Happy Friday, folks. Let’s make this the start of a great weekend. I can tell you the 76ers want to do the same.
The squad will host the Chicago Bulls at 7 tonight at the Wells Fargo Center before facing the New York Knicks tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden. They’ll remain in New York for their Martin Luther King Jr. Day game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.
But the first thing on tap for the Sixers (26-16) is trying to prevent the Bulls (15-27) from winning consecutive games. Chicago beat the Washington Wizards, 115-106, Wednesday. The Bulls had lost eight of 10 games before that victory.
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The Sixers’ next test will involve being able to stop Chicago’s Zach LaVine.
This season, the sixth-year guard has career highs in scoring (24.6 points per game), three-point shooting (40.0%) and steals (1.38 per game). He has scored a 25 or more in a career-best five straight games, dating to Jan. 8 at the New Orleans Pelicans.
“He’s high-volume, but he’s efficient,” Sixers guard Josh Richardson said. “He’s shooting like 40 from three on eight threes a game. I feel like, over his career, he’s learned how to really be able to carry that offense.
“You see games where he goes like 18-[points]-in-a-row streaks, and he’s really turned himself into a great scorer.”
Matisse Thybulle knows more than any other Sixer about the two-time NBA slam-dunk champion’s background.
As a freshman at Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., Thybulle guarded LaVine, then a standout at Bothell High (Wash.), in his first high school game.
“It was intimidating,” Thybulle said. “I was going up against Zach LaVine, who was like one of the best players in the state, and the first time I guarded him was my first varsity game as a freshman in high school. Like this is Zach LaVine dunking on people. I was scared, but I feel like I stepped up to the challenge.”
Former University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar was in the stands for that game.
“I ended up going to University of Washington like everyone knows, but that was the first time Coach Romar, who was the coach at the time, ever saw me,” the Sixers rookie standout said. “I must have done something good because he kept his eye on me.”
Perhaps the best way to describe Markelle Fultz’s game at this time is promising yet unfinished.
How else can you explain what the Orlando Magic point guard did the past two nights. Wednesday, Fultz had 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the Magic to 119-118 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. He followed that up with 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting to go with four rebounds and five assists in Friday’s 122-95 loss to the Clippers at the same arena.
Through 41 games played, Fultz is averaging 11.7 points and 4.6 assists. However, the third-year point guard is shooting just 26% on three-pointers.
So now folks want to know if the Sixers gave up too soon on the player they had drafted first overall in 2017. Fultz was shipped to the Magic last February for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-round draft pick and a 2020 protected first-round choice. The Sixers sent the second-round pick to the Boston Celtics in the Matisse Thybulle trade on the night of last year’s draft. The Celtics used the second-rounder on Carsen Edwards from Purdue.
You can get my opinion by listening to my latest Locked on Sixers podcast.
Tonight: Chicago Bulls at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN
Tomorrow: Sixers at New York Knicks, 7:30 p.m. NBC Sports Philadelphia
Monday: Sixers at Brooklyn Nets, 3 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Wednesday: Sixers at Toronto Raptors, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN
Jan. 25: Los Angeles Lakers at Sixers, 8:30 p.m., ABC
Question: Keith ... Keith ... Keith. I don’t know if this is a newsletter-worthy question, but what is the likelihood that ‘trust the process’ could become 1 of the biggest sports blunder in history? Why do I get a hint of a “Kawhi’s shot closed the Sixers championship window” storyline in the air — from @vicpfromjersey on Twitter
Answer: Vic ... Vic ... Vic. Yes, this is a newsletter-worthy question. Thanks for asking. There are no guarantees that the process will become a success. In fact, it could indeed become one of the biggest miscalculations in sports if the Sixers fail to get out of the second round this season. That’s because the two biggest pieces from the process, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, don’t appear to fit.
I know the Sixers used assets to acquire Tobias Harris, but this team still needs a sharpshooter and a closer. I think their window to win is now. Teams like Miami, Brooklyn and Golden State are going to be better next season. As a result, the Sixers’ championship window could be closing quickly.
The Sixers lost in seven games in the second round of the playoffs two seasons before “The Process” started. Last season, they lost in seven games in the second round of the playoffs. So they’re at the same place when it comes to postseason success.