Slumping Sixers miss Young in loss to Raptors

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Slumping Sixers miss Young in loss to Raptors

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As one key Sixer returned to the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night, another was noticeably absent.

With the Toronto Raptors in town for a game to determine sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, the Sixers got their rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams back after a foot injury put him on the sidelines for the last four games.

But even with Carter-Williams back, the Sixers were missing a huge piece in Thad Young, who was not with the team in the 108-98 defeat (see Instant Replay).

Young was tending to some personal issues and coach Brett Brown isn’t quite sure when the seven-year veteran will return. Without Young, the Sixers struggled on defense as the Raptors drilled 14 three-pointers. They also had difficulty hanging onto the ball, committing 20 turnovers that helped the Raptors build a 16-point lead in the second half.

Without Young, Brown had to alter his rotation and his substitution patterns. That meant Spencer Hawes was playing power forward and sometimes guarding a quicker player in Rudy Gay, and Daniel Orton got his first start of the season.

“When a guy is out of the lineup you have to be versatile and do whatever you’re called for,” said Hawes, who led the Sixers with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

However, there are some things that can’t be replaced.

Where Young was missed the most was in his leadership ability. A strong voice on and off the court is one thing. But to lead by example and on defense like Young does really resonates. With Young on the floor it would have been difficult for the Raptors to go on a 15-5 run in the final 2:15 of the third quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a 16-point debacle.

“You look at it and say, ‘Why and who was on the floor?’ You’re always challenged by not having too many of your senior players [on the bench],” Brown explained. “But there aren’t many senior players.”

The Sixers got no closer than 10 points in the fourth quarter with that run by the Raptors at the end of the third quarter deciding the game. Hawes and Evan Turner battled foul trouble during the second half and Carter-Williams was shaking off the rust.

When it came time to hold the fort at the end of the third quarter, the Sixers couldn’t pull it off.

“That period was a killer,” Brown said. “You can lose games in that period of time. My answer is that our young guys have to fix that. They have to grow or we’re going to see something similar at the end of the third period.”

The Sixers went 2 for 6 with a turnover during that fateful stretch, while Toronto went 6 for 6 with five three-pointers.

“Discipline,” Hawes said. “I see that quarter ending in a barrage of threes. Closing out quarters is always important, but especially in the second half when you work hard and fight to be in it and then you give it up in a two- or three-minute span. We have to address that.”

It’s one thing to address it and put in plans to halt a decisive run, but it’s another to have the horses to do it. Without Young, the Sixers were missing a major cog.

And add in a tough shooting night for Turner, who went 4 for 13, and six turnovers from the rookie Carter-Williams, and the result wasn’t tough to fathom.

“His rhythm was a little off and his fitness was evident where he hadn’t played basketball at that level in a while,” Brown said about Carter-Williams. “And like any young player, he gets so excited to come back and play that he tries too hard to put his imprint on the game. He tried to force things in the paint and he didn’t let the game come to him as naturally as he normally does. It was clear that Michael hadn’t played in a while.”

Carter-Williams didn't dispute the idea that he was a little excited to get back on the floor.

“I felt pretty good and my foot wasn’t bothering me,” Carter-Williams said. “I struggled a little bit just getting back into the swing of things.”

With four straight losses, the 5-8 Sixers are a half-game behind the Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division. They will try to snap the losing skid on Friday night when the Milwaukee Bucks come to town.

Best of NBA: Jaylen Brown, Celtics use 5-point possession to top Pistons

Best of NBA: Jaylen Brown, Celtics use 5-point possession to top Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Jaylen Brown sank a 3-pointer from the right corner while being fouled with 37.6 seconds remaining, part of a five-point possession for Boston that lifted the Celtics to a 104-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

The Celtics were down 96-95 when Brown connected while being fouled by Marcus Morris. Brown missed the ensuing free throw, but Detroit couldn't come up with the rebound, and Tobias Harris was called for a loose-ball foul. Marcus Smart added two free throws to put Boston up 100-96.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, but he went 1 of 11 on free throws and was taken out for some key possessions toward the end to prevent Boston from fouling him.

Lakers crushed by Spurs in first home game since front office shakeup
LOS ANGELES -- Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles' first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise's basketball operations.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.

Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.

Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers' dismal season still hasn't changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.

Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo scores 28 as Bucks hold off Suns
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points, Tony Snell made a clinching 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Phoenix Suns, 100-96 on Sunday.

Michael Beasley added 17 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 15 as the Bucks swept the two-game season series with the Suns. Greg Monroe finished with 14 points and Snell had 13.

TJ Warren led the Suns with 23 points. Alan Williams scored a career-high 17 points and tied his season high with 15 rebounds, while Devin Booker added 15 points and Eric Bledsoe had 11.

Clinging to a one-point lead, the Bucks came out of timeout with Monroe inbounding the ball to Antetokounmpo. He dribbled the clock down before passing to Brogdon, who whipped the ball to Snell in the corner. Snell hit a 3 with a defender flying at him.

