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NBA Highlights From November 22nd-28th

Even amidst unusual change, there’s a tendency for things to return to normal; the chaos of the day-to-day of the NBA season eventually smooths away with time. The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, last year’s NBA Finals matchup, appear to be on an early track for a Finals rematch. Joel Embiid made his return to action and picked up where he left off. And lastly, we witnessed another example of how arrogant fans can be. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

The Suns’ winning streak is now at 16!

While pundits and fans may harp on aesthetics and style points, true contenders are content to win by any means necessary. The Phoenix Suns are a proud member of the latter group, given the wide variety of recent victories that comprised ongoing 16-game winning streak.

Whether it’s blowing out teams (Knicks) or winning in the last minutes (Spurs and Nets), the Suns aren’t apologizing for how they win and are more focused on what’s ahead of them: a huge primetime matchup against the 18-2 Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

Anthony Edwards is on track to become a superstar

Although most fans would expect a No. 1 overall pick to have the potential to become a superstar, it doesn’t make it less exciting when their potential is producing at a high level. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Edwards, is becoming a nightly highlight reel for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Alongside averaging 22 points, six rebounds, and nearly four assists per game in his second NBA season, Edwards offers energy and gamesmanship, which have helped drive the Timberwolves’ improvement this season. And besides his magnificent dunks, Edwards provides valuable intangibles—such as his leadership and clutchness—that were overlooked before he arrived in the league.

Joel Embiid’s absence didn’t bother him during his return

Before missing nine games because he tested positive for COVID-19, Joel Embiid was beginning to find his rhythm as he lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 7-2 record to start this season. And while a three-week absence would harm most players, last season’s MVP runner-up didn’t miss a beat in his return to action last Saturday night.

Despite the 76ers’ double-overtime loss to the Timberwolves, Embiid posted 42 points and 14 rebounds, reminding the league just how dominant he can be. Even at Embiid’s level of stardom, few players possess his combination of impact and production that can vault their team into contention.

Once again, fans cross the line for no other reason than being selfish

Even though most interactions between players and fans aren’t harmful, there are times where a line gets crossed. Last Wednesday, during the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers game, LeBron James asked for two fans to be removed from their courtside seats due to offensive comments they made towards him.

And while there hasn’t been confirmation of what the fans said to James, the fact they got removed (and almost received a lifetime ban from attending NBA games) proves the need to improve fan behavior further. Regardless of who you are and the location of your seats, fans must remember they have to abide by the high standard that’s in place for spectators at these events. It’s an embarrassment to everyone involved when situations like this happen.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From November 1st-7th

If there’s any lesson to learn as an NBA fan, the regular season is a marathon, not a sprint! Things can change quickly across this league, so you have to accept that. Who would have thought the Cavaliers found their best answer to life post-LeBron so soon? Why does Luka Doncic have a thing for breaking the Celtics’ hearts? Can the 76ers continue their hot streak despite the outside noise? Down are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

Evan Mobley is the Cavs’ answer to surviving life without LeBron

Among the many storylines that have lived in the NBA over the past three years, it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles without once, long-time superstar LeBron James. Outside of their 11 years together with James, which included multiple Finals appearances and one title, the Cavaliers have not made the playoffs and are also an annual participant in the league’s draft lottery. But things may have changed this season.

Evan Mobley, the team’s third-overall pick from this year’s draft, appears to be the answer the Cavaliers needed to succeed in life without James finally. Besides being a key component in the team’s surprising 7-4 start, Mobley’s versatile skill-set and potential are recognized across the NBA as the traits needed for a prospect who has the keys to the franchise. And only 11 games into his career, the USC product has produced a pair of signature performances, including his career-best 26-points in a 126-109 road win against the NY Knicks on Sunday.

Luka breaking the Celtics’ heart is now common

Sometimes it doesn’t take much for anything to become a trend, and we’ve reached that point with Luka Doncic and the Boston Celtics. For the second time in two seasons, the Mavericks’ superstar has broken the Celtics’ heart by making another step-back three to win the game, 107-104, last Saturday night.

What makes Doncic’s latest game-winner insane to think about is he not only made it but attempted it from nearly the same spot he made his first game-winner against the Celtics. But the biggest difference? Doncic now made it with three defenders over him, including stellar defense by former teammate Josh Richardson.

The 76ers have quieted the noise so far!

While Philadelphia’s off-court drama has hogged most of the spotlight, fans and media should pay just as much attention to the Sixers’ on-court dominance. Despite the Simmons drama, the 76ers have locked in and played good basketball to start this season, storming out to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 8-2.

