Scary matchup awaits Sixers in champion Heat

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Scary matchup awaits Sixers in champion Heat

To call opening night a challenge for Brett Brown’s young team is an understatement. The Miami Heat have played in the NBA Finals each of the last three years and have claimed the last two NBA championships.

Many on Brown’s team have no idea the physicality necessary to putting the smallest dent in LeBron James’ game. Evan Turner, on the other hand, knows far too well the personal task that awaits him Wednesday night at the defensive end.

“He is one of the toughest to guard, especially now since he is posting up and playing closer to the rim,” Turner said of guarding James, who was fourth in the NBA last season with 26.8 points per game. “It gets tough when you think you played him your toughest and he still comes out with 28 points. It is a group thing and you can’t get lackadaisical.”

Turner joked that it was his 30th time facing James since coming into the league. That is a slight exaggeration, but Wednesday night will be the 17th time Turner has squared off with James as a pro.

James has been victorious the last 11 regular-season games and he also won four of five in a first-round playoff series three years ago.

The Heat are a dominant team that is coming off a season-opening win over the Bulls and has three-peat aspirations. On the flip side, the Sixers are just so far from being able to compete with such a team for 48 minutes.

“I think just the reality of what is the benchmark of our sport,” Brown said of the opening-night challenge. “Any time you can get a true guideline of where you stand as an individual or as a team, then I think it will be an honest reflection of the things we are going to have to do to aspire to get where we want to go.”

Turner suggested that knowing what outsiders are expecting from the Sixers and paying attention to those expectations do not have to be one and the same.

“Don’t pay attention to any of it,” Turner said. “Any time you are doing something, outside influence is never good whether it is basketball or anything else.”

Can the Sixers win 20 games? Are 15 victories more realistic?

Look at the first couple weeks of the season for the Sixers and you see opposing rosters that include names such as James, Dwyane Wade, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Dwight Howard and James Harden.

It all starts on Wednesday night with the Heat. Halloween just might come a day early this year.

NBA Notes: Serge Ibaka happy after surprise trade to Magic

NBA Notes: Serge Ibaka happy after surprise trade to Magic

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A week ago after waking up in Paris to flurry of congratulatory text messages, Serge Ibaka wasn't quite sure how to feel about the NBA draft night trade that landed him in Orlando.

But one text message in particular helped him feel better about his transition from the Oklahoma City Thunder -- a team contending for an NBA championship -- to a young team trying to figure out how to make the postseason.

"One of things that made me feel good at that moment was dad texted me," Ibaka said Thursday a news conference. "Before I could get excited and happy, my dad was happy. He congratulated me and said he was real happy for me. That's what changed everything at the moment.

"This is a business, and things happen for a reason. So I'm happy to be here and for my family and for my daughter" (see full story).

Mavericks: Center Mejri has knee surgery
DALLAS -- Mavericks center Salah Mejri has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, a procedure that isn't expected to sideline the 7-foot-2 Tunisian during the season.

Mejri, who had surgery Thursday, emerged as an energetic shot-blocker and rebounder in the second half of his rookie season in Dallas. He turned 30 in June.

While the Mavericks plan to pursue a starting center in free agency, they like the youth and promise in Mejri and the 6-11 Dwight Powell, who turns 25 in July. Powell is all Dallas has left to show for the ill-fated Rajon Rondo trade with Boston in December 2014.

Mejri averaged 3.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 34 games with six starts last season.

Clippers: Frank promoted to front office
LOS ANGELES -- The Clippers have promoted Lawrence Frank to executive vice president of basketball operations under Doc Rivers.

Frank has spent the last two seasons as an assistant under Rivers, who coaches the team and serves as president of basketball operations.

In his new job, Frank will oversee the basketball operations department and report to Rivers.

Frank coached the New Jersey Nets from 2003-10 and the Detroit Pistons from 2011-13. He was an assistant in Vancouver, New Jersey, Boston and Brooklyn before joining the Clippers.

Bucks: GM Hammond gets contract extension
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that the Milwaukee Bucks have extended the contract of general manager John Hammond through the 2017-18 season.

It's an extra year on Hammond's contract and the plan is for him to continue to serve as a consultant after that while assistant GM Justin Zanik takes over the main front office duties. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Bucks have not announced the move.

Zanik was hired away from the Utah Jazz in June to be groomed as Hammond's successor.

Hammond has been the Bucks GM since 2008 and was the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2009-10. He has helped bring in promising youngsters including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker.

Yahoo Sports first reported the extension.

