Recent success has Joel Embiid thinking playoffs after Sixers' win over Nets

Recent success has Joel Embiid thinking playoffs after Sixers' win over Nets

NEW YORK -- The Sixers have won three of their last four games, and their recent success has Joel Embiid eyeing the playoff standings in early January.

“I think we’re seven or eight games from the eighth place, so I think that’s a goal. I think we have a chance,” Embiid said. “We’ve been hot lately. … We’re really figuring things out, we’re starting to learn how to win games.”

The Sixers moved up to 10-25 with a 105-95 win over the Nets (8-28) on Sunday (see Instant Replay). The Wizards currently are in eighth in the conference at 18-18. The Sixers are second-to-last in the East (ahead of only the Nets), half a game behind the Heat, with five teams between them and the Wizards.

Embiid views this mathematical scenario with a glass-half-full perspective.

“It’s an amazing thing to really have this mindset of potential playoffs in just a matter of a year,” Nerlens Noel said of Embiid's thoughts. “Guys are really looking forward to it. Presuming everything stays on the right road with health and the direction we’re going now, we’re playing good basketball, that’s definitely a possibility.”

This season is not about making the playoffs. The most pressing objectives are developing young talent and sorting out roster balance. The Sixers’ veterans want their teammates to focus on the other ways they can be successful.

“I don’t think that should be our concern as much,” Gerald Henderson said. “Even now, teams that are going to make the playoffs, they’re not thinking about the playoffs. They’re thinking about staying healthy, what it looks like out on the court so they can prepare themselves to play after the season. We just need to focus on playing consistently, taking care of our fourth quarters and contributions from everyone.”

Ersan Ilyasova echoed, “We do have potential but we have to consider all those obstacles obviously during the whole season. I’m not going to say we’re not going to be in the playoffs, but a season’s long … From now on, we have to take care of our business first. Obviously if we win the games, we have a chance.”

Embiid is encouraged by the Sixers' progress. They tied last season’s win total in their 35th game on Sunday. For a team what hasn't made the postseason since 2011-12, the goal is that victories this year will translate into building toward a postseason contender.

“We are winning basketball games more frequently than we have been,” Brett Brown said. “But for us it’s still, ‘How are we doing what we do? Are we doing our job? Are we not skipping steps? Are we putting in good days?’ We believe as simple as that might sound, that they will add up, they do count for something.”

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Nik Stauskas

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Nik Stauskas

Nik Stauskas

Position: Shooting Guard

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed — $3,807,147

Stauskas in 2016-17
In his second season with the Sixers and third in the NBA, Nik Stauskas saw himself generally improve across the board, albeit by a small amount. The Sixers as a whole had a plethora of injuries that kept nearly every player off the court for extended periods, yet Stauskas remained healthy enough to play 80 games, start 27 and play 27.4 minutes a contest. Health is certainly a skill and Stauskas has it.

As for his play on the court, Stauskas got better in essentially every category. His field goal percentage rose from 38.5 to 39.6 percent, he shot a career-high 36.8 percent from three and he improved his scoring to 9.5 points per game while also sporting career highs in rebounds, assists and blocks with only a 2.6 minute increase in minutes per game.

His consistency was pretty notable. He played at least 23 minutes in every game after Jan. 20 and was a constant in an ever-changing Sixers rotation. He had eight straight games with double figures to end February. While he began the year as the backup two-guard, Stauskas started at shooting guard by the end of the year with Gerald Henderson nursing an injury. Coach Brett Brown even had Stauskas play point guard down the stretch with injuries to Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez creating an opening. In that way, Stauskas diversified his skill set

Signature game
Stauskas' season-high 21 points came against Phoenix in mid-November, a win against a team even worse than the Sixers. Stauskas had 20 points on back-to-back games in Orlando and Oklahoma City in late March, hitting eight threes over the two games.

But what is a signature game for Stauskas without a little measure of revenge? On Jan. 30, Stauskas made four threes and scored 16 points against the Kings, providing some key baskets in a 122-119 win over his former mates.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
Next season for Stauskas will be a critical one. It'll be the final season of his four-year rookie contract. While he's improved year to year, he's not quite the product one may expect out of the former eighth overall pick. At this point, a few years removed from that 2014 draft, it is unfair to continually compare him to that draft and instead focus on what he is.

Well, what is Stauskas? He's a shooting guard who can play a little bit of the point in a pinch and can hit a decent, albeit not elite, clip of threes. There's value there for sure. However, with a bevy of potential draft picks coming the Sixers' way, the guard known as Sauce Castillo could see his role downsized in 2017-18 with a rookie taking his minutes.

Even players getting healthy could take minutes away from Stauskas. He's already competing with veteran Gerald Henderson, also a free agent after 2017-18, for minutes and Bayless may be squeezed into more of a two-guard role with Ben Simmons at the point. Simmons, Bayless and T.J. McConnell likely take away the few opportunities Stauskas would have to play point guard, but he only took that on because of injury anyway.

Still, even in a roster squeeze, Stauskas brings a fair amount to the table. Brown's system needs shooters and despite a few slumps, Stauskas can drain jumpers. He's developed chemistry in the locker room and has earned enough trust and stayed healthy enough to play 27 minutes a game in the NBA. 

On Stauskas
"We're seeing a skill package that everybody talked about when he came out of college. You're seeing a lottery pick play. I'm personally happy for him because he cares sometimes too much and he's so self-conscious at times and extremely prideful and he's being rewarded for the work he has put in."

- Sixers coach Brett Brown

NBA Playoffs: John Wall scores 42 as Wizards eliminate Hawks

NBA Playoffs: John Wall scores 42 as Wizards eliminate Hawks

ATLANTA -- John Wall had that look in his eye at morning shootaround.

Bradley Beal knew it was going to be a big night for Washington's star point guard.

Wall scored 42 points -- a career playoff high, with 19 coming in the fourth quarter to single-handedly hold off a furious Atlanta comeback -- and the Wizards eliminated the Hawks with a 115-99 victory Friday, capturing the opening-round playoff series 4-2.

"You could just tell he was locked in," Beal said. "He was ready to go. We just feed off that."

Beal wasn't too shabby either, scoring 31 points (see full recap).

Celtics complete series comeback, eliminate Bulls
CHICAGO -- The Boston Celtics kept reminding each other not to let up as they closed in on a lopsided victory and a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

No need to worry about that.

Avery Bradley scored 23 points, and the hot-shooting Celtics pounded the Chicago Bulls 105-83 to win their first-round series 4-2 on Friday night.

The top-seeded Celtics simply torched Chicago to finish off a tougher-than-anticipated series and advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Boston regrouped after dropping the first two games at home and will meet Washington in the Eastern semifinals. Game 1 is Sunday (see full recap).

Clippers beat Jazz on road to force Game 7
SALT LAKE CITY -- Chris Paul scored 29 points and the Los Angeles Clippers forced a Game 7 in their first-round series with a 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.

The Clippers will host the only do-or-die game of the first round Sunday, with the winner advancing to face the Golden State Warriors.

Los Angeles began to edge away in the third quarter and appeared to be in control when Austin Rivers capped a 9-2 run with a step-back 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 91-77 with 3:58 remaining.

He hit another with 1:29 left to make it 96-86, but Gordon Hayward scored seven straight to bring the Jazz within three before Joe Johnson missed a 3-pointer in the waning seconds (see full recap).