Robert Covington

Whew! Sixers figure things out just in time

Whew! Sixers figure things out just in time

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — That momentum the Sixers had at the All-Star break must’ve had a hard time making the trip to the Windy City, but they got it when they needed it most.

Ben Simmons scored the last of his career-high 32 points from the line with 5.6 seconds left and the Sixers pulled out a 116-115 win in both teams’ return from the hiatus.

The Bulls had a pair of looks at a game-winner in the final seconds but the ball bounced away and left the Sixers with their sixth straight victory.

All-Star Joel Embiid added 30 points and 13 rebounds — his ninth straight double-double — to help the Sixers end their four-game road losing streak.

Simmons had 11 assists and seven rebounds to come close to his seventh triple-double and Dario Saric chipped in 13 to help the Sixers take the season series from the Bulls.

JJ Redick made a pair of free throws with 8.0 seconds left to cut the lead to a point, then Simmons drew a foul to put the Sixers ahead for good.

Up 93-91 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Sixers watched Bobby Portis score 10 points during a 12-5 run that gave the hosts a lead they wouldn’t lose until the final seconds. Portis, who missed the first of the Bulls’ final chances, finished with a career-best 38 points and Zach LaVine added 23.

• Chicago left the door open by missing four straight shots in the final minutes, but an Embiid turnover with about a minute to play kept the Sixers from tying the game at 112-112 or taking the lead. LaVine nailed a three-pointer at the other end to make it 115-110 and keep the Sixers scrambling.

• The Sixers jumped out to a 25-7 lead midway through the first quarter after making their first five three-point tries — including two by Embiid — but trailed, 69-67, at the break. Chicago’s Portis led the charge for the hosts by scoring 14, a dozen of which came on triples, in the second period.

• One more triple-double will put Simmons in some rare company. Hall of Fame enshrinee Magic Johnson was the last NBA rookie to record seven during the 1979-80 season.

• Justin Anderson, who left a Feb. 12 win over New York with a sprained right ankle and missed the Sixers’ finale before the break, did not play Thursday night. 

• Chicago benched center Robin Lopez and guard Justin Holiday on Thursday as the franchise joins several others in a race for the best odds in the NBA draft lottery. 

Sixers coach Brett Brown remembers days like that and said there’s more to the story.

“It didn’t beat me down, but you had to coach yourself a little bit,” Brown said of recent seasons. “We went overboard just with the relational side and the development side. Anything that fell under those two categories, we went overboard trying to help guys, help them get better, help them stay in the league.”

• The Sixers return home Saturday hoping to extend an 11-game winning streak at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers tip off against the Orlando Magic on Saturday at 5 p.m.

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

Now that the dust has settled on the NBA's All-Star festivities, the Sixers will reconvene this week and turn their attention back to the playoff push.

With 27 games remaining in the regular season over a 49-day stretch, it will be a sprint to the finish.

So how can the Sixers capture their first postseason berth in six seasons? Let's take a look at what the team needs more and less of down the stretch.

More: Healthy Embiid
What injury? Joel Embiid shook off right ankle soreness to participate in three events during All-Star weekend as a shining representation of the up-and-coming Sixers.

"There was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events," Embiid said Friday after the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. "It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun."

The big man is always about having fun, but now it's time to get down to business. Even though the Sixers' competition appears to lighten up after the break, the schedule does not (27 games with six back-to-back sets).

The Sixers are 27-17 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn't suit up. They need the center healthy and on the court.

Less: Turnovers
Way less, actually. 

As you know by now, the Sixers have a bit of an issue holding onto the basketball. They simply don't respect each possession enough, evidenced by their 17.5 turnovers per game. That's good enough for dead last in the NBA and it's a full 1.5 turnovers more than the closest team (Los Angeles Lakers).

And it's not just the miscues. Teams are capitalizing, too — the Sixers also rank 30th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.4).

Of the "Four Factors" statistic on the offensive end, which breaks down weighted factors that help a team win a game — shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free throws (15 percent) — the only category that the Sixers rank outside of the NBA's top 10 in is turnovers.

If they can cut down on the giveaways just a little, it will go a long way toward their goal.

More: Early execution
However, not all of those possessions end up with the Sixers running back on defense after a turnover.

With more legit scoring options on the roster this season than any previous time during Brett Brown's tenure, they have shown the ability to execute a play to perfection for a bucket.

It's a stark contrast to the days when they couldn't even get the ball in on an inbounds play.