Sixers see light after latest round of roster turnover

Sixers see light after latest round of roster turnover

By the time reporters were admitted to the Sixers' locker room some 75 minutes before Friday's home game against Washington, the nameplates above the cubicles previously occupied by Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova had long ago been changed.

Where Noel once sat, in the corner nearest the shower room, there was now a "47 Splitter" nameplate for veteran center Tiago Splitter, who came over from Atlanta in the deal that sent Ilyasova to the Hawks two days earlier.

Where Ilyasova once sat, between Robert Covington and Dario Saric, there was now a "23 Anderson" nameplate for second-year forward Justin Anderson, acquired from Dallas (with Andrew Bogut, who is expected to head to Cleveland once his contract is bought out) in the trade that sent Noel there.

Across the locker room, there was no nameplate at all above the space once filled by rookie guard Chasson Randle. He had been cut when the two trades went down, collateral damage in this latest upheaval, this latest change to an ever-changing landscape.

Out in the hallway a few minutes earlier, coach Brett Brown had reinforced the message general manager Bryan Colangelo delivered to reporters during a news conference earlier in the day -- that all this had been necessary. Noel and Ilyasova are destined for free agency this summer (Noel will be restricted, Ilyasova unrestricted). The Sixers were unlikely to match any outside offer Noel is sure to attract, and just as unlikely to give Ilyasova the long-term deal he craves.

So, buh-bye.

Brown has grown used to all the tired and huddled masses shuffling through town.

"Historically, we all know how we treat people that walk through a door," he said. "We shake their hand and we say, ‘Guard somebody.’"

He settled on the word "appropriate" to describe all the roster turnover.

"There needs to be a frugal and, at times, ruthless approach," he said, "that you genuinely believe that (a certain player is) a keeper, that ultimately can play in the playoffs and ultimately play deep in the playoffs."

That rationale has not exactly set well with the masses. Not when the haul for two rotational players amounted to two injured 32-year-old centers -- Bogut is always hurt, and Splitter had hip surgery last February -- not to mention a guy who was unable to see regular action for a sub-.500 Dallas club and draft picks of dubious worth.

But if the front office has not inspired confidence, some solace can be taken from what we now see on the court. There are keepers on the roster beyond Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. There are guys the Sixers can hang their hats on. The first two post-deadline games -- Friday's 120-112 victory over the Wizards and Saturday's 110-109 loss to the Knicks -- have proven as much.

Consider Covington. Once a mere spot-up shooter, he can now do a little something off the dribble. And he guards Carmelo Anthony's last-second dagger Saturday notwithstanding.

Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game, 25 and 11 against Washington.

Then there's Saric, who makes up for whatever he might lack in athleticism with savvy belying his 22 years. The rookie forward stretched his own double-double streak to four by generating 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds against the Knicks.

He also has the endorsement of Colangelo, who during Friday's presser was asked about the view that the Sixers were returning to their tanking ways this season.

"I think I say Dario Saric, he's the answer (to that question) for us,” he told reporters.

Hey, no pressure, kid.

"Maybe some kind of pressure," Saric said before Friday's game. "For sure it's pressure, but I think I can say it's more attention on me. … But I will try to put everything on the side. I will try to not think so much about what he said. Of course, it's a positive thing, but I will not try to press myself."

He and Ilyasova were close. They shared a position, power forward, and while Ilyasova is from Turkey and Saric from Croatia, they very much spoke the same language.

"He was like some kind of mentor to me," Saric said. "He helped me a lot."

Especially on those occasions when the younger man got down on himself, as he did at times during the first few months of the season.

"He'd say, ‘It's one game. We have another game in 24 hours. You need to change your mindset and be ready for the next game,’" Saric said of Ilyasova.

Without his safety net, and with the expectations of the franchise now resting on his shoulders to some extent, Saric put up 20 points and 11 boards while making his 12th career start Friday night and his first since Feb. 2.

In one glittering second-quarter stretch, he hit a step-back jumper from the mid-post when he found himself in a mismatch against one Washington guard, John Wall, then backed down the other guard, Bradley Beal, and scored with the left hand. There was also an elbow jumper, not to mention a lefty post move over Otto Porter.

"The first 10 minutes, I tried to find myself," Saric said. "OK, I got a couple good assists, a couple good rebounds, but still I tried to find myself. It's a new role. I tried to play, tried to run, tried to find the rhythm of the game, which is most important thing in basketball. I got (into) the game after seven, eight minutes, maybe 10 minutes, and I'm happy. I had a good game, you know?"

Anderson didn’t play, but saw nearly four minutes of daylight against the Knicks, missing his only shot. Splitter, recovering from his hip surgery (as well as resultant calf issues), has not dressed for either game.

"Tiago right now is unhealthy," Brown said Friday.

Which is news to Splitter. Asked when he might be available, he said, "I hope soon. I was in full practice with the Hawks. … I saw the trainer (Kevin Johnson) today. They were happy with what they saw, and see."

Sixers fans, meanwhile, have mostly been seeing red of late. But if they look closely enough, they can see some reason for hope, too.