Sixers create only more questions with woeful loss

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Sixers create only more questions with woeful loss

Did Doug Collins know what he was doing?

Did Collins know he was inviting never-ending scrutiny when he fired off criticism of his players after the team’s 98-84 loss to the lowly Magic on Tuesday night?

Those are questions that remained to be answered. One thing that stands as a fact is this season has been a major disappointment for the Sixers.

The Sixers’ effort on Tuesday against the Magic was inexplicable. They lost to a team that had three wins in its last 31 contests.

Adding insult was the fact that two players the Sixers traded away put up significant numbers.

Nikola Vucevic registered his 32nd double-double of the season with 12 points and 19 rebounds. His counterpart, Spencer Hawes, grabbed one rebound in 20 minutes of work.

Rookie Maurice Harkless also scored 10 points on just four field goal attempts for the Magic.

Meanwhile, the Sixers’ prized possession that they acquired for the two young talents, Andrew Bynum, was nowhere in sight.

“I think the team that we've tried to put together, we have never seen,” Collins said after the defeat. “And so I think what happens is when you take a huge piece away from it, your warts show.”

The Bynum saga should resonate at the core with any Sixers fan. The move has not worked out. It has not been handled well, and when the big man does speak he gives one little reason to think things will get any better.

Bynum’s absence has greatly impacted the Sixers. With that said, players still have to play the game and Tuesday night’s showing resembled people who are thinking about April vacations.

Does that say more about the coach or the players?

Another question that lacks an answer at the time. However, being embarrassed and outclassed by a Magic team that won for just the 16th time on Tuesday should stir up some emotion in the Sixers. It certainly brought out the fire in Collins.

“Can I tell you something? If everybody looked inside themselves as much as I did, this world would be a CAT scan. OK?” Collins said. “I mean, believe me, there's not two days go by that I don't go to [team president] Rod [Thorn], I don't go to [general manager] Tony [DiLeo] -- 'what can I do? Can I do anything different? How can I be a better coach? How can I be a better leader? How can I help these guys?' Sometimes you've gotta help yourself. You know? Sometimes you’ve gotta help yourself. Youth is a very blaming thing.”

The blame game never works in sports. It is a win together or lose together reality, and the Sixers are showing only the back half of that scenario.

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Jahlil Okafor

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor

Position: Center

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed — $4,995,120

Okafor in 2016-17
Okafor's second NBA season was up-and-down from the start. He dealt with right knee soreness during training camp and appeared in only one preseason game.

Once the regular season began, he was in a fluctuating role of backing up Joel Embiid and starting when Embiid was out. In December, the Sixers experimented with starting Okafor and Embiid together. They were not able to work out the challenges of two true centers sharing the court, the same situation the Sixers faced last season with Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

Okafor's season took another turn in early January. Noel slid into the backup center spot and Okafor fell out of the regular rotation. Okafor started when Embiid did not play and moved back into the starting lineup consistently once Embiid was sidelined in late January.

In February, the Sixers looked to trade Okafor at the deadline. They came so close to reaching a deal that they benched him and held him out of a road trip to Charlotte.

Instead, the Sixers sent Noel to the Mavericks. At that time Embiid still was sidelined by what turned into a season-ending injury. Okafor had the starting role locked up until injuries struck yet again. Okafor missed the final 11 games of the season because of right knee soreness.

He played in 50 games, three fewer than his rookie season that was cut short by meniscus surgery in his right knee. Okafor's stats tell the story of a frequently-changing season: 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 33 games as a starter compared to 8.6 points and 3.9 boards in 17 games off the bench.

"It was an interesting year, something that I'm proud to say I handled the right way," Okafor said. "I can lay my head at night and know that I feel like I handled everything professionally."

Signature game
Okafor's strongest performance of the season was Feb. 25 against the Knicks. He scored a season-high 28 points along with 10 rebounds. Okafor took over down the stretch of this near-comeback for the Sixers. He scored 11 points in the fourth, including a go-ahead basket with nine seconds left before Carmelo Anthony hit the game-winner. Okafor, whose biggest need for improvement is defense, pulled down eight boards in the first half.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
There are two important facets of Okafor's offseason.

The first is health. This month Okafor said he had not discussed surgery for his lingering right knee soreness. He plans to spend time receiving treatment at the Sixers' training complex this offseason.

The second is determining where Okafor will play next season. The Sixers still are open to trading Okafor if a deal works for both player and team. Okafor has maintained he is happy being a member of the Sixers, and the Sixers have echoed they will welcome him back for a third season if a trade does not happen. How he would fit into the system would remain to be seen.

On Okafor
"He has an appropriate fear where he recognizes this is a hell of an important summer." -

- Head coach Brett Brown

"If a deal comes along that makes sense for both of us, then we'll go ahead and make the deal. But we're not in a race to make any decisions. We're taking a very measured toward path success and building an organization."

- President of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo

"The ability to expand his game is the exciting part for me. For us to say, 'This is Jahlil and that's only Jahlil and this is all he will ever be,' is just sort of unfair and not true."

- Brown

NBA Playoffs: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook to eliminate Thunder

NBA Playoffs: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook to eliminate Thunder

HOUSTON -- James Harden had 34 points and his supporting cast helped the Houston Rockets overcome a 47-point game by Russell Westbrook to get a 105-99 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

The Thunder head home a year after advancing to the Western Conference finals after Houston took this series 4-1.

The Rockets used a 5-1 run, with all their points coming on free throws, to pull away from the Thunder and make it 98-91. Victor Oladipo threw a pass about 5 feet above Westbrook's head and out of bounds on the next possession and Harden made a layup on the other end with about 3 minutes left.

The Rockets began eating up the clock after that and Oklahoma City missed shot after shot that could have closed the gap.

Houston couldn't add to its lead though and the Thunder cut it to 4 points twice in the final seconds, with the second one coming on a basket by Alex Abrines. But Harden made two free throws both times they got close to secure the win (see full recap).

Leonard leads Spurs by Grizzlies for 3-2 series edge
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard had 28 points and the San Antonio Spurs rebounded from two discouraging road losses to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 116-103 on Tuesday night and take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.

San Antonio shot 14 for 28 on 3-point attempts, two off its postseason record, including 5-for-7 shooting by Patty Mills.

Mills finished with 20 points and Tony Parker added 16.

Mike Conley had 26 points and Marc Gasol added 17 for the Grizzlies, who have lost nine straight postseason games in San Antonio.

With each team winning on its homecourt, Game 6 is Thursday night in Memphis.

The Spurs went on an 11-0 run shortly after switching Leonard onto Conley defensively, holding the Grizzlies scoreless for 2:46 midway through the first quarter.

But it was the few times either team had success defensively (see full recap).

Jazz beat Clippers on road to take 3-2 series lead
LOS ANGELES -- Gordon Hayward scored 27 points, Utah controlled the paint, and the Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 96-92 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Hayward returned after missing most of Utah's win in Game 4 because of food poisoning that caused him to lose weight and energy.

Chris Paul's 3-pointer drew the Clippers within two with 5 seconds left. After George Hill hit two free throws, Paul struggled getting the ball under control near the sideline and couldn't do anything as time expired.

The Jazz made five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, including three by Rodney Hood, who finished with 16 points.

Paul led the Clippers with 28 points and J.J. Redick added 26 with injured star Blake Griffin watching from the bench, his right foot encased in a black walking boot.

The Jazz can clinch the series with a victory in Game 6 on Friday night in Salt Lake City (see full recap).