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Ben Simmons skips individual workout at Philadelphia 76ers’ facility, sources say



Ben Simmons did not take part in a scheduled individual workout at the Philadelphia 76ers‘ practice facility Thursday, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It is unclear whether Simmons, who was suspended by the 76ers for Wednesday’s season-opening, 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans for conduct detrimental to the team, will play Friday against the Brooklyn Nets (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Sources told ESPN that Simmons arrived at and left the team’s practice facility Thursday without participating in the planned workout.

The 76ers did not practice Thursday, and Simmons has yet to fully engage in a team practice since reporting last week. He was thrown out of practice Tuesday after he declined several times to sub in for a drill, sources told Wojnarowski.

Amid his trade request, Simmons held out of the first two weeks of training camp. The 76ers have fined Simmons more than $1.4 million for his absence from four preseason games ($360,000 each) and levied numerous fines for missed practices, on-court workouts and meetings, sources told Wojnarowski. He lost roughly $227,000 from Wednesday’s suspension.

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Will the return of ‘Point Zion’ stabilize the inconsistent New Orleans Pelicans?



There was an air of optimism around the New Orleans Pelicans franchise heading into the 2021-22 season: Zion Williamson was coming off of an All-Star season and Brandon Ingram was a year removed from an All-Star appearance.

The Pelicans added Devonte’ Graham and Jonas Valanciunas. The goal was to get players who were a better fit around the former No. 1 overall pick, who was now the de facto point guard.

But recovery from offseason foot surgery has kept Williamson out of the lineup to start the season. And with a 6-foot-6, 284-pound hole in the Pelicans rotation, the new pieces have struggled to complete the puzzle.

“The biggest thing is in everybody’s role is we’re asking guys to do more,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said.

As Williamson gets closer to making his season debut, he’ll join a team that is off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. His return will bring some much-needed stability to the young core, but the Pelicans are looking to follow the 2020-21 Washington Wizards and become just the fourth team since the ABA/NBA merger to make the playoffs after starting 6-17.

“We haven’t had Z this season. [We’re] really waiting for him. We need him,” Valanciunas said. “He’s gonna be the big piece for us offensively, defensively. The game is gonna change in a good way, big time.”

With Williamson injured, roles have changed and New Orleans has struggled to find consistency.

The biggest change has been the use of Valanciunas and Graham. Valanciunas has been the Pelicans’ most steady player this season, averaging 19.3 points and 12.4 rebounds per game — a career high in scoring and just shy of his career-high 12.5 boards last season.

“We’re always asking to take one to two steps higher than what they would be if they were fully healthy and that’s okay,” Green said. “Because they are getting great opportunities. They are getting in-game experience. And once we’re whole, we’ll be that much better for those guys having the experiences that we’ve had.”

Those experiences, however, haven’t translated to victories. New Orleans is next to last in the Western Conference and has lacked a closing presence on the floor.

Valanciunas is averaging 31.6 minutes per game this season. His previous high for a season came last year when he averaged 28.3 minutes per game with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The 6-foot-11 center has been spacing the floor slightly more than Adams did a year ago, shooting 30-of-58 from deep in 23 games — a league-leading 51.7%. Last season, Adams had three 3-point attempts and all were last-second heaves.

Graham was better on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season than Lonzo Ball (42.3% to 40.2%) and was viewed as a better fit next to Williamson running the show on offense.

The point guard has had to take on more of a scoring burden with the first unit, something that the Pelicans may have been able to avoid with their healthy All-Stars.

“Obviously lineups have been changing, guys are in and out,” Graham said while acknowledging the spot lineups the Pelicans have been forced to use this season. “We’ll have more balance and more defined roles. When you’re missing two All-Stars on any team, especially a young team, you’re gonna struggle.”

Though Ingram says his offensive role changes just slightly when Williamson plays, he’s watched Valanciunas and Graham embrace their bigger roles.

“They’ve been taking on more responsibility,” Ingram said. “Devonte’ has to be the head of everything we’re doing, making sure we’re in line. Jonas being on that backline, he’s gotta talk on the defensive end. We’re asking a lot out of him to score right now. He’s playing a lot of minutes. It’s important to stay locked in.”

Another player whose role has changed early on is Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The third-year guard was set to become the team’s sixth man this season, but the Pelicans opted to add Alexander-Walker into the starting lineup to give them a scoring punch in Williamson’s absence.

Alexander-Walker started the first 18 games of the season, but slid back into his sixth-man role on Nov. 22 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

When Graham missed three games in late November, Green was forced to make more changes to the starting lineup. One of those was starting Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple.

That pairing didn’t work and lasted just one night.

“We’re 3-15. That went into the decision,” the first-year coach said after a Nov. 13 loss to the Grizzlies. “Until we get it right, we have to continue to make adjustments and see what works.”

The burden has been brutal to bear for a team that’s already suffering a bigger injury punch than it did a season ago. In 2020-21, the Pelicans finished No. 29 in the league in games missed, even with a rash of injuries toward the end of the year. This year, they’re already sixth in that category, according to Spotrac’s team tracking data, at 62 games lost to injury.

Williamson’s rehab has been slow and calculated. The Pelicans won’t rush him back onto the court, especially coming off a foot injury. He was cleared for full team workouts on Friday, but no timetable has been set for his season debut.

Though his team has made the most of his absence, it knows its season hinges on his return.

“Everyone is getting better from it; the opportunities, the minutes, the game reps,” Alexander-Walker said. “Seeing the floor and going through those tough times. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

When Williamson makes his season debut, the “Point Zion” lineups are sure to return and take the burden off of a group meant to support his game.

