76ers

Sixers-Jazz observations: Road trip opens with 5th straight win

Sixers-Jazz observations: Road trip opens with 5th straight win

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SALT LAKE CITY – Winning on the road is becoming a habit for the Sixers this season.

Buoyed by a season-high 25 points from Dario Saric and 20 points from JJ Redick, the Sixers knocked off the Utah Jazz 104-97 on Tuesday night. The Sixers shot 12 of 27 from three-point range and out-rebounded the Jazz 56-45.

It helped the Sixers snap a nine-game losing streak in the series and a 12-game road losing streak to Utah. They notched their first win in Salt Lake City since 2005.

The Jazz shot just 30.3 percent from the field and trailed by double digits through much of the game. They made runs to close out each half, pulling within two at halftime and cutting the Sixers' lead to 100-97 on a layup from Rudy Gobert with 10.2 seconds left. Ben Simmons and Saric each hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to seal the win.

• Simmons continues to pepper the stat sheet with all sorts of impressive numbers. He tallied 16 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks for the Sixers on Tuesday night. It marked the seventh double-double for Simmons this season. That's the most for an NBA rookie through 10 games since Shaquille O' Neal opened his NBA career with 11 straight double-doubles in the 1992-93 season.

• Robert Covington did damage from the perimeter as usual, but he was also active on the boards in helping the Sixers finish with a 56-45 edge on the glass over the Jazz. Covington tallied a season-high 12 rebounds to go along with 14 points. It is his first double-double of the season.

• The Jazz proved lifeless on offense through much of the first quarter to open the door for the Sixers to carve out an early double-digit lead. Utah shot just 23.8 percent from the field and made only five total field goals. Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio each missed five shot attempts in the quarter.

• A tough second quarter erased a double-digit lead for the Sixers. Utah went on a 13-0 run and tied it at 41-41 on a pair of free throws from Raul Neto. A 5½-minute scoring drought was the biggest culprit for the Sixers. They missed 11 straight shots and committed a pair of turnovers in that stretch.

• Rookie guard Mitchell started the second half in place of Rodney Hood after Hood started the game at two guard for the Jazz. Mitchell could make a permanent move to the starting lineup soon with how he's playing off the bench. He totaled 135 points in Utah's first 10 games, becoming just the second rookie to achieve that feat for the Jazz.

• Is there anyone for the Sixers who can provide instant offense from the perimeter the way Redick does? Redick came out on fire in the third quarter. He hit three three-pointers in the first five minutes to help the Sixers push their lead to 15 points. Redick scored 13 of his 20 points in the quarter.

• Saric also proved to be fearless from the perimeter. The second-year forward sank a career-high five three-pointers en route to a season-high 25 points and also had 10 rebounds to earn his first double-double of 2017-18. He averaged just 8.2 points on 36.4 percent shooting in the Sixers' first nine games.

• With Joel Embiid sitting out for “load management,” Richaun Holmes got the start at center. Holmes tallied six points and five rebounds in 15 minutes against the Jazz. It is just the second game back in the lineup for Holmes after he missed eight games with a wrist injury. He looked sharp and played aggressive during the first quarter, scoring on a dunk and a layup to help the Sixers carve out an early 26-10 lead.

• In addition to Embiid, Jerryd Bayless (left wrist contusion) and Markelle Fultz (right shoulder soreness/scapular muscle imbalance) were sidelined for the Sixers. Joe Johnson (right wrist tendon instability) and Dante Exum (left shoulder surgery) were the only players out for the Jazz.

• Sixers coach Brett Brown paid tribute to Roy Halladay before the game, calling him an incredible worker and fierce competitor. “Our organization respects the legacy that he has left behind,” Brown said. Halladay died in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

Now that the dust has settled on the NBA's All-Star festivities, the Sixers will reconvene this week and turn their attention back to the playoff push.

With 27 games remaining in the regular season over a 49-day stretch, it will be a sprint to the finish.

So how can the Sixers capture their first postseason berth in six seasons? Let's take a look at what the team needs more and less of down the stretch.

More: Healthy Embiid
What injury? Joel Embiid shook off right ankle soreness to participate in three events during All-Star weekend as a shining representation of the up-and-coming Sixers.

"There was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events," Embiid said Friday after the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. "It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun."

The big man is always about having fun, but now it's time to get down to business. Even though the Sixers' competition appears to lighten up after the break, the schedule does not (27 games with six back-to-back sets).

The Sixers are 27-17 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn't suit up. They need the center healthy and on the court.

Less: Turnovers
Way less, actually. 

As you know by now, the Sixers have a bit of an issue holding onto the basketball. They simply don't respect each possession enough, evidenced by their 17.5 turnovers per game. That's good enough for dead last in the NBA and it's a full 1.5 turnovers more than the closest team (Los Angeles Lakers).

And it's not just the miscues. Teams are capitalizing, too — the Sixers also rank 30th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.4).

Of the "Four Factors" statistic on the offensive end, which breaks down weighted factors that help a team win a game — shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free throws (15 percent) — the only category that the Sixers rank outside of the NBA's top 10 in is turnovers.

If they can cut down on the giveaways just a little, it will go a long way toward their goal.

More: Early execution
However, not all of those possessions end up with the Sixers running back on defense after a turnover.

With more legit scoring options on the roster this season than any previous time during Brett Brown's tenure, they have shown the ability to execute a play to perfection for a bucket.

It's a stark contrast to the days when they couldn't even get the ball in on an inbounds play.

That level of scoring punch has been particularly evident at the start of games. The Sixers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the league in first-quarter points per game (28.7) and are even with the L.A. Clippers for seventh in first-half points a night (55.2).

The Sixers must continue to apply that pressure on teams at the outset of games, especially if their woes finishing off opponents is going to persist.

Less: Bad Covington
Ah, the curious case of Robert Covington.

Has any player in NBA history ever looked like they could make a push for an All-Star spot for two months only to appear as if they belong in the G League the next few months?

Covington has always been a streaky shooter, but this season has been extreme. He shot 44.7 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three-point range in October and November to help secure his multiyear extension. 

Since that point, the swingman has connected on just 37.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long distance.

Whether it's the weight of the big contract or the nasty spill he took against the Cavs in December, Covington hasn't looked the same on the floor in several months. The team needs him to get it together and the sooner the better.

More: Killer D's
While Embiid's presence on both ends and Ben Simmons' wizardry at the point have put the Sixers in position to snag a playoff bid, the team didn't really hit its stride until a certain pairing found its footing: Dario Saric and defense.

Much like his rookie season, Saric struggled to find his role at the start. But that's long in the rearview mirror now. The second-year forward has increased his production each month and has been rolling so far in February (18.6 points, 51.7 percent field goals, 46.3 percent threes, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game).

That surge has coincided with the Sixers' tightened grip on defense. In seven games this month, they've allowed 96.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting.

The type of balance Saric offers offensively and the overall lockdown defense won't only make the Sixers a postseason team, it will also make them a tough out. 

Less: Fultz speculation
This is a big deal that the Sixers could make very small with a clear decision on the No. 1 pick's immediate future.

Markelle Fultz reportedly continues to ramp up his rehab workouts for his ailing shoulder, even after team president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month that the guard could return soon or be shut down for the season.

The franchise should obviously give Fultz every chance to come back and contribute, but that ruling should be made at the first opportunity.

It's after the All-Star break and having that type of deliberation hovering over the team isn't exactly fair to the other players. Not to mention, for a guy that has apparently dealt with questions regarding his confidence, possibly dropping him into the thick of a playoff race doesn't really do him any favors either.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”