That level of scoring punch has been particularly evident at the start of games. The Sixers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the league in first-quarter points per game (28.7) and are even with the L.A. Clippers for seventh in first-half points a night (55.2).

The Sixers must continue to apply that pressure on teams at the outset of games, especially if their woes finishing off opponents is going to persist.

Less: Bad Covington
Ah, the curious case of Robert Covington.

Has any player in NBA history ever looked like they could make a push for an All-Star spot for two months only to appear as if they belong in the G League the next few months?

Covington has always been a streaky shooter, but this season has been extreme. He shot 44.7 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three-point range in October and November to help secure his multiyear extension. 

Since that point, the swingman has connected on just 37.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long distance.

Whether it's the weight of the big contract or the nasty spill he took against the Cavs in December, Covington hasn't looked the same on the floor in several months. The team needs him to get it together and the sooner the better.

More: Killer D's
While Embiid's presence on both ends and Ben Simmons' wizardry at the point have put the Sixers in position to snag a playoff bid, the team didn't really hit its stride until a certain pairing found its footing: Dario Saric and defense.

Much like his rookie season, Saric struggled to find his role at the start. But that's long in the rearview mirror now. The second-year forward has increased his production each month and has been rolling so far in February (18.6 points, 51.7 percent field goals, 46.3 percent threes, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game).

That surge has coincided with the Sixers' tightened grip on defense. In seven games this month, they've allowed 96.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting.

The type of balance Saric offers offensively and the overall lockdown defense won't only make the Sixers a postseason team, it will also make them a tough out. 

Less: Fultz speculation
This is a big deal that the Sixers could make very small with a clear decision on the No. 1 pick's immediate future.

Markelle Fultz reportedly continues to ramp up his rehab workouts for his ailing shoulder, even after team president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month that the guard could return soon or be shut down for the season.

The franchise should obviously give Fultz every chance to come back and contribute, but that ruling should be made at the first opportunity.

It's after the All-Star break and having that type of deliberation hovering over the team isn't exactly fair to the other players. Not to mention, for a guy that has apparently dealt with questions regarding his confidence, possibly dropping him into the thick of a playoff race doesn't really do him any favors either.

Sixers do the improbable to cap off homestand

Sixers do the improbable to cap off homestand

BOX SCORE

The game started off as another example of the trials and tribulations the Sixers face without Joel Embiid. It ended with a massive comeback victory, 104-102, over the Heat. 

The Heat dominated the Sixers, leading, 62-39, at halftime Wednesday. The Sixers looked out of sync without Embiid (right ankle soreness), who didn’t play for only the second time in 20 games. 

That’s why there are four quarters, though. The Sixers began to take back control in the third, thanks in part to a 12-0 run that cut a 24-point deficit in half and put the game back within reach.

The Sixers came all the way back in the fourth quarter and were up five points with 13 seconds to play … but not so fast. Tyler Johnson hit a trey and the Heat regained possession after Ben Simmons committed an out-of-bounds turnover while passing. The Heat had one last chance to steal back the win. Dwyane Wade, who has knocked down key shots countless times over his career, missed what would have been a game-winning three as time expired. 

• The Sixers extended their winning streak at the Wells Fargo Center to 11 games. They have not lost in Philadelphia since Dec. 21.

• This was an important game for the Sixers because of potential playoff implications. The Sixers entered the night half a game ahead of the Heat in the seventh spot. After this matchup, the Sixers improved to 30-25, while the Heat dropped to 30-28.  

• Marco Belinelli showed why the Sixers pursued him, and vice versa, in his debut. He gave the first glimpse into the spark he can provide off the bench. Belinelli scored 17 points (7 for 12 from the field, 3 for 5 from three) in 28 minutes, including key buckets in the Sixers’ comeback run (see highlights).

• Another night, another triple-double for a Sixers’ point guard. Following up on T.J. McConnell’s performance, Ben Simmons posted his sixth triple-double of the season: 18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals. He ranks third in the NBA behind Russell Westbrook and LeBron James in triple-doubles. 

• Richaun Holmes clocked 28 minutes after barely seeing the court lately. He contributed a high-energy 11 points and nine rebounds. Trevor Booker neared a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds. Dario Saric once again had a solid offensive night (team-high 19 points). 

• The Sixers were whistled for three technical fouls (McConnell, Saric, JJ Redick) in the second quarter alone. 

• It remains to be seen how many events Embiid will participate in All-Star weekend. In addition to starting in the All-Star Game, he was selected for the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game and the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

“In regards to a definitive, ‘This is what he's going to do,’ that has not been established,” Brett Brown said before the game (see story).