Sixers Beat Spurs Behind Milton Game-Winner

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

After a subpar performance on Saturday, the Sixers were back in action on Monday night against the Spurs. After some late-game heroics from Shake Milton, the Sixers would pick up the win over San Antonio by a final score of 132-130.

All eyes were on Shake Milton in this game after his debut did not go according to plan. He would bounce back strong in this one, showing his critics not to give up on him just yet. Milton would finish the game with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, and knocked down a huge three-point shot in the closing moments that would eventually lead to the win.

Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid continued their strong play from Saturday in this game. Harris finished the game with 25 points on just under 60% from the floor and knocked down a trio of threes. Embiid would total 27 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. He continued to punish teams for going small on him and showed strong passing out of double teams.

Monday was a tough night at the office for Ben Simmons. He found himself in foul trouble all night and eventually fouled out of the game with just over two minutes to go in the game. He finished with just eight points and five assists before his early exit.

The Sixers had a very balanced scoring attack in this one. Five players finished in double-figures, including four of the five starters. When the Sixers can get the ball moving and play their game they can showcase the firepower they have on their roster.

Defensive play was something that needed to change from their previous game, but sadly we saw more of the same. Although early in the game the Sixers were energetic and looking like their old selves on defense, it would soon fade.

The Spurs scored 43 points in the fourth quarter, marking the second straight game where an opponent scored 40+ points in the final quarter. Although the Sixers were able to pull the victory out in this one, that is an area that needs to be addressed quickly.

The Sixers will have a quick day off on Tuesday and will step back on the court Wednesday for their next game. They will be facing off against the Washington Wizards at 4 p.m., hopefully the Sixers can continue to build momentum.

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76ers Bubble Preview - Part 4

Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Note – this is the third in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action, see part one here and part 2 here, and part 3 here

 We have now reached the final segment of our 76ers Bubble Preview. The first three parts featured Indiana, San Antonio, Washington, Orlando, Portland and Phoenix. This week we will be taking on the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets

Toronto Raptors

Pre-stoppage record: 46-18 (2nd in East)
Key players: Pascal Siakam (23.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.6 APG) Kyle Lowry (20.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 7.6 APG), Fred VanVleet(17.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.7 APG), Serge Ibaka (15.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.4 APG) 

Toronto comes into the Orlando bubble as a legitimate title contender. Not just because they won the 2019 NBA title, but because they have an excellent roster and one of the best coaches in the NBA in Nick Nurse. Of the 76ers’ eight opponents in the seeding games in Orlando, these Raptors, along with the Houston Rockets, present the greatest test.

Offensively, the Raptors can really come at you in waves. Pascal Siakam, in his third year out of New Mexico, has taken the leap from “sturdy 3-and-D guy” to a legitimate offensive threat, replacing Kawhi Leonard as the team’s lead option. Kyle Lowry has always provided a steady hand in running the offense, and can be counted on to provide plenty of offense from the perimeter. Fred VanVleet, like Siakam, has flourished in an expanded role, providing playmaking and strong outside shooting. Nurse gives this team a variable offense that can adjust to its opponents’ defensive schemes, and though it relies a lot on three-pointers (7th in the league in attempts), the Raptors are really good at hitting them (6th in the league at 37.1%), with six of their regulars averaging 38% or better with at least 3.3 attempts a night.

All that said, where the Raptors really shine is on the defensive end, sitting 2nd in the NBA in defensive rating (105.2 points/100 possessions). Lowry and Siakam continue to be menaces on the perimeter while Marc Gasol is still one of the league’s better interior defenders. Nurse has been known as a particularly creative defensive coach since his time in the G-League, so it is no surprise to see how variable his teams are defensively, switching seamlessly between man and zone concepts depending on the opponents’ lineup. The Raptors are so good defensively that you might even see them change defensive concepts in mid-possession, and they are cohesive enough to pull that off.

