Sixers core convenes in L.A. for pickup games

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Sixers core convenes in L.A. for pickup games

LOS ANGELES -- Kevin Durants prowess on the New York City playground circuit was well documented earlier this summer. The same can be said for the game held in Washington D.C., where basketball players from that area took on a group of players from Los Angeles to see which coast reigns supreme. Nine NBA players participated in that game.

But has one team gathered under one roof to play together for consecutive days in an effort to keep its skills sharp and camaraderie strong during the NBA lockout?

Yes: the Philadelphia 76ers.

For those of you familiar with destination weddings, consider the Sixers' weekend in Los Angeles, where eight current team members met to practice at UCLA, a destination basketball workshop for family only. These pickup games were not about having as many NBA players participate as possible, rather about having as many Sixers be in attendance as possible.

The guys came out. We are having a great time together, bonding together. Thats what it is about, said Elton Brand who, along with Lou Williams, organized the gathering.

I think that creates a winning environment, having each others back out there. So you have to care, you have to grow, you have to know where someone likes the ball. When a guy cant play defense or cant show as well on a pick you have to know that. You have to know that. You have to be there to help your guy and have their back.

In attendance along with Brand and Williams were Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, Spencer Hawes and Craig Brackins. That list includes last years starting five, their sixth man and a rookie who will likely earn a starting spot whenever the upcoming season does get underway.

Getting together in a gym with no coaches can never mimic a real NBA practice -- it lacks the drills and discipline that makes for a coach being a coach. But the pickup games are intense and, in this case, believe it or not, there was defense being played. The Jrue-Lou matchup was particularly feisty, and watching Brand and Hawes battle in the post was intriguing.

The most we get out of it is being together, Williams said. Pickup is pickup. But I think the most we can get out of it is being in the gym with each other and seeing what guys have been working on and continue to build a camaraderie.

It was clear that guys definitely have not ignored their commitment to their real job despite the work stoppage that is 59 days old with no end in sight.

I see a lot of improvement in Jodie, Evan and Spencer, Brand acknowledged. Evan is looking more athletic. Spencer is running the floor better and Jodie, believe it or not, is even shooting better. Guys are really growing.

Spencer does look a lot more lean. Evan looks more fit too and stronger, Holiday said, echoing Brand's comments. A lot of guys just do what they do like Lou who came out here and just lit it up. But it really is good that we could meet in one place. Our team just has such good chemistry.

Williams hit two game winners straight on from three, reminiscent of Game 4 in the series against Miami. Williams had no problem showing a little swagger as he headed to the sideline for a water break.

And Hawes, the lone restricted free agent participating in the weekend, is running the floor better because he could be this summers poster child for P90X -- that is how in shape he looks.

Everyone looks good, Iguodala added. No one looks like they have added any weight. When you have a lockout situation that tends to be a problem and we havent been bit by that bug which is a really good thing. Hopefully the season starts on time because we would have an advantage. Other guys didnt think the season would be starting and kind of relaxed whereas we are still preparing for any situation.

Iguodala is heading into his eighth season, all of which have been played in a Sixers uniform. Williams came to the organization a year after Iguodala, and Brand is entering is fourth year of his five-year max contract in Philly. Moreover, Holiday, Turner, Meeks, Hawes and Brackins are all 24-years old or younger. That group is the core of a team that went 41-41 last season.

They are staunch believers that if given the opportunity to stay together they can absolutely improve on that record.

You look at teams that have had some success. Dallas (the defending champs), they have been together for a number of years, Williams remarked. Obviously, the Spurs have had the core of their team together for God knows how long and I think with this group we are going to have the same opportunity with guys building together and having that camaraderie to try and build something special.

Once you have trust in one another you want to do anything on the court for each other, Turner added. It is all about teamwork. I think the biggest thing is team -- caring about one another and not caring who gets the credit.

Noticeably missing were Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights. Young, like Hawes, is a restricted free agent. Speights has one year remaining on his deal. Brand did make a point to say that guys who were not in attendance had previous commitments.

Everyone involved said if the lockout stretches on they would reconvene for more workshops throughout the fall.

Doug Collins would be impressed. The passion he imparted not just to the fans last year but to his players has rubbed off and remained. Or maybe like Collins, his players had it in them all along.

Said Iguodala: I think they know we have a good group of guys.

E-mail Dei Lynam at dlynam@comcastsportsnet.com

NBA draft profile: F Ben Simmons

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NBA draft profile: F Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons

Position: Forward

Height/Weight: 6-foot-10/239 pounds

School: LSU

The 19-year-old Australia native was the favorite to be the top pick in the 2016 NBA draft before he ever took the court for LSU. Here we are less than a month from the draft and that still may very well be the case.

It's hard to ignore Simmons' production in his only season with the Tigers: 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals per game. The 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills was named SEC Freshman of the Year and was named to the conference's first team. But for all his personal accolades, Simmons' team failed to make the NCAA Tournament after taking a 71-38 whooping at the hands of Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. He's been criticized from everything to his lack of maturity to his inability to shoot consistently from the outside.

Strengths
It's so rare to see a player of Simmons' stature with the ability to handle and see the court so well. Watching Simmons grab the ball off the rim and then go the length of the floor to either finish or find the open man is a thing of beauty. I love how smooth he is. It looks effortless for him. You almost forget he's 6-foot-10. His basketball IQ is excellent. He forces contact down low with his big body and draws fouls. His rebounding ability should translate very well to the next level.

He has the ability to guard multiple positions with his length and athleticism... if he's motivated. His size is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. A traditional four will struggle with his quickness. He'll be able to take a lot of wings down low and punish them in the post.

