JJ Redick

Sixers-Suns observations: A real letdown at home

Sixers-Suns observations: A real letdown at home

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The Sixers haven’t had an outing like this in a while, a letdown game, especially on their home court. 

The Suns came into the Wells Fargo Center and took this one, 115-101, on Monday night. The last time the Sixers lost to a sub-.500 team was nearly a month ago to the Kings. 

But there is more to the Suns’ rocky record: there is Devin Booker. The Suns’ high-scoring guard dropped a season-high 46 points in their ninth win of the season. Booker, coming off a 38-point performance against the Celtics, started off 2 for 11 in the first quarter and then exploded after finding a rhythm. 

• Ben Simmons played through the flu. He didn’t think he would be able to play, staying in bed until noon with a 7 p.m. tipoff. Still, Brett Brown started Simmons and the rookie ended up performing better than most of the Sixers. Simmons had 20 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals in 36 minutes. 

"Honestly, not great," Simmons said of how he felt. "But I played, so if I didn't play then you'd know something's wrong."

• JJ Redick (25 points) tried to shoot the Sixers back into the game. After going 0 for 5 from long range through three quarters, he dropped 13 points in the fourth. The Sixers cut the deficit to five with 4:49 to go, but the Suns stepped on the gas to close it out with a 16-3 run. 

• Joel Embiid demolished two of Alex Len’s shot attempts with a pair of massive blocks. He had yet another double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds in 34 minutes. 

• Robert Covington is back in a shooting skid. He went 2 for 10 from three-point range in 34 minutes. 

• The Suns entered the game 8-16, last in points allowed (115.8), tied for third-highest opponent three-point shooting percentage (38.4), and fifth highest in opponent field goal percentage (47.1). The Sixers shot just 23.3 percent from three. 

• Josh Jackson had been in the mix of draft prospects when the Sixers had the third pick (pre-Celtics trade). The Suns ended up selecting Jackson fourth overall. The rookie showed his athleticism and speed. He isn’t putting up massive numbers off the bench (seven points, three rebounds), but played with high energy and feistiness trying to pick off steals. 

• The Sixers shot a perfect 16 for 16 from the line but gave up 22 points off 14 turnovers. 

• Injury/inactive update: T.J. McConnell (left shoulder), Justin Anderson (left leg) and Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) were out. Jahlil Okafor was inactive, as was Furkan Korkmaz who is on a G League assignment. Brandon Knight (left ACL), Davon Reed (left meniscus) and Alan Williams (right meniscus) were sidelined for the Suns.

• Amir Johnson and Tyson Chandler battled like it was 2006. The bigs have been in the league since 2005 and 2001, respectively. 

• Allen Iverson and former Eagle Brian Westbrook were at the game. Westbrook spoke to the Sixers during training camp as well. 

The Suns are in town to boost every Sixer's stats

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USA Today Images

The Suns are in town to boost every Sixer's stats

The Eagles had their most stressful game of the season last night.

The Sixers have what could be their least stressful game of the season tonight.

In town are the 8-16 Phoenix Suns, who currently have the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference, ahead of the Mavs, Kings and Grizzlies. (Five of those eight wins are against the worst teams in the NBA — Bulls, Bulls, Kings, Lakers, Nets.)

The Suns, who were the first team this season to fire their head coach, have allowed a mind-boggling 115.8 points per game. That's 2.5 points more per game than they allowed even last season when they also ranked last in the NBA.

No NBA team since the 1990-91 Nuggets have allowed this many points per game.

This is what happens you don't have an NBA-caliber starting point guard and you (appear to) strike out with a couple high lottery picks like Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, who on some nights don't even have the instincts to stay on the court.

All you need to know about Phoenix's defensive mentality and how much this tanking team cares about stopping the opponent can be found in this 15-second clip:

Offensively, the Suns' best player (and really their only threat) is Devin Booker, who's averaging 23.6 points on 45 percent shooting with 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists. In late-and-close situations, Booker also becomes the Suns' primary ballhandler because they have so few solid options.

Defensively, look for the Suns to throw a lot of Tyson Chandler and Greg Monroe at Joel Embiid. Chandler, who moves in and out of the Suns' rotation, is no longer an elite rim protector at 35, but he's still averaging just under 10 rebounds per game.

Monroe is still a capable post player but on most plays probably won't have the agility required to defend Embiid without fouling.

