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Game Preview | As Opportunities Increase, Holmes Leaving Mark
Sizing Up the Sixers (26-43):
When Richaun Holmes is on the court, odds are, he’s doing something to make sure someone - a fan, teammate, coach, opponent - takes notice.
Take, for example, a couple of the highlights Holmes produced in Sunday’s breakthrough victory over Boston.
There was the first of his four blocks on the afternoon, this one coming at the expense of rookie Jaylen Brown.
Jae Crowder received similar treatment later in the second quarter, with Holmes using his non-dominant left hand to turn aside the veteran forward.
Then, in this third quarter sequence, Holmes went on the offensive to unleash some additional aggression on the cylinder (doing so courtesy of a smooth, no-look feed from Dario Saric).
Of the plays shown above, all are probably worthy of being classified under the tag of “not-so-subtle.” Such tend to be the nature of Holmes’ contributions, which have been rolling in in increasing volume as of late.
Since the All-Star Game break, the 23-year old forward / center has generated 12.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game, averages that rank fourth, third, and first, respectively, on the Sixers’ roster. During this stretch, Holmes has also shot a team-high 63.3 percent from the field.
An expanded role has put Holmes in position to more frequently display his growing sense of comfort, and self-belief.
“It’s always been there,” Holmes said, when asked Sunday about his confidence level entering the home stretch of the season. “I’m always confident, no matter how much time I get. Just the more time on the floor, the more things I get to showcase, and I get to help the team win.”
That dynamic certainly held true this past weekend.
Not only did Holmes turn in an eight-point, seven-rebound, five-assist, four-block showing against Boston, two days earlier, he racked up 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals in the Sixers’ one-sided 42-point triumph over Dallas. His plus-minus rating that night was a staggering +35.
In addition to a spike in statistical output, Holmes’ comfort and confidence have yielded another important byproduct as well - consistency. This factor, in turn, has further earned the 2015 second-round selection the trust of his head coach.
“I think because his game is almost derived exclusively out of energy, you can count on that,” Brown said Sunday.
“The variables that become uncertain,” Brown continued, “are is he going to make a 3-point shot tonight [Holmes is 16 for 42 (38.1%) on 3-point attempts this season]? Is he going to hit an 18-footer when somebody backs off of him?
“Is he going to run the floor? You can count on him. Is he going to run both ways, offensive transition? You can count on him. Is he going to be tough to box out? You can count on him. Is he going to screen-and-roll way more than he pops? You can count on him.
“Those effort, energy sort of things are the reliable parts of his game.”
Skills that Holmes had the opportunity to apply during the Sixers’ weekend homestand in individual battles with decorated opponents. Friday, against the Mavericks, Holmes was summoned to start for the fifth time this season, mostly because Brown thought he could match up well with Dirk Nowitzki, the recently-minted sixth player in NBA history to reach the 30,000-point plateau.
Then, on Sunday, Holmes found himself tangling with Al Horford, another elite big man with floor-stretching capabilities.
“It means a lot, especially going up against a great player like that, an All-Star,” Holmes said Sunday, as he discussed defending Horford. “It was a challenge, and I look forward to challenges.”
Holmes made similar remarks Friday, after going toe-to-toe with Nowitzki.
“Whenever you get accolades from Coach, you want to go out there, and prove him right.”
Holmes has not only done so with energy and effort, but by blending those attributes with a profile that Brown considers to be representative of that of a “modern day player.”
“He is an athlete who can play with speed,” said Brown. “You sort of put a blanket over those inherent qualities with an attitude of toughness, and there’s a bit of no back down in him. He has taken the opportunity that we’ve provided. He’s come in and, most times, doesn’t disappoint. He’s somebody that we’ve all felt, because we saw it early in the year, that with opportunity could come in and be one of those types of players that you call ‘keepers.’”
Count teammates present and past among those who are buying Holmes’ stock as well.
“He’s a beast,” Justin Anderson said Friday. “I have said that for a while, watching him in summer league. He plays extremely hard, shoots the three, his ability to dunk on players. He’s really good.”
“It’s been amazing seeing him develop these past couple years,” said Nerlens Noel, whom the Sixers traded to Dallas last month in an exchange that fetched Anderson in return.
Prior to Noel’s departure, Holmes had mostly been the fourth option in a five-man rotation that also consisted of former lottery picks Noel, Joel Embiid, and Jahlil Okafor.
“He knows his spots, and is well-acquainted with the system,” Noel said. “It is going really well for him, and I am really proud of him.”
As Holmes’ second professional campaign winds down, the progress has been hard to miss.
Sizing Up the Magic (25-45):
Frank Vogel’s first year with Orlando has been a challenging one. Despite the Magic making some noteworthy off-season moves, the franchise is still on pace for a fifth consecutive losing campaign.
The night of the 2016 draft, Orlando made a deal with Oklahoma City that netted, in part, veteran big man Serge Ibaka; however, with the Magic struggling in advance of February’s trade deadline, the team decided to move Ibaka to perennial Eastern Conference contender Toronto. In return, Orlando acquired Terrence Ross, plus a 2017 first-round draft pick.
One summer transaction that has paid dividends for the Magic was the re-signing of shooting guard Evan Fournier. The Frenchman is averaging a career and current team-high 16.9 points per game. He’s reached triple-digits in 3-pointers made (103) for a second season in a row.
Orlando will take the floor Monday fresh off a three-game Western Conference road trip that ended last Friday with a victory in Phoenix.
The Sixers’ previous meeting with Orlando, also played at Amway Center, featured a dramatic finish. T.J. McConnell nailed a go-ahead jumper with six seconds to go, then stole the Magic’s ensuing inbounds pass to seal a 112-111 victory in what was a back-and-forth match-up.
In each of the first three pairings of this season’s series between the Sixers and Orlando, the visiting team has prevailed. The Sixers suffered losses of 103-101 and 105-88 at The Center earlier in the year.
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