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Repent for your Ben Simmons slander. REPENT!

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We have that and more in Friday’s NBA newsletter.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Simmons, a second-year player with enormous physical gifts, a few awe-striking skills, and a couple of key weaknesses, has taken a lot of criticism in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Most of it revolves around his shooting, and his unwillingness to shoot given that he’s not very good at it right now. The Raptors, a very good team, have exploited that frequently in this series against Simmons’ Sixers.

But focusing on what Simmons can’t do risks underrating what he can. And what he can do? Have a mighty impactful game like he did Thursday, turning out 21-8-6 on efficient scoring with no turnovers in an enormous Sixers win to force a Game 7.

Jimmy Butler was excellent and Joel Embiid was really good, as well. Philly’s defense pushed Toronto into a cold shooting night and the Sixers wrecked the glass, two key components of the win. Simmons contributed mightily to both as a 6’10 power point guard.

This is the thing with unorthodox players: sometimes it looks magnificent and genius, and other times it just looks weird. The key is not to lose sight of the former when experiencing the latter. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta have faith.

In related news, here’s Michael Pina on whether Simmons’ speed is enough.

Scores

Raptors 101, Sixers 112
Series tied 3-3

Nuggets 108, Blazers 119
Series tied 3-3

Schedule

Warriors at Rockets, 9 ET, ESPN
Golden State leads series 3-2

Links

The Blazers vs. Nuggets 420/365 series got back to its hella fun roots in Game 6, with Damian Lillard fixing his clock, C.J. McCollum going off, Nikola Jokic getting loose and dramatics down the stretch (including a near-fight between Will Barton and Seth Curry sparked by an aggressive boop by Barton). Portland finished it off, meaning DOUBLE GAME 7 RAINBOW ON SUNDAY. (If the Rockets win Friday, it will be a TRIPLE GAME 7 SPECTACULAR on Sunday, which is always Mother’s Day.)

Speaking of Rockets-Warriors: Kevin Durant is out for at least the rest of this series with an injured calf. Can the Warriors’ old guard step up and win one against Houston? It feels like all the momentum shifted when Durant went out, but I wouldn’t put it past Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to go off in Game 6 and end this. Houston has no margin for error. We’ll see if they can stop Golden State after all these tries. Dan Devine on the Warriors’ vulnerability.

Paul Flannery with a must-read on the Celtics’ unsolved identity crisis. It includes a quite tasty nugget about Kyrie Irving’s future!

I wrote about whether the Lakers even want LeBron James. They sure aren’t acting like it.

Chris Herring explores why in the world Joel Embiid falls down so often.

Apparently North Korea wanted ... something to do with “famous basketball players” as a part of a nuclear weapons deal with the U.S. government? How do they feel about, say, a mid-level Plumlee?

Calls for the Buss family to sell the Lakers are starting to percolate.

And finally: an ode to Jokic.

Be excellent to each other.