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3/6, 11:36 AM - Moultrie hitting stride in season's final stretch

Stuck in a Sisyphean game of "catch-up" since suffering a high ankle sprain during a predraft workout last June, Sixers rookie Arnett Moultrie appears to have finally gotten the proverbial boulder over the hill.

In Tuesday night's 109-101 loss to the Celtics, the Mississippi State alum had his best game as a pro, scoring 10 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting and grabbing four rebounds in 20 minutes of play off the bench. Remarkably, Moultrie hasn't missed a single shot in any of his last four appearances, becoming the only NBA player this season to accomplish that feat After the game, the typically stolid rookie expressed excitement regarding his performance as of late.

"At this point, I'm a lot more comfortable," said an uncharacteristically gregarious (or, at least as much so as he gets) Moultrie in the Sixers' locker room Tuesday. "It's about going out there and being productive. That's what my teammates and my coaching staff look for me to do."

For Moultrie, what has been an uphill battle to this point in the season finally appears to be reaching its plateau. 

Drafted 27th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, his basketball activities were limited from the time of his injury in mid-June until the first day of training camp, on October 2, when he finally resumed 5-on-5 activities. As a result of his prescribed inactivity, the 6-10, 245-pound big man entered camp behind the eight ball and out of game shape. 

"I think a lot of [his rookie year], he's been frustrated, which you'd hope he would be," said head coach Doug Collins. "He really got set back [because of his injury]. He probably would have been playing like this [all along] had he had the summer, had he not gotten hurt, had he had summer league, had he come to camp in really good shape and been able to play."

Slowly, but surely, he has worked his way back to full capacity, seeing both his minutes and his productivity increase as a result.

After tallying just 14 points and 19 rebounds through the first three months of the season, Moultrie has averaged 5.3 points (70.0 FG%) and 3.2 rebounds in just over 13 minutes per game in the months of February and March. Per 36 minutes, that's an impressive 14.5 points and 8.8 boards. 

"I think Coach is a lot more comfortable with me now," he said. "As long as he's comfortable, I'm comfortable."

With the weight of his former injury behind him and a bright future ahead, it's easy to see why.

 

2/24, 10:43 PM - Thaddeus Young returns from hamstring injury


by Max Rappaport

10:43 PM - NEW YORK -- Thaddeus Young did not miss a beat in his return from a Grade 1 left hamstring strain that forced him to miss six games. Logging 36 minutes, the 6-8 forward went 5-of-12 from the field, scoring 11 points to go along with his team-high 10 rebounds and four steals. 

6:18 PM - NEW YORK -- For the Sixers, the news that forward Thaddeus Young will return to action could not come soon enough. 

Lauded by head coach Doug Collins as perhaps the team's most important player, Young had missed six straight games with a Grade 1 left hamstring strain; in those games, the Sixers posted 1-5 record. 

"It will be a shot in the arm for us," said Collins prior to Sunday night's game. "I think he was fifth in the league in point in the paint (at the time of his injury – February 4), which tells you how much we need him."

In his first game back, Young will be thrown into the fire, likely seeing minutes at the 4 position when the Knicks go small with All-Star Carmelo Anthony at power forward. 

"Obviously, I'm probably going to have one of the toughest matchups [tonight]," said a smiling Young. "It's all about going out there and getting the feel back for the game. I'm just happy to be able to give it a go."

 

 

2/18, 9:38 PM - Holiday hopes All-Star experience carries over; Thad making progress; Pargo signed


by Max Rappaport
Respect in the NBA is not given. As the tired cliché goes, such reverence must be earned. 

Since entering the league in 2009, point guard Jrue Holiday has embarked upon a four-year campaign to prove that he belongs amongst the league's elite.

Born in the Chatsworth district of Los Angeles, California, Holiday attended Campbell Hall High School in North Hollywood, winning a Division IV state title and earning a top-five national ranking from several prep publications. When he enrolled at local UCLA, the prevailing thought was that he would follow in the footsteps of the prior class' top-ranked guards, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo, spending a single season showcasing with his collegiate team before making the jump to the pros as a high lottery selection. 

However, things did not go exactly as planned.

Then-rising senior and current-Maverick point guard Darren Collison made a surprised late decision to return to UCLA for his senior season, forcing Holiday to play primarily off-ball for the entirety of his freshman season. While there were flashes of brilliance that shone through, his first-year production was not enough to cement his status as a top-five pick in the upcoming draft. Holiday decided to declare anyway, trusting that a team would recognize and value his impressive potential.

