Sixers smothered in loss to James, Heat

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Sixers smothered in loss to James, Heat

BOX SCORE

Frankly, it could have been much worse than the 101-86 defeat for the Sixers against the Miami Heat on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

The Heat came into the Center riding a three-game losing streak and still had the opening-night loss to the Sixers fresh in their memory for Friday’s game. That was the game, of course, in which Michael Carter-Williams made his spectacular NBA debut, with a near-triple double.

The Heat made sure there was no repeat performance from the rookie on Friday night.

“They got physical with him,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “They got up and in and showed a crowd and created that type of traffic around him. They were physical and it’s a great lesson for him to play a team like that.”

The Heat hounded Carter-Williams, holding him to a career-low seven points, two assists and one rebound in 24 minutes. The rookie also had five turnovers, a sure sign that the Heat’s physical play was effective.

“This time they mixed it up and I got confused a few times and I have to learn from it,” Carter-Williams said. “I have to be prepared and adjust for the next time.”

Next time can’t be much worse than how things played out on Friday night. In fact, by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Brown decided Carter-Williams and his starters had enough. Trailing by as much as 25 points late in the third quarter, Brown went with his bench players for the final 12 minutes.

Considering the starters were a combined minus-85, scored just 42 points and had to face the Chicago Bulls the next night on the road, Brown let them knock off early for a change.

“We were done and I felt like my starters were done,” Brown said. “Coaches always go through that line about when can you feel that you’re just flogging them and having them put forth energy that’s not going to result in a win.

“Your best chance is with energy and youth and they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Still, it would be tough not to notice how poorly the Sixers were shooting the ball. They went 2 for 20 from three-point range and 23 for 37 from the foul line. If that’s not telling enough, the Sixers missed 31 shots in the paint.

The Sixers’ 36.9 percent shooting percentage was actually padded in the fourth quarter when the bench players went 9 for 19.

Brown had a hunch the Heat would amp up the defense with the losing streak weighing on them.

“They did what they do and we had a hard time scoring inside,” Brown said. “We missed a lot of shots inside and I give [the Heat] credit. Inevitably we’re all going to look at the three-point line and we were 2 for 20, but look at the free throws where we were 23 for 37 and we had 23 turnovers -- it’s just amazing that we can compete and win the second half with those numbers.”

It’s relative, of course. Up by 25 points in the third quarter, the Heat rested All-Star Dwyane Wade during the fourth quarter and used Chris Bosh (game-high 25 points) sparingly. LeBron James logged more than nine minutes in the final frame, but that could have been because he was flirting with a triple-double.

James finished the game with 21 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Close, but not quite.

Next, the Sixers head to Chicago to kick off a short, three-game road trip. After the game in Chicago, the team plays a holiday matinee in Washington on Monday, followed by the first trip to the newly renovated Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

BOX SCORE

SAN ANTONIO -- Stephen Curry scored 36 points as the Golden State Warriors closed out the Western Conference Final against the injury-ravaged San Antonio Spurs with a 129-115 victory Monday night, becoming the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0.

Golden State led by as many as 22 points in cruising to its third straight NBA Finals. The Warriors await a possible third straight championship matchup with Cleveland, which leads Boston 2-1 in the East finals.

"It's great to be one of the last two teams standing, we'll see how it goes," said Kevin Durant, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds.

San Antonio's only lead came on the opening possession when Manu Ginobili tossed in a left-handed scoop shot. The Spurs started Ginobili in what could be his final game with the team. The 39-year-old had maintained he will not ponder whether to retire or return until after the season.

Unsure if the beloved veteran will return, the crowd serenaded Ginobili with "Manu, Manu" chants as the game came to a close.

"An amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him," Durant said of Ginobili. "He was phenomenal this series."

Kyle Anderson scored 20 points to lead the Spurs, who were without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and David Lee. San Antonio didn't go down without a fight despite the injuries.

Anderson dove on the court for a loose ball that the Spurs had tipped away defensively, pushing the ball upcourt to Patty Mills who fed Ginobili for a 3-pointer that pulled San Antonio to 108-94 with 7 minutes remaining.

The effort made Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smile and clap at times, but the Warriors' depth and talent proved too much for short-handed San Antonio.

Golden State shot 56 percent and were 14 for 39 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors.

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge closed out a disappointing series with his second eight-point effort against the Warriors.

Ginobili finished with 15 points in 32 minutes.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, N.C. as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder N.C. State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind N.C. State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum been a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. He hit on 118 of 139 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6-for-22 shooting in an ACC tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half-court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.