Centers, in particular, have had a lot of success against Phoenix this season. Brook Lopez, a middle-of-the-pack big man, has three double-doubles against them (19 and 11, 19 and 10, 15 and 10). His brother Robin, a lesser scorer, also put up 16 and 10 against the Suns. And then you have the dominant nights elite bigs like Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside have already had against the Suns.

Teams have also had plenty of success against Phoenix from distance. The Suns have the second-highest opponents' field goal percentage from 20 to 24 feet (42 percent, ahead of only the Cavs).

So, on top of Embiid being able to get his, JJ Redick and Robert Covington should also have plenty of open looks. It's a get-right game for everybody.

And, hey, if the Sixers build up enough of a lead, perhaps even Jahlil Okafor — inactive the last two games — makes an on-court cameo.

Sixers are better than all but the best teams

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AP Images

Sixers are better than all but the best teams

Generally speaking, there have been two types of wins for the Sixers this season: ones where their stars bail out their shooters and ones where their shooters bail out their stars. It's felt pretty rare that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have dominated inside the arc at the same time that Robert Covington and JJ Redick have rained down holy hellfire from beyond it. But more often than not, at least one of those tandems is making the magic happen, and making Philly tough to outpace for 48 minutes. Last night, it was mostly the latter, as Covington hit six huge triples to break out of his week-long shooting slump, and help the Sixers earn a 108-103 win over the Detroit Pistons (and newly ranked Process foe Andre Drummond). 

It wasn't the best of nights for Embiid and Simmons. Embiid ended with respectable numbers of 25 and 10, also fouling out Drummond (who dared return fire over JoJo's trash-talking pregame and was subsequently booed all night at WFC) while posting them, but he also shot an unsightly 7 for 21, with six turnovers and no assists, as he became perhaps a tad myopic in his Drummond demolition. And Simmons was uncharacteristically reserved on offense, scoring just five points on six shots — both career lows — and only handing out six assists in 39 minutes. What seemed at halftime like it was going to be an easy Sixers win instead became a grind-it-out W, as Philly's third-quarter offense imploded and Detroit vaporized the 16-point halftime lead by the start of the fourth. 

But Covington's 25 kept the Sixers afloat, as did a combined 35 from JJ Redick (6-10 FG, 1-3 3PT) and Dario Saric (6-11 FG, 2-5 3PT). Though Redick has run scalding and frigid with his long-range shooting this season, he's starting to show some of the other things he can do to stay productive while frosty from deep — not only nailing twos off curls and step-ins, but moving the ball exceptionally, ending with a team- and personal season-high seven dimes last night. And Dario has really come on since Thanksgiving, averaging 18 and 8, shooting 53 percent from the field and filling in the gaps in the Sixers' offense with smart cuts, extra passes and second-chance-opportunity creation. 

Though the Sixers' bench is struggling a little bit — particularly in the absence of unit anchor T.J. McConnell, who missed his second straight last night with a shoulder contusion — the starting lineup has proven capable of hanging with just about any opposing first five. Simmons-Redick-Covington-Saric-Embiid is an insane net plus-19 points per 100 possessions in 150 minutes of on-court time, according to Basketball-Reference, which is fourth-best in the whole league among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together. 

And that's sort of the point with the Sixers at this juncture of the season. Through 22 games, they've played about as insane a schedule as any team — 14 of their 22 games coming against teams currently with winning records, including a combined seven against the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics and Cavaliers — and they're still four games over .500, and beating pretty much every team except those four. The Pistons are 0-2 against the Sixers, and 14-6 against the rest of the NBA. The Sixers aren't good enough to hang with the league's true elite, but you have to like their chances against pretty much anyone else. A quarter through the season, and their only truly bad loss came in that absurd collapse to the Kings. It's disconcerting rooting for a team this reliable.
 
But when you have a first five like the Sixers do, stocked with franchise-caliber talents and championship-caliber supporting players, it's hardly surprising that you end up winning a lot of games. They won't be true contenders this season — the decisive 1-6 record against the league's real contenders should ably demonstrate as much — but they're already in the tier just below that truly elite class, and with a couple easy-appearing games coming up on their schedule (home to the Suns and Lakers this week), their record may soon start to reflect it as well. Injury concerns are the only thing separating these Sixers from not only making the playoffs, but being a legitimate problem for their first-round opponent. To anticipate that things might get even better than this in seasons to come — which, y'know, they probably should — feels damned greedy.