Sixers camp questions: How many wins this year?

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Sixers camp questions: How many wins this year?

With the Sixers' training camp set to open at the end of the week, there are questions that come to mind -- many questions. Over the next couple days, we will ponder those burning questions entering the Brett Brown era.

How will the Sixers fare in their division, the Eastern Conference and overall?

The Sixers are a good bet to be a lottery team given Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 overall pick in June’s draft, is sidelined for the first couple months of the season. They also have a rookie starting at point guard in Michael Carter-Williams, no experienced shooting guard and a starting center in Spencer Hawes whom would definitely be a backup on a winning team.

Brooklyn -- with its high-priced, All-Star-laden roster -- is the favorite to win the Atlantic division. The Nets have great talent with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. However, age could factor in along with having a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd.

New York will say it has a legitimate shot in the Atlantic after winning the division last season. Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring last year with 28.8 points per game to help the Knicks win 47 games. The Knicks showed great improvement defensively, holding opponents to the seventh-fewest points per game (95.7).

The Sixers, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are all in similar situations with rosters that are looking to the future. The Raptors and Celtics have more guys with experience than the Sixers, but they are merely players that have received quality minutes and not big-time talents.

With that said, the Sixers will likely occupy the cellar of the Atlantic Division.

In the East, Miami is clearly the class of the conference. However, Indiana and Chicago -- with a healthy Derrick Rose -- will be equally difficult to beat. Those three opponents account for 10 of the Sixers’ 82 games this season.

Teams that should have similar struggles to the Sixers are Charlotte and Orlando. Cleveland, Washington and Detroit all got better on paper. Meanwhile, Atlanta and Milwaukee have changed some personnel, but were both playoff teams last season.

The Western Conference has been the stronger conference for a number of years now. The four teams I can’t see the Sixers beating at all are Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers. It would take an extraordinary effort on a given night for Brett Brown’s team to beat any of those squads when healthy.

Phoenix and Sacramento are rebuilding franchises and are the two best bets for the Sixers to at least split those matchups.

The west’s other teams have more or comparable talent to the Sixers, who will struggle to compete on the road against those squads but could stay in the fight at home.

Overall, I see 20 wins for Brown’s team in his first year as Sixers head coach.

NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2

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NBA Playoffs: Raptors hold off Cavs to even East Finals 2-2

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- A series that once looked lopsided is now even.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points, including a driving layup in the final minute, and DeMar DeRozan had 32 as the Toronto Raptors evened the Eastern Conference Finals by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-99 in Game 4 on Monday night.

DeMarre Carroll scored 11 points and Bismack Biyombo had 14 rebounds as Toronto improved to 8-2 at home this postseason and got back on level terms after big losses in Games 1 and 2.

"We've been counted out, and we like that challenge," DeRozan said.

The next challenge for Toronto? Game 5 on Wednesday night in Cleveland, where the Raptors are 0-3 this season, losing by a combined 72 points.

"We have to continue to make sure that when they punch, we punch back," Lowry said. "And if they punch three times, we punch four times."

The Raptors are 2-6 on the road in the playoffs.

After a 10-0 start to these playoffs, the Cavaliers are counting on home court advantage to help them reach their second straight Finals.

"Going back home we have to play a lot better and I think we will," LeBron James said.

Cleveland lost consecutive playoff games to an Eastern Conference opponent for the first time since dropping the final three games of the conference semifinals to Boston in 2010.

"We had a few defensive breakdowns that you can't have down the stretch of a game, especially in the playoffs," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "They executed every time we made a mistake."

James scored 29 points and Kyrie Irving had 26 for the Cavaliers, who trailed by as many as 18 points. Channing Frye scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Lowry scored nine in the fourth and DeRozan had 12, connecting on five of six shots.

"It's a cakewalk for me when (Lowry) gets going," DeRozan said. "It opens up everything."

The Raptors led 78-69 to begin the fourth but Frye made consecutive 3-pointers as Cleveland opened the final quarter with an 8-0 run, cutting it to 78-77. The Cavaliers made their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't enough because we got off to a horrible first half once again in this building and you're playing catch up the whole game," James said.

Frye's errant 3-point attempt at 4:12 was Cleveland's first miss of the fourth. DeRozan made two free throws at the other end and, after another miss by Frye, Carroll made one of two to put Toronto up 99-96 with 3:23 to go.

A long 3 by Irving made it 101-99 with 2:00 left, but DeRozan answered with a driving bank shot at 1:33. Toronto got the ball back after Biyombo blocked J.R. Smith's 3, and Biyombo kept the offensive possession alive by rebounding Lowry's missed shot. After a timeout, Lowry let the shot clock wind down before driving for the decisive layup, making it 105-99 with 22 seconds to go.

