Vander Blue in tight battle to make Sixers


Vander Blue in tight battle to make Sixers

There aren’t too many secrets about the Sixers’ roster for when the team opens the season against the Miami Heat on Oct. 30. The starting lineup is basically set with Thad Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Michael Carter-Williams and James Anderson.

Off the bench, coach Brett Brown has been going with Royce White, Lavoy Allen, Tony Wroten and Darius Morris. With big man Daniel Orton recently picked up from Oklahoma City, the Sixers have some size to help in the post.

That leaves a handful of battles for the last couple of spots. And as the exhibition season has progressed, Vander Blue has given Brown exactly what he wanted to see.

“I think Vander is an in-your-face, full-court athlete who’s ready to get out, go and jump people,” Brown said. “I like Vander because there is no back-down and he has some dog in him and he has some athleticism.”

Brown says Blue has a “spark” to his game that could help as he vies to make the team along with players like Khalif Wyatt and Hollis Thompson. In three exhibition games, Blue is 6-for-13 shooting, with two highlight-reel dunks to go with three steals and two turnovers in 14.7 minutes per game.

Often, Blue, a 6-foot-4 guard who played three seasons for Marquette, finds himself picking up the ball handler full-court.

“Coach likes me on the ball and to pick it up full-court and use my speed and length to bother the smaller guards,” Blue said. “I have a lot of experience playing off the ball as well. I can guard a one through a three.”

Blue smiled when he was told that Brown said he had “some dog in him.” He’s always been that way, Blue said, but maybe he became tougher when he went undrafted last June. He hooked up with the Rockets’ and Grizzlies’ summer league teams before signing a partially guaranteed deal with the Sixers just before the start of training camp.

“The whole draft process just gives me more fuel to add to the fire so I can prove that I can make a team and help a team,” Blue said.

Since then, Blue has given the Sixers some energy in practice and in exhibition games, something that has made him stand out with the coaches and the Sixers’ veteran players.

“Vander has had a great couple of practices,” Young said. “He’s done a really good job as far as coming out and paying attention and doing the things he needs to do and make plays to help his team. Vander has really showed a lot of poise in practice.”

As for earning one of the last spots on the team, Blue says he hasn’t thought about it too much. The idea, he explains, is to focus on the immediate future.

“I just wake up every day and think about coming to work, not thinking about the next day,” Blue said. “I’m just coming in every day and trying to get better and play as hard as possible.”

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”