Sixers' 2014-15 schedule and predictions

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Sixers' 2014-15 schedule and predictions

The NBA schedule was released Wednesday evening. Like the NFL, the NBA made a big deal of it and did a one-hour show on the league’s television network.

The season opens Oct. 28 with the defending-champion Spurs against the Mavericks in a Lone Star state showdown. The Cavaliers and Bulls will play each other for the first time on Halloween night. Christmas Day -- the league’s annual showcase -- will feature all the expected storylines: LeBron James and the Cavs take on the Heat; Thunder vs. Spurs; Warriors vs. Clippers.

Not listed for any of that: The Sixers. You are no doubt shocked.

This feels like a missed opportunity for the NBA. What, no Timberwolves-Sixers clash on Christmas? Sure, Thad Young said he didn’t know anything about a trade to the Timberwolves for Anthony Bennett, but come on. That would make him the only guy who doesn’t think something might happen. (It’s a good idea for the Sixers, by the way.) Imagine the inflated ratings for a Young-Bennett meeting. The NBA is totally missing out on tens of extra people.

Or what about a Bucks-Sixers game? Think of the advanced billing. The two worst teams in the NBA a year ago meet on Christmas Day in … [dramatic pause] Bricks for Picks. They could have Bill Murray reprise his role and give it the Frank Cross/Scrooged promo treatment. It sells itself.

For added entertainment, there could be a halftime trivia contest consisting of questions about the CBA, the salary cap and arcane league rules. On one side, Sam Hinkie. On the other, all the general managers who pushed for the ridiculous lottery reform proposal. Winner gets to decide what happens to the lottery, and when. Tell me you wouldn’t watch that. Even Alex Trebek and Sean Connery would tune in.

Ah well. Some Sixers’ dates of interest:

• The Sixers open the season Oct. 29 on the road against Indiana. Then they head to Milwaukee before returning to Philly. Without Paul George and Lance Stephenson, maybe the Sixers squeak out a win against the Pacers. But maybe not. Call it 0-2 to start.

• Like last season, the Sixers will play their first home game against the Miami Heat. Unlike last season, James will not be present. And unlike last season, when the Sixers somehow beat the Heat and started the year 3-0, they’ll probably lose. Because they are not good. That's analysis. You're welcome. Call it 0-3 to start -- or 0-4, actually, with the Rockets coming to town in the next game.

• The Sixers play the Magic in the fifth game. If they don’t win that one, they’re probably looking at mid-November, when they host the Celtics, before they have a shot to get a victory. Added bonus: Evan Turner returns to Philly, only he’ll be bricking three-pointers in Boston green instead of Sixers red. Everyone wins that night.

• James and the Cavs come to Philly on Jan. 5. That gives all the faux Heat fans in the area some time to convert to Cleveland gear.

• If everything goes to plan and Young is flipped to Minnesota for Bennett, then Young will return as a member of the T-wolves on Jan. 30. Maybe he’ll get a video montage. If Andre Iguodala got one, Thad gets one.

• The Clippers play the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 27. If you like stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should be in attendance. If not, hey, look at that, it’s Spencer Hawes.

• Oh, and the Sixers have a seven-game road trip that will keep them out of town for Christmas and New Year’s. Lucky them.

So that brings us to the prediction portion of the program. The Sixers have the worst odds to win the NBA championship this season. They’re listed at 300/1 with the Bucks. Poor Milwaukee. (Has that city discovered the wheel? Or fire?) The Sixers won 19 games a year ago. That’s about the right ballpark this season. After going through the schedule and doing the win-loss thing -- I lead a full life -- I have the Sixers going 21-61. Two more wins. That’s called progress.

Don’t worry. The Sixers should be the worst team in the NBA this year. The Bucks, despite being lumped with the Sixers in terms of title odds, have appreciably more talent on the roster -- in that they have talent beyond three players (or two and a half in the Sixers' case, depending on how you feel about Bennett). There’s not another team in the NBA that should come anywhere close to being as bad as the one Philly has right here. Rejoice. Own it. The future will be upon you soon enough.

In a predictable development, certain prognosticators have the Sixers finishing last in the reconfigured and suddenly interesting Eastern Conference. After (seconds of) consideration, I concur. My far-too-early predictions for the East:

1. LeBron James (58-24): LeBron James, Kevin Love, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and LeBron James. Cleveland is the best team in the conference.

2. Chicago Bulls (56-26): Even after trading Loul Deng, and even after Derrick Rose went down again, they were still good last year. Now Rose is (ostensibly) healthy. They went out and got Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott. And they still have one of the best defensive and passing centers in the league in Joakim Noah. Love the Bulls.