Houston Rockets 

Pre-stoppage record: 40-24 (fourth in West) 

Key players: James Harden (34.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 7.4 APG), Russell Westbrook (27.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 7.0 APG), Robert Covington (12.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG) 

This just might be the most interesting games for the Sixers out of their eight seeding games. It is going to be the clash of old school versus new school in terms of roster construction. 

At the trade deadline this year the Rockets decided to shock the NBA and trade away their starting center and pick up no big men to replace him. They run the smallest lineup in the league and base their game around playing fast and shooting a lot of three-pointers. It will be interesting to see this matchup of a super small lineup versus the Sixers' lineup of size of length. 

The Sixers are going to have their hands full in this game. Not only with trying to slow down the backcourt of Harden and Westbrook, but chasing around all of Houston's shooters on the perimeter. Guys like Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, and Ben Simmons are really going to have to play strong on the outside on defense.

On the other side of the ball, this should be a big game for Joel Embiid. There is nobody on the Rockets' lineup with the size or strength to slow down Embiid at rim. Taking advantage of the size mismatch is going to be a huge key for the Sixers if they want to win this game.

It will be interesting to see if Joel Embiid will be able to stay on the floor defensively with the Rockets spending all their time on the perimeter, but he should be nothing but dominant on the offensive side of the ball. 

Whichever team controls the pace will most likely walk away with the win in this game. If the Rockets get off to the races and turn the game into a track meet and shootout the Sixers are going to struggle playing catch-up. But if the Sixers can keep the game at their pace and let Embiid do his work down low they should walk away with the win.

It is going to be old-school versus new-school in this game, should be an interesting and fun game to watch for basketball fans. 

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The Rewind: 76ers Drop Opening Seeding Game to Pacers 127-121

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The 76ers, despite a 41-point, 21-rebound effort from Joel Embiid, began their seeding games with a 127-121 loss to the Indiana Pacers at the Visa Athletic Center in Disney World. TJ Warren dropped a career-high 53 points on 20-0f-29 shooting to push the Pacers past Philadelphia. The loss gives the Pacers control over the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference due to them winning the season series.

In addition to Embiid's dominant night, Tobias Harris added in 30 points and eight rebounds while Ben Simmons finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. However, the work of the 76ers' superstar trio was not enough to compete with Warren's 53-point performance.

Continue reading "The Rewind: 76ers Drop Opening Seeding Game to Pacers 127-121" »


76ers Bubble Preview Part III

 

Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Note – this is the third in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action, see part one here and part two here

 We have now reached the second half of our 76ers Bubble Preview. The first two parts featured Indiana, San Antonio, Washington and Orlando. This week we will be taking on the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland Trail Blazers

Pre-stoppage record: 29-37 (ninth in West) 

Key players: Damian Lillard (28.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.8 APG), CJ McCollum (22.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.3 APG), Carmelo Anthony (15.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 37.1 3P%) 

This game is going to be a good test for the Sixers. With Portland currently sitting in the ninth seed in their conference they are going to be bringing their all, and they have multiple threats to throw at the Sixers. 

Although the Sixers beat the Blazers when they faced off in the regular season, they will be seeing a much different Trail Blazers team this time around. In this time off the Trail Blazers were also able to get healthy, getting back starters Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic. 

One key area the Sixers are going to have to focus on in this game in finishing possessions on defense. Although the Blazers are near the bottom in the league in points per game, they are just outside the top ten in offensive rebounding. The Sixers need to make sure they finish all their possessions on defense down to the rebound and don't allow the Blazers to pick up easy points.  

A matchup like this will give the Sixers a chance to show just how strong they are on the defensive side of the ball. They are going to have their hands full on the perimeter with Lillard and McCollum, and will have to deal with the size of Nurkic and Collins in the frontcourt. 

When fully healthy the Trail Blazers are a very good basketball team. Although it does it seem with where they sit right now but you cannot forget that Portland was in the conference finals last year. This game has a chance to have playoff vibes to it and will give the Sixers an opportunity to show that they can stop a superstar talent when it matters.

