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Tyrese Maxey, other rookies make most of coronavirus crisis as Sixers lose with seven players

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Tyrese Maxey, other rookies make most of coronavirus crisis as Sixers lose with seven players

A second defeat in three days was rather easier to take for the 76ers as their depleted roster went down fighting against the Nuggets. 

Philadelphia fell to 7-3 for the season but could take great heart from its latest loss, perhaps at odds with Thursday’s defeat at the hands of a Nets team missing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. 

This time, it was the Sixers’ turn to go without their stars — Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid — while Seth Curry was absent after he tested positive for COVID-19 (Curry was told of his result during the Nets game). 

Contact tracing left coach Doc Rivers with just eight players to choose from, though one of them — Mike Scott — did not play because of a knee issue.

The Nuggets’ 115-103 success came as no surprise, then, but the relatively narrow margin was just reward for a makeshift Philadelphia team. The Sixers led in the game as late as midway through the second quarter and never let Denver get away from them, even if the result scarcely seemed in doubt.

Gary Harris’ 21 points led the way for the Nuggets, while Nikola Jokic was just shy of another triple-double with 15 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. 

Three of the Sixers’ five 2020 draft picks were among the seven players involved, with Tyrese Maxey in particular rising to the occasion. He was given the responsibility to lead the team despite Rivers jokingly suggesting before the game that center Dwight Howard would play point guard. 

Maxey, selected 21st in the first round out of Kentucky, had not previously started in the NBA and had averaged 6.9 points in 15.7 minutes over his first nine games. Remarkably, the 20-year-old put up a massive 39 points in 45 minutes, along with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. 

Maxey not only outstripped his previous NBA high of 16 — against Brooklyn — but also his best performance in his single college season with Kentucky (27 points). 

Since 1963-64, only Allen Iverson — on 11 occasions in 1996-97 — and Andrew Toney — once in 1980-81 — had previously scored 35 points or more in a game as a rookie for the franchise. 

Second-round picks Isaiah Joe (13 points in 45 minutes) and Paul Reed (six in 26 off the bench) also enjoyed their unlikely opportunities, showing Philadelphia’s depth.

Rivers spoke before the game of the chaos leading up to the contest.

“The last 36 hours have been nuts, as you would expect,” he said.

“Being held up in New York, doing multiple tests, waiting for tests, contact tracing, then getting the list of guys being out, getting back to Philly at one in the morning, getting to your house and trying to think, not knowing if you’re playing or not.

“You’re on the phone with your coaches until four in the morning, still not knowing. We were just trying to create some kind of game plan.

“Then coming here, an hour ago we were told we were playing. We have eight active players, and one is one that’s been injured, in Mike Scott, and I can tell you now that there’s no way that I’m going to play him.

“So you can make a case we have seven bodies to throw out. We had a walkthrough that I wasn’t a part of because I was on a call with the league, so I have a list here that I’ve not even looked at.

“We’re going to throw them together and Dwight Howard’s going to play point guard tonight and we’re going to see how it goes.”

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Kyrie Irving’s 37-point Nets return offers positive takeaways despite loss to Cavaliers

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Kyrie Irving's 37-point Nets return offers positive takeaways despite loss to Cavaliers

In a game featuring Nets superstars Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant, the best player on the floor in the second overtime period was Cavaliers third-year pro Collin Sexton.

Sexton nailed four 3-pointers in quick succession to guide Cleveland to a 147-135 win.

That’s not how Wednesday night was supposed to go down for Brooklyn after the team traded for Harden last week and Irving returned from a mysterious two-week absence. But while the Nets’ stretches of ineptitude backed up concerns about their defense following the Harden deal, their moments of brilliance should perhaps be the primary takeaway from the defeat. Brooklyn recovered from a 14-point deficit late in the third quarter to send the contest beyond regulation, at times using breathtaking passing at tempo to unlock openings.

Irving, Harden and Durant combined to net 96 points on an efficient 49.3 percent shooting clip from the field. If not for a once-a-season type of explosion from Sexton, coach Steve Nash’s squad would have likely escaped with a victory.

And mere presence of their enigmatic point guard should offer the Nets their greatest hope of cohesion moving forward.

“I’m just excited for the future,” said Irving, who spent the previous seven games away from the team for personal reasons.

