Dario Saric

Sixers top Jazz to open road trip with 5th straight win

Sixers top Jazz to open road trip with 5th straight win

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SALT LAKE CITY – Figuring out how to guard Ben Simmons is a puzzle many NBA teams can't solve. The Sixers’ rookie keeps finding ways to contribute and impact a game – even when his shot isn't falling.

Simmons offered his latest evidence of that ability in helping the Sixers claim their fifth consecutive victory with a 104-97 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night (see observations). He peppered the stat sheet with all sorts of impact stats as usual – 16 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks.

For Simmons, it is part of a continued quest for excellence. He wants to build a reputation as a winner, plain and simple. And he'll do everything to bring his team along with him.

“I'm not happy with losing,” Simmons said. “I feel like that defines me and that's just the way the game is. People are defined by how many rings they have. For me, I just want to win and while I'm in the league be one of those guys that's a winner.”

Simmons isn't just winning, he's elevating his game to a whole new level. He notched his seventh double-double in 10 career NBA games, becoming the first NBA rookie to have that many double-doubles in their first 10 games since Shaquille O' Neal did it 11 straight times to start the 1992-93 season.

Figuring out how to contain Simmons on either end of the court is a little like playing with fire. One way or another, teams end up being burned. Still, teams have to account for what he can do to influence a game as a 6-foot-10 point guard with loads of athleticism, an incredible wingspan and unmatched passing abilities for a big man.

“He's unique,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I think everyone game plans against him, in one way or another, because he is the engine.”

One area where Simmons made his greatest impact against Utah came on the defensive glass. Simmons posted a career-high 12 defensive rebounds. It allowed him to get out and push the ball and set up some quick shots in transition.

The Sixers capitalized. As a team, they shot 12 of 27 (44.4 percent) from the perimeter. Dario Saric led the way with a career-high five three-pointers – part of his season-high 25 points. JJ Redick and Robert Covington each hit three three-pointers apiece. They finished with 20 points and 14 points, respectively.

When Simmons can rebound and push the ball like he did against the Jazz, the Sixers become a team that's almost impossible to guard.

“You’ve got to be ready to run when you play with Ben,” forward/center Richaun Holmes said. “It's an exciting way to play.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said that Simmons grew tremendously after having the NBA equivalent of a redshirt year when he sat out last season with an injury. It allowed Simmons to watch the game and learn about it from a different perspective. Brown felt like it opened the door for him to get himself a little more acclimated to the pro game before diving in with both feet.

“None of us can dismiss the benefit that Ben Simmons had of effectively being a redshirt and taking it all in and not necessarily in real time,” Brown said. “The NBA is so unforgiving.”

If Simmons could turn back the clock, he would have erased the injury that cost him an entire season. Now, in hindsight, he can see where it helped him learn and grow. The biggest thing it taught him is learning how to be patient and pick his battles.

Now that he's on the court, he's going full speed and progressing at a rate that surprises even the coaches that worked with him from Day 1.

“I think it definitely helps, but you can't actually compare it to playing,” Simmons said. “I think I've learned more just being on the court and actually playing and seeing different teams and sets than watching. But it did pay off to be able to watch and learn the game.”  

Sixers-Jazz observations: Road trip opens with 5th straight win

Sixers-Jazz observations: Road trip opens with 5th straight win

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SALT LAKE CITY – Winning on the road is becoming a habit for the Sixers this season.

Buoyed by a season-high 25 points from Dario Saric and 20 points from JJ Redick, the Sixers knocked off the Utah Jazz 104-97 on Tuesday night. The Sixers shot 12 of 27 from three-point range and out-rebounded the Jazz 56-45.

It helped the Sixers snap a nine-game losing streak in the series and a 12-game road losing streak to Utah. They notched their first win in Salt Lake City since 2005.