The Pelicans embraced the use of Williamson as a primary ball handler last season. By Feb. 1, Williamson ranked 13th out of 95 players to bring the ball up at least 500 times — just ahead of names like DeMar DeRozan and Luka Doncic.

Williamson’s return will not only improve the Pelicans’ playmaking, but allow the rest of the Pelicans to shift back into the roles they were meant to play all along.

As the days tick down to Williamson’s return, the Pelicans are starting to find a rhythm. They are winners of three of their past four games — all with a new starting lineup.

Valanciunas, Ingram and Graham are now flanked by Josh Hart and second-round pick Herbert Jones. In the past four games with that lineup, that group has an offensive rating of 105.6 and a defensive rating of 97.2 in 70 minutes on the floor.

That has allowed other players to settle into new roles — like Alexander-Walker as a sixth man and Temple in a smaller role off the bench.

“I think if we get guys in the roles that the team was built around, and when you do that, again it’ll take time for us to get to know each other in those different roles again playing with BI and Zion, but I think the guys that are playing, it’ll get that confidence so that when we are playing in whatever role we’re in we can do it at a high level,” Temple said.

Even with the return of the Williamson approaching, New Orleans is five games back from the 10th spot. It’s a steep mountain to climb, though it’s not impossible. But the Pelicans need Williamson to do so.

“We lean on each other because we know we can’t go into games and rely on one person to score 50 and win a game for us,” Green said. “We have to do it collectively as a group. I’ll continue to reiterate how I’m proud of what this group has done so far. Our record doesn’t show it. None of us are happy about that.

“But we understand that we’re building.”

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Atlanta Hawks star and New York Knicks villain Trae Young among athletes who got a vote for New York City mayor



Maybe Trae Young‘s performance in the Atlanta Hawks‘ first round 2020-21 NBA playoff series against the New York Knicks was enough to sway one voter in New York City.

In November’s election, Young received one write-in vote to be New York’s next mayor, according to the New York City Board of Elections report that was released Wednesday. The Hawks superstar will not have to move into Gracie Mansion and take on the mayoral duties. Young finished 753,800 votes shy of Democrat Eric Adams, the winner of the race.

This is the latest turn in Young’s budding relationship with New York. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round series against the Knicks, Young hit the winner while Madison Square Garden fans chanted “F— Trae Young.” Young put a finger to his lips to shush the crowd. He then scored 36 points in Game 5 in New York to eliminate the Knicks. He took a bow before the MSG crowd.

Then, in September, Young was back in the Garden for WWE Smackdown.

While Young received just one vote, the Knicks could have formed a solid voting bloc. Players Julius Randle (six), RJ Barrett (three) and Kemba Walker (one) received votes and Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau got three votes, though one of the write-ins misspelled his name. For the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden each received one vote.

However, if New York athletes were the only candidates, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge would be the city’s next mayor. He received nine write-in votes.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ‘sneaky’ layup off glass lifts Milwaukee Bucks over Charlotte Hornets



MILWAUKEE — As Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo charged toward the basket during the closing seconds of a tie game against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, he knew he was going to have to get creative to score.

So, Antetokounmpo flipped the ball off the bottom of the glass with a finger roll to guide it into the hoop and seal a 127-125 victory for the Bucks. His heroics capped off a 40-point, 12-rebound, 9-assist performance and helped lead the Bucks to their eighth consecutive victory.

“If you just go normal, most likely you’re going to get blocked, so you’ve got to be sneaky with it,” Antetokounmpo said after the game. “I’m getting old. I’m not able to dunk on people anymore, so I’ve got to be sneaky.”

Sneaky isn’t usually a word used to describe Antetokounmpo’s game, especially considering what a dominant force he can be in the paint.

But even his teammates, who are used to seeing him pull off incredible feats with regularity, marveled at his ability to finish the layup with that kind of touch around the glass.

“People talk about him just being dominant, but on that shot you can see the skill that he has,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “He’s not always dunking over people. That’s a tough layup even for guards, and he’s a 7-footer coming down at the end of game, going over and then under an arm and then flipping it with a little bit of spin off the glass. That just shows you the type of skill that he has as a player.”

Wednesday marked just the fourth time in Antetokounmpo’s career he has made the go-ahead field goal inside the final five seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime and the first time since 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

The Bucks needed Antetokounmpo’s shot to hold off the Hornets and a career-best scoring performance from LaMelo Ball, who knocked down a contested 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds remaining to tie the game. Ball finished with a career-high 36 points to go along with nine assists and five rebounds.

Once Ball tied the game, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer spread the floor with four shooters surrounding Antetokounmpo, providing him the space to attack the basket with a one-on-one matchup against Hornets forward P.J. Washington.

“That’s a hell of a finish,” Budenholzer said. “He’s just so talented and he does so much around the rim. The dunks and everything get a lot of attention, for good reason, but his ability to use the glass and his ability to play fast — when you’re going downhill that hard to have touch off the board and things like that, it’s just a great finish, a great play by Giannis.”

The Bucks, meanwhile, have continued to roll ever since they have had close to their full lineup back on the floor.

Their eight-game winning streak coincided with Middleton’s return to the court after contracting COVID-19, and Milwaukee is still undefeated this season (10-0) when Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all in the starting lineup.

“You want all your guys to be healthy to give yourself a better chance to win,” Middleton said. “So far, we’ve been banged up, still got a couple guys missing. With the group that we have right now, I think we’re playing well. We’re trending toward the right direction right now.”

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