Sixers sticking with plan after rough preseason

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Sixers sticking with plan after rough preseason

BOX SCORE

No matter what you think you saw during the Sixers’ 125-102 exhibition season loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), it hasn’t dissuaded coach Brett Brown.

The Sixers are sticking with the plan.

Obviously, the plan has very little to do with winning games and making the playoffs this season. Though no one will admit it, the Sixers are in full tank mode, which they like to call, “rebuilding.” And as Brown pointed out when he accepted the job to coach the team, rebuilds can often be painful.

Wednesday’s loss to the Timberwolves featured plenty of pain.

“It is what I expected. It’s always more real when it’s in real time,” Brown said. “You always see it clearer, the enormity of the challenge -- it’s ever present, it’s real, it’s present and you’re a part of it now. When I accepted the job in August I was living it and breathing it with them and I love it. We go to practice, we work, the guys are into it, they give 100 percent effort. There are things we all have to do better and that’s the bottom line.

“I like this group and I like coaching this group -- their hearts are in the right place. There is a skill level we have to develop and we will. We will not go astray from the plan.

“The plan is to keep this group together in relation to keeping the locker room together in relation to keep the development side going.”

Things will become even more real next Wednesday when the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat come to town. Pain just might be the operative word. Miami is favored to threepeat this season, while the Sixers are picked to finish last … in the entire NBA.

So with a week to go before the games count for real, Brown sees plenty of work ahead of him and the team. With a team that lacks rebounding and an inside presence, the Sixers spent a lot of their practice time concentrating on protecting the paint, which they did well against Minnesota. But in concentrating in shutting down the paint, the Sixers’ defense left everything else open and the T’wolves took advantage of it.

Minnesota shot 15 for 29 from three-point range. Big man Kevin Love, a veritable double-double machine, took just two shots from inside the paint and went 4 for 6 from beyond the arc.

When Love is looking for the three-pointer instead of a basket at the rim, it tells a coach something.

“You look at it and we took a step back defensively, there’s no doubt about that,” Brown said. “We put a large emphasis on playing defense and trying to guard the paint and they made us pay from the three-point line. Give them credit -- they shot it. It will be interesting when you go back and look at how they got those three-point shots. I didn’t feel as the game was unfolding that it was because we were doing such a great job moving around and defending the paint. I feel like we got a little bit lazy, a little sloppy and it didn’t feel like that desperation was there.”

One has to wonder if teams will shoot the three-pointer as well as the T’wolves did on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, one also has to wonder if the Sixers will be able to score in a half-court set. Though the Sixers got off to a quick lead, they promptly fell behind by double digits when their shots wouldn’t fall.

The Sixers were 3 for 22 during the first half on shots outside of the paint. Of those shots, the Sixers went 3 for 10 on three-pointers during the opening half and 4 for 19 during the second half.

The Sixers made just three shots from two-point range outside of the paint.

Still, Brown and the Sixers figure they will get their points. All five starters scored in double figures with two-guard James Anderson leading the way with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting.

Defense remains the concern.

“They hit a lot of shots tonight and we’re trying to protect the paint,” said Evan Turner, who scored 11 points on 2-for-15 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and five assists. “We have to do a better job of communicating.”

It will be a long week of practice waiting for the Heat to come to town for the opener. There is a lot of work to do.

“There are a lot of teams that have the people that can shoot the basketball,” said Thad Young, who also had 11 points. “But we have to concentrate on defensive structures and run guys off the line. Right now, because we have such a young team, we just have to stick with the principles that have been taught.”

In other words, they’re sticking with the plan.

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.