Bynum returns to Philly 'a shell' of himself

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Bynum returns to Philly 'a shell' of himself

Andrew Bynum claims he will play Friday night when his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, play his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers.

Bynum was hardly a fan favorite last season when he came to town with great expectations and fanfare, and left having never played a game because of two bad knees.

“I got bad news with diagnosis on my knees, but I tried to get back endlessly,” Bynum said Thursday after the Cavaliers practiced at Temple University. “And the frustrating part was getting almost there and then to keep having setbacks.

“It is still career threatening. I am a shell of myself on the court right now. I am struggling mentally, but I am trying.”

Bynum tried last season, but things just never panned out for him in a Sixers uniform. Not that the big man is too upset about letting down the Philadelphia fans.

"I honestly don't really care," Bynum said. "I don't know how they will treat me. I was hurt. It is what it is, and I'm still hurt. But I'm still trying."

Bynum has played 51 minutes over four games for the Cavs so far this season and is averaging 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. Those statistics pale in comparison to his 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds he averaged when he was named an All-Star two seasons ago.

“In the moment it is tough to enjoy the game because of where I am but I am struggling to work through that,” Bynum said. “I feel like I can still be effective in this league but I am going to have to make changes to my game and it is about accepting those challenges.”

“As an organization we don’t want to rush it,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We don’t have any expectations of him right now except for him to keep working and that is what he has been doing.”

Zero expectations: The exact opposite of what Bynum experienced when he joined the Sixers franchise. Keep in mind that the Sixers traded All-Star Andre Iguodala, second-year player Nik Vucevic (who had 30 points and 21 rebounds on Wednesday night against the Clippers), rookie Maurice Harkless and a future first-round pick.

Cleveland signed Bynum as a free agent and guaranteed him $6 million of a possible $16 million over two years.

One team put all their chips in and lost. The other gambled just a little.

Instead of being a centerpiece in Cleveland, Bynum is just another guy trying to play the backup center role.

“It’s been good,” Bynum said of his limited minutes. “Andy [Varejao] has been playing great, which is a great help to me and has allowed me to sit back and accept that role-playing responsibility in the moment. We all know if things were going bad there it would be painful, but I am happy he is playing well and I am going to keep trying to play.”

Varejao is averaging 10.2 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes a night as the Cavs' starting center, leaving Bynum to to play between 15 and 19 minutes per game.

If Bynum can work through his mental struggles and accept the physical skills he is left with, Brown thinks his future can still be bright.

“You take a player like Zydrunas Ilgauskas who had terrible feet problems, and he was able to play after multiple surgeries and sitting out for awhile,” Brown said of the former Cavaliers center. “He was able to do that because he was skilled. He was not as big as Andrew but he was long.”

Ilgauskas played five games in the 1998-99 season. The following year, he did not play a game and in the 2000-01 season he played just 24 games.

His career seemed destined for what has become of Greg Oden, but instead Ilgauskas returned to play 734 games over 10 seasons as an effective scorer and rebounder.

“Ilgaukas was long, skilled and intelligent, and with that you are going to have a chance to play many years even if a guy like Andrew doesn’t get his explosiveness back,” Brown said. “Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But he is working hard to be the player he was before.”

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz keep on scoring

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz keep on scoring

The Sixers' run of five wins in six games means they have only the fourth-worst record in the league, but that still means Philly is a top contender for a top pick. Add that to the Lakers' pick that will likely be heading to Philly this summer and the Sixers have a chance to be making two high lottery picks this June.

So let's take a look at how some of the players in the conversation for this June's draft are playing in college.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
Week by week, it seems like the obvious move to lead off with Ball. The freshman point guard is averaging 14.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.8 steals and even 0.9 blocks a game. He's shooting lights out (53 percent from the field and 43 percent from three) and has shown no signs of letting up.

This week was an example of the different forms his game can take. In a 104-89 win at Colorado on Thursday, Ball shot the ball just six times, but made three of those attempts (two from beyond the arc) and dished out eight assists. His 11 points were the fewest he had scored in nearly a month.

