LeBron James

Life is so much easier with three-point shooting

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Life is so much easier with three-point shooting

Feels like a pretty long time ago that the Sixers were shooting 40 percent from three, one of the league's best marks. The team has now slumped down to 35.7 — which in past years would still at least be decent on NBA average, but in the sharpshooting days of 2017, leaves the Ballers in the league's bottom third. When things were going right beyond the arc for Philly, they had five regulars shooting over 40 percent themselves. These days, it's down to two: T.J. McConnell, who's only shot 16 triples this season, and Robert Covington.

The Sixers nearly stole their biggest upset win of the season last night in Cleveland, and Covington was one of the biggest reasons why. Aside from playing his typical lockdown D, combining with Ben Simmons to limit LeBron James to 9-23 shooting (LeBron still posted a 30-13-13 triple-double, natch) and picking up four steals in the process, he kept Philly in this one with his shooting, hitting 5 of 7 beyond the arc. But when he dove for a loose ball with the game on the line in the fourth and ended up hurting his back, he headed to the locker room and the game slipped away from Philly — 105-98 final, in favor of the Cavs. 

Philly better hope he's back soon. After a six-game slump in late November that saw him shoot just 23 percent from deep, Cov has been back on target since the calendar flipped to December, hitting 17 of 36 over the team's four games. Rock is essential to the Sixers' lineup even when he's not hitting, but when he is, he's as dangerous a weapon as anyone on the team -- and with the Sixers in the midst of a three-game slide, and a tough Western Conference mini-swing coming up on the schedule, we need all the munitions we can manage. 

RoCo seems likely out for today's game against the Pelicans, so it'll be on the Sixers' other range-lifers to help provide space Simmons (third triple-double last night against LeBron, NBD) and a returning Joel Embiid. JJ Redick had a bounce-back half in Cleveland, finishing 4 of 9 on the night from deep, but the rest of the team struggled, going just 2 of 17 from range between them. (Dario Saric, otherwise sparkling last night, went just 1-6, including a couple late clankers that could've put the game close to out of reach for the Cavs if they'd dropped.) Philly's shot just 31 percent overall from three over their last seven games, and they've lost five of those, despite Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons being mostly brilliant. This team largely goes as their shooting goes. 

So yeah, rest that back up and come back soon, Cov. We're in danger of falling back to .500 with a loss today — which still feels a funny thing to complain about for a team that hasn't even sniffed .500 this late in the season in a half-decade, but c'mon, the Sixers are good now. Let's not let our record start to reflect otherwise.

Sixers-Cavaliers observations: LeBron proves King once again

Sixers-Cavaliers observations: LeBron proves King once again

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND — The game had the makings of a bounce-back win for the Sixers.

Then, the Cavs snapped back into Cavs-mode and took over the game late in the fourth quarter Saturday night to defeat the Sixers, 105-98, at Quicken Loans Arena. 

The Sixers could have beat both the Suns and the Lakers at home had they played with the same level of energy and intensity they demonstrated against the Cavaliers on the road … and without Joel Embiid, who is sidelined because of his back-to-back restriction. 

Ben Simmons put the Sixers up 96-91 with a dunk, but he fouled LeBron James on the drive the next possession. James connected for the and-one, sparking an 8-0 Cavs run that reclaimed the game.

James led all scorers with a 30-point, 13-rebound, 13-assist triple-double. (More on James below.) The Sixers lost their third straight game, dropping to 13-12. The Cavaliers improved to 18-8. 

• A scary moment late in the game when Robert Covington hustled to save a possession and tumbled out of bounds. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop from the court to the area where he fell. Covington was down on the ground for a while, as players and staff surrounded him. He got up and walked off the court with the help of his teammates. More information as it becomes available.

• The matchup between James and Ben Simmons was just a small glimpse into what their duels will be like for years to come. The rookie held his own against his big-brother type (and future Hall of Famer). James pulled up for threes over Simmons. Simmons used his own size to drive the basket. Imagine being a fly on the wall if they played one-on-one in their offseason workouts together. Simmons recorded a double-double with 14 points, 10 assists and six boards.

"I thought his distance was good," Brett Brown said of Simmons after the game. "I thought him sitting in a stance was good. I’m always on him and all of our guys on their hand activity. I think by in large, Ben did a good job on him."