Phoenix Suns

Pre-stoppage record: 26-39 (13th in West)

Key players: Devin Booker (26.1 pts /4.2 reb/6.6 ast), DeAndre Ayton (19/12/1.9),  Ricky Rubio (13.1/4.6/8.9)

Phoenix came into the season with the goal of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2010 (where they lost the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers) or at least cracking the .500 mark since their surprising 2013-2014 season (48-34, but still finished 9th in a loaded conference). They brought in a new coach in former 76ers assistant Monty Williams and made some moves to upgrade the frontcourt, signing Aron Baynes and former 76er Dario Saric.

Unfortunately (that word keeps coming up in these previews), 2018 #1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for 25 games after playing on Opening Night. His absence left a large hole in the middle of the Phoenix lineup, and as competent as Baynes is he was not able to fill it.

The Suns had many issues this season, as is the case with most teams sporting a .400 winning percentage.  Defensively they allow 113.9 points per night, with rebounding being one of their larger problems on that end (22nd overall, 24th in defensive rebounding). That rebounding problem can be attributed some to the absence of Ayton, but it is alarming that a team that gives up the 6th-most three-point attempts per night is also that bad at rebounding misses.

Offensively, when you consider the combined efforts of Booker, Ayton and Kelly Oubre Jr (18.7 points per night but is out for the season with a knee injury), you would think that the Suns would put up better overall numbers. But despite the ninth-fastest pace in the league, they’re 14th in the league in points per night (112.6). Their offense is not helped by giving up the ball, with the ninth-most turnovers with 15.1 giveaways/game. Saric, who started the year struggling to get minutes, began to contribute more as his minutes increased just before the stoppage of play, averaging 14.5 points and 6.4 rebounds in the final eight games. If he remains a part of the rotation in the bubble he could help Phoenix surprise an opponent or two.

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Do the New Look Sixers Match Up to the Bucks?

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

Last offseason the Sixers doubled down on length and size for their roster. Elton Brand looked to turn the Sixers into a defensive powerhouse that could wear down any team with its size. The Sixers would then be labeled the team with the “Giannis-stopping” lineup. Now that the Sixers have made some changes in their starting lineup the question has to be asked if they still match up with the Eastern Conference juggernaut. 

The Sixers on paper look like the only team in the league built to stop the reigning MVP, but how they handled him defensively got mixed results. This season Giannis averaged 29.6 PPG, 13.7 RPG, and 5.8 APG. In his three games against the Sixers, he averaged 28.3 PPG, 17.0 RPG, and 7.0 APG. 

Although his averages do not change much against the Sixers, there is one game that stands out. Christmas day this year the Sixers not only beat the Bucks but were able to neutralize and frustrate Giannis. He finished the game with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 8-27 from the floor and 0-7 from three. 

Now let’s be real, there is no fully stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo in a game or seven-game series. The objective is just going to be slowing him down enough to put the team in a position to win as they did on Christmas day. With Al Horford now out of the starting lineup and Ben Simmons sliding to the frontcourt the Sixers might be going smaller, but they arguably just as equipped to slow down Giannis and the Bucks.   

Ben Simmons sliding to the power forward position now puts the Sixers top two defenders together down low. This could be big as the Sixers will look to wall off the lane with as many bodies as possible to slow down Giannis attacking the rim. 

Having Simmons and Embiid down low together gives the Sixers the size, strength, and speed to clog the lane on Giannis. Also, having Simmons hovering around the rim puts him in a good position to play the passing lanes when Giannis looks to kick the ball out to shooters. 

Outside shooting is another aspect of the Buck’s offense the Sixers will have to worry about. Milwaukee’s offense is a well-oiled machine and their spacing is some of the best in the league. They have done a great job putting a group of shooters around Giannis to give him a wide-open lane to attack. 

