Sixers Chat: Wrapping the Bulls Series and Previewing the Celtics

Sixers Chat: Wrapping the Bulls Series and Previewing the Celtics

It's been a crazy couple of weeks for the Philadelphia 76ers, as they
pulled off the weirdest upset in NBA history against the East-best
(though roster-depleted) Chicago Bulls and now face an aging-but-loaded
Celtics team with the chance to make the Conference Finals (!!) for the
first time since 2001. As always, we called in Michael Levin of the
excellent Sixers blog Liberty Ballers to help us put the Bulls series to
bed, see what we have coming with the Celtics, and generally figure out
what the hell is going on.

Andrew: All right, so first and foremost: You stopped laughing about that Game Six ending yet?

Michael Levin, Liberty Ballers: Yeah at some point I had to go to sleep, so eventually, yeah. It was close though.

Our editor at the Level wrote an article about the two FTs being 'Dre's signature moment as a Sixer. You agree?

Yeah
I'd guess that's how he'll make his stamp. When I think signature
moment I think of like something he does often? So maybe a huge dunk to
win it or a big stop. But in terms of meaningful, yeah this was the
biggest moment.

Which would you have said to be more likely before Thursday: The
Sixers winning a playoff series on 'Dre's clutch FT shooting, or the
2008 Phillies winning the world series on Pat Burrell stealing home?

Hahahha Dre's foul shots. I've seen Pat run far too many times to
know he's not stealing home or anything else anymore. Not since he was
like 22. Dre used to be a decent foul shooter. He just tailspinned the
past two years.

But can you think of a more...maybe not ironic, but like,
poetically unexpected way for the Sixers to have won this series? How
many times have we seen 'Dre come up on short in this near-exact
situation?

It was perfect poetic justice. Maybe Turner nailing a three. Or Lou
making a huge defensive stop. But Dre at the line was the ultimate
vindicator for him and for the team. I hate to say "you can't script
this" and that crap, but it was the absolute perfect way to end that
game.

Did it even cross your mind that he might make both, or were you thinking "Just hit one, send it to OT"?

I
don't know that I thought will he make one or two or none, I knew I was
confident. Earlier that game I said he'd been money from the foul line
this series. Which, money for him was like 80%. So I felt better about
his foul shooting at least temporarily, but I've seen him miss so many
late game free throws that it probably crossed my mind that he'll brick
both. But I'm not sure -- in hindsight it feels like I was confident.

It seems like the Sixers, who have struggled all year to close
out close games even against subpar teams, finally figured out how to do
it in this series. Is that legitimate development, a fluke against an
undermanned team, or just odds saying you have to win a couple close
games eventually?

I'd say the last two. Without Rose and Noah, the Bulls don't have
many options to go to. CJ Watson shouldn't have been in the game at the
end, but he had to because he's the only alternative. He shouldn't make
that pass to Omer Asik, who ALSO shouldn't have been in the game. But
when you're that undermanned, you gotta play somebody.

And yeah I've been saying "they're due" all season long. You can
only lose by 4 so many times before something goes their way. And the
Basketball Gods picked a good time to finally give them a few bounces.

How much of an upset, if at all, would you call this win? Were the Bulls still a better team, even without their top two guys?

I'd call it even. The Sixers are as good as the Bulls minus their two best players. Not exactly a confidence booster.

So sad, yeah.

If the Bulls had a few games without
Rose and Noah going into the series, i think it would have been
different. But happening so close together when you have this gameplan
and then it falling apart, I don't think they had time to recover.

What was your primary feeling after the end of Game Six,
excitement and elation over the Sixers' win, or relief that both the
Sixers weren't going to blow the series and you wouldn't have to watch a
Game Seven?

Hahahaha ummm....excitement for Dre. That was the #1 thing. And
yeah, I was really thrilled that we don't have to watch another game
between those two teams. Even if the Celtics series won't be much
better. Or possibly (gasp), worse.

And I wasn't so worried that the Sixers would blow the series,
because I'm not exactly invested in their success this postseason, but
it's fun to watch them win, even with the knowledge that no, all of this
doesn't matter because they're not good enough.

Was there one unreserved positive that we could take from the
series win, besides just "Hey, we won a series for the first time in a
decade"?

Initially, it was the success of [Evan] Turner and
Jrue [Holiday]. But that kind of tailed off towards the end, so....I'm
not sure. I guess the positive would be - they won a series, and now
people in Philadelphia might watch them play. That could be nice. I
think it would take another series win for people to actually care. But
we'll see if it's at least temporarily meaningful for the state of
professional basketball in the city.

What grades would you give Evan and Jrue's performances in this series?

Both
of them were pretty terrific defensively, especially Jrue. And they did
take the ball to the basket a lot, which I liked. So I'd give Jrue a B+
and Evan a B. But I might be going a little easy on them because I'm in
love with both of them. So take that into consideration too.

What grade would you give Coach Collins?

