Sixers must start fast vs. vengeful Thunder

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Sixers must start fast vs. vengeful Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Sixers are not exactly catching the Thunder at an ideal time. The Northwest Division leaders had their 12-game home winning streak snapped two nights ago when Brooklyn beat them at Chesapeake Arena by 17. It was only their second opponent all season that shot 50 percent or better against them.

The Sixers know OKC will be looking to make amends.

They are going to want to come out here and bury us from the beginning, Jason Richardson said. We have to be ready for their first wave of attack. Those guys are going to be aggressive, because they are very tough here to beat. The fans here are great. They are loud. They are passionate about basketball, so it is going to be one of those games where we have to be mentally prepared and physically as well, because they are going to come out and hit us with the first punch.

The Thunder won just 23 games in their first season in Oklahoma City, 2008-09. But in the four seasons that followed, they've lost a combined 35 games on their home floor.

Oh, they are going to be ready," said Royal Ivey, who spent the last two seasons with the Thunder. "They dont lose two in a row at home, that doesnt happen. They are going to be ready because they are competitors. They are going to come with their hard hats and we have to be ready that first quarter, those first five minutes -- that is going to be key because this building is going to be on fire."

In Iveys tenure with the Thunder, the team never lost back-to-back home games. In fact, the Thunder have not done that since the 2009-10 season when they dropped consecutive home games twice before Christmas.

A great home court and a commitment to winning has made Oklahoma City a target destination for free agents, and that is in spite of the city being the 45th-largest market in the United States.

It is like a college environment, Ivey said. When new guys come in, like rookies, they are like freshmen. I was considered a senior. It is a college environment -- its like a family from top to bottom. First tier, the way they run their organization from the players to the front office to how they treat everybody. My time here was great.

Said Richardson: When free agents hear around the league that an organization is all about winning, taking care of their guys, a first class organization, guys are attracted to that. Because when you have that kind of atmosphere and commitment from the front office that is when you start talking about championships.

The Thunder have rubbed elbows with that championship feeling, losing in the NBA finals last spring to the Miami Heat in five games. Currently, they have the highest winning percentage in the NBA.

They have two of the top seven scorers in the NBA helping them average the second-most points per game at 106. In an earlier meeting this season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 67 points in an overtime victory for the Thunder -- unsurprisingly, that duo is the top scoring tandem in the league.

Ivey vividly remembers battling Westbrook daily in practice. The practice court, he says, is where Westbrook became an All-Star.

He is definitely a competitor, Ivey said of Westbrook. He is fierce. Everybody downplays his attitude, but that makes him good. He is a competitor. He hates to lose. He hates when he turns over the ball. He is hard on himself and he brings it every day in practice and it shows on the court because in practice he is always competing, always trying to outdo somebody.

Ivey went from guarding Westbrook every day in practice to playing against another UCLA product daily: Jrue Holiday.

Jrue is similar, but he is just quiet, Ivey compared. Russell is more vocal and more animated. Jrue is more reserved, but Jrue has that same competitive nature and he gets after it. They are similar pit bulls -- one is a blue-nose, one is a red-nose pit bull.

Dog lovers know that blue-nosed or red, neither is better -- just different.

Holiday, who Wednesday had his second career triple-double, has a right groin strain but is expected to play.

E-mail Dei Lynam at dlynam@comcastsportsnet.com

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.8 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there."

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

WAYNE, Pa. — Three steps. 

That’s all it takes before Ben Simmons is recognized walking through the streets of Philadelphia. 

This year’s No. 1 pick has been in the spotlight long before the Sixers drafted him in June, and now he's experiencing what it's like to be known as an NBA player in his new city. 

“I’ve been enjoying walking around South Street, getting some Ishkabibble's,” Simmons said Tuesday after a special appearance at the Sixers' Camp at Valley Forge Military Academy. 

At 6-foot-10, Simmons towers above most on the court, let alone on the sidewalk. Fans have been eager to welcome him to Philadelphia for a new chapter of the organization after three years of struggle. 

“Positive things,” Simmons said of the comments he receives. “I think a lot of people are excited, so I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Simmons understands the impact a professional athlete can have on young fans, and was excited to be at camp Tuesday.

Growing up in Australia, he never had the opportunity to hear from NBA players when he attended basketball camps. Now that he's in that position, the 20-year-old was glad to provide that memory to the 240 campers. 

“That would mean a lot if I was able to experience that,” Simmons said. 

Simmons demonstrated skill drills, such as passing fundamentals, interacted in a Q&A session and signed autographs for each camper. He also took individual photos for those who traveled internationally, including from Nigeria, Italy and Greece. 

“I’m just like them, but older,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to be a good role model to them.”

Simmons plans to spend most of the offseason in Philadelphia as he gets settled into the city. He still has to move into his new home, but at least he knows where to get a cheesesteak in the meantime. 

NBA Notes: Dion Waiters signs 1-year deal with Heat

NBA Notes: Dion Waiters signs 1-year deal with Heat

Two people with knowledge of the situation tell The Associated Press that the Miami Heat have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with free agent guard Dion Waiters.

The two sides came to agreement on Monday. Waiters will make $2.9 million. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the deal.

Waiters averaged 9.8 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, but had several big games in the playoffs. He played particularly well against Dallas and San Antonio in the playoffs before his role was reduced in the seven-game loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

Waiters will give the Heat another scorer off the bench (see full story).

Blazers: C.J. McCullom inked to four-year extension
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A person familiar with the deal confirms that guard CJ McCollum has agreed to a four-year, $106 million contract extension with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Monday because the deal hadn't been formally announced by the team. It was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

McCollum, who was named the NBA's Most Improved Player, averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the Blazers during the regular season. He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season.

As the 10th overall pick for the Blazers in the 2013 draft, McCollum bided his time on the bench for his first two seasons. He became a starter in the backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team's starters departed in the offseason (see full story).

Michael Jordan donates $2 million to ease racial tensions
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Michael Jordan is trying to help ease tension between African-Americans and law enforcement.

The NBA great and Charlotte Hornets owner said Monday he's giving $1 million to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The aim is to help build trust following several shootings around the country.

Jordan says in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday that "as a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers," (see full story).