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Journeyman Ish Smith sparks lowly 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers had won just one of 31 games before acquiring journeyman Ish Smith (1). They’ve since won two of four – including Wednesday’s win over the Kings.
The Philadelphia 76ers had won just one of 31 games before acquiring journeyman Ish Smith (1). They’ve since won two of four – including Wednesday’s win over the Kings. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Philadelphia 76ers’ recent acquisition of point guard Ish Smith hardly made a ripple around the NBA.

After all, the Sixers aren’t about winning, right? They’re about accumulating high draft picks, filling out the roster with borderline NBA players and hoping the lottery brings the No. 1 overall pick, right?

Just don’t tell the players or coach Brett Brown that Smith is just another body.

The Sixers were 1-30 without Smith but won two of four games entering Saturday night’s contest against the Clippers in Los Angeles since adding the 6-foot veteran. Smith has played on nine NBA teams since entering the league as a free agent from Wake Forest in 2010.

It’s Smith’s second stint with the Sixers. He played in 25 games for Philadelphia last season, and the Sixers gave up two second-round picks to bring him back from New Orleans on Dec. 24.

“I think Ish helps everybody,” Brown said. “To get somebody like Ish back in the group and to have an experienced NBA point guard just helps all over the place.”

Smith averaged 12.0 points and 6.1 assists for Philadelphia last season. But the Sixers signed veteran point guard Kendall Marshall in the offseason, and Smith joined New Orleans.

Marshall missed the first 23 games of this season while recovering from a knee injury.

Dec. 26 was Smith’s first game back with the Sixers, and he immediately was put in the starting lineup. Smith helped Philadelphia win at Phoenix that night and at Sleep Train Arena on Wednesday.

Smith, 27 won’t suddenly make Philadelphia a force in the East. But he has boosted the team’s confidence.

“That’s my guy,” said Sixers big man Nerlens Noel. “He’s a point guard that helps everybody around him get better, and I really click well with him. We have an easy communication. He makes eye contact, he throws it up, and he just knows how to get people back. ”

Philadelphia had relied on undrafted rookie T.J. McConnell to run the team. Smith told the Philadelphia Inquirer he was pleased to return to the Sixers.

“Who knows what it would have been if I would have just stayed here or whatnot,” Smith said. “I’m happy that this kind of worked out this way. I’m going to have fun with it.”

And for a team that’s been mired in losing for three seasons, Smith is the rare transaction that helps it this season and isn’t about collecting more draft picks.

“It’s amazing what an adjustment, just a single adjustment like that, can make to the spirit of a room, to the organization of a team, like a breath of fresh of air to me,” Brown said. “All over the place, we felt his impact.”

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The outlook was bleak when the Los Angeles Clippers announced on Dec. 26 that All-Star forward Blake Griffin would be out with a partially torn left quadriceps.

But the Clippers had won five in a row, four without Griffin, entering Saturday night’s game against Philadelphia.

The victories without Griffin came against Utah, Washington, New Orleans and Charlotte. Only Charlotte has a winning record among those teams.

But for the Clippers, who have been underwhelming this season, any winning streak is a good thing. It’s uncertain when Griffin will return.

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The tailspin in Phoenix continues. Two assistant coaches have been fired, and guard Eric Bledsoe is out for the season after knee surgery.

Phoenix was on the cusp of making the playoffs two seasons ago. The Suns signed center Tyson Chandler in the offseason and re-signed Brandon Knight to play in the backcourt with Bledsoe.

But Phoenix is 5-19 since a 7-5 start, and there’s speculation that coach Jeff Hornacek’s job is in jeopardy.

With many Western Conference teams struggling, the Suns still believe they can make the playoffs.

That will only happen if they can shake the funk they’ve been in for more than a month.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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