That team turned out to be the Philadelphia 76ers, who selected him with the 17th-overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. 

Now in his fourth year, the life-long Sixer has enjoyed the best season of his NBA career in 2012-13, averaging 19.0 points (45.2 FG%) and 8.9 assists per game en route to his first All-Star selection.

"It's a blessing," said Holiday after learning of his selection last month. "It's a feeling you can't really describe. Especially being so young (Holiday, 22, is the youngest All-Star in franchise history), it's crazy. I was damn-near jumping for joy [when I found out].

"A lot of people back home who I haven't talked to in a long time are calling me and texting me. I don't know, man. A lot of people are proud of me and I'm glad I can represent Philly and represent my family."

Represent, he did. And now, with 31 games remaining in the regular season, the ever-humble, yet always self-assured Holiday will enter the final stretch with an extra spring in his step following 

"I learned a lot," Holiday said of his time in Houston with perennial All-Stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, et al. "Attention to detail – mentally and physically – is what separates [great players] from [the rest]. Just these guys, how they prepare for games, how they do it every single time, how they take angles to the basket, they separate themselves because of that attention to detail. Learning so much from those guys, hopefully I can translate it back here."

Eventually, Holiday's goal is to graduate from his apprenticeship with the stars and earn a place beside them. For now, though, the wide-eyed 22-year-old is just happy for all he experienced this past weekend. 

"On the warmup [jackets] we had on, there was a section for patches," he said, referring to lapel badges that were used to denote All-Star appearances, NBA Championships, and other career accolades accrued by each player. "Mine was kind of lonely, because I only had one patch (for his 2013 All-Star appearance). Kevin Garnett had like 15. Kevin Durant had, like, five. LeBron had, like, seven. And I [thought], 'man, these guys are going down in basketball history.'

"For me to be in this All-Star game, it was amazing."

Thaddeus Young Making Progress

Following practice Monday, head coach Doug Collins delivered encouraging news regarding Thaddeus Young, who continues to recover from a Grade 1 strain of his left hamstring

"I'm very encouraged with him," said Collins. "[Today], he was moving around a little bit. I think tomorrow he's going to try to get up and down the floor a little bit.

"My guess is he will not be ready for Minnesota (on Wednesday), he will not be ready for Miami (on Saturday), there [could be] an outside chance for New York (on Sunday), and if not, maybe looking at Orlando (Tuesday)."

Pargo Signs for Remainder of Season

Monday evening, the Sixers announced the signing of guard Jeremy Pargo for the remainder of the 2012-13 season. Originally signed to a 10-day contract that expired Sunday, Pargo has posted averages of 8.0 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 rebounds in 23.7 minutes a game through three appearances.

 

2/17, 7:37 AM - Young All-Stars embrace international stage

by Max Rappaport
HOUSTON -- For young players, the dream of being selected to represent one's team at NBA All-Star Weekend is omnipresent.

For the select few who see that dream actualized, their focus typically turns quickly to proving that their appointment was deserved.

Sixer point guard Jrue Holiday is one of six first-time All-Stars on the East's 12-man squad. Of those six first-timers, four are under the age of 25 – Tyson Chandler (30) and Joakim Noah (27) are the exceptions. For Holiday (22), Indiana's Paul George (22), Brooklyn's Brook Lopez (24), and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving (20), this weekend will serve as a fantastic opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a not only national, but international, audience.

"I think [this is a chance to show what I can do]" said Holiday. "I feel like the veterans, their demeanor is kind of 'been there, done that.' I think all the younger guys are definitely trying to come out and show what they can do."

In Friday night's BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, a game coached by legends Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley and played between teams comprised of the league's top rookie and second-year players, sophomore, and first-time All-Star, Kyrie Irving followed through on that approach.

The 20-year-old Cavalier phenom scored 32 points (14-20 FGM-A, 4-8 3PM-A) and added six assists and six rebounds, all while turning the ball over just once. Beyond his pure statistical proficiency, though, Irving's individual performance down the stretch of his team's 163-135 defensively scant loss to Team Chuck had players and fans alike buzzing.

With just over five minutes remaining in the game, Irving found himself matched up with high school rival and Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Knight. What ensued was two minutes of back-and-forth isolation ball between the two, with Irving coming out the clear victor following three straight one-on-one buckets, including a crossover and stepback jumper that ended with Knight on the floor and the ball in the basket. 

