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The day that Josh Hart met Kyle Lowry, Lowry fouled him hard in transition. Hart was a freshman at Villanova, Lowry a returning pro teaching a lesson: Allow nothing easy, even in summertime pickup. 

Since then, the two have grown close. "He's there, no matter what it is," Hart said. "There's times I talk to him about parenting, about nannies." Before Lowry signed with his hometown Philadelphia 76ers last month on the buyout market, Hart tried to recruit him to the New York Knicks

"Yeah, I texted his ass," Hart said. "I told him, 'Pull up.' Told him, 'F--- with us.' But obviously that didn't happen, so f--- him."

The most annoying part about playing against Lowry, Hart said, is "his IQ. He's able to think through plays. He makes heads-up plays." Hart referenced Game 1 of the Knicks' second-round series last year: "I felt like we were kind of on a little comeback, a little run," and then, after what seemed like a "big stop," Lowry, then a member of the Miami Heat, poked a rebound out of Mitchell Robinson's hands, leading to a 3 that tilted the momentum in Miami's favor. "It's just little, small plays like that that he makes all the time." 

Lowry, who on Monday will compete against the Heat for the first time since they traded him (to the Charlotte Hornets, with whom he negotiated a buyout), is a week away from his 38th birthday. "As a friend, you love to see the success that he's had in the league and the longevity that he's had in the league," Hart said. As an opponent, however, "you hate playing against someone like that." Hart described him as "a heady player, able to make winning plays in the midst of chaos."

In Year 18, Lowry is not the player he was when he made six straight All-Star teams and won an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors -- "Back in the day, 2K, you could get a lot of buckets with him," 76ers big man Paul Reed said -- but, because of his brain, he can still be a game-changer. Sometimes, the Lowry effect is easy to see: a timely 3-pointer, a sneaky hit-ahead pass, a galvanizing charge. Sometimes, it is less tangible. Philadelphia is only 4-6 with Lowry in the lineup, but it has been without reigning MVP Joel Embiid for all of those games, without starter De'Anthony Melton for most of them and without All-Star Tyrese Maxey for four of them. The hope is that, when they're whole, Lowry's presence will make the Sixers a smarter, tougher, more versatile playoff team. At the moment, they're in play-in territory and he's trying to keep them afloat. And hold them accountable.

"He's going to tell you the truth," Maxey said. "He don't believe in sugarcoating. And that's with everybody, the whole staff." 

"Kyle is going to keep it 50 times two at all times," Reed said.

Eight days ago, with Philadelphia severely shorthanded at Madison Square Garden, Lowry was the guy with the ball in his hands late in the fourth quarter, and he hit a 3 off the dribble to seal an ugly win. Lowry was also the guy who, when Reed messed up a pick-and-roll coverage in the first quarter (and the Sixers surrendered an open 3 as a result), chewed him out immediately.

"I think it always helps just in general when you've got a guy on the floor that's going to make the right plays," Sixers coach Nick Nurse, who also coached Lowry in Toronto, said. "And he's also an incredibly gifted leader. He's going to influence playing the right way. He's added already a bunch of stuff, I think. He's gotten us more organized. He's pretty forceful when he wants a play run a certain way. He makes sure it gets done. He's pretty demanding about some other things that I think we're doing better than we were a month ago as well."

In a walkoff interview with NBC Sports Bay Area last week, Chris Paul said, "You should be worried if I ain't saying nothing to you. Seriously, I'm just constantly trying to teach and play and compete at the same time." Lowry could relate. 

"As point guards, we always try to have conversations with every single person," Lowry said. "But if the person doesn't want to listen, then we won't have the conversation with him, you know what I mean?"

Fortunately, he said, most players he has come across have been receptive. And in Philadelphia, he didn't exactly bide his time before activating player-coach mode. Lowry spoke up "very quickly," Sixers center Mo Bamba said. "Like, within the first practice." Reed said he's vocal in "practice, timeouts, during the games, film sessions, all that."

"K-Low told me the first day that he got here that he's going to be here for me," Maxey said. "He told me like he's going to be in my ear from that day and all the way to however long this is. So I appreciate him."

Maxey in particular doesn't need a ton of guidance. "That kid is unbelievable," Lowry said. "He listens to everything I say, but I don't need to be in his ear because he wants to know, he wants to learn." Lowry knows, though, that Philadelphia "wanted me to come in and be a veteran guy, a guy that can help him. I've been in situations he's been in. All-Star, All-NBA guy, I've been there." When he points something out to Maxey, "it's about being a point guard. It's about understanding that, 'All right, this might happen, slow down.'"

