Sixers-Bucks: What you need to know

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Sixers-Bucks: What you need to know

Sixers vs. Bucks -- 8 p.m., CSN
BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee

Last meeting
The Bucks have taken the first two meetings with the Sixers and if they win a third, they take the season series. If the Sixers and Bucks are tied at the end of the season, head-to-head matchups are the first tiebreaker.

On Jan. 22, Ersan Ilyasova scored 27 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead the Bucks to a 110-102 victory. The Sixers battled back from an early 10-point deficit thanks to 23 points from Evan Turner, 21 from Spencer Hawes and 20 from Nick Young.

The Sixers go into the game trailing the Bucks by three games for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s really a two-game swing either way,” Hawes said. “We have to realize that and can’t be looking forward to the [All-Star] break.”

Records
Sixers: 22-28 (fourth place in Atlantic Division; ninth place in the Eastern Conference)

Bucks: 25-25 (third place in Central Division; eighth place in the Eastern Conference)

Previous games
The Sixers wrapped up a 5-3 homestand by getting drubbed by the Los Angeles Clippers, 107-90, Monday night. The Sixers trailed by as many as 32 points in the fourth quarter and were victims to a bevy of highlight-reel dunks from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

“It was the most impressive performance against us I’ve seen all year,” Sixers head coach Doug Collins said.

The Bucks missed a chance to gain ground in the standings by losing to Washington, 102-90, on Monday night. Monta Ellis scored 24 points with eight assists and seven rebounds, but his backcourt mate Brandon Jennings shot just 3 for 17.

Who's hot
Nick Young scored 29 points on 10-for-18 shooting with four three-pointers in the loss to the Clippers. Over his last 10 games, Young is averaging 16.1 points and 1.6 steals per game. Interestingly, Young’s 10-game averages and 29-point game came on the heels of a pair of games in which the guard shot 6 for 21, including 0 for 7 from three-point range.

Headed into his third game of his first 10-day contract, newcomer Jeremy Pargo has proved a spark off the bench while dropping in 22 points on 8-for-22 shooting. Pargo also got to the foul line seven times in the last two games, which is more than starters Lavoy Allen, Turner, Jrue Holiday and Hawes … combined.

In his last four games, ex-Sixer Sam Dalembert has three double-doubles with 42 rebounds and 65 points. Thirty-five of those points came in the Feb. 5 loss to Denver.

The more you know …
A game after pulling down a career-high 22 rebounds on Saturday night, Allen did not get his first rebound until the waning moments of the third quarter of Monday’s loss to the Clippers. Allen finished the game with two rebounds and narrowly missed becoming the first player in NBA history to get 20-plus rebounds in one game and zero in the next. … Turner is one of six players in the NBA averaging 13 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. The others? LeBron James, Joakim Noah, Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce and Nicolas Batum. … Turner has not made a three-pointer in his last seven games. He’s 0 for 7 over that stretch. … In the last four games, Holiday is shooting just 36.5 percent. … Young has 43 turnovers in 45 games this season. … Holiday and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook are the only players in the NBA averaging 18-plus points and 8-plus assists per game. The only Sixer to finish a season averaging 18-plus points and 8-plus assists is Wilt Chamberlain (1967-68).

Probable starters
Sixers (last 10 games)
Jrue Holiday (18.1 ppg, 8.3 apg )
Nick Young (16.1 ppg, 1.2 spg)
Spencer Hawes (12 ppg, 8.2 rpg)
Lavoy Allen (6.7 ppg, 7 rpg)
Evan Turner (13.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg)

Bucks (last 10 games)
Monta Ellis (16.1 ppg, 5.4 apg)
Brandon Jennings (17.5 ppg, 7.2 apg)
Sam Dalembert (11.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg)
Ersan Ilyasova (16.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
Mike Dunleavy (10.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg)

Injuries
Andrew Bynum (bone bruises) is out indefinitely.

Jason Richardson (knee) is out for the season.

Thad Young (hamstring) is out for two more weeks.

For the Bucks, Larry Sanders (hip/back) missed Monday’s game and is doubtful for Wednesday.

Luc Mbah a Moute (leg) left Monday’s game after 14 minutes of action.