This is one area where going smaller might help the Sixers. Adding Shake Milton to the starting lineup gives them a smaller quicker defender to chase around shooters on the perimeter. The Sixers will not have two guards in the backcourt with the quickness and length to disrupt shooters on the outside. 

The Sixers now will have enough size around the rim and length on the perimeter to try and create havoc on the Buck’s offense. Josh Richardson has a wingspan of six foot ten and Shake Milton has a seven-foot wingspan. Those two have the length to play the passing lanes and to contest shots from anyone to Khris Middleton to Brook Lopez. 

The Sixers also have options off the bench of size and perimeter defense to slow down the Bucks. Brett Brown will now have the size in Al Horford to call on when Embiid comes off the floor, and have wings like Matisse Thybulle, Glenn Robinson III, and Furkan Korkmaz who could come in and disrupt Milwaukee’s perimeter threats. 

We saw back on Christmas that the Sixers’ size can disrupt the Bucks enough to walk away with a win, and the team has arguably gotten better and more versatile since then. It is not going to be easy to stop a team that was on a historic pace before the suspension of the season, but even with the lineup change the Sixers are just as equipped to slow down Giannis and the Bucks come playoffs.

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76ers Bubble Preview - Part 2

Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Note – this is the second in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action, see part one here

In Part one of our 76ers bubble preview we covered the team’s matchups with the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs. In this edition, we will be tackling the Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic.


Washington Wizards

Pre-stoppage record: 24-40 (ninth in East)
Key players: Rui Hachimura (13.4 pts/6.0 reb/1.7 ast, 47.8% FG), Ish Smith (10.5/3.2/4.8, 36.7% 3FG), Thomas Bryant (12.1/6.8/1.9, 59.9% FG)

The Wizards entered the 2019-2020 season with a roster that more closely resembled the process 76ers of old than the moderately successful Washington teams that had challenged for berths in the Eastern Conference Finals in recent memory. Bradley Beal surprisingly inked a two-year extension to stay in Washington, and even more surprisingly did not immediately demand a trade.

John Wall continued his absence due to a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered in February 2019. Dwight Howard, Tomas Satoransky, Bobby Portis and almost every other NBA-caliber player on the 2018-2019 version of the team was either traded, released or allowed to leave via free agency. The Wizards were expected to challenge for the #1 spot in the 2020 NBA Lottery.

Two important factors got in the way in their race to the bottom, however. First, they play in the East, home to five of the bottom seven teams in the NBA, and that would have been the bottom six had the Warriors still had Stephen Curry this season. Second, coach Scott Brooks implemented a system that created more wide-open threes (as opposed to the self-created, off the dribble variety the team tended to take in the past) and encouraged players to get shots up whenever they were available. As a result, the Wizards were third in the league in three-point percentage (led by Davis Bertans’s 42.4% on 8.7 attempts per night) and sixth in the league in points per game. Bradley Beal blossomed without Wall in the lineup, standing second in the league in scoring at 30.5 points per game while also dishing out 6.2 assists.

Defensively, however, they were 29th in points allowed per night, despite forcing the third most turnovers in the league, which in turn led to a 24-40 record and a firm spot outside of the playoffs when the season stopped in March.

It was a surprise to see Washington included in the NBA’s restart because they were so far behind the eighth-place Magic in the standings. Presumably, the league felt a need to include any team that COULD catch the eighth seed in their conference in eight games, so the Wizards were invited to Orlando.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, leading scorers Beal (torn rotator cuff) and Bertans (fear of re-injuring  twice-torn ACL prior to free agency), who combined for 45.9 points per night, will not be joining them in Disney.  This will leave the bulk of the scoring load on the young shoulders of Rui Hachimura (13.4 points per night on a decent 47.8% field goal percentage, especially when you consider he shot 27.4% from 3)). Jordan McCrae (12.8 ppg in 29 games), Thomas Bryant (12.1 points/6.8 rebounds) and Troy Brown (9.4 points) will also be expected to contribute more scoring.