But then he had to take on the offensive burden against a pesky Utah squad. He still dished out eight assists, but he took 12 shots and efficiently made seven of them. He was 3 for 7 from three and also had six rebounds. Perhaps most impressive was his five steals, a career-high for the well-rounded guard. And better yet, his first 40-minute performance was key to an 83-82 win on the road.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
With each passing game, it looks more and more likely that Washington will not make the NCAA Tournament. Like with Ben Simmons last season, that means the player most tout as the No. 1 player, Fultz, will not get to participate in March Madness, a true shame. It'd be different if Fultz was underachieving like the Huskies as a whole, but that's simply not the case.

Take Saturday for instance. Washington lost to a middling Pac 12 squad (Stanford) and fell to 1-4 in conference. The team only scored 69 points and shot 38.5 percent from the field, 7 for 26 from three. Yet Fultz's stat line looks as if it had to come from the winning squad's top player. In 37 minutes, he scored 34 points, nearly half his team's total, on 12 for 23 shooting, four threes, 6 for 7 free throw shooting.

It's not like his non-shooting stats were any worse. He had seven boards, three assists, two steals and two blocks. His jumper is smooth (go to the 1:10 mark of the game highlights to see him hit from Curry range) and he can battle inside for boards. It's disappointing that he likely won't play meaningful postseason games this year, but he's a delight to watch regardless of the stakes.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
This is it from the Pac 12, I swear! But the West Coast has been arguably the best coast this year in terms of some of the best prospects (I didn't even put Ivan Rabb on here, but he's shown up with some big games as well). Markkanen's last two games made it imperative that the Finnish forward was included on this list.

Markkanen appears to be the ideal stretch four. Just a freshman, he has scored 50 points in 52 minutes over his last two games, two wins for the Wildcats, including 18 for 30 shooting combined in wins against Colorado last Saturday and Arizona State on Thursday. Even better, he's more than found his mark from three, making 8 of 11 from deep in those games and has gobbled up 14 rebounds as well. His 30 points against Arizona State were a career-high and another reason why he's a top-10 prospect.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
Not every prospect has had a great week. Tatum played admirably in a loss to No. 9 Florida State on Tuesday, scoring 21 points on 17 shots and made 3 of 6 from three. But the freshman wing was a large part of Duke's second straight loss in a road clash with Louisville on Saturday.

Dealing with foul trouble, he played just 31 minutes. He is counted on as a top scoring option for the Blue Devils, right there with the much-beleaguered Grayson Allen and sophomore Luke Kennard. However, he wasn't a threat offensively Saturday, going 3 for 11 and missing his only three. He redeemed himself somewhat with a 5 for 6 day at the free throw line, but it wasn't enough to bring Duke back in a 78-69 loss.

Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
After Baylor lost to begin the week, Kansas seems all but assured to be the new No. 1 when the polls come out Monday. The freshman Jackson doesn't necessarily lead the Jayhawks — he has senior point guard Frank Mason III to rely on for that — but he is still a threat on both ends. His shooting is still a concern as he is just 25 percent from the three-point line and 57 percent from the free throw line, but he does everything else to make scouts excited about the freshman wing.

Facing Oklahoma State on Saturday, Jackson was one of three Jayhawks to score at least 20 (he finished with exactly that) and was at the free throw line more often than OSU as a team, shooting 17 free throws to the Cowboys' 14 attempts. A 6-foot-8 forward that plays every bit like a guard can often do that. He made just 10 of those freebies and was 5 for 13 from the field, but he had 11 rebounds and four steals, not to mention two blocks, making him a double threat, offensively and defensively. 

Quick Hits

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Twenty-four points on 8 for 14 shooting, 4 for 8 from three, one rebound, six assists, and one block in a 92-72 win over Auburn.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida St. (6-11/205)
Seventeen points on 6 for 11 shooting, 2 for 5 from three, 12 rebounds, two assists, three steals and four fouls in a 96-83 loss to No. 11 North Carolina.

OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana (6-8/235)
Eleven points on 4 for 8 shooting, 0 for 2 from three, three rebounds, two assists, seven steals (!), and one block in a 76-57 win over Rutgers.

Jaron Blossomgame, forward, Clemson (6-7/214)
Twenty-two points on 10 for 14 shooting, six rebounds, two assists, one block and two turnovers in a 77-73 loss to No. 19 Virginia.