NBA Insiders Notebook: Noel, Bogut trade rumors, Westbrook for MVP

NBA Insiders Notebook: Noel, Bogut trade rumors, Westbrook for MVP

We’re back for another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook, the most comprehensive collection of trade rumors, team news, injury updates and a wide range of league-related news sure to whet the appetite of any NBA fan.

We begin this week jumping right into trade rumors. And as we’ve seen in recent years, the Boston Celtics continue to be one of the more popular teams whose name is often brought up in various trade scenarios.

While there doesn’t appear to be anything imminent with the Celtics, it’s pretty clear that their greatest need at this point is a defensive-minded big man who can also rebound.

So who should they target?

Celtics: Team pursuing Bogut?
As the February trade deadline draws near, the Boston Celtics are expected to take a close look at adding a defensive-minded, rebounding big man with Dallas’ Andrew Bogut likely to emerge as a target.

The former No. 1 overall pick is in the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2014.

He is due to make $11.027 million in this, the last season of the contract. Dallas (4-15) has the worst record in the NBA and are likely to continue building for a post-Dirk Nowitzki era with a high lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Adding another first-round pick from Boston would benefit a squad that has to increase its quality depth going forward. Having another first-round pick can only enhance their roster.

Boston could offer the Mavericks Amir Johnson (he makes $12 million this season) straight-up for Bogut, but would likely have to include a future first-round pick that would not be Boston’s 2017 pick which they have the option of swapping for Brooklyn’s first-round pick which is likely to be in the lottery (top-14).

For the Celtics, giving up Johnson and a future first-round pick is a small price to pay for a physical, defensive-minded rebounder who would provide a different brand of rim protection than Johnson who like Bogut, will also be a free agent this summer.

In addition, he gives Boston a legit physical banger in the middle which they currently do not have.

While no deal is imminent, both sides would appear to come out getting great value if this deal were to be completed prior to the February trade deadline. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Blazers: Interested in Noel?
Portland’s defense has been among the NBA’s worst for most of this season, so the idea that they’re interested in adding a big man whose strength lies in his defense really isn’t all that surprising.

That’s why the Blazers reportedly being interested in acquiring the 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel from Philadelphia makes sense. He had surgery on his left knee last month and has not played in a single game this season but is making progress. He was recently assigned to the Sixers’ D-League affiliate as part of his rehabilitation from the injury. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Sixers: Philly plans to go super-sized at point guard
The Sixers have big plans for Ben Simmons when he returns from a Jones fracture in his right foot.

Big as in 6-foot-10 point guard big.

Yes, Brett Brown said this week the Sixers intend to utilize Simmons at the one spot on both offense and defense.

That role has been in flux all season as Jerryd Bayless, originally signed this offseason to be the starting point guard, only has played three games because of left wrist soreness. Sergio Rodriguez has stepped into the starting spot in his first season back from Spain.

Ball handling and court vision are two of Simmons’ biggest strengths. During Summer League he demonstrated how he could use his size to grab the rebound and then push the ball on the fast-break. The Sixers believe his stature will cause mismatches with defenders.

On the opposite end of the floor, Simmons will be tasked with stopping some of the league’s craftiest and quickest. He will have to counter his opponents using their smaller size as an advantage. Simmons already has been studying game film, including that on Chris Paul, to prepare.

“I think it is a hundred percent me realizing what we have,” Brown said recently. “Understanding that Jerryd Bayless could comfortably play a two, to talking with Ben more, to understanding the opportunity that we have to try this and to grow this. This is something that I’d think would be a mistake if we didn’t try it. I think the more I studied him and studied film and talked with him — I spent a lot of time with him since his injury — the more comfortable I feel, like this is the right path.” – by Jessica Camerato

Hawks: Hip injury limits Millsap as Hawks struggle
A left hip injury to Paul Millsap has slowed down the Hawks, who were .500 entering the weekend, and they’re trying to make it having used Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala in the starting lineup in his place.

The winner of the Southeast Division the least two seasons, the Hawks have lost nine of 10 games. – by J. Michael

Magic: Vucevic off the bench now, out of Orlando soon?
Nikola Vucevic is out of the starting lineup in Orlando, which has one of the league’s most disjointed offenses.

In his first four games off the bench, Vucevic is averaging 13.8 points, 12 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks.

