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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. 

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).