P.J. Tucker

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Harden, Tucker, Cassell

Sixers center Joel Embiid is continuing the scoring binge that has made him the new betting favorite in the MVP race, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. After posting 15 points in the first half of Saturday’s win at Indiana, Embiid dominated the third quarter with 16 points while making 5-of-7 shots from the field.

The 31-point outing was Embiid’s ninth consecutive game with at least 30 points, breaking the franchise record he shared with Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain. It also earned him the support of Pacers coach Rick Carlisle in the MVP debate.

“Embiid, right now, he’s probably the MVP with what their team is doing and how he’s elevated his game,” Carlisle said. “He’s as difficult a guy to game plan for as there is in the game. He’s a walking NBA cheat code right now. He’s just that good.”

There’s more from Philadelphia:

  • The Sixers transformed from underachievers to potential title winners when James Harden returned in early December after missing 14 games with a strained foot tendon, Pompey observes in another Inquirer article. Philadelphia has the best record in the league since Harden’s second game back, and Pompey credits that to the guard’s decision to facilitate the offense rather than look for his shot. It has also coincided with Embiid’s ascension into MVP front-runner. “Obviously, Joel is going to do what he does,” Harden said. “Making sure Tobias (Harris) and Tyrese (Maxey) and Georges (Niang) and our shooters get their shots. You get that feeling from everybody and everybody clicking like that, which is why rhythm (is) going to be key for us in the playoffs.”
  • P.J. Tucker sat out Saturday’s game with an ankle issue and wasn’t able to participate in this morning’s shootaround, Pompey tweets. He’s listed as questionable for tonight’s game against Chicago.
  • Temple University has expressed interest in hiring Sixers assistant Sam Cassell as its head coach, sources tell Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link). Cassell, who has been with the organization since 2020, is focused on his current duties with the team rather than looking for another job, according to Scotto’s sources. Scotto notes that Cassell has worked closely with Maxey since he arrived in Philadelphia.

Sixers Notes: Harden, Harris, Tucker, Dedmon, Niang

To be serious title contenders, the Sixers will need the version of James Harden that they got Saturday night, writes Rich Hofmann of The Athletic. Facing one of the league’s best defenses, Harden turned in a performance reminiscent of his MVP days in Houston. He had 38 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists and led a fourth-quarter comeback as Philadelphia snapped the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak.

“That’s what I do, man,” Harden said. “I’m just very comfortable in those situations whether it’s playmaking, whether it’s scoring. I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

Harden has been in the news this week for his upcoming free agency and persistent rumors that he will strongly consider a return to the Rockets. Hofmann states that Harden has been playing at an All-Star level throughout the season and his immediate focus is helping Philadelphia get by the other top teams in the East.

There’s more on the Sixers:

  • The team has two injury concerns coming out of Saturday’s game, Hofmann adds. Tobias Harris didn’t finish the game because of tightness in his left calf, while P.J. Tucker suffered back spasms and was moving gingerly in the locker room, according to Hofmann.
  • Even though he didn’t play, Dewayne Dedmon was in uniform on Saturday night, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The veteran center signed with the Sixers on February 14 after agreeing to a buyout with the Spurs following a trade from the Heat. Dedmon is ready for a fresh start after the way his time in Miami ended, but hip soreness has delayed his debut with the Sixers. “At the end of the day, it’s not about motivation,” Dedmon said. “I got mental clarity. For myself, that’s the biggest thing that I need moving forward in my life and my career. I need mental clarity and stability. For me to get traded from there was my mental clarity and my stability.”
  • Georges Niang has seen his playing time reduced recently because of a shooting slump, but he drained 5-of-6 shots from beyond the arc Saturday. Before the game, he told Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer that the best cure for a slump is to keep shooting. “I just got to get out there and let it fly,” Niang said. “I don’t know how many games it is now, but I’ve had the feeling of getting out there and being like, ‘Oh, I want to get my elbow tucked. I want to do this.’ But I’ve been shooting my whole life. I’ve just got to go out there and let it rip.”

Sixers Notes: Tucker, Butler, McDaniels, Embiid

P.J. Tucker seemed like a perfect fit during his lone season with the Heat, but he couldn’t turn down the three-year, $33MM offer he got from the Sixers last summer, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. The 38-year-old forward said he expected to retire with Miami, but the realities of NBA business pushed him toward Philadelphia.

Multiple sources tell Chiang that the Heat wanted to re-sign Tucker, but they only offered $26.5MM over three seasons through their Non-Bird exception. Miami could have used its $10.5MM non-taxpayer mid-level exception to match the offer from Philadelphia, but passed on the opportunity because of Tucker’s age and the limits the deal would have placed on other potential moves.