C-. Got the wins, but I disagreed with so many of his calls that it makes me hyperventilate.

Were you disappointed that in the end, he trusted Lou and 'Dre over Jrue and Evan again?

Yeah especially because of how the series started. It was very
promising and then...Boss. Dre in Game 5 was more on him than it was
Doug, in my opinion, but I'm bitter about him benching Evan in favor of
Lou towards the end.

Are you worried about the win sidetracking the Sixers'
development? That maybe it'll be an excuse to get the band back together
yet again in the off-season?

My opinion is that if the
owners watched this series and think this team deserves to be kept
together, then we have a bigger problem than just one year of not
rebuilding. They'd have to be batshit crazy to think this team that
barely beat the Bulls minus their two best players is worth keeping
together.

But do you think that now, Andre Iguodala, Playoff Hero is untradeable in the off-season?

No I think he's still gone. What they get for him I'm not sure. I'm hoping a pick, a contract, and a prospect.

What about Spencer Hawes? Did he make himself money in this series, and will it be the Sixers giving it to him?

I
can't imagine the Sixers bringing him back. I'm operating under the
assumption that Doug is the coach next season, and I'm pretty sure he
will be. That's why I don't think Andre or Spence will be back.

Lou [Williams]...... I'm worried. Really worried. My hope is that he
wants to start somewhere and he'll go where the money is. But if he
likes being here and doesn't mind coming off the bench, then we're in
trouble.

Who do you think the Celtics were hoping came out of this series?

Sixers. The Bulls would still give them trouble inside.

Even with the young legs and the 2/3 wins and everything?

Yeah
I'm sure they don't really care about the 2 out of 3 wins in the
regular season. One game was when Pietrus went down. And both games had
the Celtics at the end of long stretches. They know they're the better
team.

But do you think the youth will be any kind of advantage for the
Sixers? Can they win a game or two running the C's out of the gym?

Yeah
I think they've certainly got a chance to, providing one of the bigger
Celtics gets hurt. Youth is mostly on their side, and if they commit to
pushing it in transition and a few shots go in, we could be talking
about a series.

How do you think the Sixers deal with [Celtics Point Guard Rajon] Rondo? How would you have them do it?

I'd
put Turner on him. Have a bigger guy handle him, disrupt passing lanes
and such. Get Jrue on [Avery] Bradley and make him as annoyed as he'll
make Jrue on the other end.

Is [Celtics Forward Kevin] Garnett the toughest matchup for the Sixers in this series? How do they handle KG?

I
think Brand/Thad/Spencer/Lavoy will all take turns on him. He'll get
his but I don't think he'll be the problem. I'm more worried about the
Sixers not being able to score than the Celtics scoring a lot.

Who's the key for the Sixers offensively, then? Is there one?

It's
everybody. They need help from everyone. I think Sugar Bear [Elton
Brand] will have a big series because he's crazy like that. If Thad can
break out that would be huge. Dre making Pierce work on the other end
would certainly be nice. And obviously Evan and Jrue. Get to the basket,
get people in foul trouble. Find Elton for open jumpers. Gotta hit
shots, gotta keep moving. Can't dribble yourself into trouble.

If there's one thing you want to see from the team in this series short of them actually winning it, what would it be?

Evan
and Jrue. Efficient and being used frequently. Attacking the basket,
playing good defense, and getting the call when it matters most.
Everything else is gravy.

How confident are you feeling that they'll be the ones Collins leans on?

Not very!

All
right, give me a prediction of winner and games, and then give me the
odds you think the Sixers have of pulling out the upset.

Hahah this is going to contradict everything I've said but
Sixers in 6. And I have no clue what the odds are. That's my pick, for
better or worse.
 
Where is that pick stemming from?

Cuz
Fuck Me, that's why. Everything the Sixers do is to spite me
personally. So they'll win, resign Lou and Spencer to max contracts, and
I'll be here shaking my head. Oh and then they'll get plastered by
Miami. Before resigning those guys, obviously.

Maybe LeBron and Wade get hurt and the Sixers make the finals
just by virtue of still having seven or eight competent basketball
players to dress.

That's going to be how it has to happen. Then they'll win it all and we'll be like What the Fuck just happened.

---

8:00 tip on Game One form the TD Banknorth Garden tonight. Go Sixers.

Illness can't keep Joel Embiid away from first Sixers practice

Illness can't keep Joel Embiid away from first Sixers practice

STOCKTON, N.J. — Joel Embiid awoke Tuesday morning and was still feeling ill from a cold and virus he has been battling since last Friday. He had been coughing, experiencing a bloody nose and even vomiting, but all those symptoms could not stop him from a day he has been eyeing for over two years: his first NBA practice.

Embiid had stayed back in Philadelphia on Monday night while the Sixers traveled to training camp at Stockton University in South Jersey. On Tuesday, he decided to leave the city and join the team on campus.

