Bad timing for Sixers' only hot shooter to go on shelf

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Bad timing for Sixers' only hot shooter to go on shelf

Sixers fans got a news update they didn't even know they were supposed to be dreading on Tuesday night, when the team announced that sharpshooting starting guard JJ Redick would be out with "a small cortical crack in the fibular head of his left leg." Redick suffered the injury Monday against the Raptors he will be "re-evaluated in approximately 10 days to two weeks." (This was, of course, preceded by a Woj Firecracker in which he commented that Redick's injury "isn’t serious and he will likely miss only a short window of time," which should inspire some cold sweating over how bad we were supposed to initially be expecting this injury to be.)

To a certain extent, injuries like this are to be expected over the course of the NBA season. It may not feel like it, with Joel Embiid a perpetual DNP risk and Markelle Fultz suffering from jump-shot amnesia, but the Sixers had actually been relatively lucky with health so far this season. Out of a possible 40 games so far, none of Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, T.J. McConnell or Redick have played fewer than 35, with even Embiid's 31 played feeling slightly miraculous. Someone important from their rotation — no, Justin Anderson doesn't count — was bound to miss a couple weeks with injury. 

But, man, losing Redick right now is gonna hurt. It's not just that he's been scorching lately — though that he undoubtedly has been, averaging 20 a game with a 51/46/94 percent shooting slash line over his last eight, since coming back from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss two contests. It's that while he's been that hot, the rest of the team has gone ice cold. 

Saric was similarly searing from deep at the beginning of 2018, but he's cooled off in the last couple, hitting just 2 of his last 10 triples. Jerryd Bayless has hit multiple threes in only one of his last 10 games. Covington, whose three-point bombing was so furious at season's beginning we started to wonder if Redick was gonna get jealous, has now gone just 31 percent from deep over the same eight-game stretch when Redick has been raining holy Process hellfire. Even McConnell, who never seems to miss when he actually deigns to take a triple, is just one for his last nine from distance. And three-point shooting continues to be the one blight on Embiid's otherwise superlative sophomore season, as he's just 3 for 17 from three so far in 2018. 

With only six players that Brett Brown can really trust right now — maybe seven if you wanna give Amir Johnson the benefit of the doubt — injuries to anyone is devastating to the Sixers' chances to be competitive on a nightly basis. And, as previously harped on here at The 700 Level, the Sixers are currently in the midst of a particularly tough January, which will see them play the Celtics, Bucks (twice), Spurs and Thunder — as well as the much-improved Bulls — over the next two weeks. 

What to do for the Sixers, then, in JJ's absence? Well, we'll certainly see a lot more of Bayless' streaky shooting, and maybe some more minutes for a recovering Anderson. We may also get a first look at the recently-signed wing James Young, who shot 37 percent on 9.4 attempts a game from deep this season in the G-League. And, hopefully, we see some greater offensive aggression from McConnell, who after the Raptors game, essentially owned up to the fact that he has to be willing to take open shots when they're given to him if he wants to be the Sixers' fifth guy down the stretch. 

Of course, it's tempting to wonder if this might not be the perfect circumstances for the return of Fultz to the Sixers' rotation. But such hopes don't seem particularly practical at the moment —Fultz's jumper has obviously not fixed itself overnight (or, uh, over two months), and no one — not even Brown — is pretending there isn't a major problem here. I don't know how or when the Fultz situation will get better, but in the meantime, it's hard to see him returning anytime soon, and even harder to picture him being the cure for what ails the undermanned Sixers if he does. 

Perhaps the biggest worry here, if you're a Sixers fan, is if Redick's injury will end up pushing the Colangelos toward making a short-sighted move to bolster their current depth, a.k.a. the much-feared "panic trade." If the Sixers struggle over their next two weeks — going 2-5, say, and dropping to three or four games out of the playoff picture — it's not impossible that the team will sniff around a quick-fix upgrade on the wings. The good (or bad) thing for the Sixers is there aren't a ton of obvious names that are both available and fit the team's timeline of trying for max cap space this summer — and both Lou Williams and Nikola Mirotic have likely priced themselves out of any cheap deadline dealings with their strong play of late. 

But, hey, while we're on the subject of short-sighted deadline dealings: Boy, could sure use Nik Stauskas right now, huh? Not to say that he's lighting it up since being sent to Brooklyn in December by any means — he hasn't scored more than five points in a game this year for Brooklyn — but he is shooting 47 percent from deep for them in his limited looks, and again, the Sixers thrived a year ago with Sauce as their starting two, even when he wasn't putting up numbers. He'd never be the long-term solution for Philly, but there was always a scenario in which it'd be helpful for the team to have him around in a pinch, and now that theoretical is upon us. (Meanwhile, since scoring 40 combined points in his first three games for the Sixers, Trevor Booker has scored a whopping 38 total in the 12 contests since.) 

Bottom line: This is gonna be a tough couple of weeks coming up for Philly. The good news? No back-to-backs for the Sixers this month, so no games yet where we definitely won't have Embiid or Redick. And if the Sixers can manage to tread water the next few weeks — even going 3-4 would be pretty acceptable — things should get a lot easier for them in February and especially March, when hopefully the team will be closer to whole again. Just have to hope nothing else Woj-worthy happens with the Sixers in the meantime.

#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

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#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

Well, it certainly doesn't feel like the Philadelphia 76ers never trailed in that game against the Toronto Raptors, does it? The Sixers technically held on for the wire-to-wire 117-111 victory against Toronto, despite that lead getting Cliffhanger precarious down the stretch, getting back to .500 on the season thanks to big efforts from Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell and Joel Embiid. 

