Kazemi playing only way he knows how for Sixers

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Kazemi playing only way he knows how for Sixers

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sixers fans will quickly grow to love second-round pick Arsalan Kazemi.

The Iranian-born 23-year-old is a hustler who is constantly in motion and finds his way to the backboard.

“He is amazing,” Sixers assistant coach Michael Curry said. “It is easy to see why his teammates and all his coaches like him. He just plays hard. Not the most athletic, not the fastest. Very seldom does he miss an assignment. He is always in the right place. He makes effort plays and he gets a lot done because of that. He has been doing well. I am happy to see that.”

Kazemi scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting Thursday afternoon in the Sixers’ 90-89 loss to the Magic during Orlando Pro Summer League action (see story). The 6-foot-7, 226-pound forward also grabbed six rebounds.

Kazemi hopes to make a reputation on the glass in the NBA just like he did in college. In three of his four collegiate seasons, Kazemi averaged double-figure rebounds. As a senior at Oregon he pulled down 10 per contest, the 15th-highest mark in the country.

From 2004 to 2006, the NCAA’s leading rebounder was Paul Millsap, who averaged 12.7 boards per game at Louisiana Tech. Millsap was selected 47th overall by Utah in the 2006 draft and has since averaged 12.4 points and seven rebounds a game in seven seasons with the Jazz. That production landed Millsap a two-year, $19 million free-agent deal with the Atlanta Hawks this offseason.

Kazemi, who was selected 54th overall in last month’s draft, has closely followed Millsap and would like nothing more than to follow in the forward’s footsteps.

“As a rebounding guy, Paul Millsap was leading the nation in college for three years,” Kazemi said. “I was on top for a while and he came into the league and started improving on his game, so that is the closest guy I can think of [having a similar game].”

Kazemi’s offense is nowhere near that of Millsap when the Hawks’ new big man entered the league in 2006. However, Kazemi is sure he can develop his overall game with time.

“I have to get stronger and I need to work on my outside game and shooting from the corner,” he said. “Those are the two big things I need to work on.”

Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie has no doubt that Kazemi will put in the work to become a solid NBA player.

“He is a lunch-pail kind of guy,” Hinkie said. “People may say he is undersized, but I say look around and see there are a lot of undersized guys that make an impact bigger than just their size. I think he has shown who he is this week. He is a winning basketball player.

“He knows who he is, that’s important. And he plays hard all the time. That’s not refreshing as a fan. That’s important if you care about winning and he does and he shows it on every possession.”

The summer league is a time to experiment. In Kazemi’s case he has seen action at the small forward after playing mainly as a power forward in college.

“He plays the four the best right now,” Curry said. “Athletically that fits him. He is not quite the size. Some matchups at the three he is able to do a really good job as well.”

“I like to play the three,” Kazemi said. “I played the three for my national team during world championships, so I know that I can play both positions.”

Given his status as a second-round draft pick and the Sixers’ need to have some ready-made NBA players to fill out the bench, Kazemi’s grip on a final roster spot is uncertain. Still, at some point Sixer fans will see more of the player nicknamed “The Beast From the Middle East” and he is sure they will enjoy how he performs on the court.

“I kind of felt that at Oregon they didn’t know me at the beginning, but after awhile they really liked me because of the way that I play,” Kazemi said. “Fans and coaches all love that player that plays hard, so I am just going to keep on doing what I am doing. As a rookie going into the league you just have to play defense and make the hustle plays and bring energy to the team and that is what I am going to do.”

Sixers-Nuggets 5 things: Defense needs to improve to stop skid

Sixers-Nuggets 5 things: Defense needs to improve to stop skid

The Sixers (4-16) close out their four-game homestand against the Denver Nuggets (7-13) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Missing the stop sign
Apparently, tis the season for giving up points.

The Sixers' defense folded again in their latest loss, a 107-106 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Saturday night. The Sixers have allowed 107.8 points per game this season (25th in the NBA) and 109.1 during their six-game losing skid.

The Sixers let All-Star Isaiah Thomas do the damage on Saturday as he scored 37 points to become the fifth point guard to reach the 30-point plateau against them this season.

On the other side, the Nuggets' defense has actually been even worse. They rank 27th in the league with 109.5 points allowed per game.

2. Hello again
With Joel Embiid also making his debut this season, Dario Saric was always going to play second fiddle when it came to rookies on the Sixers' roster. That has certainly been the case now that Embiid has been putting up dominant numbers while Saric has been up and down.

However, Saric was on the same level as his fellow rookie against the Celtics. The Croatian broke out of a recent slump to notch a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds, which both matched career highs.

That performance also included this highlight-reel moment when Saric destroyed Jonas Jerebko's ankles (see video).

“I prepared a little bit more for this game,” Saric said (see story). “After I have some bad rhythm of five or six, maybe, games. Now I concentrate more. I try to give my best, try to play my best, try to think before everything happens.”

3. Clean the glass
The Sixers will need a similar effort from Saric on the boards if they want to compete with the Nuggets.

Denver is the No. 1 rebounding team in the entire NBA with 49.6 rebounds per game. The Nuggets attack the glass on both ends, too, as they are tops in defensive rebounding and No. 2 in offensive rebounding.

The offensive boards are also a main reason Denver sits third in second-chance points with 15.6 a night.

None of that bodes well for a Sixers team that rates just 20th overall in rebounding.

4. Injuries
Jahlil Okafor (gastroenteritis) is questionable. Robert Covington (knee/illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Nikola Jokic (wrist) and Gary Harris (foot) are out for the Nuggets.

5. This and that
• The Sixers lost both meetings with the Nuggets last season by a combined four points.

• Monday's game will feature both players who won the NBA's Rookie of the Month awards in Embiid and Nuggets guard Jamal Murray. Embiid is averaging 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 23.2 minutes per game. Murray is putting up 9.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 21.7 minutes a night.

• In seven career games against the Sixers, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has averaged 7.6 points and 6.9 rebounds. Those are actually his lowest and third-lowest marks, respectively, against any NBA team.

Joel Embiid to play Monday vs. Nuggets; Jahlil Okafor questionable (illness)

Joel Embiid to play Monday vs. Nuggets; Jahlil Okafor questionable (illness)

CAMDEN, N.J. -- In following with his back-to-back plan, Joel Embiid will play Monday against the Nuggets at home and will not play Tuesday against the Grizzlies in Memphis. Embiid will be on a 28-minute restriction, established last week. 

"Obviously I wanted to play against Memphis," Embiid said after shootaround Monday. "Marc Gasol, great guy to play against. I wanted to do that but we've got Denver, especially at home. I know the fans that want to see team, that want to see me play. So that was a big factor into choosing, deciding to play this game."

The Sixers may be without fellow big Jahlil Okafor, who missed shootaround because of illness. He is questionable for Monday's game. 

Robert Covington will miss his second straight game with a left knee sprain. He also has flu-like symptoms. He will not travel to Memphis or New Orleans. 

Jerryd Bayless also remains sidelined with left wrist soreness. His status to join the team for the next two games on the road is questionable. 

Nerlens Noel, who is rehabbing with the Sixers, will not join the team on trip.