76ers

Do Sixers need a more aggressive Simmons on offense?

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Do Sixers need a more aggressive Simmons on offense?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine whether the Sixers need Ben Simmons to be more aggressive offensively.

Harris
The Sixers need a lot of things. They need Joel Embiid to stay healthy, they need Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless to hit open threes and they need to stop turning the ball over at such a high rate (18.3 turnovers per game). 

However, do they really need Ben Simmons to be more aggressive? I guess it depends on what "aggressive" means.

Are there games when it seems peculiar that Simmons isn't taking more shots, especially when he's hitting a high percentage of them? Yes. But Simmons doesn't have to necessarily take more shots for the team to be successful. 

Take the Sixers’ Christmas win over the Knicks for example. Simmons was 4 of 8 from the field on the way to an eight-point, eight-rebound day. He had only three assists but also turned it over only twice in 33 minutes.

The Sixers won the game because Simmons didn't have to be the best player on the floor. Embiid and JJ Redick combined for 49 points and were each a plus-25 for the game. While Simmons was 0 for 2 from the charity stripe, Embiid and Redick were 15 for 16. 

But here's the real thing: The turnovers were way down. The Sixers’ 15 turnovers were well below their season average, and the fact Simmons had only two is evidence he wasn’t trying to do too much.

So, no, I don't think the Sixers simply need Simmons to be more aggressive. They need him to be selectively aggressive, to attack the basket more in games when Embiid is out of the lineup and slowly but surely get more comfortable taking short jumpers. They need to make sure he is surrounded by the complementary parts needed for any rookie point guard to excel. To ask him to carry a team as a first-year player isn't anything we ask any other rookie whose team has playoff expectations. 

If you're expecting a more aggressive Simmons to be the answer to get the Sixers to the playoffs, you're really not accepting what the young man's skill set and limitations are at the moment.

Haughton
Yes … but only slightly.

Simmons walks a delicate line as a point guard with balancing his own offensive opportunities and setting up teammates. While the rookie is likely never going to being a scoring machine at the PG spot like Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving, there is still room for Simmons to eye his own shot more.

Simmons’ field goal attempts are down to 12.0 per game in December compared to 15.6 in November and 14.1 in October. He’s had four games in December in which he’s attempted single-digit shots, which occurred only once prior to this month (6 of 8 from the field Nov. 11 in Sacramento). The free throw attempts are also down to 3.3 nightly after getting 5.8 in November and 5.9 in October.

While those numbers seem like a slight dropoff, the dip is still important. Simmons’ scoring in December is down to 13.9 points per game and 16.8 overall. That’s after going for above 18.0 the first two months of the season. 

More importantly, Simmons’ all-around game benefits when he brings a high level of activity on the offensive end. He put up 9.5 rebounds a night during that strong month of December and a robust 2.7 steals.

Whether he’s hit an early rookie wall or teams are starting to get a better idea on how to handle Simmons, it’s clear he’s hit a bit of a lull on the court. 

Even if the shots aren’t falling, the Sixers have proven to be a better team so far this season when Simmons is on the attack. More of that, and he can regain that early-season rhythm he enjoyed during the first two months of the season.

Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

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Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

CLEVELAND -- There was none of the usual postgame chatter or music in the Cavaliers locker room.

The mood was somber and quiet, not the same place.

"Right now we're in Strugglesville," LeBron James said. "But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely."

Isaiah Thomas made two free throws with 11 seconds left and Cleveland came up with a defensive stop in the frantic final seconds after blowing a 23-point lead to beat the Orlando Magic 104-103 on Thursday night and snap a four-game losing streak.

After Thomas made his shots, Orlando's Elfrid Payton missed a contested layup with three seconds left. The three officials ruled there was an inadvertent whistle and held a jump ball at midcourt.

Magic forward Aaron Gordon grabbed the toss and sank a 45-footer as the horn sounded and Cleveland's crowd shrieked in disbelief. But Gordon committed a jump-ball violation with the move and Cleveland only had to inbound the ball to come away with a victory following a crazy and exhausting final sequence that left everyone dazed.

"No, I don't," said Thomas when asked if he knew what happened. "It was a lot of back and forth. I'm just glad we just came out with the win" (see full recap).

Rockets cruise past Timberwolves in Harden’s return
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon scored 30 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 116-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.

James Harden returned to the Rockets' lineup after missing seven games with a left hamstring strain and finished with 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting, and added seven assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes. Houston went 4-3 in his absence.

Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela added 20 points for the Rockets. Houston has won 15 of the past 17 meetings with Minnesota, including a 10-game winning streak at home.

Gordon closed out a big third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass from a step behind the half-court line. After hitting the shot under heavy pressure from Andrew Wiggins, Gordon gave a high-five to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who was sitting courtside near the shot.

Gordon's 3-pointer helped the Rockets finish the third quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 89-70 lead into the fourth with their largest advantage of the game. Gordon made 11 of 19 shots, including 7 of 13 from 3, and fell just short of his season-high 33 points against Utah on Dec. 18.

With Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza sitting out the first part of a two-game suspension for a postgame locker room incident on Monday night in Los Angeles, Luc Mbah a Moute started in Ariza's place, scoring 14 points in 32 minutes.

Along with Ariza, reserve guard Gerald Green was also serving the first of a two-game suspension for the altercation with the Clippers (see full recap).

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

BOX SCORE

BOSTON -- What a difference two games make.

The Sixers entered this week 0-8 against the top three Eastern Conference teams: the Celtics, Cavaliers and Raptors. By Thursday night, they had picked up two straight wins over them.

The Sixers followed up Monday’s victory over the Raptors with an 89-80 win over the Celtics (see observations)

“I think we are in a good position right now,” Ben Simmons said. “Still a lot of improvement, a lot of things we’ve got to pick up on, but I think we are doing really well and getting better.” 

All season long, a downfall of the Sixers has been giving up leads. Ten, 15, 20 points have been erased just like that. 

The Sixers’ largest advantage was 21 points in the last two games, and in both instances their opponents fought back. The Raptors cut the lead to one with three minutes to play; the Celtics got within seven with two minutes on the clock.

Unlike in the past, the Sixers held on for wins.

“We’ve been in that situation too many times,” Joel Embiid said. “We just have to stay calm and keep moving the ball. We made a couple mistakes, but everything was fine and we got the win.” 

The game was missing two key players. The Celtics were shorthanded without their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving (shoulder). The Sixers were down starting shooting guard JJ Redick (leg). Brett Brown considered their absences “almost a wash.” 

Newly-announced All-Star starter Embiid led all players with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, his 19th double-double of the season. 

“They are still a great team,” Brown said of the Celtics. “For us to come in here and build a lead, hold onto the lead, close out the game, and at times not in a pretty way, is a fantastic result for us.” 

With the win, the Sixers snapped a seven-game losing streak at TD Garden dating back to April 4, 2014. They also avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics. 

The Sixers moved above .500 (21-20) and into the eight spot in the East. The Celtics and Raptors could be postseason pairings if the Sixers hold their ground in the standings, a scenario they are well aware of in these regular-season games. 

“I don’t know what seed we are going to be, but that’s a potential matchup in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “We always want to come out and try to dominate and let them know that’s it’s not going to be easy.”