MORE: Collin Sexton’s takeover wows NBA world

Four minutes into his return to basketball, Irving acknowledged the sparse crowd of about 2,000 gathered at Quicken Loans Arena and pointed to his ring finger. The venue had just given him a tribute video recounting his crowning achievement with the organization: A 2016 NBA championship won with the help of his iconic jumper over Stephen Curry. Fans offered a standing ovation.

That the Nets’ third-best player is worthy of emotional tribute videos is a testament to their absurd talent.

Another reminder of their abilities came soon after when Harden accelerated up the floor flanked by Irving to his left and Durant to his right on a 3-on-1 fast break. Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman was petrified, not knowing which all-time great shot creator to guard. He chose Harden. Harden chose Irving. Irving chose a delicious scoop off the window for two points.

These were the sequences in which everything seemed obvious about the roster. How could the group not become great?  Name the sports teams that have ever failed because of too many good players. Too many Hall of Famers. Too many centerpieces of worldwide brand campaigns.

The third quarter, though, seemingly poked holes through what general manager Sean Marks had done in shipping out big man Jarrett Allen, forward Taurean Prince, sixth-man extraordinaire Caris LeVert and so many future first-rounders for Harden. With DeAndre Jordan off the floor, the Nets struggled defending the interior. At the same time, they managed to neglect assignments along the perimeter. Even as their own offensive ball movement looked good enough, the lack of stops at the other end were concerning.

“Look, this was the first night when we’ve had everyone on the floor together,” coach Steve Nash told reporters. “This is going to be a process that takes the entire year.”

The process can only work if everyone participates.

Irving not only appearing but also scoring 37 points following his prolonged stretch away from teammates made it easier to imagine everything coming together, the glimpses shown Wednesday becoming more and more frequent until a Finals contender is born.

The Duke product, whose interest in his sport has been questioned by some people of late, showed plenty of emotion on the court as the game progressed. When he called for a pass in the corner from Durant in the fourth quarter and didn’t get it, he fist-pumped anyway when Durant drained a midrange jumper. When he was whistled for an offensive foul with 1.5 seconds left in regulation — a ruling later reversed — he reacted forcefully toward the nearest official.

Irving was the player Brooklyn needs him to be if it wants to get things figured out ahead of the playoffs.

“Two OTs in your first game back?” Irving asked rhetorically after the game. “You got to love NBA basketball, bro.”

The Nets sure hope he does.

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Bernie Sanders’ inauguration meme gets social media attention from sports world

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Bernie Sanders' inauguration meme gets social media attention from sports world

Bernie Sanders has a knack for online stardom.

The senator from Vermont is already the subject of one well-known meme — we’ll get to that in a second — and on Wednesday, thanks to his inauguration outfit, socially-distanced spot and demeanor at the Capitol, he earned another one. 

First off, props to Sanders who was sporting the same jacket from the original “I am once again asking” meme. If the jacket still fits and is in good shape from 2019, why not keep wearing it? 

So aside from the coat, he’s got a new meme thanks to a photo that popped up of the 79-year-old senator sitting in a folding chair socially distanced from everyone. He sat in said coat, with his arms crossed and warm mittens on his hands and his legs crossed — and, of course, he had on a mask. 

Following COVID-19 protocols, Sanders became a social media sensation once again and the sports world was quick to follow suit as well. 

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Collin Sexton beats Nets’ Kyrie Irving, James Harden & Kevin Durant on his own in double-OT

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Collin Sexton beats Nets' Kyrie Irving, James Harden & Kevin Durant on his own in double-OT

Collin Sexton did not dribble with the artistic flow of Kyrie Irving as he destroyed the Nets in double-overtime, but his pull-up jumpers and drives against Irving and Kevin Durant carried a lethal dose.

In the span of 1:31, Sexton scored 11 points on his own, including three 3-pointers in the face of Brooklyn defenders. He finished the game with a career-high 42 points, five rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes as his Cavaliers beat the Nets 147-135.

The performance came as the Nets played their first game with Irving, Durant and newly acquired James Harden on the floor together, spoiling a night in which Irving scored 37 points of his own.

MORE: Trae Young responds to Steve Nash’s criticism

Sexton, now in his third NBA season, isn’t far removed from being a rookie subjected to vitriol from his own teammates. Back then, Cavaliers veterans anonymously ripped him to the media and said he didn’t “know how to play.” He’s proving those critics wrong.

Sexton is averaging 27 points per game following his performance Wednesday night. He caught the attention of people around the NBA with the scoring outburst.

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