PHILADELPHIA,PA - MARCH 3 : Justin Anderson #23 of the Philadelphia 76ers is pumped up after the big game and big win against the New York Knicks at Wells Fargo Center on March 3, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Preview | With Versatility, Toughness, Anderson Steps Up When Summoned

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Sizing Up the Sixers (23-38):
Less than a week’s time apparently makes quite the difference.

Days after welcoming Justin Anderson to the 76ers following last Thursday’s trade with the Dallas Mavericks, Brett Brown’s initial choice was to integrate the second-year forward into the fold gradually, rather than throw him into the fray right away.

Friday, with the Sixers’ roster even more thinned than usual, Anderson was presented with his first substantial opportunity to step up, and he didn’t disappoint.

Displaying an outside touch, interior toughness, and willingness to mix it up defensively with one of top scorers in recent history, Anderson went for a career-high tying 19 points in the Sixers’ latest narrow victory over New York. He needed just 24 minutes off the bench to reach that mark, while also adding five rebounds, three of which came on the offensive glass.

His two-way presence on the wing was that much more pivotal in the absence of trusted veteran Gerald Henderson, who was sidelined Friday, and will be out again Saturday, with left hip soreness. Brown had a sense that - if given a chance - Anderson would prove he fit the mold of the type of player the Sixers are aiming to develop.

“Can you play with pace? Yup. Can you play with space? Yup. And can you defend? Yes,” Brown said Friday, when asked about Anderson. “Well, that’s a pretty good introduction.”

At first, representing somewhat of a departure from the approach he has taken with freshly-acquired talent in the past, Brown felt Anderson would be best served by working his way into the Sixers’ system slowly. With the team’s depth now in a different place than it has been in previous years, Brown felt the 23-year old could be afforded some extra time to acclimate himself to new surroundings.

Heading into Friday’s win, Anderson had played three games for the Sixers. He logged three minutes in New York last Saturday, his Sixers’ debut; nine minutes Monday against Golden State; then 26 minutes in Miami Wednesday in a game that got out of hand. Most of Anderson’s run versus the Heat came in the second half, with Henderson being held out.

Friday, knowing his role would likely be greater, Anderson stepped up, and reaped the rewards of the work he had been putting in behind the scenes.

“I think any time you come into a new team, you want to please,” said Brown. “Any time you come into a city as passionate as Philadelphia is, you want to come out on home court and you want to please.

“He has been going overboard studying our structure. It’s always difficult to cram a season’s worth of information into a few days, and it’s difficult as a coach to choose environments that you call on a fly when you don’t put him in a position that he’s not going to do well.”

The timing wasn’t only right Friday to bump up Anderson’s responsibilities, it was needed.

“It means a lot to get this win,” said Anderson, who averaged 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game over the course of his 110-game career with Dallas, which drafted him 21st overall in 2015.

Without Anderson’s contributions in crunch time, who knows how Friday’s tilt would have finished? His floater in the lane with 24.3 seconds to go sent the Sixers in front for good.

On the Knicks’ ensuing possession, Anderson teamed up with Robert Covington to contest Carmelo Anthony’s fadeaway jump shot, which went awry. Dario Saric wrestled away the loose ball rebound, was sent to the free throw line, and the Sixers hung on for their second triumph since the All-Star break.

Anderson attributed Friday’s success to new teammates helping him settle in.

“That’s the biggest part,” Anderson said. “They welcomed me with open arms. I am excited to play with these guys. They do so much to help me try and get acquainted. I try to learn everything as fast as I can, but all the credit goes to those guys.”

In the aftermath of the February 23rd trade deadline, Bryan Colangelo, the Sixers’ President of Basketball Operations, spoke about his vision for building a sustained winner through the acquisition of “multi-positional talent.” Based on Friday’s games, Anderson, who had been on the Sixers’ radar for some time, appears to fit that description.

The three-year Virginia product played some power forward alongside Richaun Holmes, got reps at small forward with Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric on the floor, and - on the Sixers’ crucial, final defensive stand - moved up to the two-guard spot, with Holmes, Saric, and Covington also featured in Brown’s game-ending line-up.

“He got good games,” said Saric, who supplied team-highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds Friday. “He was at every part of the court, he can play three [SF] or the four [PF], and he really brings us energy. He can shoot, dribble the ball, stays aggressive. He’s competitive, and we need that. I hope he stays like that for us.”

Following Friday’s win, Anderson seemed to be soaking up and savoring the moment. He had just delivered his first, true impact performance with the Sixers, doing so in an increasingly heated division rivalry series, and in front of a near-sellout crowd.

“Man, they were cheering for everyone tonight,” Anderson said of the fans. “It was awesome. They really had our backs. We just kept fighting hard - everyone, from the starters to the bench. Everyone really wanted to win this. The energy felt good, it felt great.”

Anderson was indeed a big part of that, and will look to be a factor again Saturday, against Detroit.

Sizing Up the Pistons (29-32):
Idle since a 23-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday, Detroit will be aiming to get back on track Saturday. With roughly five weeks remaining in the regular season, the Pistons’ margin for error is slim, as they hold a just a 1.5 game lead over both the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final post-season spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Detroit, after breaking through last season for its first playoff berth in seven years, has had a difficult time establishing consistency this campaign. Recently, Stan Van Gundy’s squad had been enjoying one of its stronger stretches, with seven wins in 11 games.

2016 All-Star center Andre Drummond ranks first in the NBA in total rebounds, and fifth in the league with 41 double-doubles. Also of note, the big man has brought down more offensive rebounds this year than anyone else.

Having signed with the Pistons as a free agent this past summer, former two-time Sixer Ish Smith has been enjoying a steady season. The point guard accounts for 8.3 points and 5.0 assists in 23.6 minutes per game, and began the year as Detroit’s starter, with Reggie Jackson hurt. Smith has been used off the bench since December.

Series History:
The Sixers will be looking to claim the rubber match in their three-game season set with Detroit. In one of their most dominant victories of the season, the Sixers beat the Pistons at The Palace, 97-79, on December 11th. Two months later, again in Auburn Hills, Detroit knocked off the Sixers, 113-96.

Jahlil Okafor has started both tilts versus the Pistons this season, and put up respectable offensive numbers. He scored 14 points in the first meeting between the teams, and 16 the second time around. 

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