Here are my thoughts on the third trio of League Pass games I viewed.

PREVIOUS VOLUMES
VOL. 0 (THE INTRO) (4/14/20)
VOL. 1 (4/16/20)
VOL. 2 (4/20/20)

Game 7: Rockets at Bulls

November 9, 2019
Game 3/5 on the NBA.com schedule
Coin flipped landed Tails: Rockets broadcast
(AT&T SportsNet: Craig Ackerman, Matt Bullard, Cayleigh Griffin)

FINAL: Rockets 117, Bulls 94

Admittedly, I wasn’t excited about this game when I drew it. I thought I was going to get plodding iso-fest overlaid with an unbearable homer broadcast. James Harden was going to somehow finesse his way to 60 points by shooting 40 free throws while the announcers told me the Rockets could do no wrong and the referees still were out to get them.

Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Craig Ackerman and Matt Bullard were a nice listen. There were moments where it felt like Ackerman didn’t deliver on certain big moments such as impressive dunks. However, his partner Bullard was thoroughly impressed when either team had a good play. Thank goodness!

Also, full disclosure: I am a Chicago Bulls fan, so I’m happy to have my team featured on LPR! However, I detached myself from this team’s futility this year, as I felt things would never get better without the removal of John Paxson, Gar Forman, and Jim Boylen (two-out-of-three as of this writing!).

This loss was very much expected, but their terrible night from three-point range was a little surprising. The Bulls went 4-of-32 from distance, the second-worst performance in franchise history in games where they attempted at least 25 triples. None of their attempts were bad or low-IQ shots, they simply didn’t go in. Just a bad night for a struggling team.

Game Awards

Gold Star: James Harden, Houston
I wasn’t looking forward to watching Harden iso all game. However, instead of lulling me to sleep, it hypnotized me to keep watching. He would hit his sizeup move, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he would do next. Was he going to blast past his defender, step back and knock down a three, or bait his opponent into a foul? The mystery in his moves explain how defenders continue to fall for his tricks.

Also, it can be pretty entertaining when he gets going. Harden knocked down nine triples on the night. As Davis Bertans and Nemanja Bjelica have shown us in earlier LPRs, it’s fun when any player is that hot from distance.

Silver Star: Danuel House, Houston
The Houston native showed up defensively on this evening, swiping a career-high six steals and blocking a shot. He also went 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. While Harden led the way for Houston, House’s 3&D energy still had a sizable impact in making this Rockets win so convincing.

Bronze Star: Clint Capela, Houston
16 points, 20 rebounds, and four blocks. The Swiss big man was a beast in the paint on both ends of the floor. I strongly disagree with Houston’s decision to let him go. Their full-on dive into small-ball seems more like desperation than ingenuity.

I understand that smaller lineups can be fruitful for extended stretches. However, I don’t see how it would have been sustainable in the postseason when most of the league’s top teams have formidable big men in their frontcourts.

Capela was a rim protector that was also productive on the offensive end via putbacks and feeds. I would have preferred the Rockets kept him on the roster and just gave him fewer minutes. That way, he would still be available if Houston needed a change of pace. Instead, they chose to hitch their wagon to a gameplan that has only worked in moderation.

Just-Not-His-Day Award: Zach LaVine, Chicago
I found it interesting that there was a four-way tie for highest Bulls scorer (13 points), and LaVine wasn’t among them (he had 11). I still believe that Zach can be a star under a better coach. However, this game can definitely be filed under “Reasons he was snubbed for the 2020 All-Star Game”.

Game 8: Knicks at 76ers

February 27, 2020
Game 1/4 on the NBA.com schedule
Coin flipped landed Heads: 76ers broadcast
(NBC Sports Philadelphia: Marc Zumoff, Alaa Abdelnaby, Serena Winters)

FINAL: 76ers 115, Knicks 106

Oh, look! Another 76ers game! This time, we’re without Ben Simmons (pinched lower back nerve) and Joel Embiid (left shoulder sprain), apparently for only the second time in the three years these two have been on the court together. How would the team fare against their division rival?

Just fine. The Knicks never led in this game, and the Sixers led by as many as 20 points. Philly did have to stave off a New York mini-run in the third quarter, but otherwise it was smooth sailing.

This game gave me my first Roulette exposure to Marc Zumoff and Alaa Abdelnaby. Zumoff is so smooth and calm with his play-by-play, it’s almost relaxing. He always seems to find the right words to say or a good stat for any moment, which gave plenty of context to the proceedings. Abdelnaby would also punch in some good analysis or a light-hearted joke along the way. All-in-all, this duo is an above average crew.

Game Awards

Gold Star: Tobias Harris, Philadelphia
With Embiid and Simmons out of the way, I was finally able to take notice of Tobias Harris and the impact he could deliver. Harris scored Philadelphia’s first nine points, setting the tone for the entire game. His 23 points in the first half were also the most he had amassed in an opening half since Dec. 26, 2017.

