Sixers-Celtics In Possible Playoff Preview

Sixers-Celtics In Possible Playoff Preview

The last time the Liberty Ballers squared off
against their Atlantic Division rivals, Boston entered the game with a
46-16 record, and control of first place in the Eastern Conference.
Since then, the Celtics have struggled to keep their heads above water,
going 7-7 over their last 14, and ceding control of the number one seed
to Chicago. With the Heat suddenly surging as well, it's looking more
and more likely the C's could wind up settling for third.

Meanwhile, the Sixers cooled similarly following that meeting,
playing .500 ball over their last 12. However, the New York Knicks have
been steadily losing ground during the same period, and Doug Collins'
crew were able to build themselves a slight cushion in sixth place. As
you can see, with just five games remaining on Philly's slate, suddenly
this very likely could be a first round playoff matchup.

While we've debated whether or not the Sixers could actually win a
seven-game series against any of the top four clubs in the East, much of
that discussion previously centered around Chicago, Miami, or Orlando.
When the playoff push began in ernest, the Celtics were firmly
entrenched at the top. Even though they began falling, the focus in
Philadelphia had shifted to higher seeds, still seemingly out of
Boston's path.

Now with a win tonight, the Sixers can make it difficult for the C's
to climb back ahead Miami, while simultaneously controlling their own
destiny with the Knicks, ultimately setting up the post-season rematch
in little more than a week.

A Sixers-Celtics series would be fitting, as the previous meetings
have all had that type of feel. The three contests have been decided by a
total of eight points, with Boston squeaking out a pair of victories
back in December, and the 76ers finally exacting revenge in an 89-86 W
on March 12 in front of a near-capaity crowd at the Well.

Which brings us back to whether they can steal a series come
post-season time. If things stand the way they do today, and the Sixers
draw the Celtics... do they maybe have their number, even just a little
bit? The Sixers held leads in the final minutes of both losses, and
dropped the first tilt on alley-oop in the closing seconds. And those
games were eons ago, when this club was still finding its way.

Last time around, the Sixers led almost the entire 48 minutes. When
Boston was on the ropes in the final quarter, they looked frantic and
desperate. Coach Collins would say after the game the key to game was
lockdown defense, particularly against Ray Allen, who shot just 1/3 from
beyond the arc, and a pitiful 2/11 from the field.  The big three as a
whole (Allen, Garnett, Pierce) were limited to just 30 points.

But are the Celtics, with appearances in two of the last three NBA
Finals, and only a few years removed from a championship, really a good
post-season draw? Time will tell, but tonight is a huge, huge test—for
both franchises.

AP Photo

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid will miss the next four games and is slated to return March 3 against the Knicks in Philadelphia, so long as he is symptom-free. While Embiid wants to play as soon as possible, he’s just glad there is now a definitive timetable announced.

Prior to Thursday, the team had not announced a specific timeframe.

“I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before,” Embiid said. “I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled.

“I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I’m happy that they did that today and they said that I’m out for the next four games.”

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion on Jan. 22 against the Trail Blazers. He sat out three games and returned on Jan. 27 to play the Rockets. He has not played since then, sitting out the last eight games.

An MRI also revealed Embiid has a slight tear in his meniscus, which is not thought to be related to the contusion.

Embiid went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time, he estimated, in four or five weeks. (Wednesday’s practice was not intense.) According to the Sixers, they are encouraged by the progress Embiid showed but do not feel he is game-ready. Team doctors are holding him out the next four games to minimize the risk of aggravating his knee. In order for him to be cleared, Embiid has to be symptom-free.

Embiid had eyed a return on Friday against the Wizards because he was feeling well, he said, but he had some swelling on Thursday.

“No swelling, no pain, nothing,” Embiid said of his criteria to play.

Now the team -- and fans -- can move forward without daily questions of Embiid’s status.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” Brett Brown said. “For you all to understand, the people that buying a ticket to understand, for me as a coach to prepare my team that he’s not going to be here for four more games. I like that clarity. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want him playing, but the mystery that surrounds that speculation I think is frustrating for people and we understand that.”

Embiid reiterated the patience aspect of the injury, noting he waited two years to rehab his foot and there is no need to rush his knee. Now everyone can be in the loop with his status.

“The end point is basically making sure I’m ready to play instead of just putting me out there,” Embiid said.

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

On the surface, the Nerlens Noel trade doesn't look good.

The Sixers on Thursday traded the third-year big man to the Dallas Mavericks for forward Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick. That first-rounder turns into two second-round picks if it doesn't convey in 2017. Yuck. And double yuck.

The only hope in this trade comes in Anderson. The former first-round pick has the look of a prototypical NBA wing. At 6-foot-6 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, he has the frame to disrupt passing lanes and the bulk at 228 pounds to muscle up stronger swingmen.

At Virginia, Anderson was a key cog for a team that was ranked as high as No. 2 and earned a 2-seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. After that season, Anderson opted to forego his senior year and enter the NBA draft. He was selected 21st overall by the Mavericks in 2015.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett preaches defense and Anderson was one of his finest disciples in that regard. Offensive limitations and being a part of a balanced attack with the Cavaliers caused Anderson's stock to drop. Despite shooting 45 percent from three in his final season, Anderson was considered a streaky shooter and, frankly, that's remained the NBA.

His rookie season was one to forget. The Mavericks were competitive in the Western Conference, finishing as the 6-seed and losing to the Thunder in the first round. Anderson couldn't find his way into Rick Carlisle's rotation. Dallas' never-ending supply of point guards coupled with the sharpshooting duo of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons relegated Anderson to just 11.8 minutes a game his rookie season. In his limited time, he shot 41 percent from the field and 27 percent from three.

Unfortunately, it's been a similar story this season, but with some glimmers of hope. Anderson is still losing minutes to Matthews and also big free-agent acquisition Harrison Barnes, who's having a strong first season with the Mavs. But over a three-game stretch in late January, Anderson averaged 15.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He also shot 6 of 16 (38 percent) from three during that span.

“I don’t want to sell myself short,” Anderson said to the Star-Telegram during that run. “I still think that I can be a really great player in this league, but I think it’s going to take a lot of hard work.

“I think [the early-season struggles] may be the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. All we can do is wait and just keep working hard, push through it and hopefully one day it’ll all pay off."

The most promising numbers in Anderson's young career are that he's averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes as a pro. At the very least, Anderson should develop into a solid defensive wing. If he develops offensively, who knows?

Per ESPN's Kevin Pelton, "Noel and Anderson (who just sneaks over the bar) are both among the 21 players in the league who have averaged 2.0 steals per 100 team plays and blocked 2.0 percent of opponent 2-point attempts or better in at least 500 minutes."

It's tough to argue that this trade was a good one for Bryan Colangelo. With that said, Anderson could still turn out to be a decent NBA player. He needs minutes and patience, two things the Sixers can offer in spades.