7 for 6: The Stove is Hot!

| A dunk fest in Oklahoma City, a few standout individual performances, and some head scratching losses. Plus, the first of (presumably many) trade deadline rumors |

League News

As the Feb. 8th trade deadline looms, teams will be changing the shape of their roster in order to better compete for the playoffs. The first big move came Monday evening, when the Los Angeles Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. In return, the Pistons sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and some draft picks.

How does this affect the Sixers? Detroit currently sits one spot behind the Sixers for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The two teams only play head to head once more on April 4th. The larger question is most likely “does Blake Griffin make Detroit a better team, and more likely to make the playoffs?” It’s hard to say. The Pistons gave up two quality starters, and a front court of Griffin and Andre Drummond is physically imposing, but not the most modern or efficient. I think a good strategy for Detroit would be to use Griffin’s playmaking ability, which is tremendous for someone his size. Griffin just signed a five year contract extension this summer, so he’ll be in Detroit for the foreseeable future. At the very least, it’s a supremely talented player that the Sixers will have to face more often.

In other events that affect the Sixers, Demarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans tore his achilles last week.  He will miss the rest of the season. Cousins was having his best season to date; 25 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.6 assists in 36 minutes per night. Now, his numbers will unfortunately be a footnote on this season.

While more indirect than the Griffin trade, this injury could have significant salary cap implications for Philadelphia. When Joel Embiid signed his extension at the start of the year, many noted the incentives and performance bonuses that buoyed the total value of the contract. One avenue for Embiid to get the “super max” value of his contract is to be named to the All NBA First team. If he were to be named to that team, or win the MVP, he could earn up to $178 million over the duration of his contract. He would also have a larger cap hit on the Sixers’ books. It will be up to him to earn those accolades, but the competition is much less daunting without Cousins in the picture.

The Trade Deadline Looms

More moves are sure to come before the Feb. 8th trade deadline. With the Sixers closing in on a playoff spot, one might wonder how active they’ll be in the trade market. Rumors have already begun to circulate.

Tyreke would be a good fit; the Sixers need wing depth, and he’d be a good scorer with the 2nd unit. But does it make sense to make a move like this now?  I don’t think so. This team isn’t a contender this year; a move like this makes sense when Embiid and Simmons are in their primes and have a more solid unit around them. Solidifying a position of weakness in a successful season is mighty tempting, especially after the last four seasons in this city. But giving up a first round pick could be short sighted. Bryan Colangelo doesn’t seem interested in parting with one, either.

Beginnings of a rivalry?

The Sixers and Thunder only played twice this year, but both games were phenomenal. The latest, a 122-112 victory for Oklahoma City, was a particularly violent one, both to the players and the back boards, apparently.

But seriously, it was absolutely packed with highlight reel plays. These teams really seem to enjoy going at one another. Is all of it fueled by the giant personalities like Embiid and Westbrook? Or is their actual animosity? It’s a shame that they play in separate conferences, which limits how often they play each other. At least we’ll see Embiid and Westbrook compete at the All Star game. Try not to break the backboards again, fellas.

All Star Consolation

Embiid will be the lone representative from Philadelphia to play in the All Star game (he’ll also participate in the Skills Challenge on Feb. 16th). Unfortunately, Ben Simmons didn’t make the team, despite injuries to John Wall and Kevin Love (replaced by Andre Drummond and a Goran Dragic, respectively). Luckily Simmons won’t be completely snubbed from the weekend festivities.

Simmons and his teammate, Dario Saric, will participate in the Rising Stars challenge on Feb. 16th, which pits the best young players from the U.S. against the best from around the world. There will be three Sixers on the World team, including Embiid. The game in some ways is more enjoyable than the actual All Star game. Young players are more likely to care about an exhibition game and it’s a collection of the best talent that signifies the league’s future. It’s definitely worth checking out this year, especially for Sixer fans.

“I think in some ways it’s a confidence builder,” Brett Brown said of his players receiving their respective honors. “I think it’s a good thing, it’s a positive experience.”

Aussie Night

Speaking of Simmons, the rookie had one of his best games of the season last week. Fittingly, it came on Australian Heritage Night. Just under a minute into the third quarter, he had notched his fifth triple double of the season. He ended with a stat line of 19 points, 17 rebounds, 14 assists.

Can we have more of these Aussie celebration nights? Clearly it lit a fire under Simmons.

Timothe Luwawu Cabbarot

In the recent absence of JJ Redick and Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu Cabbarot has been doing a fine job absorbing most of the minutes at the 2 spot. The Sixers went 3-4 without Redick; not hugely impressive but not a large drop off either. TLC was a big factor in the team not completely sinking without their second leading scorer. His scoring almost doubles to 10.6 points per game when he starts, in a large part thanks to his jumpshot. Halfway through his 2nd season he is far from a knock down shooter. While in the starting lineup, he shot 47% from deep. As a result, he’s playing with a lot of confidence.

He still doesn’t have quite the gravity that Redick’s shot does in manipulating defenses, but the Sixers can take solace in the fact that TLC is only 22 and already shown the capacity to step into a larger role when called upon.

Confusing Results

After 3 straight wins versus quality opponents, the Sixers blew a 2nd half lead to the hapless Memphis Grizzlies.  Nine days later, the Brooklyn Nets couldn’t miss a shot and defeated the Sixers, 116-108.

“We were in position to win,” Brown said after the loss versus Memphis. “When you look at the mistakes that were made….poise…judgment…leadership. Those types of words come to my mind.”

Pretty stern words from the head coach. But he has a point. 16 of their 23 turnovers in that contest came in the fourth quarter. It’s far from a new problem for Philadelphia; they lead the league with over 17 per game. But it’s still frustrating to watch such a bad habit linger. Still, Brown is trying to stay positive about the enitre experience.

“That’s part of the wild ride we’re on with a bunch of 20-year olds and figuring stuff out,” Brown said after the defeat in Brooklyn.

Regardless of their attitude, the Sixers need to win these games if they seriously want to make the playoffs. Brooklyn and Memphis are bottom feeders, and if the Sixers’ post season fate comes down to a single game or two, they’ll look back at these games and point to them as impactful.

All stats are up date as of Feb. 2nd 

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