Is this a permanent role for Vucevic and will this ultimately lead to one of the Magic’s bigs being put on the trading block?

Bismack Biyombo, Orlando’s biggest free-agent acquisition this summer, has taken the starting job at center. His arrival instantly made such a scenario with Vucevic on the table. – by J. Michael

Warriors: Taking Barkley criticism in stride
TNT analyst Charles Barkley’s fixation on the Warriors and their style of play has lingered on for nearly a decade, through four coaches, with no sign of abating.

In his most recent salvo, Barkley said the Warriors were playing “little girly basketball,” which amused some but outraged many who couldn’t help but see it as a knock on females.

The Warriors, for their part, shrug off everything Barkley says and does, considering it more entertaining than informative. No one shrugs harder than coach Steve Kerr, a former TNT colleague, who carefully offered to educate Barkley.

“I still believe you have to be strong defensively to win,” Kerr said. “That’s an area where people who follow the game know we were No. 1 in the league in defense the year we won the championship (2015) and we were No. 4 or 5 (actually No. 3) last year, when we came within a minute or so of winning the championship.”

Your move, Chuck. – by Monte Poole

Wizards: Mahinmi (knee) is back ... sort of
The issue of Ian Mahinmi’s right knee has complicated the big picture for the Wizards as they try to find answers for their second unit.

After playing one game, his debut in his first season with the franchise this past week, Mahinmi has been a question mark each day going into Monday’s game with the Brooklyn Nets. He missed the first 14 games of the season because of surgery to remove cartilage in his left knee.

His availability complicates any potential moves for the Wizards when teams become active in the trade market by mid-December. – by J. Michael

Jazz: Hill climbing list of NBA's most improved players
The Utah Jazz are playing like a team poised for the playoffs after a four-year drought, and a big part of that optimism lies in the play of George Hill whose play thus far makes him a legit candidate for the league’s most improved player award. 

Typically this goes to a young player on the rise, not a 30-year-old veteran like Hill. But the numbers don’t lie. A career 11.5 points per game scorer, Hill is averaging 20.0 points per game this season. Figuring out what the change has been is simple: he’s making more shots. A 45.2 percent career shooter, Hill is making a career-high 52.4 percent of his shots which includes career highs in three-pointers taken (5.2 per game) and three-point percentage (.456).

If he continues to play like this and gets Utah into the postseason, look for Hill to emerge as one of the big winners next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Raptors: Steamrolling over foes
The Raptors head into the week having won six straight, which is a nice little win streak. But what makes their recent run of success so impressive is the dominant nature by which they are beating teams.

During their streak, opponents have come up short by an astounding 23 points per game. That includes a 128-84 win over Atlanta, with the 44-point margin being the biggest win in franchise history.

“Like I always say, it's cliché, but it's a make or miss league," Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said after the record-setting victory.

And right now, they are making everyone on the schedule look inept. However, the one knock against them during their recent run has been the teams they have faced are not exactly among the elite of the NBA. That will change on Monday when they take on the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Clippers: Rivers' ejection a good thing for the Clippers?
The Clippers went from fabulous to desperate to whole again in a matter of days, and maybe they got a spark from head coach Doc Rivers who was ejected after throwing a full tantrum in the first of two overtimes in a loss at Brooklyn.

Rivers was having a conversation with official Lauren Holtkamp when lead official Ken Mauer assessed a technical foul and then, another technical, which is automatic ejection.

“I don’t think an official that has nothing to do with the play, should be giving someone a tech,” Rivers said.

That was the third straight loss for LA, which immediately rebounded with wins at Cleveland and at New Orleans. – by Monte Poole

Cavs: 'Honeymoon' over, says Lebron
It appears now the Cleveland Cavaliers have some self-inflicted adversity after an early cruise through the start of the season, prompting LeBron James to go into full dad-mode after a 111-105 loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls.

It’s the third straight loss for the champs and despite James’ magic-like numbers, the Cavs have slipped into a little malaise right before the holiday season.

"We've got to get out of the honeymoon stage," James said Friday night. “"That's y'all's headline for tomorrow. I know y'all going to use it."

The night began with a spectacle, as James showed up to the United Center in Chicago wearing a Chicago Cubs jersey after losing a bet to Bulls guard Dwyane Wade from last month.