Even though center Joel Embiid hasn’t yet matched his production from last season (his 21.4 points per game are down more than seven points from last year), the East’s No. 1 seed has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach. Seven players are averaging double-digit points per game, and six players are shooting over 50% from the field while also producing player efficiency ratings over 20.

Cole Anthony’s sophomore season is going to be spectacular

There were a lot of crazy, and at times egregious, events that transpired last NBA season, and one of them involved Cole Anthony. The then-rookie point guard of the Orlando Magic didn’t make either of the league’s All-Rookie teams, despite being more productive than the likes of Issac Okoro and Isaiah Stewart. But Anthony isn’t one to cry over spilled milk.

Fast forward 11 games into his second season in the league and Anthony is proving his doubters wrong. Not only has the UNC product averaged more than 20 points per game (up from 12.9 last year), but he’s built on that same confidence and swagger that he exhibited towards the end of last year. 

On Sunday night, Anthony sparked the Magic’s rallying 24-11 run by scoring 10 of those points en route to a 107-100 comeback victory over the heavy-Western Conference favorite, Utah Jazz. 

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Sports Strength

These 5 Sixers Players Must Improve In These Areas

The time has come to focus on simply basketball for the Philadelphia 76ers. The off-seasons distractions and prima donna bullshit will take a back seat when the Sixers visit New Orleans for their season opener against the Pelicans tonight.

The Sixers went 2-2 during the pre-season, as Doc Rivers and company likely got a feel for where minutes will be allocated amid Ben Simmons’ absence. More likely than not, we’re going to see a variety of line-ups from the Sixers this season. Whether that’ll mean starting Tyrese Maxey at point guard one night, Furkan Korkmaz (yes, Furkan Korkmaz) or Shake Milton at the one another night, or even Simmons, it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing the same look night-in and night-out from this team.

Rather than discussing who should start, I think it makes more sense to go over the most important players on the 76ers, and what they need to improve on for the team to be where they want to be.

Joel Embiid – Limiting Turnovers & Leadership
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Embiid enters the 2020-2021 season in a prime position to author an encore to his MVP caliber campaign last year. The Sixers star big-man is coming off of his best season, posting career highs in points, shooting percentages across the board, as well as steals. With the best record in the East to show for it, the Sixers need to center the offense around Embiid and his dominant skill-set night in and night out. Expect the Sixers to call plays for Embiid on the low block and high post, while involving him in many pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops as well, in what should be another MVP type season from the 27 year-old superstar.

To become truly unstoppable, Embiid needs to be better at limiting turnovers, especially while being double-teamed. Even though he has improved at doing so, he must continue to make the right decisions when teams throw double teams at him. Embiid averaged a career low in turnovers during the regular season, but averaged a career high in turnovers during the playoffs.

As the best player, Embiid needs to become more of a vocal leader. When things were going poorly against the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, every Sixer seemed to have their head down. There was no one rallying the troops, or screaming in timeouts when necessary. You see that type of leader on all of the championship teams: Giannis, Steph, LeBron, etc. Embiid needs to emulate them for the Sixers to reach their potential.

Tobias Harris – Dirty Work & Leadership
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Tobias Harris is one of the most scrutinized players on the Sixers, with many people believing he hasn’t lived up to the $180 million contract he signed in 2019. Amidst all that scrutiny, though, he actually posted the best season of his Philly tenure last year by significantly upping his true shooting percentage from 55.6 percent to 59.7 percent. Still, Harris has a tendency to shrink in the biggest moments, notable shooting horribly during Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks, and disappearing entirely during their Game 5 defeat as well.

Now more than ever, the Sixers need Harris to score 20 points a game, and he’s proven to be good for it. And while Harris has never had problems getting buckets, he has a hard time impacting games in other ways. As such, to fill the likely Ben Simmons-sized hole in the lineup, Harris needs to play with more energy and effort, particularly on the defensive end.

Seth Curry – Leadership & Defense
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As a UNC fan, I was kind of irked by the Sixers signing a former Dookie Blue Devil before the 2020-2021 season; now, it’s no secret that Philly needs the sharpshooting of Seth Curry in their offense. Last postseason, Curry shot like a man possessed, averaging 18.4 points per game while maintaining an incredible clip of 50% from three-point range. Since the Sixers have enough options to handle playmaking duties, Curry can continue to do what he does best: move without the ball and make shots. While he’s adept at working his own mid-range game, he’s best used when spacing the floor our playmakers and big men.

As a key contributor to their limited playoff success last season, Curry should assume more of a vocalized leadership role this year as well. As someone who stepped up when it mattered most last year, he’s won the respect of those in the locker room and should take advantage of that for the sake of a team that doesn’t really have a one at the moment.

