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Thunder, with Russell Westbrook, plan for 76ers basketball demonstration

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We break down what the Sixers have become, and have the latest updates on all the Thunder injuries.

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Westbrook returns, riding a weasel that's riding a hummingbird! Get hype!
Westbrook returns, riding a weasel that's riding a hummingbird! Get hype!
William Bennett Berry

The Sixers: Philosophically

I've been following the NBA on the internet for a long time. A few years back, I played this game over online forums called Fast Break Basketball. It was a simulation program for PC, and basically a more in-depth version of NBA Live's franchise mode. Fast Break Basketball allowed 30 different basketball nerds to gather online and all run their own franchises. Seasons would last anywhere from a week to two months, and general managers take their trams very seriously.

Usually, one person would have the actual program and do all the thankless work of inserting lineups, trades, and draft picks. Everyone else would state what moves they were making in the forum, and communicate about trades through private messages. The program allows you to output league stats to a webpage, so everyone was able to see what was going on.

Anyway, the people who won in these leagues were generally very good at numbers. You see, since this was virtual basketball with virtual fans and virtual money, trades could happen without any consideration for actual people. The program wasn't sophisticated enough to integrate things like fan attendance and overall team finances, so you could basically trot out a moribund team and tank for picks with no real consequences. As as result, many nerds ran their team like the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 76ers have been a rather interesting development for me. To me, they represent the NBA's current state of financial security. 20 years ago, teams were seen as something that should make money every year, instead of something that accrues value from year to year and you end up selling. In other words, small-market teams used to have to put butts in the seats. They couldn't afford to lose money hand over fist, and would need to remain competitive while rebuilding. The best example of a team doing this recently is the Milwaukee Bucks before they were sold. Before the 2013-14 season, the Bucks made a bunch of pointless big money deals for veterans like O.J. Mayo, Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia, and Caron Butler. However, the Bucks had no star, and no chance to getting anywhere in the playoffs. That roster was just begging for the team to win 30some games and get stuck in mediocrity forever. Luckily for Bucks fans, the team went 15-67, and they ended up getting Jabari Parker at the end of the season.

Anyway, what the Bucks did might have been par for the course back in 1993 or even 2003, but the NBA of today is much different. Teams are now much more like the Philadelphia 76ers. Because NBA franchises gain so much value from year to year, they can afford to lose horribly and take on cash flow losses. In other words, the Sixers are doing what I've seen nerds doing in their basements for years. Players are only names to them, and playing time is just another excuse to show off some guy so you can ship him off for more picks.

Here's the scariest part. The teams those nerds ran? They were extremely strong down the line. If you ever entered into a league that had been running for 5 or more seasons, generally there would be 2-3 super teams that were just head and shoulders above everyone else in the league. The man at the end of their rotation would be better than most teams third or fourth guy, and almost all of their players would be under a certain age. Obviously, we'll have to wait a few more years before we find out whether the Sixers meet the end of this fantasy. But they're intriguing to keep an eye on, nonetheless.

The Sixers: Practically

For now, the Sixers are still the league's laughingstock. At the trade deadline, they shipped former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to the Bucks, and sent athletic guard K.J. McDaniels to the Houston Rockets. The Sixers managed to grab some semblance of real talent when acquiring JaVale McGee, but he was soon waived after arrival. Injuries have taken their toll on the Sixers as well. Tony Wroten, a slashing style point guard, is out for the season with an ACL tear. Joel Embiid, the Sixers' pick in 2014, may not see a minute of action.

Still, there is a bit of bite to the Sixers' bark. Philadelphia managed to beat Washington on February 27th, doing it with a ton of threes and great defense. Still, the victory may have had more to do with just how badly the Wizards were playing. From Jack Whitacre's Bullets Forever recap of the Sixer victory:

"Yes, the Wizards were without Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce and Kris Humphries tonight. And you could tell that affected the team in some of how they played tonight. But tonight's loss was about a lot more than just depth issues. A short bench wasn't why Philadelphia started the game on a 13-4 run, and it's not why Jason Richardson scored a dozen points, or why Thomas Robinson had 9 points and 9 rebounds in a dozen minutes off the bench. The Wizards looked like a group that had to cancel vacation plans because they got called to go on a stupid last-second business trip. They don't look happy."