"For me, it only being my second year in the NBA and being [an All-Star], it's truly an honor and a testament to the hard work I've put in this season," said Irving. "[While I'm here], I just want to learn how to compete at the highest level."

The young Cavalier's eye-opening performance Friday was not lost on Holiday, who watched the game on television. Of primary concern for the young Philly floor general, though, is making sure he savors the experience in and enjoys himself.

"I'm really excited for the game tomorrow," he said. "You know, man, I'm just looking to have some fun. Whatever happens, happens. Obviously, I'll try to showcase as much as possible, but I just want to have a lot of fun."

You can catch Jrue's first-career All-Star Game Sunday night at 8:00PM (EST) and chat with fellow Sixers fans throughout the game HERE.

 

2/13, 3:18 PM - Collins wants Holiday to cherish first All-Star appearance


by Max Rappaport

It would be easy for first-time All-Star Jrue Holiday to be overwhelmed by the elite company he'll enjoy in Houston. Of course, sharing a locker room with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Garnett would be intimidating for any 22-year-old. That's why Sixers head coach Doug Collins wants his young protégé to make sure to takes a deep breath and just enjoys the moment. 

"What I'd like him to do is just walk into the locker room and take a look around," said Collins. "Look who you're sitting with. You're 22 years old. Look around.

"I always compare it to golf. Sometimes I can be on the most beautiful golf course in the world and be playing horrible golf and forget that I'm on the most beautiful golf course in the world."

Appreciating his blessings comes easy to Jrue Holiday, whose Cali-cool attitude and positive outlook on life make him a fan favorite. However, the august air of maturity with which he carries himself belies the fact that Holiday is the youngest All-Star in franchise history.

"Honestly, [I just want] to take it all in," said Holiday. "This is an experience, god willing, I get back in there again, but sometimes it's just a once-in-a-lifetime chance. So, take it all in, consume it all, and have as much fun as [I] can."

While the UCLA alum has a sophistication about his approach to the game that goes beyond his years, Coach Collins thinks there is still much for his young floor general to learn from his All-Star peers.

"Look at the men in that locker room with you," said Collins. "Look at your coach. Look at the championships these people have won. Look at the gold medals they have won. Look at their decoration. Watch how they prepare themselves.

Most of all, though, he just wants Holiday to have fun.

"I hope it'll be an experience that he remembers forever," he said. "I want him to take that all in. Because your first [selection], there's nothing like it.

"Enjoy the golf course, man. You're playing at Pebble Beach. If you hit eight in the water, to hell with it."

Catch the All-Star Game Sunday at 8:30PM (EST) on TNT and follow Jrue throughout All-Star Weekend via All-Star Central

 

2/6, 8:30 AM - "Next man up for Thad-less Sixers


It is something Sixers fans have grown accustomed to seeing – sixth-year forward Thaddeus Young sacrificing his body in order to collect a loose ball or get in the way of a cutting offensive player to draw a charge. What followed a standard hustle play from the Sixer captain Monday night, though, was something of a rare sight for the Philly faithful – Young taking a shot and staying down. 

The injury occurred with 5:46 remaining in the second quarter of a 78-61 win over the Orlando Magic, when the 6-8 forward took an awkward step while jockeying for position with big man Gustavo Ayon on a long rebound opportunity. Young tumbled to the hardwood, staying down and pounding the floor in pain before being attended to by team trainers. He was taken to the Sixers' locker room and did not return. 

An MRI on Tuesday revealed a Grade 1 strain of Young's left hamstring. The injury is expected to keep him sidelined for approximately three weeks. 

"When I first did it, it felt like a rubber band snapping and then going back into place," said Young after receiving the news that the injury was less severe than he had initially feared. "The good thing is that we have the All-Star break coming up (February 14-19) and that's going to [give me] a week of relaxation and [of] just trying to get myself [healthy]." 

Now, the Sixers, who are no strangers to battling through injuries this season, will once again look to their bench for quality minutes.

After Young went down, head coach Doug Collins leaned upon newly promoted starter Spencer Hawes (37 minutes played) and second-year reserve Lavoy Allen (31 minutes played) to carry the crux of the load, with the latter logging 22 of his 31 total minutes after Young's spill. 

Over the Sixers' current three-game win streak, Allen has seen his minutes, and his production, increase, averaging 9.3 points (60.9 FG%), 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 26.4 minutes per game during the stretch.