When Lowry signed with the Sixers, forward KJ Martin, the son of former Nets and Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin, heard from his father. "Him and my dad are cool," Martin said. "My dad told me, 'You need anything, you always can ask him, he knows the game.'" The first time they played together, after seeing a window to hit Martin with a lob pass, Lowry told the 23-year-old that he wouldn't hesitate to throw it up there. When he did just that in Brooklyn, though, it still caught Martin by surprise.

"I was expecting it, but I wasn't," Martin said. "And then I missed a layup and then he cussed me out."

Lowry watches enough games to give a scouting report on "every team," he said. Naturally, he had thoughts about how Philadelphia was playing when he arrived. "I see the game as a player, as a coach, as a general manager," he said. "I see the game at different levels. So for me it's just about, 'OK, this is where we need to get better.'" Often, he's stressing small details: "Blocking out, being in the right spot, understanding the game plan, taking charges. Not even—if you don't take a charge, just being in the right spot to stop the ball. Understanding who you are guarding, who you're playing against. Understanding what the team is going to do."

In this respect, Lowry said, "we have made some progress." And he will continue to do whatever needs to be done to get the Sixers sharper. "You can't be afraid to have people not like you," he said. "If it's coming from a pure heart, they'll understand it. And if it's going to help them, they'll understand it." As his former coaches and teammates can attest, this is not a story of a player who was once a star getting comfortable being the old head. Brashness has always been a core part of the Kyle Lowry experience.

"It's just who I am as an individual, as a player," he said. "All I want to do is win, and if I feel like something I can say or I can put into play, I'm going to say it and try to make the adjustment to help to win."

Lowry said the Sixers brought him in to "kind of put everybody in position and make their jobs easier." For now it's about "getting Tyrese off the ball, get him some wide-open spot looks," he said. "Getting Tobias [Harris] open looks. And doing the small things that a guy like me does." He "can't wait" to get on the floor with Embiid, with whom he's had "some really good basketball conversations."

The luxury of playing both point guards together, Nurse said, is that Lowry is "really good" at "orchestrating pick-and-rolls." He'll tell Maxey where to space the floor, and to expect to get the ball if the Sixers don't get a shot out of their initial action. Nurse called him a "true point guard on offense" who can also "guard up to like a 4 man on defense." He's already made plenty of passes that no one else on the roster would attempt, and, at times, Philadelphia has been forced to play him significantly more minutes than anticipated.

"Kyle has been kind of playing whatever role we can kind of use him in right now," Nurse said.

Between Lowry and trade-deadline addition Buddy Hield, one of the league's premier movement shooters, the Sixers' offense will be more diversified when Embiid returns than it was the last time their franchise player was on the court. "I think we'll probably see the full effect when we get our guys back," Nurse said. Lowry is constantly looking for ways to put pressure on the opposing defense: relocating for 3s, leaking out after contesting jumpers, setting screens much meaner than most guards are capable of. 

"Kyle's certainly one of the best screeners that I've ever coached and one of the best screeners out there," Nurse said. 

Even at 37, Lowry is a disruptive help defender. "I could go out there and try to guard Jalen Brunson and be on the ball, but I'm really good at being a free safety," he said. In his eighth game with Philadelphia, he became the team leader in charges drawn this season. Lowry said the coaching staff understands he's willing to both sacrifice his body and call out coverages.

"A charge is just as good as a blocked shot," Lowry said. "And I think just being able to kind of tell people and help people, guide people where they should be and help them be there, it's a big job. And for a guy like me, who's communicative and loud and open and voices his opinion, it's good for me and easy for me to do it."

Less than 10 minutes into his Sixers debut on Feb. 22, Lowry attacked the basket and took an elbow to the forehead from New York big man Jericho Sims. He went to the locker room, got six stitches and returned. "That's typical Kyle Lowry," Maxey said. Martin said that having a 6-foot teammate who likes to "get in the fight, hit guys, be physical" is "dope to see, and it gives me energy for sure." Bamba said that this, combined with his pedigree, is why Lowry is "a guy you want to fall in line and listen to."

Lowry is only scoring eight points per game for the Sixers, but his scoring average has always undersold what he brings to the table. He got more buckets when he was a perennial All-Star, but he also did all of this dirty work.

"I was younger," Lowry said, laughing. "But that's what I just said to Ty. I said he'll get there and he'll be able to do everything. It's one of those things where you have to do the star things but you also do the little things, so you can be able to yell at everybody else for not doing the little things."