The most exciting part of Monday’s Bulls-76ers matchup was the mystery surrounding who would start in Chicago’s frontcourt. Joakim Noah was announced alongside Pau Gasol, but an apparent tweak to his surgically-repaired left knee had Niko Mirotic on the floor at tip-off. The Bulls managed against a winless 76ers team, winning 111-88.
The first half was full of runs by both teams. After a 12-11 start by Philadelphia, Tony Snell checked in and the Bulls went on a huge run. It was fairly predictable, given the on/off court splits of Snell and Doug McDermott thus far:
Snell is in, which means the Bulls will go on a run
The Sixers fought back to start the second quarter, though, and it took a late Chicago run to notch a 52-43 halftime lead. At one point in the half, Derrick Rose scored on three straight possessions, craftily converting around the basket. He finished with 12 points, seven assists, and five rebounds in 28 minutes, a very solid performance.
The Bulls maintained a healthy lead throughout the third quarter and Philly never threatened again. Niko Mirotic caught fire in the second half and tallied 20 points and ten rebounds overall. It was an encouraging night after three straight duds from the young power forward. Most importantly, Mirotic found his groove once again from distance, knocking down three of seven. It remains to be seen if Fred Hoiberg inserts Joakim Noah into the starting lineup when he’s available again.
Jimmy Butler had a quiet scoring night with just seven points, and none after halftime. He still contributed across the board, though, adding six rebounds, five assists and a team high +29 in only 26 minutes.
Doug McDermott continues to shoot lights out. He knocked down seven of 15 shots for 18 points in 28 minutes in his third straight start. While McBuckets has actually been worthy of his nickname this season, he is still completely lost on the defensive end. Even today, the Bulls only outscored Philadelphia by five points in his minutes; the other four starters were between +14 and +29, with Tony Snell at +18 off the bench.
Pau Gasol had a very nice game, posting 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. He had his way with rookie Jahlil Okafor for most of the night on both ends. Still, there were plenty of possessions where Gasol was a statue under the basket. His defense has nearly completely eroded outside of one-on-one matchups; the Bulls need to figure out what to do with the future Hall of Famer.
Bobby Portis saw his first (scant) rotation minutes of the season with Noah out. He failed to make much of an impact and was yanked amidst a fervent 76ers run in the second quarter.
The 76ers are easily the least talented team in the league, but they play admirably hard under third-year coach Brett Brown. The ball is constantly moving on offense, which is pretty impressive given the dearth of NBA-level guards on the roster. Defensively, I thought they did a good job with their positioning to slow down the Bulls. With only nine players available–Nerlens Noel sat out with a wrist injury–they just ran out of gas.
Jahlil Okafor had an impressive stat-line with 21 points and 15 rebounds in 31 minutes, but I thought it was fairly empty production. He needed 25 attempts to get there and doesn’t quite have a grasp of good shot selection yet. It’s understandable given Philly’s roster, but Okafor was often overmatched by the Bulls’ underwhelming defense. Still, he also showed some amazingly mature touch and post moves around the basket. I’m confident he’ll be a good shooter eventually too.
Coming up: the Bulls get to take most of the week off as they don’t play again until Friday, when they’ll take on Charlotte at the UC. They’ll hope to avenge last week’s embarrassing blowout loss.
For some reason, Madonna’s hit song from 1984 was running through my head after the Sixers had won their first game to quietly evade history: “Like a virgin, touched for the very first time.” It kind of perfectly encapsulates the season thus far. The Sixers are a team without any experience, and a large bulk of the players on the team had never even won an NBA game before Wednesday. And in case you were wondering, no, I don’t have any qualms comparing my team to a Madonna song.
I know we shouldn’t be celebrating a team that had lost 17 straight games and who narrowly avoided one of the more embarrassing records in NBA history (18 straight losses to begin a season). But sorry I’m not sorry. This win actually felt great as a long suffering Sixers fan. It just felt like a huge chip had been taken off the city’s shoulder. Of course we understand the long term goals of the Sixers and there is virtually no difference between starting 1-17 and 0-18 but as fan you really start to feel and empathize with these players. Regardless of how much talent they lack, they give 110% night in and night out because most of these guys are just trying to stick around in the NBA for more than a couple months.