"I'm definitely going to step my game up," said Allen of likely seeing his role expand in Young's absence. "Me, Spencer (Hawes), Arnett (Moultrie), maybe Kwame (Brown) coming off the bench… this is going to be a group effort."

The third name on Allen's aforementioned list, rookie big man Arnett Moultrie, logged double-digit minutes (12) for just the second time this season Monday night; all 12 came after Young went down. He logged four points on three shot attempts, blocked a shot, and pulled down one rebound on each end of the floor. 

"I'm ready to go," said Moultrie. "Whatever the team needs me to do, I can go out there and do it. 

"It's next man up. We're all going to have to go out there and bring a lot of energy, no matter who that man is."

 

1/29, 2:50 PM - With progress, comes peace for Bynum


by Max Rappaport
As center Andrew Bynum continues to make headway in his rehabilitation on the court, so, too, has his demeanor improved off of it.

“We're very encouraged [by Bynum's progress]," said head coach Doug Collins Monday. "I think the most important thing is that he is encouraged. You can always tell when guys start feeling better. 

"When you're hurt, you don't feel like you're part of the team… Especially a guy who's been traded [to a new team]. I get a sense that he's getting that feeling of being back in the mix, which is nice."

Acquired by the Sixers in a blockbuster four-team trade last summer, the seven-foot, 285-pound Bynum has patiently waited for bilateral bone bruises and a weakened cartilage state in his knees to heal while spectating from the end of the Philly bench for the better part of the last four months.

"[We're taking] baby steps," said Bynum Monday. "Still no [lateral] slides, but I dunked yesterday. I was happy to know I could still do that, which is good. [We're] just taking it really, really slowly.

"I think [I could be back] right after the All-Star break, in my mind."

With just over two weeks remaining until the break – February 14-19, Bynum still has items left on his rehabilitation agenda before he can see game action.

“We did sprints [Monday]," said Bynum. "That's the next step – doing sprints, next [lateral] slides.

"I'm a little bit further ahead [of schedule than I though I'd be]. I honestly believe that. Earlier, before I started getting better, I thought I'd have to play through a lot of pain, but the pain is subsiding a bit, which is good.”

Once Bynum returns, establishing chemistry and identity with him on the floor will be the next step. With the exception of fellow-center Kwame Brown, with whom Bynum played a total of 31 minutes over four seasons when they were both with the Lakers, he has never played in a game situation with any of his new teammates.

As is the case when any new addition is made, there will be some initial growing pains, but the Sixers know that those early aches will pay dividends when they eventually do adjust to carrying the extra seven feet and 285 pounds that Bynum will add to the team's frame.

 

1/15, 1:02 PM - Ivey, Wilkins providing defensive leadership off bench


by Max Rappaport

The names Royal Ivey and Damien Wilkins may not mean much to the casual basketball fan, but to Sixers head coach Doug Collins, they mean a great deal.

At the helm of one of the youngest teams in the league, Collins has relied upon his two veteran reserves for leadership and guiding voices, especially on the defensive end. Lately, he’s asked them to do more than just talk. 

“I feel like Damien was a player we really needed against the Rockets [Saturday night], and [Royal],” he said of a 107-100 victory, in which Wilkins and Ivey combined for 26 minutes. “Those two guys came in and they did a really, really good job for us.”

While their efforts may not typically show up in the box score, there is a reason the two have logged nearly two combined decades of NBA experience, despite boasting career averages of just 3.3 points (40.4 FG%), 1.1 rebounds, and 1.0 assists (Ivey) and 6.1 points (42.2 FG%), 2.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists (Wilkins).

Throughout the season, Coach Collins has lamented his team’s difficulty in keeping pace with its opponents when point guard Jrue Holiday rests at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters. In Saturday’s win over Houston, Ivey and Wilkins played almost exclusively when Holiday was on the bench and helped the Sixers hold the high-powered Rockets (first in the league in scoring) in check. 

After allowing 127.8 points per 100 possessions during a five-game losing skid heading into Saturday’s game, they held the Rockets to just 101.0.

Asked if he would continue to call the two veterans’ numbers, Collins said he did not want to set anything in stone, but indicated that he’d go to them so long as it keeps working.

“I felt that we needed to get a little bit more of a defensive mindset,” he said. “To do that, we needed to get two of our better defensive players out on the floor.”