“I wanted the full mid-level,” Tucker said. “I thought I deserved the full mid-level and that was something that I wanted. They knew that coming out of the gate. I expressed that I wanted that from the beginning. I feel like for what we did, for what we had, I feel like I deserved that and it just is what it is. But I don’t fault them at all. I understand they didn’t want to be hard-capped and wanted to be able to make moves later with whatever they thought the team may need.”

There’s more from Philadelphia:

  • Jimmy Butler keeps reminding the Sixers why it was a mistake to trade him, observes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Butler knocked Philadelphia out of the playoffs last season, and he contributed several clutch plays on Monday as the Heat pulled out a narrow road win. Pompey notes that the Sixers haven’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since sending Butler to Miami in 2019.
  • Jalen McDaniels is learning to adjust after being traded to the Sixers at last month’s deadline, Pompey writes in another Inquirer story. Through six games, McDaniels is seeing less playing time and fewer scoring chances than he did with the Hornets. “I will say when I was in Charlotte, (there were) more opportunities with the ball in my hand more,” he said. “But here you have three guys (Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey) that are going to take most of the shots. So just me playing off them is something I can do that’s probably part of my game as well. So I feel like it’s a plus, even though I’m not touching it as much as I was in Charlotte.”
  • Joel Embiid has been through a series of demoralizing defeats during his time in Philadelphia, but he hasn’t demanded a trade or lost faith in the organization, as Ben Golliver of The Washington Post details.

Heat Notes: Love, Martin, Crowder, Tucker

Kevin Love‘s first game with the Heat was forgettable, but there’s reason to believe things will get better, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. “We have to just throw that one away,” Love said after going scoreless in a 29-point loss at Milwaukee. However, Jackson points out that the night wasn’t a complete disaster for the veteran big man. He had eight rebounds and four assists and seemed to mesh well with his new teammates after going through just one practice.

Jackson notes that Bam Adebayo tends to excel when he’s paired with tall power forwards who can shoot, which hasn’t been the case for nearly two years. The most prominent examples are Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard, who are both similar to Love in what they can do on the court.

“The biggest thing for me is passing, starting that fastbreak, closing possessions on the defensive end, using my shooting ability to help this team,” Love said. “… Nobody has to cater to me. I want to make the game easier for these guys.”

There’s more on the Heat:

  • Love’s addition means Caleb Martin is back on the bench after making 49 starts this season, Jackson adds. Martin, who was primarily a reserve during his first three NBA seasons, said he’s willing to accept whatever role coach Erik Spoelstra believes is best. “I prepared myself for something like that to happen,” Martin said. “It’s Spo’s job to figure out the best lineups, how guys fit in. He knows I’m one of those guys that’s willing to do what I’ve got to do.”
  • New Bucks forward Jae Crowder had Miami on his list of preferred destinations during his long holdout in Phoenix, Jackson tweets. Crowder, who made his season debut Friday night, played for the Heat when they reached the NBA Finals in 2020.
  • Because of an oddity in the schedule, the Heat won’t get their first look at P.J. Tucker until Monday night, notes Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. The defensive specialist played an important role in helping Miami post the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, but he hasn’t fit in as well with the Sixers. “Tuck always figures it out,” Spoelstra said. “I mean if you’re going to judge him by that last line in the box score, you are just really mistaken of how he can impact winning. Tuck does all those little, intangible things that really impact winning, that most people don’t really recognize.”

Eastern Notes: Barnes, Bol, Kispert, Tucker

Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, last season’s Rookie of the Year, has sparked the team during its recent upswing, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star notes. Barnes has reached the 20-point mark in three of the last four games. Just as important, he’s been setting up his teammates. He had a combined 22 assists in those outings and is averaging 5.4 assists this month.

“He’s an offense creator and we need him to be that,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “That doesn’t mean shooting, that means creating shots for others and creating good movement for others.”

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Magic big man Bol Bol has returned to the rotation after being placed in the league’s health and safety protocols and sitting out five games, Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel writes. “I’ve been feeling good so far,” said Bol, who played 18 minutes on Friday. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I feel pretty fine, honestly.”
  • Wizards forward Corey Kispert has made half of his 3-point attempts over the last seven games and that’s forcing opponents to make adjustments, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. The Knicks limited him to four long-range attempts on Friday because of extra defensive attention. “I feel great, the best I’ve felt in my career shooting the ball for sure. I’m really, really happy with where my jump shot is,” Kispert said.
  • P.J. Tucker was the Sixers’ biggest offseason acquisition via the free agent market but he’s often benched during the fourth quarter. Tucker admits that the criticism he’s taken has been difficult, considering his limited offensive role, Gina Mizell of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. “Can you imagine playing 30 minutes and taking one shot? Maybe not shooting at all? And still having to guard the best player and do all the dirty stuff?” Tucker said.