Michael Carter-Williams is a guy you have to feel for. He’s a true NBA talent and if you watch you can sense the mounting frustration that piles on him every day. He’s going to incur a lifetime of putrid NBA basketball games before the Sixers final roster is complete in a few years. They say in sports there are also moral victories; I think this win belongs in that category as well for MCW. It was also great to see this team get a win because they have been close so many times and the streak needed to end.
This is typically how I am forced to watch Sixers basketball:
Wednesday’s game against Minnesota could also be described as one of the worst basketball games ever played. The first half ended at a paltry 34-32 and there were more turnovers in this game than in a Dutch bakery. But that was actually a perfect recipe for the Sixers to finally chalk one up in the win column.
The Sixers had given up a double digit lead in the first half and I kind of thought the inevitable was going to happen: the T’Wolves would regroup and take out the Sixers. There are certain things you can count on in life; death, taxes, and the Sixers losing in terrible fashion. My expressions during this game were varied. I started out hopeful, then sank into despair, and this finally turned into ecstasy.
There were some unlikely heroes. How about Robert Covington? If you don’t know who Robert Covington is, I’m not going to crucify you because I didn’t know who he was until a few weeks ago. But he’s actually a pretty accomplished NBA D-League player (huge oxymoron), so he was a perfect fit for the Sixers. He came into the game in the fourth quarter and was unconscious and knocked down some critical three point shots for the Sixers. The Sixers were holding a six point lead inside one minute and to tell you the truth I kind of expected them to lose still. Somehow, Mo Williams was going to hit a three with MCW in his face and then steal the inbounds and do it all over again like he was a reincarnated Reggie Miller. But for once the Sixers held on and I couldn’t be happier.
Since I started this piece on a bit of a pop-culture kick…
The Sixers represent Happy Gilmore, the most unconventional golfer of all-time. The Sixers are the most unconventional team ever assembled in the NBA. Unconventional in terms of assembling a team with no talent or chance of winning games, when all other teams are trying to do the complete opposite. Happy’s final putt kind of represents this Sixers-TWolves game. The Sixers are looking at this huge obstacle (setting a bad record) in front of them. Happy’s shot takes all kinds of twists and turns, and the crowd is just in this awkward gaze. This is similar to watching the Sixers; many times I catch myself with just a stunned look at watching the reckless abandon and complete lack of basketball IQ they play with. Then finally when the putt sinks you can’t help but to feel overwhelmed with joy and amazement. I had to kind of pinch myself after the Sixers game had ended to make sure they actually won. I couldn’t help but to get up off the couch and celebrate, also because I don’t know how many more times I’ll be able to do that this season.
This win will likely amount to nothing, and when they play the Thunder on Friday they will most definitely get blown out. However it was fun to bask in this win for about 48 hours and I know Brett Brown will be giving this speech in the locker room before the next game.
This article is dedicated to myself for giving my heart and soul to the Sixers even though I’ll be getting nothing in return for a couple years. Also, to the recently released Sixer Chris Johnson, because we all know he never had a shot…pour one out for the homie.
Flashback to Draft Night 2013
The Philadelphia 76ers are coming off an abysmal and disappointing season which ended in the firing of head coach/broadcaster extraordinaire Doug Collins and the release of President and acting GM Rod Thorn. We legit had Thorn running this team in the front office and Doug Collins slowly dissipating any chemistry left on the floor. What’s even more absurd is that as a fan, this duo was actually creating a sense of optimism for the franchise the previous two years. Seems silly right?
Oh yeah, one more thing. We had that whole Andrew Bynum trade really not work out in our favor. We dealt our franchise player (if you can call Andre Iguodala one) as well as the walking double-double Nikola Vucevic. I absolutely was in love with Vucevic when he was a Sixer, such a rare type of talent at the center position, and Doug Collins didn’t even put his ass on the floor during the playoffs. Sorry, just letting out some frustration. I think throughout this article you’ll notice I will do that. As a Sixers fan releasing pent up negative energy in a healthy way is step one in the twelve steps to admitting you’re a Sixers fan.