Of course, if the Raptors were on their game, the Sixers might not have escaped with this one. Following a hard-fought loss to the Warriors (and in Kyle Lowry's first game back since missing a few games with a bruised tailbone), the Raps seemed out of rhythm for most of the afternoon. The Sixers' stout defense certainly played a part in that, but the Raps also just missed shots, and generally lacked the tenacity they attacked Philly with in their two meetings this December. 

Nonetheless, the Sixers played well enough to win for three quarters, and snapped out of their usual late-game momentum funk in time to not totally give the game away. Credit for that part has to go to Simmons, who rolled in a layup and the kicked out to Dario for an open three with minutes to go, expanding a dangling one-point Sixers lead to a relatively secure six they were able to protect from there. He also made the Raps pay for intentionally hacking him late, calmly sinking two to keep Toronto at bay. Embiid also helped clinch things with late free throws, part of his 34-point, 11-rebound afternoon (see video), and with mighty defense around the basket that closed things off for the surging Raps. 

And yet, this was once again the T.J. McConnell game. He tangled early with Raptors star (and professional Sixers torturer) DeMar DeRozan, and that seemed to ignite an unusually aggressive T.J., as Timothy John went on to score a career-high 18 on 8-13 shooting, to go with eight dimes, six boards and three steals (see video) — also helping to hold DeMar to a manageable 24 points for the afternoon. He did get passive late, which he kicked himself for a little in his post-game interview, but it was still a magnificent afternoon for Teej, and his buckets were invaluable on an afternoon where our shooters weren't hitting much (6-25 from deep) and nobody besides JoJo was doing much in the half-court. 

Even though they had to work for it at the end a little more than we'd like, there's no denying the size of this win for the Sixers. Aside from giving them a statement W over one of the East's elite, it keeps them from falling too far back of the playoff pack, while the Pacers are surging and while the Sixers still have some tough games immediately ahead of them, I figured if they got one win in their four-pack against the Celts, Raps, Celts again and Bucks, they'd be in decent shape — now, they have two more chances to come out with a split. 

What's more, you can now add Toronto to the list of very good teams the Sixers don't have to worry about playing again this season — a list that already includes the Warriors and Rockets, and is one game away from also including the Celtics. Though it's dampened their 20-20 record until this point, it's pretty incredible to be halfway through January and already be done playing arguably the league's four best teams, two of which are in their division. Smooth sailing is on the horizon, and in the meantime we're officially in the midst of #SixersJanuary. Salvation is free. 

Someday the Sixers will be the other team

Someday the Sixers will be the other team

Remember that game against the Golden State Warriors earlier this season when the Philadelphia 76ers got up 20-plus in the first half, lost the lead in the third quarter and ended the game in garbage time? Transport that game across conferences and continents and you basically got a carbon copy of Thursday afternoon’s London-set "home game" loss to the Boston Celtics. 

Everything was humming in the first half. JJ Redick was coming off screens like Klay Thompson, hitting just about everything, while Ben Simmons was hitting turnaround jumpers (!!) and bullying smaller defenders. Joel Embiid wasn't even scoring — he ended the half with just six — but he was distributing, springing Redick on some killer screens, and being his usual game-changing self on the defensive end. The Celtics were ice cold, as they blew layups and committed silly turnovers. It was beautiful, and it was 100 percent never going to last. 

The best you could've really hoped for in the second half was that the Sixers would be able to at least hang around for the rest of the game once they inevitably blew their double-digit lead (which was actually already single digits this time by the break). No such luck: The C's pulled away in the fourth, and Brett Brown tapped out with about four minutes to go, with T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot shepherding the team down the stretch. 

The Sixers lost 114-102, in a game that was both much closer and not quite as close as that score implies (see game recap). They fell to 0-3 for the season against the Celtics — with a fourth game coming up in Boston next week. 

How disappointing is this? I'd peg it at somewhere between a five and six — not heartbreaking, but not negligible. Hard to get too upset about losing to a better team because they're better, and the first half was fun enough that you could hardly call the whole experience a wash. Still, the Sixers keep getting tastes of earning that one statement, signature win that end up just being referendums on all the things wrong with them: How Brown should be fired, how all our veterans suck, how the Markelle Fultz trade was a disaster. (Jayson Tatum's third-quarter explosion certainly doesn't help a ton with that last one.) The emotional swing is tough to stomach, although Sixers fans would be playing themselves if they weren't at least a little numb to games that follow this general script at this point. 

The rough part is, as previously mentioned, that the Sixers' schedule stays challenging from here: home on MLK Monday vs. Toronto, at Boston next Thursday, home next Saturday for the first of four against Milwaukee. The Sixers basically have to hope to get out of a brutal January without falling too far behind, because the rest of their schedule from there is easy enough — loaded with multiple games each against the Nets, Hornets, Hawks, Magic and Grizzlies — that they should be able to make up some ground, if they stay healthy and aren't already miles away. 

The Sixers, who fell to 19-20 with the latest loss to the Celtics, might not get back above .500 for a little while still. Nonetheless, they remain in pretty good shape for a postseason push, and Fultz could be coming back (if not necessarily with his jumper) soon. 

Someday, maybe not even that many years from now, the Sixers will be the team that gets down early, but everyone knows is coming back to lay the smackdown in majorly embarrassing fashion. In the meantime, trust the bleedin' process.