Toronto jumped out to a 13-5 lead as Cleveland missed eight of its first 10 shots. Following a timeout, the Cavs made five of their next six to cut the deficit but the Raptors led 27-24 after one quarter.

Lowry scored 15 points in the second, making three of Toronto's four 3-pointers, as the Raptors opened a 57-41 halftime lead despite not shooting a single free throw in the first two quarters. It marked the first time a team led by 15 or more at halftime in a conference finals game without shooting a free throw since Game 2 of the 2001 East Finals between Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The Bucks made two of six from the line, the fewest ever made in an NBA playoff game at the time.

DeRozan shot Toronto's first free throws at 6:13 of the third after being tackled by Smith on a drive. The foul drought came after Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fined $25,000 for criticizing the officials following Toronto's Game 3 win.

Fans cheered derisively when Matthew Dellavedova was called for Cleveland's first foul of the game at 8:56 of the second.

Not much to Love
After shooting 3 for 19 in Game 3, Kevin Love shot 4 for 14 in Game 4. He finished with 10 points. Love did not play in the fourth after appearing to injure his left ankle when he stepped on referee David Guthrie late in the third. "It didn't feel too great," Love said. Lue said Love's health was "no concern."

Fair and foul
Cleveland didn't shoot any free throws in the third quarter and had just two in the fourth. Twelve of Toronto's 19 free throws came in the fourth.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: James and Irving each had six assists. ... Cleveland shot 3 for 23 from 3-point range in the first half. The finished 13 for 41. . Cleveland's Dahntay Jones served a one-game suspension for hitting Biyombo in the groin in Game 3.

Raptors: Raptors C Jonas Valanciunas was active but did not play. He's been out since spraining his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 against Miami on May 7. ... Toronto is 10-1 in the playoffs when holding opponents below 100 points.

NBA Notes: Draymond Green fined, not suspended for kick to groin of Steven Adams

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NBA Notes: Draymond Green fined, not suspended for kick to groin of Steven Adams

NEW YORK -- Draymond Green has been fined $25,000 but not suspended by the NBA for kicking Oklahoma City's Steven Adams in the groin.

The league also upgraded the foul to a flagrant 2, which would have resulted in an automatic ejection had officials given it that ruling when it happened.

But Green will be on the floor when the Warriors try to even the Western Conference finals at 2-2 on Tuesday at Oklahoma City.

Green was called for a fragrant foul 1 after he was fouled by Adams with 5:57 remaining in the second quarter and kicked his leg up into Adams' groin. Though the Thunder felt it was intentional, Green and Warriors coach Steve Kerr said they believed the flagrant would actually be rescinded by the league (see full story).

Magic: Frank Vogel formally introduced as new coach
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It hasn't been the offseason new Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel was expecting.

Just days after his Indiana Pacers were ousted from the first-round of the NBA playoffs by Toronto, Vogel was informed his contract wasn't being renewed after five-plus seasons.

But then came the brief unemployment whirlwind.

Vogel's phone was constantly ringing, leading to talks and interviews with other NBA teams. It finally ended Thursday when he was hired by the Magic, who were unexpectedly in the market for a head coach (see full story).

Raptors: Valanciunas active for Game 4 of Conference Finals
TORONTO -- Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is active for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland on Monday night, but will not start against the Cavaliers.

Valanciunas has not played since spraining his right ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 against Miami on May 7.

Valanciunas is averaging 15 points and 12.1 rebounds in 10 games this postseason.

Starting in place of Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo had a Raptors playoff-record 26 rebounds as Toronto won 99-84 in Game 3 on Saturday, snapping Cleveland's 10-game winning streak to start the playoffs.

The Cavs lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.

©2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

How might Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram fit with Sixers?

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How might Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram fit with Sixers?

Now what? After the Sixers secured the first pick in the upcoming draft, Joshua Harris rightly (and hilariously) noted that the team is “going to get a player.” Hard to argue. But which one, and how might he fit?

The lottery wasn’t even cold yet when the first report materialized that the Sixers are “leaning heavily” toward taking Ben Simmons. Brett Brown kinda/sorta denied that and said the Sixers are still gathering information. None of that is surprising. You’re going to hear and read all sorts of reports over the next month about what the Sixers might do. For their part, Bryan Colangelo said the Sixers won’t publicly reveal who they’ll select until the commissioner actually speaks someone’s name into the microphone to start the draft.