• The trade for Trevor Booker came at the right time. Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes got into foul trouble in the first half and the Sixers needed Booker to help fill those minutes. Booker stepped in like he had spent weeks, not hours with his new team. He scored 12 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench while being aggressive at the basket.

• #GogglesDario may be a new thing. Dario Saric sported goggles to play with an eye injury and posted 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists over 34 minutes. 

• Kevin Love was scratched for left hip soreness. Ante Zizic got the start in his place. The rookie ended up playing just five minutes, as the Cavaliers turned to their deep bench in Love’s absence. Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye all played more than 19 minutes.

• The Cavaliers were hungry for a win and probably hungry for sleep. They lost to the Pacers Friday night in Indiana and their flight back was delayed so long they didn't get home until 4:30 a.m.

"This was a big win for us, " James said. "After everything we went through last night … your whole day is just kind of screwed up. Your whole routine and your whole regimen is just kind of screwed up. But you've still got to be professionals. No one is going to feel sorry for you."

Give and Go: How dangerous is Sixers' 3-game road trip?

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Give and Go: How dangerous is Sixers' 3-game road trip?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine the Sixers’ upcoming three-game road trip to Cleveland, New Orleans and Minnesota.

Harris
With a 13-11 record, including back-to-back home losses to the Suns and Lakers, all of a sudden the three-game road trip through Cleveland, New Orleans and Minnesota looks much more daunting. I have the Sixers going 2-1 on the trip. However, things could easily go badly and the Sixers could have a five-game skid on their hands.

Cleveland is a loss. Sometimes you just have to accept the reality that regardless of how a team performs, it's not taking down LeBron James and the Cavs without its best player. With Joel Embiid sitting out Saturday (see story), pulling off the upset goes from unlikely to nearly impossible. James is coming off a loss to Victor Oladipo and the Pacers. They're not trying to lose two in a row.

That brings us to Sunday and a meeting with DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Look, A.D. is just returning from a groin injury, which caused him to miss three games before Friday's loss to the Kings. This should be a fun game with Embiid back and picking up where he left off with last season's butt-slapping love fest with Boogie. I've got the Sixers winning a close one, thanks in no small part to superior guard play.

That brings us to Tuesday's matchup with Minnesota. It may very well be the most difficult because of the addition of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to an already formidable duo of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. This is where I think Embiid will make his mark on the defensive end of the court. Want to be Defensive Player of the Year? Then show it with strong back-to-back interior displays against the Pelicans and Wolves.

If the Sixers can shoot closer to their averages from the perimeter on this trip than they did in the last two games of their homestand, winning two of three shouldn't be a problem. But things could go the wrong way in a hurry if the threes, in particular, don't get back to falling regularly.

Haughton
Things change fast in the NBA. To start this week, the Sixers were sitting in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference and looked poised to climb even higher with some winnable games on the slate.

A pair of ugly losses later, and now they are down in the eighth seed and could possibly fall out of extremely early playoff positioning with a rough road trip.

Speaking of the trip, I agree with Marshall that it opens with a loss. Even with Embiid, it was always going to be a difficult task to come out of Cleveland on the winning end. Throw in the center’s absence, the fact that the Cavs are upset about the end of their recent streak and James’ desire to remind the NBA world that Ben Simmons isn’t anywhere near his level yet, and you can pencil in a defeat.

Things should get good Sunday. Embiid will return to find himself locked in a battle of the bigs against Cousins and Davis. The Sixers can only hope Richaun Holmes can duplicate his recent effort against the Lakers in New Orleans. Either way, the Sixers’ advantage in perimeter play should be enough to escape with a victory.

That leaves Tuesday’s clash with the Timberwolves. It should be another good one with Embiid and Towns locking horns down low while Robert Covington and Wiggins face off on the wing. However, Butler will make the difference for the T-Wolves. He has finally stopped trying to fit in with his new team and has taken over. Look no further than his averages of 26.0 points (50.7 percent shooting), 6.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals nightly averages so far in December.

A loss to the Timberwolves would put the Sixers at 1-2 on the trip and losers of four out of their last five games. That’s a stretch the young team would hope to avoid in the jumbled Eastern Conference standings.