Walking the green mile in the bowels of the United Center would’ve been the headline if not for the Cavs’ inability to handle a charged-up Bulls team that went shot-for-shot with the Cavs—leading to LeBron’s postgame comments.

"You've got to play the game the right way," James continued. "You've got to battle every night like we ain't won nothing. Last year is last year, and after ring night, it's over with. Now it's a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night, and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over.” – by Vincent Goodwill

Nets: Motiejunas Brooklyn bound?
It looks like the Donatas Motiejunas situation will be reaching a resolution. The Nets signed the restricted free agent to a four-year offer sheet, according to multiple reports.

The Rockets have until 11:59 p.m. on Monday (72 hours) to match the Nets’offer. They could consider doing so given the structure of the offer. ESPN.com reported it is only fully guaranteed for $5 million and would increase to $17.5 million if he earns his 2017-18 season option by a March 1 deadline.

Motiejunas has been hampered by back problems, which included surgery for a ruptured disk in 2015. According to The Vertical, the offer sheet includes protections against such issues.

Last season Motiejunas appeared in 37 games, averaging 6.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 14.8 minutes. – by Jessica Camerato

Lakers: Who we thought they were?
Though the Lakers so far have exceeded all reasonable expectations, they hit a wall last week in taking a 113-80 loss to Toronto that left power forward Julius Randle criticizing himself and his teammates.

“We played too soft,” Randle said.

They also played horribly, as that game is, according to the statistical folks at Elias, only the second time since the 1970-71 season that the Lakers shot below 35 percent for the field, below 60 percent from the line and committed at least 15 turnovers. – by Monte Poole.

Kings: Cousins: 'I'm a King, I'm good'
The Kings’ six-game road trip was reduced to five after a bizarre condensation issue in Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon. The NBA would like to squeeze the makeup game into Sacramento’s seven-game road trip in late January, but Sacramento wants no part of an eight-game swing with three sets of back-to-backs.

DeMarcus Cousins was grilled about his future during Sacramento's stop in Washington and then again Friday in Boston, but he has yet to break. “I’m a King, I’m good,” Cousins told reporters in Boston.

“Most of the rumors come from people that want me on their team,” Cousins added. “So, I’m not really bothered by that.”

Sacramento continues to struggle early in games, falling behind big in the first quarter and then fighting the rest of the night to recover. More often than not, it hasn’t worked, which is why the Kings sit at 7-12 on the season. – by James Ham

Bulls: Bench searching for a spark
Speaking of a team in desperate need of something, anything, presenting the Chicago Bulls. Not only did they follow up an inspiring win over the Cavaliers with a 25-point loss to a three-win Dallas team, but there’s an SOS being sent out to their bench.

Perhaps Doug McDermott can be the one to bring this group off life support. McDermott has missed the last nine games with a concussion and only recently did he pass the next step of the concussion protocol to be cleared for contact practices, as he could be back to action later in the week.

With Nikola Mirotic shooting 28 percent from three and Isaiah Canaan at 30 percent, the Bulls have gotten off to a decent start without being a good 3-point shooting team — but it can’t last too long.

Presumably if McDermott doesn’t suffer a third concussion this season, that one quality he provides will be consistent enough to keep the Bulls’ stars from losing their minds with the inconsistency of their teammates. – by Vincent Goodwill

Suns: Team runs hot and cold ... Mostly cold, actually
When the Suns are hitting their perimeter shots, they’re tough to beat. Unfortunately for coach Earl Watson, the hot nights are few and far between and the Suns defense is ranked 28th in the league.

Brandon Knight is showing signs of life after a slow start. Still adjusting to his role off the bench, the 25-year-old point guard scored 14 points of his 23 points in a five minute first quarter burst in Wednesday night’s win over the Atlanta Hawks.

After a breakout start to the season, T.J. Warren continues to miss games with a head injury. – by James Ham

Thunder: You da real MVP, Russ
Russell Westbrook just landed the Western Conference Player of the Month honors for November and he already has his hand out waiting for the NBA MVP trophy.

OKC’s Mr. Everything has posted four straight triple-doubles, giving him 46 for his career. He’s averaging a triple-double on the season and has the Thunder riding a four-game win streak.