Atlantic Notes: Simmons, Tatum, Sixers, Brunson

On Thursday, in their first game since Kevin Durant injured his knee, the Nets fell to Boston by a score of 109-98. In some ways, Ben Simmons was the most effective player on the court for the Nets, racking up 13 assists and nine rebounds while being the only Brooklyn player to register a positive on-court rating (plus-10). However, he also went scoreless on the night, attempting just three field goals.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Simmons admitted he was probably looking to pass too often, acknowledging that he needs to make it more of a priority to “get myself going,” per Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Being assertive, being aggressive and knowing that my team needs that,” Simmons said when asked what his team needs from him while Durant is out. “I think I’m giving the ball up way too many times when I know who I am, I know I need to get to the rim, get buckets. And that’s also going to help my teammates get them going.”

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, who is another one of just 18 players in NBA history to hand out at least 13 assists in a game without scoring a point, wasn’t bothered by Simmons’ performance, suggesting that the team needs him to compensate for Durant’s absence more on the other end of the court.

“My thing is going to be on the defensive end with Ben, the impact that he has to have without Kevin on the floor,” Vaughn said. “… Ben’s got to be able to protect the rim. Ben’s got to be able to be a force for us on the defensive end of the floor, so that we can play small, play three guards out there, so we can have shooting around.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Jaylen Brown isn’t the only Celtics star battling an injury — forward Jayson Tatum is dealing with issues affecting his thumb, ring finger, and wrist, but says he intends to continue playing through those ailments, per Jay King of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • In his latest mailbag for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Keith Pompey explores a handful of Sixers-related topics, including the team’s biggest need at the trade deadline and whether De’Anthony Melton could replace P.J. Tucker in the starting lineup. Pompey believes Philadelphia could use a reliable backup point guard and a big, physical center to back up Joel Embiid, and says he doesn’t expect Tucker to be removed from the starting five.
  • Jalen Brunson has only been with the Knicks for about six months, but it’s clear that they’re already his team, according to Ian O’Connor of The New York Post, who says Brunson is the best player on the roster and “it isn’t close.” The point guard has been at his best since returning from a recent three-game injury absence, averaging 33.3 PPG on .522/.500/.809 shooting in his last six contests, five of which were Knicks wins.

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Niang, Trent Jr., Barnes, Young

Sixers star center Joel Embiid is listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s home game against the Pistons, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. Embiid has missed the past three games with a sore left foot, including Philadelphia’s road win over Detroit on Sunday. P.J. Tucker is probable with a sinus infection after missing Sunday’s game.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Sixers forward Georges Niang hopes he’ll get an invitation to participate in the 3-point contest on All-Star weekend, according to Pompey. “The three-point contest, obviously, if you’re an NBA fan, you’ve paid attention to it and watched it,” Niang said. “If you ever get a chance to be a part of that, it would be an honor.” Niang is a career 40.7% 3-point shooter and has made 42% of his attempts this season.
  • It’s no lock that the Raptors will deal Gary Trent Jr. before the trade deadline, Sportsnet’s Michael Grange said on “The Raptors Show.” (video link). After a rough patch, Trent has averaged 25 points per game in his last seven contests. Trent came off the bench for a stretch during a shooting slump. “He’s earned a lot of respect for how he’s handled himself as a pro and you look at his profile, his age, those guys are hard to find,” Grange said. However, Toronto will explore all options. “I don’t think it’s a certainty they’ll trade him. but I think it’s a certainty they’ll listen,” Grange added. Trent has an $18.56MM player option for next season.
  • Scottie Barnes and Thaddeus Young exchanged words during halftime of the Raptors’ game against Portland. They downplayed the incident, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. “It was just a little disagreement. It was nothing serious,” Barnes said. “You have some disagreements but it was nothing serious.” Young said, “We just had a disagreement. No different than brothers going back and forth, especially when we’re both passionate about the game.” (Twitter link).

Scotto’s Latest: LaVine, Mavs, Heat, Dort, Raptors

Rival executives believe the Knicks, Mavericks, Lakers, and Heat would be among the most likely suitors for Zach LaVine if the Bulls were to make him available prior to this season’s February 9 trade deadline, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype said on the latest episode of HoopsHype’s podcast. However, with Chicago still hanging onto the 10th seed in the East despite a disappointing first half (17-21), there’s no indication that the team is on the verge of becoming a seller.