To sum this digression up: Andrew Bynum while with the Sixers played 0 games and averaged 0 points, 0 rebounds, and 0 blocks per game. In comes the dark and mysterious figure that is general manager Sam Hinkie. To be honest, I knew very little about Hinkie when he was hired as GM. I knew he came from the Rockets organization and he was very into analytics. He also wasn’t Rod Thorn so Hinkie had that going for him. I was on board.
So back to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center. Typically an NBA franchise that has recently fired their head coach hires a new one before an important event like the draft. But obviously the Sixers are no typical franchise with Hinkie at the helm. Sam Hinkie legitimately didn’t care who the future coach would be; this draft was all his. Now obviously the Sixers ownership is involved, but they have basically given Hinkie the only keys to the castle. He makes every decision and the only one that he answers to is god; and even god is like “dude, whatever you gotta do to make this Sixers team competitive is alright with me…”
The Sixers roster before the draft featured a bunch guys with mediocre skills. It was non-descript to say the least. But we had one silver lining and that was 23 year old All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. He seemed like a legit building block and a guy Hinkie would be able to put pieces around and go forward wi…..and he’s gone! While everyone was salivating at the prospect of Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel playing alongside each other in New Orleans and blocking around 35 shots a game, Hinkie was behind closed doors dealing for the injured Kentucky product (Noel) as well as a future first round pick.
There was a lot of discrepancy in the reporting of this deal during draft night. While all of the facts were being sorted out, the Sixers were on the clock and had selected Syracuse point guard and future rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, aka MCW, aka “the Sultan of Steals”, aka “the Prime Minister of Passing” (none of these other nicknames have stuck like MCW unfortunately). After the selection of MCW this basically confirmed that Jrue Holiday was on the move. I had trouble wrestling with this new direction Hinkie was steering us in. But the team was going nowhere and had zero shot of winning anything with just Jrue Holiday, and while the concept of bottoming out and possibly getting Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker was appealing, it was a long way away from next year’s draft.
By the end of the night I was on board and fully immersed in what I refer to as “Hinkieball”. It’s like “moneyball” except completely different and not involving baseball. Hinkie had completely changed the course of the franchise for the better in about 15 minutes. 15 minutes! That’s a fourth of an episode of Homeland! Hinkie moved Jrue Holiday for what would have been the #1 overall pick if healthy (Noel) and a top three protected first rounder next year from the Pelicans in addition to completely overhauling the cap situation. At the end of the 2013-14 season they had an astounding $36 million available. Teams would kill for a cap situation this good. Literally, Mitch Kupchak would go out on a murdering spree in LA right now to give the Lakers just half as good a cap situation as Hinkie has gotten for the Sixers.
So finally the 2013-14 season is upon us. Sixers fans are ready for the tanking extravaganza to begin. We have our several boxes of tissues to wipe away tears that we were to experience in the upcoming months. We also have our slop buckets to collect all the vomit induced from the sickening feeling of watching Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes take a combined 50 shots a game. I actually want you to keep reading so I’m not going to go into actual detail about the Sixers 2013-14 season.
Here are the highlights:
We beat Miami in the season opener and MCW locked up the rookie of the year award on day one of the season. (Editor’s note: also this. Fuck this.)
Sam Hinkie acquired every second round pick in the next three NBA drafts at the trade deadline.
…..and that’s about it.
Also just for a good laugh here are some actual guys who appeared in a Sixers uniform last season.
Those five guys could play against you and some friends in pickup ball at the local JCC and you’d probably only lose by a couple buckets.
Finally, last season was the most awkward I have ever felt about the game of basketball in my life and I wouldn’t wish that kind of suffering upon any of my enemies. It was just weird watching a bunch of not-quite fringe NBA players play bad basketball and hoping that they lose night in and night out. It’s hard to sit there and root for your team to lose, but that was truly the only way to get better. It was also the first time as a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan where losing was not only tolerated but encouraged. It’s crazy to think that this little middle-aged white guy from Houston had completely mesmerized a city that is known to have no patience and is absolutely heartless when it comes to their sports teams’ successes or failures. (Obligatory cliché “snowballs at Santa Claus” joke). But for real, we threw batteries at J.D. Drew for saying he didn’t want to play here. We’re the craziest fan base in the whole world and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.