“I woke up this morning and I was like, ‘I waited too long for this time, so I’ve got to go and try to do some work in there,’” Embiid said.

Embiid had been sidelined by foot injuries since the Sixers drafted him third overall in 2014. Tuesday marked his first NBA practice, and he is eyeing his first preseason game next Tuesday against the Celtics.

Embiid was not expected to be part of training camp Tuesday because of his illness. He surprised the team when he arrived while practice was underway. The Sixers' medical staff cleared him before he took the court.

“He forced himself into practice today,” head coach Brett Brown said. “He said, ‘I feel good, I want to go.’ With the time that he has put in the last few years, he meant it. You respected that instruction.”

Embiid is following a minutes restriction during training camp, which currently is 25 minutes for the morning session and 20 minutes for the evening session. His previous physical restrictions have been lifted and the team is monitoring him for workload and time on the court.

“I step back and figure out how do I want to spend my money?” Brown said. “If we’ve got X amount of time, where do I feel like he can make the most improvement? Where do I feel like he’s going to have the best chance to get on the court and play minutes, as we expect against the Celtics?”

Tuesday morning’s session focused on the defensive end. While Embiid had trouble breathing at points and tired quickly, he made an effort to give 100 percent on the court. The only lags in Embiid’s game Brown noticed were attributed to his illness, not because of his foot.

“I don’t think he’s missed a beat from a great month of September,” Brown said.

The Sixers sensed the enthusiasm from Embiid. Regardless of his restrictions, his energy was felt among the team.

“When he did get in, he played well,” Ben Simmons said. “He’s a big inside presence. He got a lot of boards and crashed the offensive glass.”

Added Jahlil Okafor: "He’s excited to be here. Obviously, he’s had a couple tough years with his injuries that he couldn’t control. But he’s finally here and he’s taking advantage of that."

The Sixers will hold training camp through Friday at Stockton University. Embiid is looking to push past any symptoms to be on the court as much as he can.

Nerlens Noel's complaints only damage Sixers' trade leverage

Nerlens Noel's complaints only damage Sixers' trade leverage

Silence is golden.

It's a phrase uttered often by parents and teachers. It can also be an effective phrase when dealing with negotiations.

I'm not revealing a big secret by saying the Sixers have a logjam in their frontcourt. At some point, something has to give.

Nerlens Noel, a key component of the aforementioned logjam, doubled down on his quotes from over the weekend about the Sixers' "silly" frontcourt situation.

"I don't see a way it can work," Noel said on Monday. "It's just a logjam. You have three young, talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night."

Uh-oh.

Bryan Colangelo acknowledged that teams have been trying to "poach" a big man off him. He's been adamant in saying that he's not shopping any of his bigs. For leverage purposes, that's wise.

Any leverage Colangelo may have accrued through his media tour this summer took a hit. With the health of Joel Embiid still a question mark, it's important that the Sixers take a wait-and-see approach to their situation. Noel may have just put a damper on that plan.

I'm not advocating for the trade of Noel and keeping Jahlil Okafor. In fact, I've said that if Embiid proves he's healthy, I'd move both Noel and Okafor if the value was appropriate.

There can be arguments made for keeping Noel over the other two centers. His athleticism and rim protection skills fit Brett Brown's system and the way the NBA is trending. And it's important to note that Noel isn't wrong. It won't benefit him to take a cut in minutes. It won't help Okafor either. It's not the most pleasant situation to be sure. He has every right to be unhappy, but getting the media involved doesn't benefit Noel or the Sixers.

Anyone in any job should have the right to speak out if they feel they're being slighted, but sometimes you have to "play the game." If Noel were a poker player, he just revealed his hand. He should've shown up, said the right things and allowed Colangelo to negotiate a deal.

The best parallel is what the Eagles and Sam Bradford went through this offseason. Bradford was unhappy the Eagles traded valuable draft picks to acquire Carson Wentz. Understandable, but when he threw his rattle down and sat out part of camp, it helped nobody. The Broncos tried to lowball Howie Roseman, figuring Roseman had no leverage with Bradford's intent to get traded out of town. Roseman stood his ground and the Eagles were able to hold the Vikings hostage when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury.

It's not something you hope for by any means, but these things happen. Players get hurt and teams are left scrambling to find a replacement. Take a look at the Chris Bosh situation with the Miami Heat. Bosh, who's had a tremendous career, will likely never play again because of issues with blood clots. The Heat are likely not a match for the Sixers given defensive-minded center Hassan Whiteside's new contract, but the point is that you never know what will happen between now and opening night.

For Bradford, it was resolved just a week before the season started. If Noel follows suit with Bradford, perhaps there will be a similar solution.

"Things need to get situated," Noel said. "I think things obviously need to be moved around, someone needs to be moved around. It's just a tough situation. I can't really say too much because I have no say in the matter, so obviously that's for who can handle the situation in the right manner."

Well, Nerlens, you said too much already.