No easy fix for Sixers' turnover woes

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No easy fix for Sixers' turnover woes

The Sixers turn the ball over too much. Everyone knows it, and they want to fix the problem. So why do they keep giving their opponents extra possessions, as they did in Tuesday's loss to the Pacers?

There are a few reasons, the most obvious being youth. The Sixers’ point guard, Ben Simmons, is a 21-year-old, albeit a supremely talented one who tied Magic Johnson Tuesday by posting the seventh triple-double of his rookie season. And the guy they turn to most for offense down the stretch, Joel Embiid, is still figuring out how to deal with the swarming defense and double-teams opponents throw at him.

“I think it’s hard to expedite people’s birth certificate,” Brett Brown said. “I think you’re seeing young guys, if you go to who and where, we have to get better with some individuals. As a team, we have to get better. Some of it I have to own. When you look at the trending that’s been going on, say after the All-Star Break, I think we have been improving. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights.”

Brown is correct the Sixers have improved with turnovers, at least until the past two games. In the first nine games after the break, the Sixers turned the ball over just 12.7 times per game, a substantial improvement from their season average of an NBA-worst 17.2.

“I think some of them were self-inflicted,” Brown said. “I’d be curious to go back and watch the tape and see how many of the turnovers were in the first three to four seconds of the shot clock; some of the decisions to make passes in early offense did not help us. And some of the turnovers I give Indiana credit for. But we can almost sort of all go home after that statement that turnovers were the single thing that I think influenced this game.”

There’s no doubt the Sixers could have beaten the Pacers without so many turnovers. The Sixers had 20 fewer field-goal attempts than the current No. 3 seed in the conference and they still lost by three points. If you’re the positive type, that’s encouraging. Still, it’s not a winning formula.

“We dug ourselves in a pretty good hole turnover-wise,” T.J. McConnell said. “You can’t beat a team with that many turnovers.

“It comes from being unselfish. Some of the plays we’re trying to make the extra pass and that’s the kind of guys we have, trying to get the best available shot, but sometimes that’s not the right shot. We’ll live with us being unselfish, but you just got to take care of it.”

It’s not realistic to expect the Sixers to solve this problem overnight. Especially given the pace they play (fifth-fastest in the league), they’re not going to be a low-turnover team anytime soon.

But it’s reasonable to think that, with a few tweaks, they can trend closer to their recent stretch with 12.7 turnovers per game than their 21 giveaways against the Pacers.

Whether it’s being a little more selfish, being smarter early in the shot clock or simply continuing to grow up, nights like Tuesday can become more and more uncommon.

The good, bad and ugly from Joel Embiid vs. Pacers

The good, bad and ugly from Joel Embiid vs. Pacers

Joel Embiid had himself a night in Tuesday’s 101-98 loss to the Pacers (see observations). There was plenty of good, plenty of bad, and yes, plenty of ugly.

Embiid had 29 points, including 22 in the second half. He also had 12 rebounds, four assists, eight turnovers (tying his career high) and a technical foul for shoving Lance Stephenson with 44 seconds left in the third quarter.

Embiid's three-pointer from the top of the key on the Sixers’ final possession would have tied the game, but it fell short.

After the game, Brett Brown said he didn’t think the technical distracted Embiid.

“I don’t think it takes him out of his game,” Brown said. “There are some times that I think it almost gets him going … I’m sure if we had that again, perhaps that’s not the way he’d want to handle it. But in general, I don’t think it does make him have a meltdown and lose focus. He’s pretty good like that, I think he likes to get excited.”

Embiid certainly played with an aggressive mindset following the technical. He had three emphatic dunks in the fourth quarter, and scored 12 points after his shove on the Pacers’ pesky guard. He also looked much more for his own offense, as evidenced by his 15 second-half field goal attempts and zero second-half assists.

One of the keys for the Sixers heading into the postseason will be Embiid finding the right balance between attacking out of the post and finding his teammates when faced with double teams. He probably erred on the conservative side in the first half, shooting just 2 for 7 and dishing out four assists.

While Brown is generally pleased with Embiid’s development as a decision-maker, he knows the Sixers can’t afford for Embiid to turn the ball over as often as he does. While Tuesday’s eight turnovers are an outlier, Embiid does turn the ball over 3.8 times per game on the season.

“He’s improving as a passer out of the post,” Brown said. “He’s improving as a willing passer, and I think some of his reads are sophisticated reads. I feel like we’re getting better on the floor spots we need to be in so he knows where his outlets are, and there are times where people are pecking at the ball and it squirts out; we have to get stronger at times with the ball.

“It might be the most important offense we have if we’re lucky enough to get in the playoffs, is, ‘What do you do around Joel?’”

It’s not ideal for the player the Sixers will likely lean on for the majority of possessions in the playoffs to have an assist-to-turnover ratio under one (0.84). That said, the Sixers know they have a dominant low-post scorer and defensive anchor in Embiid. Turnovers and technical fouls are great ways to shoot yourself in the foot in the postseason, but even with those flaws, Embiid is talented enough to scare elite teams.

Should Embiid shoot more 3s? His coach thinks so

Should Embiid shoot more 3s? His coach thinks so

Brett Brown wants his 7-foot-2 center shooting more three-pointers. Yes, the Sixers coach would prefer to see Joel Embiid, the man who leads the league with 10.1 post-up points per game, launching more from deep.

“I really want him to shoot six to eight threes per game,” Brown said after the Sixers’ 110-99 win Friday night (see observations). “So how does that happen and he’s still an interior presence, a paint-catch guy? If you look at our team, I’m convinced that the three-point line is where the sport is heading and I think it’s going to rear its head in the playoffs, and our point guards don’t shoot threes. So already, you’re kind of dealing with zero with Ben (Simmons) and with T.J. (McConnell)."

Embiid shot 1 for 4 from three-point range Friday. For the season, he’s shooting 31.5 percent from deep on 3.3 attempts per game.

In the first quarter Friday, Embiid had no hesitation shooting when Dwight Howard played off him. He started slow, however, making just two of his first nine shots overall.

But with a mix of crafty rip-through moves and inside strength, Embiid ensured Howard was in foul trouble all night. The Hornets’ big man picked up his third foul with 2:21 left in the first quarter and finished with six points, six rebounds and five fouls in only 25 minutes.

“Dwight, he’s had his years,” Embiid said. “He’s still really good. Watching him this season, he’s been playing really well. But every night I’m going on the court, I feel like whoever I’m going against, I just need to play better than them because I know I consider myself as one of the top players in the league. So I feel like I always have a target on my back.”

The Hornets center had to sit out the end of the third quarter and the first half of the fourth after picking up his fifth foul, but Embiid saw Howard’s intensity pick up when he returned for crunch time. That meant less space for Embiid on the perimeter, but it didn’t hurt the Sixers’ offense. The Sixers scored 36 points, with nine assists, in the final frame.

“I thought in the fourth quarter, Dwight kind of took it personal and he didn’t want to help off me,” Embiid said. “So I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to keep playing our two-man game and getting my teammates involved,’ and we got a lot of layups and dunks off that. I think on offense, whatever I can do to help set my teammates free, I do. If it takes me being at the three-point line for Ben to attack the basket, that’s what I’m doing.

“If I’m open from three, I know the coaches want me to take like take 10 threes a game, which is not going to, well, it’s already happened (once — on Dec. 28, 2017, against Portland, Embiid shot 6 for 12 from long range). But I don’t know how many times it will happen in my career unless I really feel it. But my job is really to draw some attention and open up the court for my teammates.”