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Give and Go: Examining Sixers at quarter pole of season

Give and Go: Examining Sixers at quarter pole of season

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, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we analyze the Sixers’ biggest strength and weakness at the quarter mark of the 2017-18 season.

Harris
The Sixers’ biggest strength at the quarter pole is their ability to bang down low, specifically when it comes to rebounding. As a team, they lead the league in rebounds per game (49.6) and rebound percentage (53.5 percent). Joel Embiid leads the way, but it goes well beyond the man in the middle. Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Amir Johnson also all have the ability to register double-digit rebounds any given night. The end of most successful defensive possessions is a rebound and the Sixers are able to rebound better than anyone else to this point.
 
All that rebounding comes in handy when you examine what the Sixers’ biggest weakness has been so far. It’s a problem that’s plagued the Sixers throughout Brett Brown’s tenure, but it’s to be expected with a young, fast-paced team. No one turns it over more times a game than the Sixers (17.5 per game) as 16.8 percent of their possessions end in turnovers. While that’s bad, the Sixers only allow an average of 17.7 points per game off turnovers. It’s not ideal, but there are nine teams that allow more.
 
This could go either way the rest of the season. Think of how good the Sixers can be if they continue to dominate on the glass. On the other hand, think of games that can be lost if they don’t tighten up the ball security. Let’s reassess at the halfway point.

Hudrick
Although it’s still not exactly where it should be, the Sixers’ depth is the best it’s been in what feels like forever. Their starting lineup alone features five players that can all score the basketball in a variety of ways. 

The bench has been more up than down. T.J. McConnell has been tremendous and his absence was felt as Kyrie Irving ran amuck against the Sixers Thursday night. After a slow start, Amir Johnson has provided solid minutes from the backup center position. Richaun Holmes, a strong backup in his own right, hasn’t been able to get off the bench when Joel Embiid plays. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Jerryd Bayless can both have a role. But as we’ve seen, if they’re asked to do too much, they can be exposed.

It’s hard to be disappointed in much from a team that’s on a 48-win pace that I thought would struggle to go .500. It was already mentioned by Marshall, but the turnovers have been a big issue. Embiid has been one of the bigger culprits in this category (4.1 turnover per game), but this is all new to him. He still needs to a do a better job of what Brett Brown calls “quarterbacking the gym.”

I can live with the turnovers that come as a result of the Sixers’ breakneck pace. If they can clean up the turnovers in the half court, they should be just fine.

Haughton
I’m going off the board a bit for the biggest strength and say the team’s togetherness. One thing Brett Brown has never been lacking for is an ability to motivate. Even when his teams were devoid of talent and healthy bodies during previous seasons, Brown was always able to put a group on the floor that competed to the final whistle. More importantly, the Sixers never came unraveled amid the mounting losses.

Now that he has a vastly improved roster, Brown’s handling of things has remained the same. With emerging superstars (Embiid, Simmons), high-priced free agents (JJ Redick), undrafted gems (Covington, T.J. McConnell) and even disgruntled players (Jahlil Okafor), the coach has managed to maintain the pulse of the evolving locker room. That’s not easy in today’s NBA.

One thing Brown hasn’t been able to get a handle on during his time in Philadelphia, as Marshall mentioned above, is turnovers. In his four full years at the helm, the Sixers finished 30th, 30th, 29th and 30th in turnovers per game. So far this season, the squad is dead last again.

The Sixers should certainly make the postseason barring any major injuries, but their stay will be short lived if they don’t learn to value the basketball at some point. 

Rockets extend streak as Butler exits with injury

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Rockets extend streak as Butler exits with injury

HOUSTON -- James Harden scored 31 points and the Houston Rockets won their 11th straight game with a 120-102 victory Friday night over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who lost All-Star Jimmy Butler to an apparent right knee injury.

Butler left the game late in the third quarter. After grabbing a rebound late in the third quarter, he pivoted and planted hard on his right foot before collapsing and grabbing his right knee. He was on the floor for at least three minutes before he was carried off the court by two teammates. He appeared to avoid putting weight on his right leg when heading to the locker room.

A Timberwolves official said during the fourth quarter that Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau would provide an update on Butler's injury following the game.

Clint Capela had 25 points and 11 rebounds for Houston, getting his 10th double-double over the past 13 games. Chris Paul added 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

The Rockets trailed for much of the first half before going ahead to maintain the NBA's best record.

Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 21 points, and Jeff Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns both had 18 points. Towns added 13 rebounds (see full recap).

Davis sensational in Pelicans’ OT victory over Heat
NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami's third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans' winning streak -- and 42 or more three times -- raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points (see full recap).

Balanced Celtics rout Pistons
DETROIT -- Kyrie Irving scored 18 points and rookie Daniel Theis added a career-high 19 to lift the Boston Celtics to a 110-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.

Jayson Tatum scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half for the Celtics, who went into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak but returned with a solid win on the road. Boston took control by outscoring the Pistons 38-21 in the second quarter.

Blake Griffin scored 17 points for Detroit but shot just 5 of 19 from the field.

Theis eclipsed his previous career high of 12 points. He played an important role after Aron Baynes, the starting center for the Celtics, went to the locker room in the first half with left elbow soreness. Baynes ended up playing only 2:39, but Theis shot 8 of 10 from the field and had seven rebounds.

Ish Smith made his first eight shots and finished with 20 points for the Pistons. Detroit led 39-37 in the second quarter before a 21-5 run by Boston. The Celtics were ahead 61-49 at halftime.

The lead was only four late in the third before Boston scored seven straight points -- five by Irving. The Celtics broke the game open at the start of the fourth (see full recap).

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

The Sixers have been rising steadily in the standings and players around the league are taking notice. 

The young squad improved to 31-25 with a victory over the Bulls Thursday. They have won six straight and have not lost at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. That totals up to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the Wizards for the fourth spot and two games ahead of the Heat for the eighth. 

"I like them," Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler said at the All-Star break. "They've got a lot of great young talent. We do as well. But I think the way that they're going and how they play so hard and play so together, that's how you win basketball games. They're going to be really, really good for a long time."

The Sixers turned heads with a statement win over the Rockets in only their seventh game of the season. From there, they have defeated playoff teams, including a rare sweep of the Spurs, while struggling against sub.-500 opponents. 

They have 26 games remaining to make a postseason push. Of their upcoming opponents, only 10 games are against current top-eight teams in their conferences. Brett Brown has emphasized they can't take any team lightly. This is the time for the Sixers to maximize their schedule and show they learned from previous letdowns.

"They look good," Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "Obviously as a young team, it takes time to learn how to win. ... The mature, really high-level teams, they find a way to get it done. I think for them, that's what their record shows. You play against them and it's hard to play against them. 

"They're really talented, they play hard, they play for a great coach. It's just those nights where you might not have it, having that understanding and that experience that'll lead you to more wins. I think once they get to that point, that's when maybe nine or 10 games that they've let slip, maybe they win those games."

The Sixers wrapped up the majority of their Western Conference schedule prior to the All-Star break. They have only the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Mavericks left to play. Those in the conference still are keeping an eye on the Sixers' progress, even if they may not face off again for months. 

"Everyone definitely sees the talent there," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "Any time you've got Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid to build around, they've got a very bright future. I think everyone had very high expectations, but it's hard to have high expectations with a team that's got a lot of first-, second-year guys that have never been in the playoffs. 

"But you can tell that they're going to be in the playoffs for, shoot, the next decade or so, probably be upper echelon pretty soon."