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New-Look Philadelphia 76ers Igniting Excitement In the City

A busy summer for the Philadelphia 76ers has led to a new level of excitement for the team that has long been missing.

Dennis Chambers



Something felt different in the air at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex on Monday for Media Day.

Everywhere you turned, someone had a smile on their face. From players who would spend most of the day answering recycled questions from numerous media outlets to the public relations staff, to team personnel and even team photographers. Everyone seemed to have a pep in their step.

Of course, it’s the start of the season. Basketball is finally back, and everyone is eager to hit the ground running. But this is a team that over the course of the last five seasons has lost 301 games. That’s the highest total in the NBA over that time frame. Things are changing in Philadelphia, however. Gone are the days of ragtag rosters and starting lineups that featured maybe just a handful of NBA-caliber players. Now, the Sixers are littered with high-profile young talent and some veterans sprinkled in who come from winning pasts.

Now is the next step in Philadelphia’s long-term plan to becoming a force in the league. And everyone can feel it.

“We have added a number of pieces, some familiar faces, some unfamiliar,” Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. “But we feel that all in all, we’re going in with a good blend of that young core that we talk about. We talk about the veteran presence and inclusion with the mix, and feel that things are moving in the right direction with us and put us in a good position to compete and take another step forward as an organization.”

Those faces Colangelo spoke about are well known throughout the basketball community. From top overall pick Markelle Fultz to shooting guard J.J. Redick, and center Amir Johnson — not to mention finally getting 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons on the court — the Sixers have essentially overturned their roster that won 28 games last season.

For a roster that has seen so many changes basically overnight, and in a city that always has high expectations for their sports teams, getting as much gym work as possible is the easiest way to smooth over the impending growing pains. A team that consists of mostly rookies and young players may not be able to navigate through the early season bumps, which is why the Sixers brought in the likes of Redick and Johnson.

With the early excitement and expectations, this team is already feeling, those additions sound like they’re already paying off.

“We all came in here after Labor Day,” Johnson said. “And immediately started working just to get acclimated and get adjusted. It just shows the mentality of coaches and players, you know how hungry and how we want to improve as a team. Coming in with that mindset right off the bat it just made it easy to be prepared.”

As each player took the podium Monday afternoon for Media Day, more and more of the same was heard in their responses. Hope, potential, excitement; these are words that have been attached to the Sixers all summer since they made the trade for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft and the right to select Fultz.

Philadelphia is a passionate city, a place where hard work meets play at the highest of levels. To experience it, take a lap around any South Philly block. You’ll see Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, and Flyers flags hanging from just about every window and flagpole on every house. The spectacle of it is encapsulating for a native of the city and an outsider. As this season is creeping up on patrons of Philadelphia, the excitement seems to be as blatant as ever.

And almost every Sixer who’s made themselves available to the public eye has taken notice.

“I love the city of Philadelphia, they’re the best fans,” Embiid said. “I went to the (Eagles) game and it was probably the most love I’ve gotten in the city yet. Because I was in the VIP section, and then I had to go through basically the whole city to get back to Wells Fargo to go see somebody, and the love I got just walking around, people were screaming my name and, ‘Trust the Process,’ it was crazy.”

Embiid is a staple of The Process. In fact, he embodies the whole idea of it. For the fans to love him is almost expected. But they’re not the only ears who the well-wishes of Philadelphians are falling on. New additions are being met with the same response, and they’re eager to deliver what these fans so badly want: success.

“I’m hungry to win, just like the city is,” Johnson. “I feel the buzz, just going to Target or Wal-Mart, people are yelling, ‘Trust the Process!’ it’s awesome man. This team is definitely on the rise, and hungry to win.”

To no surprise, this year’s prized draft pick has felt the same affection.

“I love it,” Fultz said. “Just walking around, just having the fans here. Just walking around hearing, ‘Trust the Process.’ This team is just so young, so open. We’ve got some good vets here. Just coming here, I feel welcomed. It almost feels like I’m almost going back to college, just being welcomed. Just having everyone being around all the time. I love it.”

What the Sixers have going into this season is more than they’ve had since Allen Iverson was taking the team to the NBA Finals, pure hope. Actual expectations that one day, maybe sooner rather than later, this team can rattle some cages. The fans can sense it, and so can the players.

“It just shows you that they love basketball so much, they love the Sixers,” Embiid said. “You gotta show them that I can be a winner too. Because at some point they’re going to expect us to win. To do that I gotta stay healthy.”

There are still questions, however. Embiid mentioned it more than a few times during his 12-minute stint with the media: the team needs to stay healthy. That’s easier said than done, as the health problems of the Sixers’ core players have been well-documented. On top of their health concerns, this Sixers team is very young, even with their newly-signed veterans. Even the players who have been around the block, despite their own excitement, are trying to keep the young guys in check the best they can. They’re aware of the process it takes to actually make the playoffs in this league, and they want that to be vocalized.

“It’s very, very hard to get to the playoffs,” Johnson said. “I tell the guys all the time, let’s just take it one game at a time.”

With the combination of love from the fans, upgraded talent and what appears to be the right direction from coaching and management, the Sixers are in a good — yet skeptical — spot. The pieces appear to be there, but there are obvious hurdles in the way.

Though skepticism is still very much alive, the eagerness to play in front of Philadelphia fans has set the fire off for the newcomers, Redick especially.

“I’m going to offend some people in L.A. and Orlando, but I don’t know that I’ve played for a sports town,” Redick said. “I’ve never played in a sports town. There are sports towns, right? New York is a sports town, Boston is a sports town, Chicago is a sports town. Those are sports towns. Philly’s a sports town. For me, I’m excited about that.”

The conversation around the Sixers will be dominated by their potential playoff chances in a weakened Eastern Conference. The noise of it will be loud enough that it will be hard for players to ignore, especially given their youth. As the season approaches, though, the veterans aren’t taking the bait — at least not on the record — despite the different message the grin that comes across their faces deliver.

“I hope so,” Jerryd Bayless said when asked if the Sixers are a playoff team. “What do you think? We’ll see, I hope so.”

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.


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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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