Additionally, while Curry will never be an elite perimeter defender, there’s no reason he should get torched by Kevin Huerter like he was in the playoffs. Since Curry is such an integral part of the Sixers’ offense, he must do everything in his power to hold his own on defense, and make opposing players uncomfortable.

Matisse Thybulle – Discipline & Shooting
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The stock of Matisse Thybulle is rising. Thybulle, a third-year swingman, made the All-NBA 2nd defensive team last season, and lead the Olympics in steals this past summer while playing a key role for Australia. His action during the pre-season was limited due to shoulder soreness, but he’s expected to play a big role for the Sixers this season as a lockdown defender. Thybulle is long, athletic and has great instincts on that end of the floor, even if he can be reckless at times.

For Thybulle to take the next step in evolving into an elite defender in this league, he needs to find the right balance between discipline and aggressiveness; his instincts are what make him one of the most disruptive defenders in the NBA, but he needs to understand how to operate within the structure of the team while not get pulled out of position and into foul trouble. If he can maintain what makes him such a special talent while reining in his rashness, he will earn more minutes and could easily make First Team All-Defense.

Offensively, Thybulle regressed in his three-point percentage during his sophomore season, so becoming reliable from beyond the arc will also allow him to have more playing this season.

Tyrese Maxey – Defense & Shooting
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Many thought that Tyrese Maxey slid too far in the 2020 NBA Draft. After watching his rookie season, it’s hard to disagree. Maxey, along with Thybulle, will vie to be the top option off the bench for the Sixers this year, thanks to his ability to score and penetrate the lane relatively well. Doc Rivers also trusted the 21 year-old guard out of Kentucky to play vital minutes during Philly’s win in Game 6 of the Atlanta Hawks series. His energy and charisma have also made Maxey a fan favorite in the city of Brotherly Love.

Maxey will be asked to shoulder a larger load this season as he becomes more comfortable as a facilitator. In that case, he’ll have improve at keeping ball-handlers in front of him on defense, while improving his consistency from three-point range as well.

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Unpacking the Ben Simmons News: It Isn’t His Fault

Ben Simmons, the NBA’s enfant terrible, has been suspended by the Philadelphia 76ers for the season opener for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Since returning from his extended hold-out last week, Simmons has been noticeably apathetic in practice. A quick recap of this week’s Ben Simmons news: yesterday, he loafed through a drill with his phone in his pocket, proof that, ironically, he isn’t exactly dialed in for this season; today he was dismissed from practice after refusing to participate in a defensive drill.

“At the end of the day,” Joel Embiid said to reporters after practice, “our job is not to babysit somebody.”

I wonder who he’s talking about.

This outcome—Ben Simmons openly not giving a shit and everybody getting super mad at him—is unsurprising; Simmons has warned the Sixers that he would be insolent and difficult if they don’t trade him and now he’s being insolent and difficult. It’s understandable to criticize Simmons for demanding a trade in such a disruptive way, but Simmons and his agent Rich Paul are hardly breaking precedent by doing so; Simmons isn’t the first superstar to request a trade and he won’t be the last. Last winter, James Harden skipped training camp to go to strip clubs with Lil Baby and loafed through regular season games; in 2018, Jimmy Butler bullied his way out of Minnesota

Moreover, it’s unreasonable to get furious at Simmons because he’s sad and unhappy; he’s allowed to be sad and unhappy. 

In this sense, the ongoing disaster in Philly is simply a result of the Sixers’ refusal to trade Simmons, let alone engage in good faith negotiations with other teams. The only impediment to ending the stand-off is the ego of Darryl Morey, the Sixers’ general manager. Nobody wants Simmons to continue to be a Sixer—and yet he is and he will be for the foreseeable future because Morey can’t stomach the idea that he might trade away a player with a higher EPM than the ones he gets in return. 

The strangest thing about the ordeal is that there’s no reason this should’ve become so toxic in the first place. When Simmons is on the floor, the Sixers are obviously better than when he’s not. Even if the fit seems aesthetically clunky at times, Embiid and Simmons are one of the best duos in the NBA; in their 1,479 minutes together last season, they posted a net rating of +16.44 points per 100 possessions, per PBP Stats. As such, the main motivating force behind Simmons’ trade demand is the Sixers’ utter self-sabotage. Somehow, the team has alienated Simmons so thoroughly that years of toiling in Sacramento or Minneapolis suddenly seem more appealing than contending for a championship.

The whole thing is such a nonsensical clown show that it’s almost stopped being funny.