In the absence of any real feel for which player they might take, we’re left with what figures to be a month-long debate about Simmons or Brandon Ingram. They’re two decidedly different players with different skill sets. If Sam Hinkie still ran the team, you could imagine him taking the guy he liked best regardless of fit. He did that last year when Jahlil Okafor fell to the Sixers at three despite the fact that he seemed ill-suited to mesh with Nerlens Noel (and, eventually, Joel Embiid) on the court. But Hinkie is not in charge. It will be fascinating to see whether Colangelo deviates from that approach and makes his decision, at least in part, with team building and roster construction in mind. To that end, let’s look at both guys and how they might fit with the Sixers.

Ben Simmons
DraftExpress.com currently has Simmons second on its Top 100 prospects, while one hoops analyst just gushed about him being the best player in the draft with the highest ceiling.

Simmons, who will turn 20 in July, already has an NBA-ready build: 6-10, 240 pounds. The Australian had tremendous counting stats in his only season at LSU, averaging 19.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals. He’s the first college player to average better than 19 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists since Ron Harper did it back in the mid-‘80s.

The general consensus on Simmons is that he’s a good rebounder and an excellent passer and ball-handler. He also gets top marks defensively, and with time he should be able to guard multiple positions in the NBA. The big questions with him are about shooting. According to Draft Express, he made 55 percent of his attempts in the paint when in half-court sets. That’s OK. His free-throw shooting (67 percent) is not-as-OK. And his three-point shooting is super-not-OK in that it has been alternately non-existent and awful. In 74 games from the 2012 FIBA U-17 Championships through LSU, he took 50 threes and made 12 (24 percent), according to Draft Express.

“A ball handling four who actually would be in a position to initiate the offense,” Colangelo recently told the media. “Very versatile. Plays multiple positions. He could actually play some three, play some four and even some small five in some situations the way the league is playing right now. But, again, the notion that he’s a ball-handling four puts him in a unique position with our team, to be a distributor.”

That last part is particularly attractive for the Sixers. With apologies to Ish Smith and the ever-rotating cast of castoffs poor Brett Brown has been forced to roll out (shouts to Alexy Shved and Tony Wroten), the team has been awfully light on quality distributors over the last few years. Simmons' ability to create and share the ball would be a big plus.

If the Sixers go with Simmons, it probably means shaking up the roster. That was going to happen eventually anyway — no roster is ever static, least of all a team coming off a woeful 10-win season — but it’s hard to imagine the Sixers' taking Simmons and then deploying him with the current crew. Spacing would be awfully tricky with Simmons and some combination of Noel/Okafor/Embiid on the floor. If Dario Saric comes over, he’d likely be the best shooter among that group, but the Sixers would still be really light on the perimeter and too clogged in the paint.

It’s just not a good fit with the team as currently constructed. In the Simmons scenario, one of the bigs would probably have to go — maybe Okafor to Boston or some such.

Brandon Ingram
No. 1 on the Draft Express Top 100, Ingram won’t turn 19 until September. He’s different than Simmons in both build and game. Ingram, who is 6-9, 196 pounds, has a massive 7-3 wingspan. The kid is long. He is also lean. Definitely needs to put on weight and muscle. But the same thing was said about Noel when he came out of college, and while he could still add some pounds, he’s gradually filled out over the last couple of seasons.

Ingram’s appeal is rooted in his skill set and how nicely it would dovetail with what the Sixers currently need. He averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steal in 34.6 minutes with Duke as a freshman. The important part: He shot 41 percent from three on 5.4 attempts per game. He hit 42 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts, according to Draft Express. But his offensive game isn’t just about distance jumpers. He has an array of moves that confounded defenders in college. As he grows into his body, he should be a terror to guard – too long for smaller threes, too quick for bigger defenders.

“As you look at a Brandon Ingram, (he’s) more of a shooter, a silky smooth small forward type,” Colangelo said. “Probably can play multiple positions as well. I think you’ve got to look at his versatility. But the one thing that stands out is his ability to shoot the basketball, above all else.”

That is precisely what the Sixers require. Again, the Sixers' roster is going to evolve. But taking Ingram would probably require less radical or immediate change. You could plug him in at small forward and play him with any combination of Noel/Okafor/Embiid. He would help space the floor, and he’d be a threat to hit shots from the outside or probe the defense and get into the paint (though he needs to polish his offensive game off the dribble).

From a team-building standpoint, Ingram is probably the better fit right now — though some smart people think fit shouldn’t be a concern yet. The Sixers haven’t been about right now for a while. They’re about tomorrow and the next day and all the days after that, and even with Colangelo in charge, that’s unlikely to change for a while. It will be really interesting to see which guy he selects and then how he tinkers with the roster as a result. Lots of potential ripple effects.