaches who appear to be gaining the most attention from the big league:

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The Unintended Consequences of the 2011 CBA

By Nate Duncan

The 2011 NBA lockout was universally hailed as an unmitigated win for the owners. They forced significant concessions from the players, reducing their percentage of Basketball Related Income from 57 percent to 50 while winning on so-called system issues as well. The players received almost no concessions in exchange. The system changes the owners fought so hard for were theoretically designed to level the competitive playing field between big and small markets while allowing teams to keep their superstars.

The only certain thing in such complex negotiations is that some unintended consequences will arise. Even the best of forecasters with carte blanche to design a system may struggle to anticipate the effects or regulation. When such regulations are the result of compromise or negotiation, they grow even more unpredictable. As a result, the 2011 CBA has resulted in some trends that may well have surprised its framers.

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Aldridge Rushes Return As Blazers Struggle

By Alex Kennedy

After an incredible start to the season that saw the Portland Trail Blazers exceed all expectations, the team has dropped nine of their last 13 games and slipped to the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

While other West contenders such as the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets have played some of their best basketball in recent weeks and seem poised to enter the postseason with momentum, Portland has struggled mightily. Making the playoffs seemed inevitable weeks ago, but now the Blazers are just two and a half games ahead of the ninth-seeded Phoenix Suns.

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Fixing The Sacramento Kings

 By Jabari Davis

When asked to complete a preview and ultimate prediction article for the 2013-14 Sacramento Kings a win range somewhere in the area of 30-33 was settled upon if memory serves correctly. A five game improvement upon the 28-54 results from just a season before may sound like relatively modest expectations, but we also wanted to be fair to first-year head coach Mike Malone as he installed what they can only hope is a new sense of direction for the organization. However, he now has a year under his belt and expectations are only going to increase moving forward. Here’s our take on how they can meet, and potentially exceed them.

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The Agony of an NBA Mistake

By Travis Heath

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” – John Wooden

There is a certain exhilaration that goes with being right about a player you have scouted. I got that feeling when I wrote about Damian Lillard after I had scouted him in person a couple of times and said that he should be a top-two pick in the draft and would one day be an NBA All-Star. Longtime NBA folks I worked with scoffed at this notion and insisted that it was silly to make such an assessment given the level of his competition in the Big Sky Conference.

I was right.

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No Role Too Small for Murry Chasing a Dream

By Jessica Camerato

Scroll down the New York Knicks roster and Toure’ Murry’s name is toward the bottom of the stats. Minutes: 6.9, points: 2.4, games played: 45, starts: 0. He’s logged a total of 10 minutes this month on a team that is currently out of the playoff standings, yet the 24-year-old rookie has an overwhelmingly optimistic outlook on his first season in the league.

“Everybody’s dream is to get to the NBA,” Murry told Basketball Insiders. “It just makes me feel great to say I play in the NBA and (my family and peers are) basically living their dream through me.”

He plays for those who supported him along the way and continue to each game in the pros. He also takes the court for those who always believed he could make it, but never had the chance to see him realize his goals

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2014 Cap Space Projections – Pacific Division

By Eric Pincus

The 2013-14 regular season is starting to wind down, with 18-19 teams still seriously in the playoff hunt.  Others are “fighting” for the best possible position in May’s NBA Draft Lottery.

Looking ahead to the 2014 offseason, a number of teams in the SoutheastSouthwest and Atlantic 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 fourth part of this series, where do the five teams in the Pacific Division stand this offseason?

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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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