Stars give glow­ing glimpse of po­ten­tial

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Jack McCaf­fery jm­c­caf­[email protected]­tu­ry­ @Jack­McCaf­fery on Twit­ter

NEW YORK >> Joel Em­biid, his sore left an­kle no longer throb­bing, made a game-time de­ci­sion to play.

Jimmy But­ler, his sore ribs hav­ing healed, made a game-time de­ci­sion to play.

J.J. Redick, who’d been side­lined last week with a back is­sue, came across the bridge from his Brook­lyn home. And played.

Ben Sim­mons, his mes­sage that the Six­ers had been play­ing “soft” hav­ing been lifted from his chest, played.

They all played Sun­day in Madi­son Square Gar­den, all of the mar­quee (Non-Tho­racic Out­let Syn­drome Divi­sion) 76ers. And with the early will­ing­ness of the Knicks to pro­vide ap­pro­pri­ate comic foil, Brett Brown’s newer-look team showed what it can be when at its best, lead­ing from start to fin­ish in a 108-105 vic­tory.

“We are still learn­ing how to play with each other,” Em­biid said. “But you can see the po­ten­tial. You see how good we can be. I thought that was a good sign to see.”

Em­biid missed the pre­vi­ous game, a home loss to At­lanta. Redick was unavail­able two nights ear­lier, when the Six­ers lost in Wash­ing­ton. A re­cent res­pi­ra­tory ail­ment side­lined But­ler for two games, and he nearly didn’t play Sun­day.

But with all his veter­ans in the start­ing lineup, Brown watched the Six­ers roll to a 26-8 lead, good enough to set the tone, even if the Knicks did of­fer a sec­ond-half re­sponse. Sim­mons went for 20 points and 22 re­bounds. Em­biid scored 26. Redick, who sput­tered against At­lanta, bagged 22. But­ler had 16. Even Wil­son Chan­dler pro­duced, con­tribut­ing seven points and some vet­eran-know-how plays.

For most of the game, it was al­most how the Six­ers had it en­vi­sioned when they tran­si­tioned from a devel­op­ment process to a re­lent­less hunt for stars.

“To re­group, to get our group back, to get our spirit pointed in the right di­rec­tion, to co­ex­ist, to con­tinue to find ways to play the ‘team,’ that’s all that I care about,” Brown said. “I am ap­pre­ci­at­ing the tal­ent, ap­pre­ci­at­ing these guys and help­ing them to move for­ward. It’s all about where you are go­ing to end up. So there will be some pain that we will go through now. I be­lieve it is head­ing in the right di­rec­tion. And to have those guys avail­able was fan­tas­tic.”

The trick of fit­ting But­ler into the plan has been pub­lic and dif­fi­cult. Long a known coach-chal­lenger, But­ler re­port­edly has ques­tioned his use at the of­fen­sive end, par­tic­u­larly in pick-and-roll sit­u­a­tions.

“He in­her­ited us, we in­her­ited him, and he has come into a sys­tem that won a lot of games,” Brown said. “As of Dec. 25, 2017, the Philadel­phia 76ers had the best record in the NBA. So we were do­ing OK. And he in­her­ited that. He in­her­ited that sys­tem, and we in­her­ited him.

“But like any­thing, coach, player, what­ever, you try to cater it to the player’s strengths, to help him. And some of that sys­tem wasn’t al­ways great for him, where the game could run around him. It runs around Joel some­times. And so when you talk about, ‘Does he know ev­ery­thing now?’ The an­swer is, ‘Things are chang­ing.’ I’m try­ing to do my part as a head coach to put him in places where he can do well. And so the sys­tem as it ex­isted isn’t al­ways the sys­tem now.”

The Six­ers’ sys­tem, for years, had been to try to cope with young play­ers. Too re­cently, Brown has been made to work Furkan Kork­maz, Jonah Bolden and Shake Mil­ton into reg­u­lar spots, along with Landry Shamet, who has played at a higher-thanrookie level.

Brown will not have a full ros­ter un­til El­ton Brand adds a vet­eran be­fore the trade dead­line, clos­ing the gap that opened when he traded both Robert Cov­ing­ton and Dario Saric for But­ler. In the mean­time, he will coach who is avail­able, and try to milk what he can from in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers.

“Yes, in the no­tion that that is our team, and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do here,” Brown said. “Who knows who will emerge to be keep­ers out of that? It’s not two. It’s four, and that’s a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of 20-year-olds that you are count­ing on to play who have zero NBA kind of ex­pe­ri­ence. So there is pain that comes with that. But that’s the re­al­ity right now of our ros­ter. And so you roll with it and you try to help them per­form and help grow them.

“At times, it’s not ideal. El­ton and I talk all the time about that, and I have tremen­dous re­spect and faith in El­ton to try to help us fig­ure this out as stuff emerges with dead­lines and all the stuff we’re aware of.

“In the mean­time, that’s life as we have it and see it and so you do your best to make it work.”

Some­times, that’s dif­fi­cult. Some­times, and Sun­day was one of those times, the veter­ans hint at ex­cel­lence to come.


Joel Em­biid shoots over Knicks for­ward Noah Von­leh dur­ing the first half Sun­day. Em­biid scored 26 points in a 108-105 Six­ers win.

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