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.

Former Sixers guard named HOF finalist

USA Today Images

Former Sixers guard named HOF finalist

Former Sixers player and head coach Maurice Cheeks on Saturday was named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Other candidates include Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and former Sixer Chris Webber.

Cheeks, a four-time All-Star point guard and member of the 1982-83 championship team, spent 10 seasons with the Sixers before stints with the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets. He averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals a night in 853 career games. Cheeks ranks in the top-five in NBA history in both assists (7,392) and steals (2,310). He was also voted to the NBA All-Defensive team five times.

Currently an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cheeks was the Sixers' head coach from 2005-2008, but was fired after a slow start to the 2008-09 season. He was also the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons. He has a 305-315 career record and has made the postseason three times in nine seasons.

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

LOS ANGELES — The Sixers made their mark among the NBA’s top young talent on a global scale.

Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Ben Simmons (Australia) and Dario Saric (Croatia) all started for Team World Friday in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. They helped kick off All-Star weekend with a 155-124 victory over Team USA. 

Simmons recorded a double-double, which is becoming clockwork for the point guard (22 in the regular season, six triple-doubles). He posted 11 points off a perfect 5 for 5 from the field and 1 for 1 from the line. Simmons added 13 assists, six boards and four steals. 

This game was, in a way, a double statement for Simmons. It was an an opportunity to make a case for Rookie of the Year, with fellow contender Donovan Mitchell competing on Team USA. Mitchell notched seven points (3 for 10 from the field, 1 for 6 from three), seven assists, two rebounds, five steals and two blocks.

The Rising Stars contest also was a chance for Simmons to start an early bid for the 2019 All-Star team. He was popular among the fan votes but was not selected as one of four replacements required because of injuries. 

Simmons projects he will be playing in the All-Star Game “hopefully next year.” When it came down to why he was not on this season’s list, Simmons replied, “I think just votes.” 

Saric continued his offensive momentum with 18 points, including 4 for 7 shooting from three. He has scored in double digits in his last 35 games leading into the All-Star break. Saric also grabbed three rebounds and dished five assists. 

“I’ve always got the wish or dream in my life one day to be part of something big like this, even if it’s the Rising Stars game,” Saric said of participating in All-Star weekend. “I think it makes my family proud, my friends from my hometown, or all the people who were around me during my [growth as] a basketball player.”

Embiid logged the least playing time of the Sixers’ trio as he prepares to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge Saturday and start in the All-Star Game Sunday. He missed the Sixers’ last game on Wednesday because of right ankle soreness. Embiid scored five points and two rebounds in less than nine minutes. 

“On Sunday, I expect to go harder,” Embiid said (see story). “I’m going for that MVP. Guys better make sure they find me because I’m looking to have a good game.”

Not listed on the box score: Embiid and Simmons going 2 for 2 as roving reporters. Check out their journalistic skills when they got the mic Friday to interview each other (see video).