Noah Levick

Sixers' game vs. Spurs just got a whole lot tougher

Sixers' game vs. Spurs just got a whole lot tougher

CAMDEN, N.J. — It's unlikely that Brett Brown will have his biggest weapon Wednesday night against his old team.

After spraining his right hand in a collision with Devin Booker and subsequent fall Sunday night, Embiid is listed as doubtful against the Spurs.

Though X-rays Sunday confirmed his hand isn't broken, Embiid said the injury seriously affected his play.

"It was numb but I'm a warrior," Embiid said after the game. "I want to push through stuff and I want to play. I wanted to be on the court to win the game and that's what we did."

At Tuesday's practice, Sixers coach Brett Brown detailed how the injury is continuing to bother Embiid.

"It was a legitimate scare, a legitimate fall," Brown said. "If you saw the palm of his hand, you'd see the bruising and the swelling and the discoloring. And if it was his non-shooting hand, you might feel more confident. But we'll all learn more tomorrow."

At the conclusion of practice, a trainer tended to Embiid's hand. Based on the team's history of caution with Embiid, you would think his hand would have to dramatically improve for him to play Wednesday night. The Sixers are 2-7 on the season without him, though they did beat the Nuggets, 107-102, on Saturday when he rested.

If Embiid doesn't play Wednesday, Amir Johnson will likely start at center and Richaun Holmes will return to the rotation. In 19 valuable minutes off the bench Saturday, Holmes had 14 points, three rebounds and three assists. Yet with Embiid back in the lineup Sunday against Phoenix, he never left the bench.

The Sixers may not be the only ones without their biggest star for Wednesday's matchup. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, who missed the team's first 27 games with a right quad injury, may not play on the second night of a back-to-back set after he was on the court for 31 minutes in the Spurs' 100-91 win over the Knicks on Tuesday.

Sixers find out best things in life are free

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Sixers find out best things in life are free

It’s easy to blame things on the refs when you’re losing. And while there were a few questionable whistles in the Sixers' deflating 114-109 loss to the Raptors (see observations), a 35-14 disparity in free throws attempted can’t be explained away by one or two bad calls.

In scoring a career-high 45 points, DeMar DeRozan attempted 15 free throws (more than the entire Sixers' team), making 13. Kyle Lowry was a perfect 8 for 8 from the line.

After the loss, Brett Brown commented on the duo’s ability to get to the foul line: “I just think it’s what they are ... They bury their head, they find a spot, they bull their way into environments that are confrontational and expose that collision.”

“DeMar is gifted in so many ways. You look down and to have 45 points against what analytics would say aren’t very efficient shots and he just picks spots and jumps. He sure makes a lot. He’s been doing it a long time. I think it’s the physical nature of how they attack.”

The Sixers have allowed the most free throw attempts per game in the NBA (26.5). It’s not a surprising statistic for a young team that often makes questionable decisions, whether that be fouling jump shooters or leaping at pump fakes.

DeRozan is also an especially crafty player, visiting the line an average of 7.9 times. But the Sixers are going to have a difficult time beating any team, let alone an Eastern Conference contender like the 22-8 Raptors, when they concede a 21 free throw advantage.

With 23.3 foul shots attempted per game, the Sixers are 10th in the league, but that stat is heavily influenced by Joel Embiid. Without Embiid, who averages 8.3 free throw attempts, you’d expect the Sixers to struggle to draw shooting fouls, as was the case Thursday.

Tasked to be the main offensive catalyst in Embiid’s absence, Ben Simmons has shown none of DeRozan or Lowry’s penchant for drawing fouls. We all know Simmons is not a good free throw shooter, with the most famous example of his ineptitude the nearly successful Hack-a-Simmons move used by the Wizards on Nov. 29, when the rookie shot 12 of 24 from the line in the fourth quarter alone. Overall, Simmons is shooting 54.8 percent from the line.

One thing Thursday’s game demonstrated, which Simmons surely already knows, is being a good free throw shooter is a valuable tool for someone who can attack the paint as well as he does. At a minimum, it’s crucial for him to improve his foul shooting to the point that fans no longer are cringing when he goes to the line late in games.

The second, less obvious lesson is how important it is for Simmons to get to the line more often. Overall, Simmons is averaging 5.0 free throw attempts per game, though those numbers are skewed by the 29-attempt night against Washington. Since the game against the Wizards, Simmons is just 20 for 39 from the line in 11 games.

A player who penetrates as well as Simmons, who is third in the league with 13.59 points in the paint per game, should be taking a significantly higher number of free throws. He doesn’t have to radically change the way he plays, but he should occasionally be leaning into defenders when he’s blown past them, pump-faking off-balance opponents or bullying smaller point guards. Even if in the short term Simmons is still a subpar foul shooter, two or three more attempts each game would be a big bonus.

Of course, the disparity in free throw attempts is just one of many factors behind the Sixers’ funk. Still, it’s emblematic of many of their issues. Smart, veteran teams like the Raptors tend to shoot more free throws than their opponents.

The Sixers visit Toronto Saturday night. We’ll see if they’ve learned anything.

Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

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Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid sometimes looks like he’s having a party on the basketball court. It’s no surprise, then, he credits some actual partying with turning around his season.

Yes, that’s right. After Sixers practice Friday afternoon, Embiid said hitting the town in Los Angeles on the team's recent road trip helped him out of a funk.

“All my close friends live in L.A., so before that, I wasn’t really doing anything, I was frustrated because I wasn’t in basketball shape and I wasn’t having fun on the court,” Embiid said. “So I won’t lie, I decided to go out, have fun a little bit. And that just kind of gave me the energy back, and the next game against the Clippers, I had more than 30 points [32], and then the following game I had more than 40 [46], so I think it’s just about having fun and making sure I can control what I can.”

For what it’s worth, Embiid is averaging 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks since the Sixers arrived in Los Angeles. The Sixers are 5-1 in those six games.

As the Sixers keep winning, the expectations keep growing. Is this a legit playoff team? Contenders in the near future? Embiid deals with the pressure that sort of attention can bring the same way he does just about everything else.

“Just be myself," Embiid said. "Have fun on the court. You know, just be myself, and I know it’s going to come, I know the guys are going to find me whenever they have to find me, I know coach is going to call plays for me. I think I kind of figured out if I’m not having fun on the court, I’m not going to play well, so I really need to have fun, and that’s the main thing for me. From there, I’m going to be dominant.”

A big part of having fun on the court for Embiid is trash talk. He insists he doesn’t initiate it, but he’s more than happy to give it back. He’ll be without Ben Simmons Saturday night against Orlando, but he’s eager for some banter with the Magic.

“Me talking trash, it doesn’t usually happen because I want to, it’s because the other guys start talking trash. So if any of the guys want to, I’m up for it. It elevates my game, it makes me play better because I know if you talk trash to me I’m going to talk back, and I’m going to back it up, and that’s going to make me play better. I can’t wait, I really hope they do [trash talk]. It’s going to be exciting.”