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.

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double


Around 6 p.m., Ben Simmons spoke about mental fatigue and the frustrations it can cause. 

An hour later, he hit the court and posted an 11-point, 12-rebound, 15-assist triple-double … with zero turnovers.

“I wish he was more mentally fatigued in the future,” Brett Brown said with a laugh. 

The 21-year-old rookie may be feeling the weight of his first NBA season, but he certainly didn’t show it Monday in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets (see observations)

Simmons recorded his third triple-double in the last four games. He exhibited disciplined court vision by finding his teammates with a high level of ease and chemistry that’s been developing over the season (see highlights).

“I was trusting them to knock down shots,” Simmons simply put it. “They make it easy for me.”

Simmons became the first rookie in the NBA to record a triple-double with 15 assists and no turnovers. Only David Robinson and Andre Iguodala had reached a triple-double without an error as rookies. 

Simmons considers his assists and turnovers to be the most meaningful stats of the triple-double, noting his turnovers usually are caused by mental errors. 

"That’s amazing," Joel Embiid said. "To be able to make the right reads and not turn the ball over, there’s a few guys in the league that can do that ... that just shows you that he can be a great point guard."

The 6-foot-10 point guard is averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game over 34 minutes. With each game that passes, Simmons continues to be linked with the feats of Hall of Famers. From joining in the same company as Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson to moving ahead of Allen Iverson for most 10-assist games by a Sixers rookie, his performances are often tied back to historical markers. 

“I think people get caught up in how many points I score every game,” Simmons said. “It’s not about that. It’s a matter of points that we’re getting as a team and how many stops we get … 

"People are always going to say I need to do certain things but I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m really good at.”

LeBron continues triple-double tour

USA Today Images

LeBron continues triple-double tour

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 on Monday night as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue's absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland's next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Milwaukee cut a 17-point lead to 117-109, but James drove the length of the floor for a dunk with just over a minute left.

Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love returned after missing six weeks because of a broken left hand and scored 18 points in 25 minutes. He sparked a 10-0 run in the second quarter with two 3-pointers

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and went 11 for 11 at the foul line for Milwaukee, which is seventh in the Eastern Conference. Khris Middleton had 30 points, making 11 of 16 from the field (see full recap).

Heat set franchise scoring mark in 2OT win
MIAMI -- James Johnson scored a career-high 31 points, Kelly Olynyk added 30 off the bench and the Miami Heat set a franchise single-game scoring record by beating the Denver Nuggets 149-141 in double overtime Monday night.

Miami's total was also an NBA season-high and helped the Heat get back to the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Houston and Oklahoma City each scored 148 in games earlier this season.

Wayne Ellington scored 29 points for the Heat. Nikola Jokic had 34 for Denver, while Wilson Chandler added 26 for the Nuggets.

"That was as playoffs as it comes right there," Olynyk said.

The NBA's stat system crashed late in the first overtime, and crews were scrambling to determine the final numbers long after the buzzer. All that ultimately mattered was the score -- one that moved the Heat closer to a playoff berth and left the Nuggets two games back in the Western Conference race.

Neither team was at full strength. For Miami, Dwyane Wade (left hamstring strain) missed his fourth consecutive game, and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) sat out his fifth straight contest. Denver was without leading scorer Gary Harris, sidelined again by a strained right knee that could keep him out several more days (see full recap).

Oladipo, Pacers rally past Lakers
INDIANAPOLIS -- Victor Oladipo sparked a decisive run and finished with 20 points, Myles Turner had 21 points and the Indiana Pacers recovered from a poor start for a 110-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.

The victory snapped Indiana's two-game losing streak.

Los Angeles was led by Kyle Kuzma with 27 points and Brook Lopez with 23, but the Lakers still lost their third straight.

Oladipo and Darren Collison got Indiana going with back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the third quarter for a 77-70 lead. After a layup from Julius Randle, Collison made a 20-footer and Lance Stephenson hit a 10-footer. When the 14-4 flurry ended, Indiana led 85-74 with 3:04 left in the third.

The Lakers never seriously challenged after that.

It was a stark contrast to the Lakers' fast start. Efficient shooting helped them take a 28-19 lead in the first quarter, but when the shooters cooled off, the Pacers charged back and used a 15-6 second-quarter run to make it 51-50 late in the period.

The Pacers still trailed 59-57 at the half -- before Oladipo helped flip things in the second half (see full recap).