 

1/4, 1:00 PM - Sixers close out road trip the hard way


by Max Rappaport

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Don't listen to country-western star Willie Nelson. Life on the road is tough. Just ask the Sixers, who will play their seventh and eighth straight road games Friday and Saturday night.

Soon enough, however, they will get some much-needed relief. Beginning Tuesday, Philly begins a month-long stretch in which they will play 13 games at home and just two on the road (January 8 through February 11). But before securing this welcomed refuge, they'll will face one final challenge – back-to-back games against Western Conference powerhouses Oklahoma City (24-7) and San Antonio (26-9). 

The Sixers know that these will likely be the two toughest games of their current trip. And it certainly doesn't help that their first opponent, the Thunder, is coming off just its third home loss of the season, and first since November 14 – Oklahoma City fell to the  Brooklyn Nets 110-93 at Chesapeake Energy Center Wednesday.

"Oh, they're gonna be ready," said former Thunder guard and current Sixer Royal Ivey. "They don't lose two in a row at home – they're competitors. They're gonna come with their hard hats and we're going to have to be ready to [play hard] in those first five minutes [of the first quarter], because this building is going to be on fire."

It's not just the recent rattling of Oklahoma City's cage that has Ivey convinced, though. When Sixers and Thunder faced one another on November 24 at Wells Fargo Center, OKC's starters combined for 94 of their team's 116 points. The Sixers were able to force overtime, but the Thunder, led by All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, scored 18 points in just five minutes of extra time.

"That game is in the past. We're two different teams now," said veteran swingman Jason Richardson of his team's November meeting with the Thunder. "We just need to forget about that game and go out and try to get a win tonight."

While playing on the road can often be an onerous task, it can also serve as a stimulus for maturation.

"We've been on the road [for a while now], playing in some tough environments and [these next two games] will be tough, too," said Richardson. "We've pulled together in a lot of these games. The outcome [hasn't always been what we've wanted], but I think we've grown from it."

Holiday Expected To Play With Groin Strain

The Sixers announced Friday that point guard Jrue Holiday has a minor right groin strain. He's not expected to miss any time as a result of the injury. 

 

12/21, 1:10 PM - Holiday, Turner set to play; Lou's return


by Max Rappaport

Looking to snap a five-game losing skid, the Sixers got some much-needed good news Friday morning, when guard Jrue Holiday and swingman Evan Turner told the media they'd both be available when the team takes the floor against the Atlanta Hawks later in the evening.

Holiday has missed the team's last four games with a sprain of the longitudinal arch in his left foot. The Sixers' leader in both points and assists this season now says he's ready to return to action.

"Yeah, I'm playing today," said Holiday, grinning coyly after being asked to give a binary answer to the question. "I feel like if I had come back any earlier, I guess the result of what happened would've been the same. I probably would have been out anyways because my foot was pretty bad. Again, the trainers took care of business and I'm good to go.”

Holiday noted that he's benefitted over the last few days from head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson utilizing a different method of taping the foot.

Evan Turner announced following Friday morning's shoot-around that he would suit up Friday night, as well. The 6-7 swingman suffered a mild ankle sprain in the third quarter of Wednesday's loss to the Houston Rockets. He attempted to re-enter the game, but was quickly removed after experiencing discomfort. 

Rookie guard Maalik Wayns, who started his first career game Wednesday in Holiday's absence, is a game-time decision Friday with pain in his right foot.

Lou Williams Embraces Philly Roots

Guard Lou Williams spent seven seasons in Philadelphia, before signing with his hometown Atlanta Hawks as a free agent this summer. Drafted in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft, Williams spent his first two NBA seasons becoming acclimated to the league; in his third season, he became a staple in the Sixers' rotation, improving incrementally in each of the next five seasons. His stay in The City of Brotherly Love was given an exclamation point last season, when he finished second (to James Harden) in Sixth Man of the Year voting, after becoming the first player since Dell Curry in 1993-94 to lead their team in scoring (14.9 PPG) without starting a single game.

Friday morning, the 6-3 guard met with the Philly media, speaking warmly about his time in Philly. 

"It's one of those games where it'll be emotional," said Williams. "This is my first time back and I spent a lot of time in this city, obviously. For me to come back, it's going to be fun. It's a game I look forward to.

"I almost talk to [Evan Turner] two or three times a week, after a lot of each other's games. And I still speak with [Thaddeus Young]. Those are the two guys that I was the closest with on the team, outside of [Denver guard Andre Iguodala]."