After exceeding expectations in November, Sixers' schedule lightens

After exceeding expectations in November, Sixers' schedule lightens

Thursday night's Sixers loss in Boston was one of their uglier games of the season. No Joel Embiid, jump shots didn't fall, Ben Simmons never really got his offensive game going.

But even though the Sixers closed out November with a bit of a dud, the first month was overwhelmingly positive. 

48-win pace
The Sixers ended November with a 12-9 record. No, that's not super impressive, but it's a 48-win pace. If I told you before the season the Sixers could win 48 games, you'd have taken that in a heartbeat, right?

It's not just the 48-win pace, though. It's the fact that the Sixers went 12-9 despite playing one of the league's toughest early-season schedules.

Mostly done with the top tier
The Sixers have already played the Warriors, Rockets and Celtics twice apiece. They've faced the Cavs once. Those are the four best teams in the NBA. They went 1-6, but the more important consideration right now is that the Sixers are finished with seven of the 12 total games against that quartet.

Those games alone against the Warriors, Rockets, Cavs and Celtics represented exactly one-third of the Sixers' first-month schedule. There were several other challenging games as well — at Washington (close loss), at Toronto (blowout loss), at Detroit (win), vs. Washington (win). 

The only real layup game the Sixers had in November was against the doormat Hawks. They handled their business, winning by 10.

Beating up on mediocrity
Another November storyline that stuck out was the Sixers' ability to dominate teams in that middle-of-the-pack tier. They beat the Jazz twice, by 21 and seven. They beat the Blazers by 20. They beat the Magic by 19. They beat the Pacers by 11. They beat the Clippers (who were healthier then) by four.

The wins against Portland and Utah stuck out, in particular, because those are two teams likely to finish around .500. The Sixers' pasting of them both is a sign that this team can indeed exceed .500 by a handful of games.

Moving forward
The Sixers play 15 games in December and seven of them are against good competition.

Those tough games are:

• Dec. 2 vs. Detroit
• Dec. 9 at Cleveland
• Dec. 10 at New Orleans
• Dec. 12 at Minnesota
• Dec. 15 vs. OKC
• Dec. 21 vs. Toronto
• Dec. 23 at Toronto

The other eight games — Suns, Suns, Kings, Lakers, Bulls, Knicks, Blazers, injury-ravaged Nuggets — are all very winnable. Anything less than 6-2 in these eight games would be disappointing.

December looks like another month in which the Sixers should go three or so games over .500.

If they do, they'll reach the New Year with a record around 21-15.

JJ Redick's first month with the Sixers might end up being his worst. He averaged 15.4 points but shot just 42.3 percent from the field, his worst rate in the last nine seasons. 

He also shot 40.3 percent from three, an impressive mark but one below his standard. The previous three seasons, he shot 44.6 percent from three. 

Redick's touch from three should improve, though it stands to reason Robert Covington's will regress the other way. Covington, who takes more contested threes than practically anyone in the NBA, was at 46.2 percent from three through 18 games but has gone just 1 for 14 in the last two. Overall, he's at 41.7 percent and will likely end up around 40. His previous career-best mark from beyond the arc was 37.4 percent in 2014-15.

There will be other ups and other downs from other players along the way. Theoretically, Markelle Fultz should at some point help the second unit, which is badly in need of some juice.

Simmons and Embiid
Simmons and Embiid obviously have high floors on any given night. 

In Simmons' worst game of the season, he had 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists and three steals in 35 minutes. He ended his first month in the NBA averaging 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

In Embiid's worst game of the season, he had 12 points, 7 rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block and seven turnovers. That was a clear outlier game for him. In his second-worst game, he had 11 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. 

Both players are locks to stuff the stat sheet every night and there's really no major regression to expect. If anything, the one facet that should regress (in a positive way) is Embiid's efficiency from three. He's just 13 for 51 (25.5 percent) from beyond the arc this season. He's been too strong on most of his misses. Given how many of them are open looks when the center defending him is slow to get to the arc, Embiid should have more success from three as the season goes on. He shot 36.7 percent from three last season and averaged 1.2 makes per game.

Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell questionable

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Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell questionable

Updated: 2:10 p.m.

The Sixers might get some reinforcements back to help try to halt their losing streak.

Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell are listed as questionable tonight in Minnesota (9:30 p.m./NBCSP+).

Embiid (back tightness) sat out Saturday night’s loss because of load management and then was a last-minute scratch against the Pelicans Sunday. Covington (lower back contusion), who was injured diving into the stands for a loose ball against the Cavs Saturday, also missed Sunday night’s loss. McConnell suffered a sprained AC joint in the Sixers’ win over the Wizards back on Nov. 29. He came back and played 18 minutes in the team’s loss to the Lakers, but then missed the first two games of the road trip in Cleveland and New Orleans.

Embiid’s injury is not believed to be serious. The big man himself didn’t seem too concerned.

“If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone,” Embiid said Sunday. “But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers will look to snap a four-game losing streak — their longest of the season — against the reloaded Timberwolves (16-11). 

Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

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Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

HOUSTON -- Clint Capela had a career-high 28 points and James Harden scored 12 straight points for Houston in the fourth quarter as the Rockets rallied for a 130-123 victory to extend their winning streak to 10 games on Monday night.

The game was tied with about three minutes remaining after Harden made two free throws. Those were the first of seven straight points by Harden that put Houston's up 124-119 with 1:30 left.

Jrue Holiday made a basket after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer seconds later to push the lead to 127-121. Harden stole the ball from E'Twaun Moore after a timeout by New Orleans. He was fouled and made both free throws to make it 129-121 with 34 seconds left.

After scoring 48 points in Houston's last game, Harden finished with 26 on Monday, but he tied a career-high with 17 assists, finding the 6-foot-10 Capela under the basket again and again.

Holiday had a season-high 37 points for the Pelicans. Moore had a career-high 36 points and made a career-most six 3-pointers on a night New Orleans set a franchise record with 18 3-pointers (see full recap).

Mirotic, Portis help Bulls blow out Celtics
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, Bobby Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA's worst record, the Bulls built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms. The 6-foot-10 forward hit 9 of 14 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in his third appearance.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Before Monday night, Mirotic and Portis had only made headlines together this season for the wrong reasons. Mirotic missed the first 23 games with facial fractures he suffered in a fight at practice with Portis.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston. Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics' most lopsided loss of the season (see full recap).

Howard, struggling Hornets roll past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dwight Howard scored 23 points to help the Charlotte Hornets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-103 on Monday night.

Kemba Walker had 19 points for the Hornets, who had lost seven of eight. Marvin Williams scored 18, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 17 points.

It was Charlotte's second road win of the season in 12 tries.

Russell Westbrook had 30 points and seven assists and Paul George scored 20 points for the Thunder after missing the previous two games with a right calf contusion.

Charlotte shot 53 percent from the field against one of the league's best defensive teams. The Bobcats made 13 of 25 3-point attempts (see full recap).