The Jazz shot just 30.3 percent from the field and trailed by double digits through much of the game. They made runs to close out each half, pulling within two at halftime and cutting the Sixers' lead to 100-97 on a layup from Rudy Gobert with 10.2 seconds left. Ben Simmons and Saric each hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to seal the win.

• Simmons continues to pepper the stat sheet with all sorts of impressive numbers. He tallied 16 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks for the Sixers on Tuesday night. It marked the seventh double-double for Simmons this season. That's the most for an NBA rookie through 10 games since Shaquille O' Neal opened his NBA career with 11 straight double-doubles in the 1992-93 season.

• Robert Covington did damage from the perimeter as usual, but he was also active on the boards in helping the Sixers finish with a 56-45 edge on the glass over the Jazz. Covington tallied a season-high 12 rebounds to go along with 14 points. It is his first double-double of the season.

• The Jazz proved lifeless on offense through much of the first quarter to open the door for the Sixers to carve out an early double-digit lead. Utah shot just 23.8 percent from the field and made only five total field goals. Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio each missed five shot attempts in the quarter.

• A tough second quarter erased a double-digit lead for the Sixers. Utah went on a 13-0 run and tied it at 41-41 on a pair of free throws from Raul Neto. A 5½-minute scoring drought was the biggest culprit for the Sixers. They missed 11 straight shots and committed a pair of turnovers in that stretch.

• Rookie guard Mitchell started the second half in place of Rodney Hood after Hood started the game at two guard for the Jazz. Mitchell could make a permanent move to the starting lineup soon with how he's playing off the bench. He totaled 135 points in Utah's first 10 games, becoming just the second rookie to achieve that feat for the Jazz.

• Is there anyone for the Sixers who can provide instant offense from the perimeter the way Redick does? Redick came out on fire in the third quarter. He hit three three-pointers in the first five minutes to help the Sixers push their lead to 15 points. Redick scored 13 of his 20 points in the quarter.

• Saric also proved to be fearless from the perimeter. The second-year forward sank a career-high five three-pointers en route to a season-high 25 points and also had 10 rebounds to earn his first double-double of 2017-18. He averaged just 8.2 points on 36.4 percent shooting in the Sixers' first nine games.

• With Joel Embiid sitting out for “load management,” Richaun Holmes got the start at center. Holmes tallied six points and five rebounds in 15 minutes against the Jazz. It is just the second game back in the lineup for Holmes after he missed eight games with a wrist injury. He looked sharp and played aggressive during the first quarter, scoring on a dunk and a layup to help the Sixers carve out an early 26-10 lead.

• In addition to Embiid, Jerryd Bayless (left wrist contusion) and Markelle Fultz (right shoulder soreness/scapular muscle imbalance) were sidelined for the Sixers. Joe Johnson (right wrist tendon instability) and Dante Exum (left shoulder surgery) were the only players out for the Jazz.

• Sixers coach Brett Brown paid tribute to Roy Halladay before the game, calling him an incredible worker and fierce competitor. “Our organization respects the legacy that he has left behind,” Brown said. Halladay died in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

Key matchups for Sixers' 5-game road trip

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Key matchups for Sixers' 5-game road trip

The Sixers are riding high at the moment.

They rallied last Friday for a 121-110 win over the Indiana Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center. It marked the Sixers’ fourth straight win, the first time they have accomplished that feat since a stretch from Dec. 29, 2013 to Jan. 4, 2014.

The victory also pushed the Sixers’ record to 5-4. That means they are above .500 for the first time since Nov. 13, 2013.

Now comes a real test. The Sixers open up a difficult five-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz.

How they handle this stretch could go a long way toward determining the Sixers’ standing around the league.

With that said, let’s break down a key matchup that might help determine the outcome of each game.

Sixers-Jazz (Backup centers vs. Rudy Gobert)
You had to know it was coming. You just didn’t know when.

Joel Embiid was ruled out for Tuesday’s clash in Salt Lake City for what was deemed “load management.” The big man has played in eight of the Sixers’ nine games to this point, and with a lengthy road trip on tap, he was always likely to sit out at least once.

