Charlotte Hornets

What should be fueling Sixers on road trip

What should be fueling Sixers on road trip

Not exactly the way to start a road trip, huh?

The Sixers fumbled their way to 26 turnovers as they blew multiple double-digit leads in a 118-110 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday in the opener of a four-game road stint.

Good thing for the Sixers is there is always another game just around the corner in the NBA. And in their case, each one presents a little extra motivation to get the job done.

At Charlotte (March 6 at 7 p.m.)
If nothing else, the Sixers simply want to get the bad taste out of their mouth from the meltdown in Milwaukee. After taking care of the ball exceptionally well the previous two games, the Sixers’ Achilles heel crept back up against the Bucks.

“We just kept turning the ball over,” Ben Simmons said. “Offensively, we didn’t make any plays, didn’t execute.”

Not to mention, the Sixers didn’t exactly play their best ball in last week’s 110-99 home victory over the Hornets. It took a monster 36-19 fourth quarter for the Sixers to secure the win.

At Miami (March 8 at 7:30 pm.)
Playoff implications are boiling over in this one. The Sixers sit just one game ahead of the Heat in the standings and will be looking to claim the series clincher in the final meeting of the season for the all-important tiebreaker.

Throw in the fact that the Sixers blew a late lead to a vintage Dwyane Wade and the Heat just last week, and the energy should be all the way cranked up for this clash on South Beach.

“That’s the type of loss we’re maybe going to regret because I think if we would have won those two games, we would have had a chance to be third or fourth in the conference,” Joel Embiid said after the 102-101 loss to the Heat on Feb. 27. “We’ve just got to keep staying focused and win some more games.” 

At Brooklyn (March 11 at 7:30 p.m.)
The revenge factor is often overplayed in sports. However, if one of your worst losses of the season came on the road to one of the worst teams in the league, there is certainly a measure of payback.

The Sixers allowed the Nets to shoot 50.6 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three-point range in a 116-108 loss back on Jan. 31. 

“We forgot how to play defense,” Embiid said after the game.

With Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas able to gloat about winning their first meeting vs. the Sixers after getting traded away, you can bet the squad will want to put an end to that happiness this time around.

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.”

Ilyasova shows Sixers fans what they've been missing

Ilyasova shows Sixers fans what they've been missing


In his first game back at the Wells Fargo Center in his second stint with the Sixers, Ersan Ilyasova gave a resounding reminder of what the team’s fans had been missing.

Ilyasova was integral to the Sixers’ second-half comeback in a 110-99 win over the Hornets Friday night, recording 18 points, four rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes (see observations). Fifteen of those points came in the second half, as the Sixers outscored the Hornets 62-43 after intermission.

Every time the Sixers needed a big play, Ilyasova made it. He notched four points and an assist in an 8-0 Sixers' run after the Hornets took a 76-62 lead, their largest of the night. His three-pointer from the right wing gave the Sixers a 91-89 advantage, their first lead since early in the second quarter (see highlights). And the charge he took on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 1:24 left and the Sixers up 101-97 brought the house down.

Brett Brown, who played Ilyasova with the starters down the stretch, is a big fan of the veteran and all the elements he brings to the Sixers.

“All over the place, whether it’s him making a three, him making a pass to Joel (Embiid), rolling, him taking a charge, him coexisting with Dario Saric — I think that flexibility, that versatility is what excites me the most about him,” Brown said. “And it’s not like we don’t know each other. We know each other well. He knows the system well, though there’s still lots to re-familiarize with. But he’s a massive pickup at this stage, in my eyes.”

Brown still sounds like he’s trying to figure out where exactly Ilyasova, who the Sixers traded to the Hawks at last season's deadline, fits into his rotation. He played 10 players Friday night, including five minutes for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and 12 for Richaun Holmes. At one stage, Ilyasova played at center, in a small lineup alongside Saric. For most of the night, he was in his traditional power forward spot, alongside either Embiid or Holmes.

Embiid, who found Ilyasova for a nifty give-and-go basket late in the fourth quarter, is happy he’s getting a chance to re-connect with the veteran forward.

“I was excited to him have back,” Embiid said. “I told him, ‘Let’s do whatever we had going on in January last year.’ So I’m excited to have him back.”

As for Ilyasova, he chose the Sixers for a reason. He saw the growth of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the winning atmosphere building in Philadelphia, and he wanted to be a part of it.

“Joel was obviously great last year. And now healthy, he’s obviously playing at a high level,” Ilyasova said. “I think Ben Simmons, I didn’t play with him last year, but the way he sees the floor with his height, it’s a huge advantage for us.”

With his veteran perspective, does Ilyasova think the Sixers can be a threat in the playoffs?

“Of course, why not? When you look at the game we play, it’s all about us,” he said. “When we played against Cleveland, they’re probably considered one of the teams who will be in the playoffs, but we came out strong and beat them. I think when you look at this conference, everybody is close to each other, everybody’s beatable.

“I think from this point, it’s all about us. In the playoffs, you have to know one thing: In a seven-game series, it’s unique. Everybody studies each other, it’s a long series. And I think we’re capable of bringing something extra every game.”