Weaknesses
The biggest thing is his shot. It's been well-documented. His three-point output in college: 33 percent. As much as that number reflects a weakness, he's at least self-aware. He knows his weaknesses. His free-throw percentage (67 percent) is just OK. The good news is, if you actually watched him shoot, this isn't a total rebuild.

Are the maturity and competitiveness concerns legitimate? I don't know. It's a 19-year-old kid we're talking about. The Sixers will have to decide if those concerns are something he'll outgrow or a serious red flag going forward. Playing under Brett Brown, who coached Simmons' father in Australia, would hopefully mitigate some of the concern.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
This is a really interesting question that I'm not sure anyone has the answer to yet. At 6-foot-10, he almost has to play the four, but where does that leave Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and possibly Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? There could be nights where Brown could get away with playing Simmons on the wing given his ball skills. But it might be a struggle for Simmons defensively depending on the matchup. In any case, Simmons will need a shooter/scorer or two in the lineup to complement his skill set.

NBA comparison
This is next to impossible. How many players have there been that are built like power forwards but handle like point guards? Magic Johnson is a lofty comparison, but Lamar Odom may not be quite strong enough. Much like Simmons, Magic was not a shooter (19 percent from three in his first nine years in the NBA), but at 6-foot-9, Johnson was one of the greatest facilitators in league history. If Simmons is somewhere between Johnson and Odom, the Sixers will be just fine.

Draft projection
I'd be shocked if the Sixers don't take Simmons at No. 1. It's the right call.

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

BOX SCORE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Suddenly, these Golden State Warriors who have been compared all season to the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s are on the brink of elimination.

Russell Westbrook had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Warriors 118-94 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State, which won a league record 73 games in the regular season, lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

The Warriors must win Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland to keep their season alive.

"We all have to bounce back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "The good news is, we go home. Obviously we play well at home. The idea now is to go home and get one win. Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we'll see what happens."

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 26 points, but two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was limited to 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Curry's shooting performance was so uncharacteristic that reporters asked if he was hurt.

"He's not injured," Kerr said. "He's coming back from the knee, but he's not injured. He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world."

The Warriors lost consecutive playoff games by at least 20 points for the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 1972 Western Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State's Draymond Green, who was fined for kicking Steven Adams in the groin in Game 3, finished with six points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City got a boost from an unlikely source. Andre Roberson, a player the Warriors have ignored at times during the series, scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Kevin Durant added 26 points and 11 rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and seven rebounds.

As for Westbrook, it was his first triple-double of the playoffs after posting 18 in the regular season. It was his fifth career playoff triple-double.

"I play every game like it's my last, regardless of who's in front of me," he said. "That's my job, and my job is to worry about my team, and that's all I do."

The Thunder know they have to close. Nine teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win.

"I think we're in a good place, but like I said, this game is over," Westbrook said. "We've got to move on to the next game. Every game is different."

The Thunder led 30-26 at the end of the first quarter, then gained control in the second. In the most unlikely of connections, Adams threw a bullet pass to Roberson near the basket for a dunk that gave the Thunder a 56-43 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.

Oklahoma City finished with a flurry and led 72-53 at halftime. The Thunder matched the most points they have scored in a first half in franchise playoff history, a mark they set the previous game against the Warriors. It also matched the most points Golden State has allowed in a half this season for the second straight game.

Westbrook had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds in the first half, and Durant had 18 points and six boards.

Thompson tried to keep the Warriors in it, scoring 19 points in just over seven minutes to start the third quarter. But the Thunder maintained their composure, led 94-82 at the end of the period and remained in control in the fourth.

"This is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn't over," Curry said.

Quotable
Kerr, on the pressure of trying to win a title after setting the regular-season wins record: "We had a tremendous regular season, our guys competed every single night and did something no one has ever done and they're proud of that. But in the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0. So there's no extra pressure, whether you're talking about defending our title or trying to back up the regular season."

Stat lines
According to Thunder Public Relations, the last team to score 72 or more points in the first half of two straight playoff games was the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers.

Tip-ins
Warriors: Curry went 1 for 7 in the first quarter, and made just 1 of 4 3-point attempts. ... Thompson committed his third foul with 7:55 left in the second quarter, and C Andrew Bogut committed his third about two minutes later. ... Curry made a 3-pointer for his 48th consecutive playoff game, extending his NBA record. ... The Warriors were 12-0 this season the game after a loss.

Thunder: Westbrook had five points, six assists and three rebounds in the first quarter. ... Oklahoma City forced 13 turnovers in the first half. ... The Thunder improved to 19-0 this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double. ... The Thunder outrebounded the Warriors 56-40 and outscored them 31-19 from the free throw line.

Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

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Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

The Sixers are taking their talent evaluation on the road.

On Tuesday, members of the front office attended a workout for Excel Sports Management in New York, which included Brandon Ingram, the projected No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Jamal Murray, a projected lottery pick, and Thon Maker, according to the Inquirer.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own facility, and it is common for teams to attend organized workouts for higher-rated prospects. Head coach Brett Brown, managing owner Josh Harris and vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley traveled to the session, but president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo was in Toronto for his son's high school graduation, according to the report.

The Sixers hold the first, 24th and 26th picks in the upcoming draft. The decision between one and two is widely considered to be between Ingram and Ben Simmons (see story). The Sixers have the assets on their roster to move up from Nos. 24 and 26 through a trade, which makes scouting prospects outside of the top two an integral part to their evaluation.

The team has worked out 12 players in Philadelphia and will continue to do so up until the draft on June 23.