Westbrook and Co. welcomed back former head coach Scott Brooks Wednesday night and then sent him and his Wizards team home with a gut-wrenching overtime loss. – by James Ham

Pistons: Team avoids sinking in Jackson's absence 
Speaking of a return, the Pistons didn’t let their boat capsize without point guard Reggie Jackson being in action, and he’s slated to return Sunday, albeit on a minute restriction while he continues recovery from a knee injury that halted the start to his season.

The Pistons are now winners of three in a row after starting 8-10, and Jackson’s 19 points and six assists will be welcomed whenever he gets back to form, which could take a couple weeks.

“I woke up feeling pretty good so I was ready to get out here and compete with my teammates,” Jackson told reporters. “It was just getting confidence and continuing to sit down and make sure I felt comfortable where I was…the time is now.”

While Ish Smith has done a more than admirable job filling the spot, one wonders if Jackson’s return will spark Andre Drummond to become more productive offensively. Drummond’s scoring and minutes are down from last year, and if Jackson can settle things as opposed to Drummond trying to force his own action, it’ll make Detroit the dangerous outfit many expected them to be going into the season. – by Vincent Goodwill

Spurs: Leonard keeps getting better and better and...
The Spurs have strung together 11 wins in their last 12 games and are once against considered a Western Conference power.

Kawhi Leonard continues to develop into the game’s best two-way player. He’s adding new elements to his game all the time. His 21-footer in the final 10 seconds against the Wizards on Friday night was clutch and sealed the win.

San Antonio allocated Davis Bertans and Dejounte Murray to the Austin Spurs of the D-League for more seasoning on Saturday. Bertans has seen plenty of action for Gregg Popovich, including a start in his first 16 games with the club. His 45.5 percent shooting from long range has been a nice surprise.

Murray has a ton of potential, but he’s played just 46 total minutes for Pop. Taken with the 29th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the 20-year-old Murray needs all the playing time he can get with the Spurs minor league affiliate. - by James Ham

Dario Saric halts slump with 'best game as a 76er'

Dario Saric halts slump with 'best game as a 76er'

Dario Saric came into the NBA knowing his rookie season would be one of ups and downs. He would have successes based on his talent and struggle because of the newness of the league and matchups.

Saturday’s performance against the Celtics was one of those highlight nights. Saric scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, both tying career-highs, for his third double-double. He was efficient in his performance, playing 27 minutes off the bench in the Sixers' 107-106 loss.

“I thought that was his best game as a 76er,” Brett Brown said.

Saric had struggled the night before against the Magic. He barely made a dent in 16 minutes, posting just two points (1 for 5 from the field) without a single rebound. The poor showing was on his mind Saturday, as he got ready for the second game of the back-to-back. He went in early to get up extra shots, met with coaches, studied film and thought about the matchup throughout the day.

“I prepared a little bit more for this game,” Saric said. “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.”

Saric showed his aggressiveness in crunch time in the fourth quarter, when he scored seven points and five rebounds in eight minutes. He nailed a three to cut the Celtics' lead to 92-91 with 4:28 to play. Then with 1:09 remaining, Saric’s free throws cut the Celtics' lead to two points. On the other end of the court, he snagged the rebound off an Isaiah Thomas miss and scored a game-tying layup from Jahlil Okafor.  

“He played great,” Okafor said. “He’s working hard every day, getting used to the NBA process. It was good to see hard work paying off for him.”

Saric has been adjusting to new roles throughout the season. He was thrown into the starting power forward spot when Ben Simmons was injured, and then moved to the bench when the team acquired Ersan Ilyasova. On Saturday, Brown also played Saric at small forward in Robert Covington’s (knee) absence, a shift the Sixers may try again.

“He’s a good teammate,” Brown said. “He’s biding his time. He understands he’s a rookie. Incrementally, he’ll be given these opportunities. Tonight he did and he responded and you’re seeing continued growth.”

Saric still is early in his NBA career, and Saturday's showing was a game he can look back on and study for the rest of the season. 

“I feel like tonight … you’d walk away and say, ‘Shoot, that’s a hell of a player for playing 20 games in the NBA and he did what he just did against a hell of a team,’” Brown said. “I’m proud of what we saw all over the place from Dario.”