3. Toronto Raptors (49-33): They didn’t do much in the offseason -- except re-sign Kyle Lowry. Which is all they really needed to do.

4. Atlanta Hawks (47-35): Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and (a healthy) Al Horford as the starters. Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne (love me some Adreian Payne), Pero Antic, Kent Bazemore and some combination of Shelvin Mack/Dennis Schroder off the bench. That’s a good team in the East. They make the jump this year.

5. Washington Wizards (46-36): Do not mess with The Polish Hammer.

6. Charlotte Hornets (45-37): The Hornets are starting to shape up. Like the Lance Stephenson addition. Really like the contract.

7. Miami Heat (43-39): Still a team that plays basketball.

8. Brooklyn Nets (41-41): Positive: Brook Lopez will be back. Negative: Paul Pierce won’t. Positive: Hey, Deron Williams looks healthy(ish). Negative: They have no draft picks until the rapture.

9. Detroit Pistons (40-42): Sleeper team for the eighth seed. Stan Van Gundy knows what he’s doing. He gets a pass for giving Jodie Meeks a three-year deal worth $19 million. Chalking it up to just-took-the-job jitters. SVG will settle down.

10. New York Knicks (38-44): Carmelo Anthony can dry his tears with $1,000 bills. (Do they make $1,000 bills? I could consult Google but … nah.)

11. Indiana Pacers (36-46): All the Roy Hibbert they can handle. What a grim situation.

12. Milwaukee Bucks (30-52): Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be a star pretty soon. Jabari Parker will add much-needed scoring. Larry Sanders has issues, but he and John Henson give the Bucks some serious rim protection. Brandon Knight was OK last year (that’s a compliment). Ersan Ilyasova … still has potential. Could be worse.

13. Boston Celtics (28-54): Without Rajon Rondo, this team would completely crater. Did you know they gave Avery Bradley a four-year deal worth $32 million? Avery Bradley couldn’t believe it either.

14. Orlando Magic (27-55): That’s four more wins than they had a year ago. They might throw a parade.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (21-61): Asset acquisition continues. Smile.

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram headlined this year’s draft. Now that the players are nearing training camp, they are looking ahead to how their class will fair in the upcoming season. 

NBA.com talked to 38 rookies at the annual Rookie Photo Shoot this month to get their takes on their counterparts.

Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were named in the majority of the responses. Below are the categories in which the Sixers' rookies garnered votes. 

2016-17 Rookie of the Year
1. Kris Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.0 percent
2. Ingram (Lakers): 25.8 percent
3. Simmons (Sixers): 19.4 percent
Embiid and Saric also received votes

Best career
1. Ingram (Lakers): 26.7 percent
2. Dunn (Timberwolves): 16.7 percent 
3. Buddy Hield (Pelicans): 13.3 percent
Tie-4. Dragan Bender (Suns), Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Simmons: 6.7 percent
Dario Saric also received votes

Most athletic
1. Brown (Celtics): 38.7 percent
2. Brice Johnson (Clippers): 16.1 percent
3. Marquese Chriss (Suns): 9.7 percent
Tie-4. Malik Beasley (Nuggets), Kay Felder (Cavs), Gary Payton II (Rockets): 6.5 percent
Simmons also received votes

Best shooter
1. Hield (Pelicans): 65.7 percent
2. Murray (Nuggets): 20.0 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot also received votes

Best playmaker
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.4 percent
2. Simmons (Sixers): 26.5 percent
3. Tyler Ulis (Suns): 20.6 percent
4. Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 8.8 percent
5. Felder (Cavs): 5.9 percent
Saric also received votes

Funniest
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 15.2 percent
Tie-2. Diamond Stone (Clippers), Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 12.1 percent
Tie-4. Brice Johnson (Clippers), Taurean Prince (Hawks), Ivica Zubac: 6.1 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot and Simmons also received votes. Embiid ranked first in this category when he was drafted in 2014. 

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' starting 5

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' starting 5

Each 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, CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton, and CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a stab at the Sixers' starting five for opening night.

Camerato
Let’s preface this prediction with a projection: This lineup will change multiple times throughout the season. I expect Joel Embiid to be in the starting five once he transitions into his rookie year, his first since he was drafted in 2014. The Sixers also will have to assess how different combinations translate onto the court, which will play out in game competition. 

Back to opening night. The backcourt is up for grabs at both positions. Last season’s starting point guard, Ish Smith, signed with the Pistons and Brett Brown has said he plans to start Ben Simmons, who can play point-forward, at the four spot. Jerryd Bayless has the edge over Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell with his proven veteran experience in the NBA.

