76ers

Sixers find out best things in life are free

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Sixers find out best things in life are free

It’s easy to blame things on the refs when you’re losing. And while there were a few questionable whistles in the Sixers' deflating 114-109 loss to the Raptors (see observations), a 35-14 disparity in free throws attempted can’t be explained away by one or two bad calls.

In scoring a career-high 45 points, DeMar DeRozan attempted 15 free throws (more than the entire Sixers' team), making 13. Kyle Lowry was a perfect 8 for 8 from the line.

After the loss, Brett Brown commented on the duo’s ability to get to the foul line: “I just think it’s what they are ... They bury their head, they find a spot, they bull their way into environments that are confrontational and expose that collision.”

“DeMar is gifted in so many ways. You look down and to have 45 points against what analytics would say aren’t very efficient shots and he just picks spots and jumps. He sure makes a lot. He’s been doing it a long time. I think it’s the physical nature of how they attack.”

The Sixers have allowed the most free throw attempts per game in the NBA (26.5). It’s not a surprising statistic for a young team that often makes questionable decisions, whether that be fouling jump shooters or leaping at pump fakes.

DeRozan is also an especially crafty player, visiting the line an average of 7.9 times. But the Sixers are going to have a difficult time beating any team, let alone an Eastern Conference contender like the 22-8 Raptors, when they concede a 21 free throw advantage.

With 23.3 foul shots attempted per game, the Sixers are 10th in the league, but that stat is heavily influenced by Joel Embiid. Without Embiid, who averages 8.3 free throw attempts, you’d expect the Sixers to struggle to draw shooting fouls, as was the case Thursday.

Tasked to be the main offensive catalyst in Embiid’s absence, Ben Simmons has shown none of DeRozan or Lowry’s penchant for drawing fouls. We all know Simmons is not a good free throw shooter, with the most famous example of his ineptitude the nearly successful Hack-a-Simmons move used by the Wizards on Nov. 29, when the rookie shot 12 of 24 from the line in the fourth quarter alone. Overall, Simmons is shooting 54.8 percent from the line.

One thing Thursday’s game demonstrated, which Simmons surely already knows, is being a good free throw shooter is a valuable tool for someone who can attack the paint as well as he does. At a minimum, it’s crucial for him to improve his foul shooting to the point that fans no longer are cringing when he goes to the line late in games.

The second, less obvious lesson is how important it is for Simmons to get to the line more often. Overall, Simmons is averaging 5.0 free throw attempts per game, though those numbers are skewed by the 29-attempt night against Washington. Since the game against the Wizards, Simmons is just 20 for 39 from the line in 11 games.

A player who penetrates as well as Simmons, who is third in the league with 13.59 points in the paint per game, should be taking a significantly higher number of free throws. He doesn’t have to radically change the way he plays, but he should occasionally be leaning into defenders when he’s blown past them, pump-faking off-balance opponents or bullying smaller point guards. Even if in the short term Simmons is still a subpar foul shooter, two or three more attempts each game would be a big bonus.

Of course, the disparity in free throw attempts is just one of many factors behind the Sixers’ funk. Still, it’s emblematic of many of their issues. Smart, veteran teams like the Raptors tend to shoot more free throws than their opponents.

The Sixers visit Toronto Saturday night. We’ll see if they’ve learned anything.

Sixers bringing 'bunker mentality' into road playoff setting

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Sixers bringing 'bunker mentality' into road playoff setting

You’ve witnessed the Miami scenes. 

The pristine beaches, exciting nightlife, eclectic cuisine. The list goes on.

It all adds up to one of the best destination experiences in the United States.

And the Sixers don’t want anything to do with it.

This is a business trip.

Scratch that. This is battle.

“It just becomes, I think, a little bit more insular, a little bit more of a bunker mentality,” Brett Brown said at Wednesday’s practice. “It’s a little bit more of trying to minimize distractions. You’re not in your own bedroom. You’re not in your own sort of comfort zone, your own routine, rhythm to your day.

“It’s a huge part of young players figuring out life on the road and it certainly gets exacerbated in the playoffs. But I like it. I like the mentality and the spirit of being together. I think we have a very close team and I think it forces you to become even closer when you’re just not at home.”

Games 3 and 4 inside AmericanAirlines Arena will feel like anywhere but home for the Sixers. In the first road playoff game for this young team, the players will have to deal with crowd noise and an extremely physical opponent.

The volume will subside as the Sixers are able to string together baskets, and they know the only way to do that is take the smart approach to the Heat’s increased physicality.

“It doesn’t have to be macho vs. macho,” Brown said. “That’s not how we want to play. We want to have an intellectual response to physicality. It can mean speed, it can mean space, it can mean the technique of just creating a lead and getting open. A simple jab step and putting your arm in somebody’s chest and throwing out a lead hand as an example of stuff you’d learn in eighth grade. But it all equals fundamentals, poise, technique, that stuff to combat physicality.

“It’s not they punch you, you punch them, they punch … it’s not that at all."

“You don’t want to do anything that can put yourself in a predicament, allow someone to get hurt,” Robert Covington said. “Nobody wants to get fined, nobody wants to be on the back end of something like that because it can be retaliation that can come from it. You have to play smart and just have to sit up here and do it different ways. You cannot get caught up in the moment and do something crazy.”

Whatever physical tactics the Heat attempt, the Sixers promise they’ll be ready this time around.

“I’ve got a few hits for people coming their way,” Ben Simmons said.

“I’m ready to play.”

Sixers officially list Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 3

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Sixers officially list Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 3

MIAMI — Just over 24 hours before the Sixers face off against the Heat in Game 3, Joel Embiid was listed as doubtful because of a left orbital fracture, or a 75 percent he will not play. That doesn’t mean, though, that status won’t change.

Embiid went through his second straight day of light practice Wednesday shortly after the team arrived in Miami. The Sixers will hold morning shootaround Thursday and could evaluate him again in pregame warmups before he is ruled in or out. 

Embiid was knocking down threes prior to the start of practice. 

Brett Brown said Embiid did a “little bit” of contact work Tuesday and handled it “quite well.” Conditioning is also a big part of his return. Embiid has not played in a game since March 28 when he suffered the fracture and a concussion. 

“It’s going to take time getting hit fitness up,” Brown said. “I think because he is an athlete, whenever the time comes where he does play, I think it’ll move in a more rapid way. I think his body looks great … I feel like it’ll kick in quicker than most.”

Embiid expressed his frustrations of being sidelined with an Instagram post shortly after the Sixers lost Game 2. They had previously won nine straight without him, which helped with his patience. 

“His spirit was very high,” Robert Covington said of his first practice. “Overall, he felt really good and we felt really good to have him out there with us.”

Embiid will have to shake off some rust when he does return. He thrives on consistent action to stay in game shape, and he’s been out for three weeks. If he’s not at 100 percent when he plays, Brown could see him still making an impact. 

“Defensively, he immediately comes in and changes the landscape,” Brown said. “The game is being played so fast right now and he has not been with us for a while, so I think the adjustment offensively might be a little more noticeable than defensively initially. He’s so gifted and he’s intelligent. He really is as smart and as instinctive a player as I’ve coached. He can look at something without doing it and then go do it.”

The Sixers are expecting another physical matchup with the Heat, especially with the next two games being in Miami. Embiid’s tough play would help them in that aspect as they try to take another series lead. The team has an approach, though, even if he cannot battle on the court. 

“It doesn’t have to be macho versus macho,” Brown said. “That’s not how we want to play. We want to have an intellectual response to physicality." 

The Sixers are looking for their first win of the season in Miami.