Report: Raptors contact Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel

Report: Raptors contact Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel

General managers talk to other general managers about players all the time. 

Sometimes, news of these discussions leak.

Sounds like this is one of those cases. So don't make a big deal out of it. 

According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the Toronto Raptors have contacted the Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel. Lowe cites sources who state that the Raptors have offered a "rotation player — perhaps Terrence Ross, and other goodies — in exchange for Nerlens Noel" but also noted that "the talks haven't gained much traction yet."

Probably because the trade depends on the value of the so-called goodies.

A 6-foot-7, 195-pound swingman, Ross has been inconsistent over his four-year career. After starting 123 games the previous two seasons, Ross, 25, primarily came off the bench last season, starting seven of 73 games. He averaged 9.9 points and shot 38.6 percent from three, right around his career averages (9.3 and 37.8).

He's a three-point shooter and finisher (a little like Harrison Barnes) who in January 2014 erupted for 51 points in a loss to the Clippers and hit 10 of 17 from three. He hasn't scored 30 in a game since.

Ross was drafted by the Raptors in 2012 out of Washington with the eighth overall pick. He signed a three-year extension late last year that will pay him $10.5 million per season.

Toronto is interested in Noel because big man Bismack Biyombo may leave during free agency, which begins Friday.

Sixers free-agent fits: Frontcourt — Horford, Anderson, Ezeli, more

Sixers free-agent fits: Frontcourt — Horford, Anderson, Ezeli, more

Over the course of this week, we will look at the Sixers' free-agent possibilites at each position. We've already analyzed point guardsshooting guards and small forwards. Today, we'll break down frontcourt players.

Sixers frontcourt players for 2016-17
Joel Embiid (guaranteed, $4,826,160)

Richaun Holmes (guaranteed, $1,025,831)

Carl Landry (guaranteed, $6,500,000)

Nerlens Noel (guaranteed, $4,384,490)

Jahlil Okafor (guaranteed, $4,788,840)

Dario Saric (yet to sign)

Ben Simmons (yet to sign rookie deal)

Current frontcourt situation
In case you haven't heard, the Sixers have a few big men. By my list, that's five under contract, one that will sign his rookie contract shortly, and another that claims he'll be under contract soon enough.

Of course, there have been rumors of Okafor and/or Noel being shipped off for backcourt pieces, but as of now, they are Sixers. If the team were to move one or both of them, they'd be moving their most proven NBA frontcourt pieces, even if the experiment of playing them together was a disaster.

Simmons has infinite potential, but has yet to play an NBA minute. Same goes for Embiid and Saric. Landry and Holmes are solid bench big men. They'll be valuable depth if Bryan Colangelo pulls off a move or two. Stay tuned.

Reach free agent

Al Horford, unrestricted
Horford, a four-time All-Star, has been a focal point for the Hawks' offense for almost a decade. More of a finesse big man than a banger down low, Horford has an excellent midrange game and possesses great touch around the basket. He's also a decent passer from the post, averaging 2.7 assists per game for his career. He's averaged 14.3 points per game on a robust 54 percent from the field. With all that said, Horford is not the guy for this team. Even if Noel and Okafor are traded, Horford is 30. Also, Simmons would be better playing with a center that offers better rim protection.

Possible fits

It's hard to look into any of these guys seriously with the Sixers' current logjam. We'll dissect them as if a shakeup in the frontcourt has occurred and the team needs to fill a gap or two.

Ryan Anderson, unrestricted
If you were to Google the term "stretch four" a picture of Anderson would appear (not even kidding, it actually does). Anderson has shot 38 percent for his career from downtown. Back in 2011-12, he led the NBA in threes made and attempted while playing for the Magic. Last season he averaged 17 points per game, the second-highest number of his career. Assuming Simmons expands his game beyond the power forward position, a guy like Anderson would make a ton of sense playing alongside him.

Marvin Williams, unrestricted
Williams is an interesting case. He's never lived up to the billing of being the No. 2 overall pick back in 2005, but he's had a solid NBA career as a role player. The element he's added to his game that should intrigue the Sixers is his three-point shooting. Williams hit a career-high 40 percent from distance on 378 attempts, also a career mark. Williams also offers defensive versatility with his ability to play on the wing at times.

Festus Ezeli, restricted
Ezeli has made himself into a solid rotational big in Golden State. With the Warriors' success, guys like Ezeli are bound to be poached from their roster. Ezeli is nothing special but would come in handy if the Sixers find a suitor for Noel. They'd need someone like Ezeli (2.5 blocks per 36 minutes last season) to help fill the void Noel would leave as a strong rim protector.