That means the Sixers’ backup bigs such Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes (does Jahlil Okafor even count at this point?) will have to deal with the forceful Rudy Gobert. Gobert is averaging 13.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and a league-leading 2.5 blocks per game this season. 

About the only thing the Sixers have going for them in this instance is that the Jazz’s balanced attack allows for Gobert to have a usage rate of only 17.1 percent.

Either way, good luck climbing “The Stifle Tower” without Embiid.

Sixers-Kings (T.J. McConnell vs. De’Aaron Fox)
This spot would have been reserved for a battle of lottery selections with Markelle Fultz lining up against the speedster Fox. However, the No. 1 overall pick is still sidelined with a shoulder injury.

That doesn’t mean a battle between McConnell and Fox should be any less intriguing. 

Fox has proven to be a solid contributor early on. The No. 5 overall pick leads the Kings in points (12.7) and assists (5.0). He also averages 3.7 boards a night. Despite his sagging shooting percentages (41.2 from the field and 27.3 from three-point range), the lightning-quick lefty has provided a serious spark off the bench.

McConnell will certainly be accepting of the challenge as he relishes being a stopper on defense. He has already locked horns this season with superstars John Wall, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, so Fox will be just another high-profile name on the log.

Sixers-Warriors (Ben Simmons vs. Kevin Durant)
Ordinarily, the point guard Simmons would be matched up on is two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. But shortly into his NBA career, Simmons has proven to be anything but ordinary.

The rookie is coming off his second triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Sixers’ win over the Pacers. He also contributed three blocks and two steals.

While Simmons’ offensive ability is not at all in question, his defense will be put to the test against Durant. The supreme scorer has looked even more lethal coming off his first NBA championship. 

Durant is still pouring in the points with 25.2 a game. However, it’s his shooting percentages that have really set him apart to this point in the 2017-18 campaign. He entered Monday shooting career highs from the field (54.2 percent) and three-point range (49.2 percent).

Simmons will likely switch with Robert Covington throughout the game guarding Durant, but that would potentially mean he’ll just shift to Klay Thompson. Pick your poison.

Sixers-Clippers (Dario Saric vs. Blake Griffin)
Saric has started to find his footing after a bumpy start to the season.

But next Monday he’ll get a close look at arguably the best power forward playing the game right now.

After Chris Paul’s departure for the Houston Rockets, Griffin has completely taken over the offensive load for the Rockets. The veteran is averaging 23.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists. More importantly, his increased offensive load hasn’t affected his efficiency as Griffin is scoring at a 49.3 percent clip from the field and a career-best 42.2 percent clip from long range.

The Clippers have cooled off (5-4) after winning their first four games to start the season. Still, Griffin is a legit early-season MVP candidate, and Saric better be prepared or he could find himself on one of those infamous posters.

Sixers-Lakers (Everyone vs. Lonzo Ball)
This one doesn’t need much setup. You all know the deal by now.

It started throughout the pre-draft process when LaVar Ball continually made it known that he wanted his son to play for the Lakers. After the storied franchise selected the UCLA product at No. 2, the elder Ball proclaimed on draft night that his son would also take the team to the playoffs. 

That evoked a tweet of “crazy pills” from Simmons, as well as Embiid asking Simmons to dunk on Lonzo Ball so hard that his dad would have to come save him (see story).

The tweets only stoked the flames as LaVar Ball proceeded to say the Sixers need to get off Twitter and get in the gym. That didn’t sit too kindly with Embiid, who bluntly said on July 4, “F--- LaVar Ball” in a video, which drew a fine from the league (see story).

Things between the Sixers and the Ball family have pretty much calmed down since that point (unless you’ve checked out the Twitter account of Simmons’ sister Olivia in the recent past).

But expect the Sixers to try to go at Lonzo early and often in that game, with LaVar likely sitting courtside for a clear view of the action.