The same goes for Gerald Henderson at shooting guard. That starting role is up for grabs given the inconsistencies of it last season, and that rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will be developing off the bench (or in the D-League).

Small forward is intriguing because the Sixers have so many bigs who can play the four and five ... so who’s the best fit for three? Dario Saric played power forward in Europe, but if Brown wants to incorporate him into the starting lineup, he could slide him into the 3-spot. Saric’s former teammate Stephane Lasme told CSNPhilly.com he could see Saric having offensive success at small forward with his size advantage, and defensively he could be challenged. The Sixers may go with non-traditional lineups when it comes to this position.

The power forward spot goes to Simmons. While he will handle point guard responsibilities, Brown wants to start him at the four at the beginning of his NBA career. 

So that brings us to center, the position that was in question last season and still is now. The conundrum of how to utilize Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor still exists. Both are natural fives, and last year they struggled playing out of position. I gave Noel the nod over Okafor in this starting combination because of the way he can run the court in an up-tempo system and spread the floor with Simmons. 

PG: Bayless
SG: Henderson
SF: Saric
PF: Simmons
C: Noel

Haughton
While the Sixers' final roster decisions shouldn't be too taxing for Brown, putting together the starting five will certainly prove to be tougher. Figuring out five players that mesh well on the court can take time and it will likely change throughout the course of the 2016-17 season.

The Sixers have options at point guard after signing Bayless and Rodriguez during free agency, but Bayless should get the nod here. His career numbers are better across the board than those of Rodriguez, who will take some time to readjust to the NBA game after not playing in the league since 2009-10. Plus, Bayless' ability as an outside shooter (shot a career-high 43.7 percent from three-point range last season) and the fact that he doesn't need to operate with the ball in his hands should make him an instant fit with No. 1 pick Simmons.

Shooting guard all comes down to what Brown wants in his starting lineup. Free-agent signee Henderson is clearly the best option, but Brown might prefer having the luxury of his skill set coming off the bench with Nik Stauskas opening up with the first unit. With that said, I still think Henderson will play with the starters. He gives the Sixers enough offense and is an upgrade on the defensive end.

The small forward spot belongs to Robert Covington ... for now. Sure, Saric is finally in the fold and figures to see time at that slot at some point in the future. I just don't see the Sixers throwing the Croatian into the fire during his rookie season. Jerami Grant will also snag minutes here, but he doesn't figure to get any consideration as a starter.

Power forward belongs to Simmons. That is all.

The crowded center position will be the Sixers' toughest selection. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction and won't play in back-to-back sets after missing two seasons, so he's likely out. That leaves Okafor and Noel. If you're like those in our CSN newsroom, you either fall in the Okafor camp or the Noel camp. Not both. I guess that means I'm on the Okafor side. I understand the complaints about his defense and they are valid, but when you give up 107.6 points per game as a team, that means everyone could stand to improve on D. Yes, even Noel. Okafor's talent on the other end, however, isn't up for debate. He can fill it up and will benefit from a gifted passer such as Simmons feeding him the ball.

PG: Bayless
SG: Henderson
SF: Covington
PF: Simmons
C: Okafor

Hudrick
Simmons, Henderson and Covington are almost locks to start. Many have penciled in Bayless at point guard because of his ability to shoot and how that will mesh with Simmons' playing style. Fair point, but Bayless is not a true point guard. Brown said that while he toyed with the notion of starting Simmons as a point guard, he didn't want to put that much on the rookie's plate. Enter Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is a true point guard that excels in the pick-and-roll, has good court vision and offers a calming influence. El Chacho, as the kids are calling him, has a great deal of experience in the Euroleague, taking home an MVP award and a championship with Real Madrid. He's not a knock-down shooter, but he can hit the occasional open three. His chemistry with Pau Gasol during the Olympics made me think of the possibilities of Rodriguez playing with Embiid, Okafor and Noel.

As far as center goes, you can really just take your pick. I'm going with Okafor only because he'll be the most helpful player to Simmons on the offensive end with his hands and ability to finish around the basket. Certainly Brown could opt for Noel if he wants a better defensive lineup. Both players may just be keeping that starting spot warm for Embiid.

PG: Rodriguez
SG: Henderson
SF: Covington
PF: Simmons
C: Okafor

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

AVALON, N.J. -- Joel Embiid has been waiting since 2014 to make his NBA debut. Two years later, the former third overall pick is nearing that day.

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” 

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone. 

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers. 

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games. 

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.” 

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models. 

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

After a series of setbacks, Embiid is enthusiastic about the thought of making his NBA debut. 

“It feels great,” he said. “Especially after the past two years, I haven’t been able to do what I love. It just feels great.”