Thoughts On Last Night: Philly Long Term, Dion Waiters Stays Hot, and KP Stays Cold

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BILL STREICHER/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Following Are Thoughts On Last Night, December 12, 2019. 

The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics have played each other on TNT 50,000 times, and last night was the 50,001st go at it.

Truly, it is the Cowboys/Giants primetime game of the NBA.

Philly ground out a 115-109 victory this time around in a fun game. The Sixers, for all the concerns about who they’d turn to in crunch time, pulled it out late behind Joel Embiid’s 16 fourth-quarter points.

Embiid really got the primetime bump as the broadcast was all over whether or not he’s a guy who can be a nightly dominant force.

I love Shaq and Chuck and the fellas, but their point largely can be summed up as “lazy millennials,” and they did the thing where they challenge the young fella to go get theirs tonight like it’s a cut scene in NBA 2K or something.

Well, Embiid played ball with it, especially late. He finished with 38 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists (!!!) on 12-for-21 from the field, plus 2-for-3 from deep (which is genuinely one of his best performances from behind the arc this season, definitely top 5).

It wasn’t all-around “dominant” the way I think the TNT guys were looking for, but there’s something to be said for the way Embiid took over late.

He played direct and physically and avoided some of the bad turnovers he can be prone to in those late-game situations when it’s all on him.

There’s a real conversation to be had about Embiid’s physicality and commitment on the night-to-night, but the conversation I came away interested in is one about Philly’s long-term future.

Largely because of the disappearing act put on by Ben Simmons, who finished with a glittering 7 points on 2-for-6 attempts, plus 8 boards and 6 assists.

I like Simmons. I like the idea of having a pass-first forward with the athleticism to play all five positions run your offense. No, I love that idea… but last night was the fifth game Simmons scored 10 or less points this season, and as much potential as he has, I think it’s fair to wonder exactly where the Philly brass sets the line for their evaluation of the Simmons/Embiid duo.

As much talent as the two have, it’s not like it’s a stretch to say that they have a fit that has been at-best forced and at worst, occasionally disastrous.

Simmons’ inability to shoot forces him into the dunker spot against most of the league’s competitive teams, which in-turn converts Embiid into a stretch five.

By the way, how crazy is it that Simmons’ coach publicly begged him to shoot even one three per game — doesn’t matter if it’s a bad shot, doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go in, just shoot one three per game — and he just… hasn’t!

Just was like “nope” and kept on trucking.

He’s shot one in the three games since Brown went public with his desire for Simmons to shoot at least one three and at least eight free throws per game. He’s averaged 2.7 free throws made in those games.

Is Simmons still a net-positive player in this clogged rotation thanks to his defense and playmaking? Yeah, I think so.

Philadelphia 76ers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Is Embiid still a net-positive player as a stretch five? Absolutely, he’s excellent and probably the game’s premier big man right now.

But it’s just so obvious that both guys are hamstrung with their current arrangement, that there just isn’t a natural fit between the two of them and that the Sixers’ offense is going to be naturally weighed down because of it.

It’s fairly obvious both guys would be better, more complete versions of themselves without their counterpart’s shackles. That’s not so much a critique so much as a fact of basketball, the game is a puzzle and some pieces fit better than others.

This isn’t breaking news. My question is where and when Elton Brand and the powers that be would consider making a move. Is it missing the Finals again? Is it a first or second-round exit?

I think anything short of a Finals appearance will see Brett Brown getting the ax, the coach is always the first to go.

There’s been so much equity put into the Simmons/Embiid combo that the Sixers will give someone another shot to crack the duo’s code.

If they got upset early by a Toronto or Indiana? And Simmons continues his playoff struggles? I think the conversation really heats up about a break up of the Process.

I’d love to see both of these guys with their own rosters crafted to fit alongside them, it feels like both have a ceiling right now they could breakthrough in another context.

Meanwhile, In Mexico…

Is there a more random game to throw in Mexico City than the Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons?

Dallas has some real ’14-15 Warriors vibes to them in terms of watchability.

There’s not much to say about Luka that hasn’t been said at this point, last night it was 41/12/11 in a 122-111 win that was never really in doubt.

I still need to see Luka do it for an entire season…. but the Mavs are 17-7 and there’s going to be a real discussion about a Doncic MVP case if he can keep this up.

It’s a long season and he wouldn’t be the first to have a great quarter/half of a season, then come back to earth a little. Remember when Paul George was an MVP candidate last year?

My question as a Knicks fan: When are we gonna talk about Kristaps Porzingis? He had 20 and eight last night but really was just a non-factor if you take Luka out of the equation (at least half of those points were hand-delivered by Doncic). Although he did have this drive and slam:

https://twitter.com/dallasmavs/status/1205340973221531648?s=20

I have a theory that major injuries like Porzingis’ are really a two year recovery time: one year to recover and get back on the court, one more year to get back to where you were as a player.

So it’s hard to completely meltdown about KP’s 16.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game marks thus far, especially with (rare) flashes like the one above.

He hasn’t been explosive or assertive, and there’s a lot of times where he’s just kind of floating around and looks very much like just another guy out there. But then he gets a nice dunk (often courtesy of Luka) or a big block and it’s enough to keep you in on this thing.

I mean shit, he is 7’3 and can shoot. He’s gonna do some cool stuff.

But again, as a Knicks fan hoping I don’t have to wake up every morning and think about how the Knicks traded future MVP Kristaps Porzingis…

What is the point of being 7’3 if you rebound like a garden gnome?

Operation Fade The Spurs Roll’s On

San Antonio entered as 10-point home favorites against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who recently entered full-blown “why pay anybody?” mode last week with the revelation that Kevin Love is officially on the trade market…

And promptly lost by 8 in overtime, 117-109 to fall to 9-15 on the season and a truly lovely 5-16 against the spread.

In this house, we get paid to watch the downfall of one of North America’s last pure institutions.

For the Road:

  • The teal Celtics uniforms that turned out not to be teal are still really terrible, and I’ll say that every time they wear them. It looks like the color green got sick and threw up.
  • Gordon Hayward: Sneaky jacked.
  • Boston becomes very very very interesting out of the East if Jayson Tatum goes on a playoff run as he had two years ago.
  • Kevin Love with 30 and 17 in a nice little trade audition tape for all the scouts watching at home.
  • Carmelo Anthony getting courtesy boo’s in Denver, an eternally underrated fanbase.
  • How about Reggie Miller drooling all over Melo’s first step, like he’s watching Steve Nash? There is no bond greater than that of ex-players protecting a guy in the twilight of his career.
  • Nikola Jokic… You can keep him.
  • Over/Under on games Dion Waiters plays in a Heat uniform this season: 0.5
  • Is there a contending team Andre Iguodala *wouldn’t* fit nicely on? Philly, I guess? I like the idea of literally any team trading for him. My favorites: Both LA teams, Dallas, Miami, Denver.
  • Thoughts to David Stern, who maybe commands more respect from people around the league than anyone else and you got a great sense of that from the TNT guys last night.

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