The Sixers: Personally

A lot of the names on the Sixer roster might be unfamiliar to the average fan. So in an attempt to flesh this game out a little bit, here's something notable about every active player on the Sixer roster:

  • Furkan Aldemir: A draft and stash big that was traded around a few times and recently signed with Philly. Aldemir works almost exclusively near the rim, usually off the pick and roll or offensive boards. Aldemir's defense is at least average, and he averaged good numbers in a limited starting role for a Euroleague team. But Furkan will need time to develop his skills before he can truly make an NBA impact.
  • Isaiah Canaan: Nicknamed "The Canaan Ball", this dude has tons of energy. He ping-pongs up and down the court, leading the break and hitting off-the-catch threes.
  • "Sir" Robert Covington: I'm actually legitimately excited about watching this dude play. He's the ultimate offensive  stretch four, with the ability to knock down the three off the catch or dribble. Covington is also very quick, and can get by most opponents in open court or mismatch situations. On top of all that, Covington can finish at the rim extremely well.
  • Jeremi Grant: He's a really long player that's good at working off of picks and around the rim. Still, he's 6'8" and can't shoot a three.
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: A NBA vet that's made a living on great defense for years. Offensively, all he can do is hit standing jumpers. He never forces his offense though, and it's strange to see him trapped in Philly.
  • Nerlens Noel: A serious rim protector that's still very much a project. Noel's got a few years to get things together on the offensive end, but for now he's the league's 6th best shot blocker and 18th best stealer.
  • Jason Richardson: Probably my favorite active NBA player. I basically grew up watching him play for some bad Warriors teams, and was present when JRich led the dubs to a first round upset of the Mavs in 2007. Due to injury, JRich missed about two solid seasons of action. But he's back now, and will hopefully revive his career. By the way, here's my favorite JRich highlight of all-time. Glorious Youtube 240p.
  • Thomas Robinson: He's the modern day Danny Fortson, aka a rebounding machine that does virtually nothing else.
  • JaKarr Sampson: He went to the same high school as LeBron James, and Sampson will occasionally have a LeBron James-like power drive from the perimeter. That's where the similarities end, though.
  • Henry Sims: Old school through and through. If it were 1975, Sims would be an All-Star center for sure. He's got a great power back to the basket game, finishing great through contact up to about 8 feet away. But Sims has no jumpshot to speak of, can't pass the ball well, and is too slow on defense.
  • Ish Smith: Hi!
  • Hollis Thompson: Hardcore Thunder fans will remember that we signed him following the 2012 draft. Thompson ended up being a pre-season cut, but it might have been worth our while to keep him. Thompson is really good at catch and shooting around screens, and spaces the floor for the Sixers. He's streaky, though.

Thunder Injury Issues

The good news is that Russell Westbrook will play tonight. He missed Sunday evening's game against the Lakers with a facial bone fracture, but even that appeared to only be precautionary. Canaan will certainly be a load for Westbrook on defense, but I'm sure that Russ' offensive output will offset everything. Westbrook will have to wear a clear mask to protect the injured area for a while, which could affect his shooting.

The bad news is that Kevin Durant will be out for at least another week. At the end of this week, KD will be re-evaluated again. Durant did not participate in Thunder practice on Wednesday. Steven Adams participated in the practice, but won't be playing tonight. Adams could be back as soon as Thursday, from what I'm hearing. Steve Novak had an appendectomy a week before today, and is slated to be available to play a week after today.

Obviously, upon KD's return, he'll get Singler's spot. Singler will likely continue to get minutes, but it remains to be seen who will lose time at guard. When Adams returns, it remains to be seen whether he will get the start over Kanter at center. Also, has Mitch McGary done enough to warrant himself as OKC's fourth big over Nick Collison? Questions surround the Thunder's final incarnation, but it appears we'll have to wait at least another week to see it.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 110, Philadelphia 76ers 92.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 61
(Lost 1)

(Won 1)
March 4th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Philadelphia
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook, Kevin DurantSteven Adams, Steve Novak, Tony Wroten, Joel Embiid (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Dec 6 (W 103-91)
Probable Starters
Isaiah Canaan PG D.J. Augustin
Jason Richardson SG Andre Roberson
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute SF Kyle Singler
Robert Covington PF Nick Collison
Nerlens Noel C Serge Ibaka

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