Shootaround Report | 3/24 vs. Bulls

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The following storylines were ones that emerged from the Sixers’ morning shootaround on Friday, March 24th. They play the Chicago Bulls at United Center at 8:00 PM EST.

• Throughout the season, Jahlil Okafor has been managing soreness in his right knee. Wednesday in Oklahoma City, he appeared to turn a positive corner, getting back on the floor on the heels of a one-game absence.

Okafor, however, has been listed as questionable for Friday’s tilt versus the Bulls. According to the Sixers, the outside of his knee was banged incidentally against the Thunder, and some soreness has subsequently returned.

Okafor was also classified as questionable heading into Wednesday’s game. As they did that night, the Sixers will wait until closer to game time Friday before making a definitive ruling on his status.

The center did not participate in Friday’s shootaround, held on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Back in January, Okafor missed his first opportunity this season to play in his hometown of Chicago, again because of the right knee.

Should Okafor not be able to go, Brett Brown is confident in the two big men backing him up, Richaun Holmes and Shawn Long.

“Fortunately for us, you got Richaun showing that he can come in and get things done,” said Brown. “I’m excited in an inverted way to give Shawn Long another opportunity [if necessary].”

Holmes has posted 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game since the All-Star break. Long, a call-up earlier this month, has averaged 5.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 9.0 minutes in eight appearances with the Sixers.

• Oklahoma City’s veteran physicality was one factor, above all, that Brett Brown seemed to cite when explaining the statistical disparities that emerged from Wednesday’s loss. The coach felt the trait was particularly significant in respect to differentials in points in the paint (50-76), and rebounding (-19).

Looking ahead to Friday’s game in Chicago, Brown believes the Sixers are set to face another opponent with qualities similar to those of O.K.C. The Bulls boast their own core of rugged vets (Jimmy Butler, Robin Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, and Rajon Rondo), and they, like the Thunder, are one of the NBA’s top offensive rebounding clubs. In fact, as of Friday morning, Chicago ranked first in the league with 12.6 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions.

Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Sixers were outdone by 12 on the offensive boards.

“I think the most common of the common denominators is the rebounding,” Brown said following Friday’s shootaround. “These guys are the [top] offensive rebounding team in the NBA, and we were manhandled in Oklahoma City.”

Brown, in preparing the Sixers for Friday’s pairing with Chicago, also pointed out that on an individual level, there’s a slight personnel overlap shared by the Thunder and Bulls.

“The carry over is you’ve got some point guards that have some real talents,” said Brown, referring to Rondo and O.K.C’s Russell Westbrook. “Rondo doesn’t have the breakaway speed that Westbrook has, but he’s so gifted. Probably, we’re going to be more conservative with our approach to him, a little like we were with Russell, just trying to get back.”

Butler, of course, presents the potential for problems as well. The three-time All-Star is especially dangerous in isolation situations, an area where Westbrook too excels.

“The ability to score one-on-one like Russell has on a wing ISO that Jimmy has on a wing ISO is similar,” Brown said. “How we decide to game plan and scheme that is a question.”

• A few hours before the Sixers took the floor Wednesday in Oklahoma City, their NBA Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, did so as well, hosting Reno that morning at Bob Carpenter Center in Newark.

Of note was that Tiago Splitter, assigned to the Sevens the previous day in order to continue his rehab from a right calf injury, started the contest. He put up five points (1-6 fg, 3-3 ft), three rebounds, and two assists in 14 minutes. It was his first live game action of any kind since January of 2013, when he was still with the Atlanta Hawks.

Brett Brown said Friday he watched clips of Splitters’ debut with the Sevens, and later texted with the Brazilian, whom he also coached in San Antonio.

“For him, he’s just excited to play basketball again,” said Brown. “It’s been a long time.”

On film, Brown saw an experienced big man in need of additional conditioning. The footage also revealed, according to Brown, that Splitter still has the the skills necessary to make an impact through screen-setting, rolling to the basket, and passing. These types of contributions were key to his role with the Spurs.

“Those things you see hints of that again,” Brown said. “The fact does remain that he hasn’t played in 13 months.”

More than anything, Brown sounded appreciative that Splitter is going to great lengths in his attempts to join the Sixers at before the season concludes. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.

“I got tremendous respect for his humility,” said Brown, noting that Splitter, a former Olympian and NBA champion, didn’t take going down to Delaware as an “insult” to his pedigree.

“He’s just trying to find any forum to get his cardio up, his fitness back, touch a ball, to compete, feel somebody, have them feel him. He just goes down there willingly. From that perspective, that’s a mirror into who he is as a person. He wants to play basketball, he wants to fit in and be a part of us.”

The Sixers acquired the 32-year old Splitter, along with a 2017 second-round pick, from Atlanta on February 22nd in exchange for Ersan Ilyasova.

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