Anyway we won 19 games last season and finished with the second best odds at landing the #1 pick in June in addition to the Pelicans pick, which ended up being #10 overall. This was going swimmingly for Hinkie and the front office. Sixers fans could finally see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. We ended up landing the third pick, which locked us in at getting Wiggins, Parker, or Embiid. All three of those guys would excite the fan base and reinvigorate the team. Then the Joel Embiid injury threw the whole top of the draft for a loop. Was there a real possibility that the Sixers would take a flyer on an injured big man and sit him for the entire season? I truly couldn’t fathom going through another year like the last.
So obviously and without hesitation, Sam Hinkie took Joel Embiid and put a dagger through the heart of every Sixers fan. To add insult to injury, he traded for Dario Saric and stashed him away overseas, thus twisting the dagger that he had already thrust inside us. What everyone wanted to believe was a one year rebuilding plan ended up being a multiyear process. After hundreds of expletives hurled by me at friends, family, religious statues, and TV media personalities, I finally began to cope with what was going on with my beloved Sixers franchise. In one year Sam Hinkie had gathered a pretty impressive stock. Four top twelve picks (MCW, Noel, Embiid, Saric), approximately $35-40 million in cap flexibility, and the likelihood of gathering another top three pick in 2015. He also acquired Joel Embiid’s Twitter handle, which has been All-Star caliber. The dude hits up Kim Kardashian and Rihanna on Twitter just because. As far as I’m concerned, Joel is the man and we all wish him a speedy recovery.
This brings us into the present and the 2014-15 Sixers squad. It’s definitely been easier to mentally prepare for this current season then it was for last. I’m used to seeing just terrible basketball run across my TV screen, but now it’s being brought to an all-time low. Last year, miraculously we won 19 games. This was largely due to having a combination of Turner, Hawes, Thad Young, and MCW. After Turner and Hawes were dealt at the deadline the team began to plummet down the standings. Not because they were great players, but because instead of acceptable NBA players taking 15-20 shots each a game; those shots were replaced by the likes of Casper Ware and Byron Mullens. This year, the Sixers have no decent veterans who can average 12-15 points a game. This is the reason they are without a win 10 games into the season.
This was the Sixers 2014 opening night starting lineup:
PG Tony Wroten
SG Chris Johnson
SF Hollis Thompson
PF Nerlens Noel
C Henry Sims
Seriously, this is no misprint. These guys can all call themselves NBA starters. I mentioned above that Chris Johnson was let go, and this is no accident, he really is a dreadful player. Johnson was brought into training camp one week before the season started. The Sixers roster is so pitiful this year, that Brett Brown legit had no other options at the two guard spot but to start a guy who just joined the team a week ago.
This whole scenario is so so sad. The Sixers are not guilty of tanking, as much as obliterating any chance possibly winning basketball games. The Sixers are comprised of MCW, Nerlens, and the longest list of D-list celebrity NCAA players who you may or may not remember when they were on a team that was a 12 seed in the tournament. However, second round pick K.J. McDaniels has been a true bright spot for the team and could actually be an integral part of this Sixers team in the future. Early reports on Nerlens Noel are good as well. He obviously needs to develop his body and gain weight and muscle, but his defensive skills are evident and he and Embiid in the frontcourt are not going to be a friendly sight for opponents in the future.
But why be on board with Sam Hinkie and the direction the franchise is going? Is it because we have no other choice and that believing in something is better than not believing at all? I think that’s true for the most part, but I also do personally believe in this plan. Having beyond awful basketball for the next two to three years is a fair sacrifice so that the Sixers are able to prosper for the next ten years after. I also believe in Brett Brown as a head coach. He’s coaching a bunch of college level guys and trying to get them to play together and improve on a night-to-night basis. His record as a coach is not even close to a direct correlation for the caliber of coach he will become when there is finally a real NBA team in front of him. Right now it’s really no fun being a Sixers fan. But if I had the chance to go back to draft night 2013 and stop Sam Hinkie from trading Jrue Holiday and dismantling the franchise I love so dearly; 100 out of 100 times I’m letting him dial up the Pelicans and make that deal.
Keep calm and Hinkie on my fellow Sixer fans, greener pastures are coming.