Embiid and Simmons are the two superstars on this team. However, my viewing of multiple Sixers games has shown me that Tobias Harris is the key Third Guy that could make this team a championship contender.

Silver Star: Shake Milton, Philadelphia
I did a draft article back in 2018 suggesting five players the 76ers could take with the 39th pick. Shake Milton was one of them. I noticed that he was a lanky dude that could handle the ball, score from almost anywhere, and stay active on defense. That combination of physical makeup and versatility is normally a GM’s dream!

But, surprisingly, Milton wasn’t taken until the 54th pick. Dallas selected him, but Philly immediately traded for him. So in a roundabout way, my prediction was correct!

Shake scored 19 points in this game, and went 5-for-5 from three-point range. This was the second of a seven-game double-figure scoring streak that is technically still active. He also notched four assists and two blocks.

I’m not at all surprised by Milton’s ascension this season. He has the tools to be a successful player in this league, and he has finally received the opportunity to show them off.

Bronze Star: Al Horford, Philadelphia
It troubled me that Horford went 1-of-6 from inside the arc. However, his overall impact in this game can’t be denied. He finished with 15 points (including 4-for-4 from three), seven rebounds, and nine assists. His statline read more like a playmaking combo guard’s than a center’s. Nevertheless, those numbers positively contributed to his team’s victory.

Just-Not-His-Day Award: Kevin Knox, New York
Man, I had higher hopes for Kevin Knox’s sophomore season. But this game was a microcosm of a year that hasn’t worked out for him. Knox only played eight minutes and came away with one point on 0-for-3 shooting from the field and 1-for-4 shooting from the line. Fortunately, Knox is only 20 years old, so there is plenty of time to mold him into a successful NBA player. Here’s hoping things work out for him when the league resumes.

Game 9: 76ers at Hawks

January 30, 2020
Game 3/6 on the NBA.com schedule
Coin flip landed Tails: 76ers broadcast
(NBC Sports Philadelphia: Marc Zumoff, Alaa Abdelnaby, Serena Winters)

FINAL: Hawks 127, 76ers 117

Another Sixers game!? Why does this keep happening!? What does it mean!? I suppose that’s just how the roulette wheel turns!

This was a particularly egregious loss for the 76ers, bringing their LPR record to 2-2. Coincidentally, it also happened on the same night that Ben Simmons was named an All-Star Reserve.

This game really helped me understand why a talented team like the Philadelphia 76ers are only sixth in the Eastern Conference: Their two stars aren’t consistently aggressive!

Ben Simmons went 5/5 to start the game and finished with a team-high 31 points, and yet it didn’t feel like he was consistently involved in this game. I mean, according to NBA.com tracking data, he had two more touches than Trae “18 assists” Young. However, it felt like there were stretches where he was hanging out on the side, letting his teammates figure things out. I dunno. The numbers say he was fine, but I feel like a 6’10” point guard should be a little more domineering when he’s in the game.

Joel Embiid has been pretty disappointing in this League Pass Roulette series. In the three games he played, he averaged 18.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 4.3 fouls per game and shot 35.2 percent from the field. Despite being a 7-foot, 280-pound tank armed with a dangerous post-up game and sweet shooting touch, he just wasn’t as aggressive as I would want someone like him to be.

Now, to be fair, Embiid still made his third All-Star Game this year. He also leads the Sixers in scoring and rebounding while dishing out 3.1 assists per game. But the sample size I stumbled upon with this series showed me the ugly truth about this Sixers team: If Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid fail to fully tap into their potential on a more consistent basis, this team will fall short in their quest to become championship contenders.

Game Awards

Gold Star: Trae Young, Atlanta
Wow. Just…wow. 39 points. 18 assists. Wow. The dazzling nature with which he pulled off this feat is what convinced people to vote him in as an All-Star starter. But the impact his big-time numbers had on his team’s victory is the reason he deserved that honor.

Silver Star: Shake Milton, Philadelphia
Milton’s 27 points and six assists in this game were, at the time, personal bests. But as we know with the Shake Milton Story, the best was yet to come. Milton would drop 39 points on the Clippers on Mar. 1, while he would dish out six assists two more times before the season was suspended. This guy could be a problem when basketball comes back. I’m just letting you know ahead of time…

Bronze Star: John Collins, Atlanta
Collins continued to be the dazzling rim-runner he always has been, going 8-of-10 inside the arc. He also was a beast on the boards, pulling down a season-high 20 rebounds. This was one of his 22 double-doubles on the season, which he accomplished in just 41 games. He held his own against the likes of Embiid and Tobias Harris in this game, and it will be fun to see him continue to develop.

Just-Not-His Day Award: Raul Neto, Philadelphia
Neto just beat out Furkan Korkmaz for this award. Korkmaz went 0-for-7 from the field on the night while Neto only went 0-for-6. However, Neto also had three fouls and two turnovers to go with the O-fer shooting night. His only relief was that he only had to defend Trae Young a few times throughout the night.