Orlando Magic

Pre-stoppage record: 30-35 (eighth in East) 

Key players: Nikola Vucevic (19.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.7 APG), Evan Fournier (18.8 PPG, 3.2 APG, 40.6 3P%), Aaron Gordon (14.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.7 APG) 

The Magic gave the Sixers some issues this season. Although both were close games, the Magic picked up two wins over the Sixers. Sitting in the eighth seed the Magic are going to be playing hard in these seeding games to move up to avoid a first-round series against the Bucks. 

It's no surprise the Magic have been able to compete with the Sixers as they are one of the few teams with the size to match them. Led by All-Star center and former Sixer Nikola Vucevic and forward Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a roster full on length and athleticism. The Magic also have good shooting on their roster like Evan Fournier who is having a career year shooting the ball from deep.

The Magic have a few blasts from the past for the Sixers, biggest being former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz. Although things did not pan out in Philly, Fultz looks to be making the most of his new home. This season for the Magic he averaged 12.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 5.2 APG while shooting just under 50% from the field.  

This game gives the Sixers another chance to rectify one of their biggest issues this season, dropping games to below average teams. Although the Magic currently sit in a playoff spot, there is no reason why the Sixers should drop this game when they face off. Facing off against a young athletic team like the Magic will give the Sixers a chance to see how their new lineup will look in a fast-paced game. 

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Will We See A New Al Horford When Play Returns?

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

Big news came out this week regarding the Sixers' lineup. Brett Brown told the media that he has been playing exclusively at the power forward position, and Shake Milton has been inserted to the starting point guard role. This means that Al Horford will be sliding to the second unit, but could this be a good thing for Horford and the Sixers? 

The addition of Al Horford to the Sixers did not exactly pay the dividends that people hoped when he was first signed. He averaged 12 PPG this season, his lowest scoring number since his second season in the league. Also, his 33.7% from three is his lowest mark since the 2014-2015 season. But can this slide to the second unit salvage his season?

Looking at the numbers it might seem questionable, in the three games he appeared off the bench this season he averaged 6.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 2.3 APG. Although those numbers are no eye-popping, his fit has looked better off the bench.

One game that stands out is when the Sixers faced off against the Clippers back in February. Horford posted nine points, six rebounds, three assists, and two blocks coming off the bench. This game was arguably the best Horford looked in terms of fit on a fully healthy Sixers roster.

There are multiple reasons why we could see a better version of Al Horford when the league returns. Before the suspension of play, Horford was starting to find a groove on the Sixers. In the last five games before the NBA season was paused Horford was averaging 16.0 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 5.6 APG, and was shooting 39.1% from three.

Horford will also now be spending almost all of his time at his natural position of center. We saw this year that he was much more effective playing at center than playing alongside Joel Embiid. This will also benefit him defensively now that he will not be put in situations where he will have to defend wing players on the perimeter.

The time off has helped Horford as well. These months off allowed him to rest his body and address any nagging injuries he had. It has also helped him find his voice with the team, as earlier this week Raul Neto mentioned that Horford has become more of a vocal leader in the return.

 Brett Brown has also spoken highly of his veteran big. He also brought up how Horford has been more vocal since the team arrived in Orlando, and that he has been very competitive in practices.  

A rejuvenated Al Horford can be huge for the Sixers. It looks like he has bought in on his new role and is working hard to change the narrative on how his tenure in Philadelphia has gone. Having a player with his experience and basketball IQ off the bench will be a boost for the Sixers in big games.

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Takeaways from 76ers' New Lineup Showcased at Orlando Practices

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Editor

Just a few days after practices began in Orlando, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown has revealed one major lineup change the team has been working on: moving Ben Simmons to a point forward role. Brown said on Monday that the team was trying some "high-level stuff" with how they would use Simmons.