Here’s more from Scotto:

  • The Mavericks owe their 2023 first-round pick to New York, but control all their future picks and could theoretically move one or more at the trade deadline. However, Scotto has heard the Mavs will be reluctant to give up a first-rounder unless it’s for a player they believe can help make them a title contender this season.
  • Rival executives are keeping a close eye on the Heat as a team that may be active before the deadline, says Scotto. After finishing with the East’s best record in 2021/22, Miami is just 20-19 so far this season and holds the No. 8 seed. The team never really replaced P.J. Tucker after he departed in free agency and should have some tradable contracts, especially after Victor Oladipo and Dewayne Dedmon become movable on January 15 (though Oladipo will have veto power).
  • Luguentz Dort is another player who will become trade-eligible on January 15, but don’t expect him to be mentioned in any rumors this season, according to Scotto, who says the Thunder view him as a part of the team’s long-term future alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
  • Some people around the league believe the Raptors will be more active in trade talks beginning in mid-January, Scotto says. Toronto may have a better sense by then of which direction the team’s season is headed.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Harden, Melton, Maxey, Tucker, King

Dominant performances from Joel Embiid (35 points) and James Harden (29 points and 13 assists) were the difference in the Sixers‘ comeback win over the Knicks on Christmas Day and served as a reminder that the team’s star power can make up for some shortcomings, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

Before Embiid and Harden really got rolling and helped the Sixers pull away, De’Anthony Melton played a key role in keeping the club in the game, according to Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who notes that the guard began the afternoon by making his first five 3-point attempts.

The performance bumped Melton’s season-long 3-point percentage to an impressive 39.2% and contributed to ongoing speculation about whether he might keep his spot in the starting lineup even when Tyrese Maxey returns from his foot injury.

According to Mizell, it’s hard to imagine Maxey not eventually regaining his starting job, but if he has a minutes limit when he returns, the team could bring him along slowly by initially having him come off the bench. Melton also could find himself playing crunch-time minutes in certain situations where a defensive specialist is required, Mizell notes, since neither Harden nor Maxey is a lock-down defender.

Here’s more on the 76ers:

  • The Sixers’ recent hot streak seems to be renewing enthusiasm about the upside of this year’s squad. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote after Friday’s win over the Clippers that the 76ers are starting to live up to their preseason billing as a title contender, while Rich Hofmann of The Athletic said after Sunday’s victory over New York that the club is finally showing off its offensive firepower. Philadelphia had the NBA’s 17th-best offensive rating (111.2) through its first 24 games, but has posted the league’s third-best mark (118.1) during its current eight-game winning streak.
  • Sixers forward P.J. Tucker revealed on Friday that he has been battling a pinched nerve, which he referred to as a “dead hand,” for the last few weeks, tweets Mizell. Tucker has been playing through the injury, but intends to keep working on it with the team’s trainers and physical therapists, Mizell adds.
  • In the wake of the Sixers signing Louis King to a two-way contract to replace Saben Lee, Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com considers what King could bring to the team, suggesting that the former five-star recruit might be a “more intriguing lottery ticket” than Lee was.

Sixers Notes: Melton, Maxey, Tucker, Harden

When the Sixers gave up a first-round pick and Danny Green‘s expiring contract for De’Anthony Melton, they knew they were getting a strong defender who could make a three-point shot, but the former Grizzlies guard has given them “more connective tissue in the half court” than they might have expected, writes ESPN’s Zach Lowe (Insider link).

Melton’s play-making and screening ability has been valuable for Philadelphia, according to Lowe, who notes that the team has scored an average of 1.2 points when a Melton screen leads directly to a shot. That’s 17th among 244 players who have set 50 such screens, Lowe writes, citing Second Spectrum. The 24-year-old has also handed out a career-best 3.3 assists per game.

Melton’s presence has helped the 76ers withstand injury absences for James Harden and Tyrese Maxey in the early part of the 2022/23 season. Despite not opening the season as part of Philadelphia’s starting five, Melton has made 20 starts in 27 appearances so far.

Here’s more on the Sixers:

  • Given how well the 76ers have played with Melton in the starting lineup (they have a 13-7 record in those games), there has been some speculation about the possibility of bringing Maxey off the bench as the leader of the second unit when he returns from his foot injury. Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com considers the case for making such a move, but ultimately concludes that it’s probably not in the team’s best interest.
  • In his latest mailbag for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Keith Pompey also argues against making Maxey the sixth man once he’s healthy. Pompey’s mailbag explores several other topics, including whether the Sixers’ three-year, $33MM+ investment in P.J. Tucker will turn out as poorly as the four-year, $109MM deal they gave Al Horford in 2019 — given the relative size of the two deals, Pompey believes there’s no comparison between the two, especially since Horford was never a good fit, while Tucker is beginning to show overall improvement in his role.
  • In his first seven games back from a foot injury, Harden has averaged nearly 39 minutes per night. However, head coach Doc Rivers isn’t concerned about the former MVP’s heavy recent workload, per Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I’ll guarantee you, by the end of the year, you’ll look at his numbers and they’ll look great,” Rivers said. “It’s a whole year. That’s why we can’t overdo things when guys have a three-week spike in minutes and all of a sudden we’re overreacting to that. You don’t. We’ve been low on guards, and so guys have to play minutes. And James is one of those guys that can handle minutes. But by the end of the year, his minutes will be down.”