Give and Go: Surprises, victories and coaching

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Give and Go: Surprises, victories and coaching

Each week we'll ask three questions about the Sixers to our resident basketball junkies and see what they have to say.

Running the Give and Go this week are CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Dei Lynam, CSNPhilly.com reporter John Finger and CSN anchor Amy Fadool.

Let's get started:

Which Sixer has been the biggest surprise so far?
Lynam: The biggest surprise for me has been Spencer Hawes. I expected Hawes to be solid, but he is delivering at a rate far greater than that. Hawes is averaging 17.2 points per game, more than six better than his career-best mark of 11.4 during his second season in the league. He is also shooting 57.6 percent from the field and averaging 11 rebounds per game, which ranks ninth in the NBA. Those numbers have made Hawes one of only 13 players to start the season averaging a double-double with points and rebounds.

People don’t think of Hawes as a credible starting center, but I would challenge them to say the big man’s numbers so far support that argument.

Finger: I'd like to say Evan Turner because he has finally embraced a style of offense in which he drives to the basket for short shots and chances at the foul line. Turner's scoring is no fluke. He could have been this type of scoring threat if he had been convinced to become a slasher rather than a jump shooter.

However, there has been nothing from the past to indicate that Michael Carter-Williams would be this good. His shooting statistics in college, his play in the summer league and in the exhibition games gave no glimmer that Carter-Williams was this good. In fact, Carter-Williams has done things in his first five games in the NBA that his predecessor, Jrue Holiday, never pulled off.

Fadool: I think many people are going to say Carter-Williams, and rightly so. But I’m going to say Turner. While it’s still early in the season, Turner has showed consistency in his scoring, something we haven’t seen from E.T. over the course of a season. So far, Turner has scored 26, 23, 20, 18 and 24 points, respectively, in the Sixers' first five games. If those numbers continue, I expect that Turner will get quite the payday during the offseason, especially after the Sixers declined to extend his contract.

Which win was the most impressive?
Lynam: The most impressive win for the Sixers of the three they have to start the season is definitely opening night over Miami. For starters, the 19-0 run to open the game over the defending champion Heat was unthinkable. Add in the fact that the inexperienced Sixers lost the lead and regained it in the fourth quarter before holding on to win was simply remarkable. A year ago, the Sixers were 4-47 when trailing heading into the fourth. They already have two such wins to start 2013-14.

Finger: On paper, the opening night win over the two-time defending champion Heat stands out. However, to come back from a 20-point deficit on the second night of a back-to-back against the Chicago Bulls is clearly the most impressive. Though it looked like a horrible matchup for the Sixers because of Chicago's size inside and Derrick Rose's and Luol Deng's skills on the perimeter, they wore down the Bulls in the second half. It was almost as if the Sixers pulled off a rope-a-dope against the Bulls in the way they wore them down.

Fadool: I think the obvious answer for most impressive win is the one over the Heat. It’s the two-time defending champs and included the Sixers withstanding a 45-point third quarter. It was impressive because the Sixers hung on to win, and closing out wins when leading was an issue last season. Coming back against the Bulls was good, but I was most impressed with the win over the Heat. It was flat-out fun to watch.

Biggest difference between Brown and Collins?
Lynam: The biggest difference between Brett Brown and Doug Collins is that Brown is in his first season with a fresh voice and Collins finished in his third season, one of great expectation that fell far short because of things far beyond his control. From a philosophy standpoint, the Sixers will shoot more three-pointers. Under Collins a year ago, they ranked 25th in threes attempted. This season, that number per game is up by more than four and the team ranks 14th in that category.

Finger: They are apples and oranges. Where Brown has allowed the offense to flow freely, Collins was a master at drawing up plays on the fly. Under Collins, the Sixers ran a structured offense that flowed around Holiday and the pick-and-roll. Brown's offense just is ... whatever it is. Brown also doesn't have a player over the age of 25, so the urgency from game to game isn't there.

It would be interesting to see Collins in a rebuilding situation with the young roster Brown has. If Collins could coax 34 wins out of the roster the Sixers put together last year ...

Similarly, it will be interesting to see Brown with the Sixers as they grow and how the structure of the offense and defense changes.

Fadool: Brown has a much different coaching style, and practicing style, too. He’s really focused on conditioning and I think and it’s shown in the early season. We’ll see if that continues, as the 82-game schedule wears on the players, but I think it’s working well so far. However, I think the biggest difference in coaching style between Brown and Collins can be seen in the play of Turner. E.T. was notoriously and continuously in Collins’ doghouse. I think Collins demanded a lot from Turner and in turn, the swingman wasn’t enjoying the game and letting it come to him. Alternatively, I think whatever methods Brown is using with Turner are working. He’s enjoying himself and playing his game, and it’s showing in his numbers.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.