Scary matchup awaits Sixers in champion Heat

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Scary matchup awaits Sixers in champion Heat

To call opening night a challenge for Brett Brown’s young team is an understatement. The Miami Heat have played in the NBA Finals each of the last three years and have claimed the last two NBA championships.

Many on Brown’s team have no idea the physicality necessary to putting the smallest dent in LeBron James’ game. Evan Turner, on the other hand, knows far too well the personal task that awaits him Wednesday night at the defensive end.

“He is one of the toughest to guard, especially now since he is posting up and playing closer to the rim,” Turner said of guarding James, who was fourth in the NBA last season with 26.8 points per game. “It gets tough when you think you played him your toughest and he still comes out with 28 points. It is a group thing and you can’t get lackadaisical.”

Turner joked that it was his 30th time facing James since coming into the league. That is a slight exaggeration, but Wednesday night will be the 17th time Turner has squared off with James as a pro.

James has been victorious the last 11 regular-season games and he also won four of five in a first-round playoff series three years ago.

The Heat are a dominant team that is coming off a season-opening win over the Bulls and has three-peat aspirations. On the flip side, the Sixers are just so far from being able to compete with such a team for 48 minutes.

“I think just the reality of what is the benchmark of our sport,” Brown said of the opening-night challenge. “Any time you can get a true guideline of where you stand as an individual or as a team, then I think it will be an honest reflection of the things we are going to have to do to aspire to get where we want to go.”

Turner suggested that knowing what outsiders are expecting from the Sixers and paying attention to those expectations do not have to be one and the same.

“Don’t pay attention to any of it,” Turner said. “Any time you are doing something, outside influence is never good whether it is basketball or anything else.”

Can the Sixers win 20 games? Are 15 victories more realistic?

Look at the first couple weeks of the season for the Sixers and you see opposing rosters that include names such as James, Dwyane Wade, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Dwight Howard and James Harden.

It all starts on Wednesday night with the Heat. Halloween just might come a day early this year.

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet, but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet, but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Steve Kerr expects to decide soon whether he will coach the Golden State Warriors at all in the NBA Finals, saying Monday he is not yet ready but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1.

"As of right now, I would not coach Thursday night. It's still up in the air. Still waiting for `Ahhhhhh!'" Kerr said, reaching his hands to the sky as if to receive some miracle healing. "It's coming, it's coming. ... I think once we get to Game 1, that might be a good time to make a decision one way or the other."

Golden State, unbeaten this postseason at 12-0 with sweeps of Houston, Utah and San Antonio, hosts the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in Games 1 and 2 on Thursday and Sunday.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year is still not feeling well after a May 5 procedure at Duke University to repair a spinal fluid leak stemming from back surgery complications nearly two years ago. He filled in addressing the media Monday when acting coach Mike Brown was out with the flu.

"I told the team the good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies," Kerr joked.

Brown has been coaching the Warriors since Game 3 of the first-round playoff series at Portland, with Kerr assisting at practice and from the locker room before and during games. Brown was expected back Tuesday.

"Mike's been amazing. It's an awkward situation, again this is so unique," Kerr said. "I'm not sure it's ever happened. ... It's just weird because, on the one hand, Mike has to coach the team as he sees fit. I'm taking part in practices, helping with the messaging, taking part in coaching meetings, but I'm not on the sidelines during games. And so he has to make those decisions as if it's his team, but he's also taking my advice and counsel behind the scenes. So it's not easy, but he's obviously doing a good job. There seems to be a theme when I'm out, I think the team is like 108-2."

Brown is set to go up against LeBron James and a Cleveland team he coached in two separate stints.

Brown wasn't around during the past two Finals when the Warriors faced the Cavaliers, so he has watched some of last year's Finals. Kerr recently reviewed all seven games from 2016, when Golden State squandered a 3-1 lead and missed a repeat championship.

Everything he can do to help Golden State get prepared, Kerr is doing -- until he feels he might be fine to return to the bench.

"I'm not well enough to coach a game and I know that (because) I coached all 82 games and I did OK. I was uncomfortable and in a lot of pain but I did fine, I could make it through," he said. "The first two games of the Portland series, whatever happened, things got worse. You saw me in the fourth quarter of Game 2, I could not sit still in my chair, it was that much pain. I would say I've gotten a little bit better, that's why I'm here talking to you right now, but you can probably tell I'm not sitting here happy-go-lucky."

Give and Go: No. 3 pick or an impact free agent more important for Sixers?

Give and Go: No. 3 pick or an impact free agent more important for Sixers?

Before the offseason craziness starts, 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 analyze whether the No. 3 pick or adding an impact free agent is more important for the Sixers.

Camerato
The Sixers have the third pick in the 2017 draft. 
 
They also had the same pick in 2014. 
 
And 2015. 
 
And the number one pick in 2016.
 
The No. 3 is a nice addition of potential young talent, but how much further does *another* high lottery pick progress the Sixers?
 
The team is at a point where they need more experienced players to boost the development of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric … and basically everyone on the roster except Jerryd Bayless, who is the only player under contract for next season with more than four years of NBA experience.
 
Veterans make younger players around them better. This isn’t only being a voice in the locker room either. This season the Sixers could greatly benefit from a vet who is in game with them, not just on the bench. Look at what 35-year-old Joe Johnson did for the Jazz this season. 
 
Do the Sixers need to go out and sign a big name free agent to a max contract? No. They have the money to spend but also a lot of questions to answer about Simmons’ role and Embiid’s health before locking in someone long-term. 
 
Can adding experience develop them further than potential would at this point? Yes.

Haughton
There's always a delicate balance between blending homegrown talent and free agents. With this Sixers team, I think adding another young piece to the core with the No. 3 pick is far more important than luring someone on the free-agent market.

If we're being honest about the team's roster, there are only two real difference makers in Embiid and, in all likelihood, Simmons. In that third draft slot, the Sixers have an opportunity to select yet another top-tier talent and address an area of need (guard or wing) without spending a boatload of cash.

The Sixers' youthful makeup resembles a college team and makes it easier for rookies to mix into the group. That also means the draft pick has a chance to grow on the same track as his teammates and build for the long-term betterment of "The Process" instead of a free agent that is likely trying to speed things up to win now.

Speaking of FAs, there will be a nice pool of guys available for the Sixers. However, it's not like any of them are going to put the team over the top and in the conversation for any postseason hardware.

Stick to the script and focus on the draft. Whichever player hears his name called at No. 3 will have a far bigger fingerprint on where this franchise goes next than anyone acquired via free agency.

Hudrick
The Sixers have identified Embiid and Simmons as their franchise players. Embiid is 23 and Simmons will turn 21 in July. Embiid has played in 31 games and Simmons has yet to take the floor.

I mention this because this Sixers team is still very much building. They're nowhere near a finished product. The veteran additions of Gerald Henderson and Bayless (who was limited to mostly a mentoring role last season) no doubt helped the team last season. But what does signing a marquee free agent do? 

Looking at the market, the two most obvious choices are point guard Kyle Lowry (31) and two guard J.J. Redick (32). Lowry and Redick both fills needs and will make the Sixers better immediately. 

But this team won 28 games last year while only having Embiid for 31 games and not having Simmons at all. Add the No. 3 overall pick to that equation -- whether it's Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, Jayson Tatum or De'Aaron Fox -- and the Sixers should improve on that mark.

There will be a time to sign a big-name free agent. I'm just not sure this is the offseason to do it. They need to get their first-round pick in here and see how that player gels with the team's core. After you see how the team starts to take shape, that's when you need to add a free agent to put you over the top.