The move also resulted in the addition of Shake Milton to the starting lineup. Milton was on fire in the last handful of games before the NBA was forced to suspend its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last nine games before the suspension, Milton averaged 17.8 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 57.4% from the field and an incredible 60.4% from 3-point range. He proved, albeit in a small sample, that he has the ability to run the offense while also being able to shoot from outside and be an off-ball guard, something the team had looked to receive from former first-round pick Markelle Fultz. Joel Embiid has certainly been impressed by Milton's play both this season and in the team's practices thus far in Orlando.

“He’s been amazing,” Embiid said. “He’s been the starting point guard. I think he has a huge opportunity to help us accomplish what we believe we can. He’s been doing an amazing job, just running the team, and we're going to need him to knock down shots, which he did before the league basically got shut down. He was on a roll. So we all need him to keep it going. But it’s been great.”

Continue reading "Takeaways from 76ers' New Lineup Showcased at Orlando Practices" »


Can Embiid and Simmons Silence Their Doubters?

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

Since the beginning of the season, the media has tried to push the narrative that the Sixers’ All-Star don’t mesh together and can’t succeed as a duo. Now as the NBA is gearing up for its return, it’s a perfect chance for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to silence their doubters. 

With these four months off to recover and get their bodies right, the two are poised to lead the Sixers to a deep playoff run. Simmons said he has been able to get stronger in this time off and teammates have said Embiid has been working hard on his conditioning in the time off. 

What was shaping up to be a rocky finish to the regular season turned into a chance to hit the reset button. Situations like this are one in a million, and they need to make the most of this opportunity. 

The fit is not seamless between the two of them, but they’ve shown not only that they can coexist but they can succeed. We saw last postseason that the Sixers were a miracle shot away from making it to the conference finals in just their second postseason run together.  Now with multiple playoff runs behind them, they know what is expected when the lights get bright. 

Another reason why now is a great chance to silence their critics is the team around them. This current Sixers’ roster is arguably the best group of talent they have had around them since they stepped on an NBA floor together. Yes, last season’s starting lineup may have been better, but top to bottom this roster has to be their best batch of teammates. 

If the Sixers can make a deep run in Orlando it will leave all their doubters speechless. All season the Sixers were looked at as underachievers and are now at best looked at as a sleeper team when the playoffs begin. A deep playoff run would not only prove everyone wrong but prove themselves right, as they have said from the beginning that this roster was built for the playoffs, not the regular season. 

One undeniable thing is that they are easily one of the best defensive duos in the league. Ben Simmons led the league in steals this season, was a top defender in the league on the perimeter and has a real case to be in the defensive player of the year conversation. Then behind him is Joel Embiid who is a top-level rim protector and shot blocker. Together the two can wear down any team in a seven-game series. 

The Sixers are only going to go as far as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid can take them. They now have the experience and solid pieces around them to make a run. Not to mention a break to get their bodies and minds right for postseason play. This postseason is a real chance to silence their critics and show the league they can be a dominant force together. It is going to be interesting to see how they step up to the challenge.

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Tobias Harris Stepped Into Crucial Leadership Role for 76ers During Quarantine

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Editor

Things hadn't gone quite as planned this season for the Philadelphia 76ers, who stood at 39-26 and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference heading into the NBA's suspension due to the Coronavirus-19 pandemic. Tobias Harris, in an interview on ESPN's First Take, attributed some of the team's struggles to a lack of chemistry. The NBA's decision to suspend the 2019-20 regular season threw another hook at what was already a Sixers season filled with ups, downs and inconsistencies. 

Team communication became much more important once the season was suspended and players were forced to quarantine in their homes. Harris viewed the quarantine as a time to fix some of the team's chemistry issues, instigating Zoom calls and text messages throughout the members of the team to make sure everyone stayed in touch with each other.

Continue reading "Tobias Harris Stepped Into Crucial Leadership Role for 76ers During Quarantine" »