Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

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The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."

Give and Go: Our predictions for the Sixers this season

Give and Go: Our predictions for the Sixers this season

With training camp starting next week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we discuss our predictions for the Sixers going into the 2017-18 season.

Camerato
My prediction for the 2017-18 season has to do with an issue nagging the Sixers for years now. I expect the team to figure out the frontcourt logjam and establish more clearly-defined rotations.

The utilization of the bigs has not been consistent. Joel Embiid started when healthy. Jahlil Okafor started when Embiid was unavailable and was benched other times. Richaun Holmes’ season was a mix of starts, DNPs and G League appearances. And (there’s more), Nerlens Noel was on the roster up until the trade deadline. 

How much longer will this overcrowding at the five spot last? The situation is a bit tricky because of Embiid’s health. He has not been cleared for 5-on-5 and it remains to be seen how many games and minutes he will play. Okafor, in that case, has been the go-to fill-in starter. The Sixers remain open to trading Okafor. The current situation isn’t, and hasn’t been, beneficial for either team or player. 

Holmes’ improvements should not be ignored this season just because he had accepted that backup-to-the-backup role. He made a strong case to become the backup center last season and the Sixers should give him the opportunity. 

The Sixers also will have to address the shooting guard position, where they are stacked since the addition of J.J. Redick, who will see major minutes. Markelle Fultz, a point guard, also will play at the two spot. So what will that mean for Nik Stauskas or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot? (Furkan Korkmaz is expected to spend time in the G League.) 

In enhancing their team this offseason, the Sixers now have to become a more balanced roster. My prediction is they will make moves to accomplish that.

Haughton
By now you’ve heard just about every prediction for the Sixers. So what’s one more?

The talk this summer has been about the Sixers finally getting through “the process” and reaching the postseason. Both current and former Sixers have guaranteed a playoff berth.

While I tend to agree, I also know it won’t be as easy as they are making it seem.

The Sixers are loaded with talent and potential. Neither of those qualities actually guarantee wins. Just ask the 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Sixers will have to incorporate several new key players and adopt an entirely different mindset of expecting to win instead of hoping to come out on top each night.

Then there’s the competition. The Eastern Conference remains top heavy with the best four squads likely still holding firm (Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Washington).

After that, things get a little more wide open. Three of the bottom four seeds from last season’s playoff participants in the East lost their best players either to free agency or via trade (Atlanta: Paul Millsap, Indiana: Paul George and Chicago: Jimmy Butler).

That should definitely clear up some room for the Sixers to make a push for one of those back-end playoff spots, but don’t expect them to jump from the basement to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hudrick
My prediction for the Sixers, much like everyone else's, is that they'll make the playoffs.

There is a caveat, however. If they don't make the playoffs, it's not the end of the world.

The Cavaliers and Celtics are the class of the East. And really it's not very close. After them, the second tier is the Raptors and Wizards. After that it gets a little murky. Given the landscape of the Eastern Conference it's certainly realistic to say the Sixers could make the playoffs.

But the Sixers shouldn't be worried about that. It would be outstanding for this young team's confidence (and how could you not feel great for Brett Brown after what he's dealt with the last four years) to make the playoffs, but their goals should be improvement and health. This team has some serious work to do to jell together and Brown has serious questions to answer about his rotation. It won't all be sorted out over night.

Having the NBA playoffs back in Philly is going to be a blast, but let's focus on this team's development above all else. 

Sixers reportedly ink Kris Humphries to non-guaranteed deal; sign Jacob Pullen

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Sixers reportedly ink Kris Humphries to non-guaranteed deal; sign Jacob Pullen

The Sixers are busy just days before the start of training camp. 

The team plans to sign veteran forward Kris Humphries to a non-guaranteed deal, according to The Vertical

Humphries fits with the Sixers’ plan for a versatile system. At 6-foot-9, he can knock down a long-range shot. Last season on the Hawks, he averaged 42.9 percent from 16 feet from the rim to the three-point line and 35.2 percent from three, according to Basketball-Reference.com. 

Humphries also averaged 3.7 boards in 12.3 minutes. The 32-year-old is entering his 14th NBA season and will add to the Sixers’ growing group of veteran players. 

The Sixers also signed 6-foot-1 guard Jacob Pullen, who was a member of BC Khimki in the VTB United League (Russia) last season. Pullen, 27, also has played in Italy, Israel, Spain, and Croatia. He was a standout at Kansas State (2007-11) and reached the NCAA Tournament in three of his four seasons. 

Pullen has been getting acclimated to the city. Earlier this month, he tweeted:

The Sixers will hold their media day Monday and open training camp Tuesday.