76ers

Ben Simmons exits Sixers' game vs. Magic with back tightness

Ben Simmons exits Sixers' game vs. Magic with back tightness

Updated: Oct. 21, 12:35 a.m.

The only thing that can stop Ben Simmons these days is himself.

Off to a strong start to the new season, Simmons exited Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic with 4:19 remaining in the first quarter because of back tightness. He did not return.

“I really haven’t been told anything. I don’t believe it’s serious,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 116-115 win (see observations). “I would say it sways more on precautionary, but I’m just giving my opinion without any information from our doctors.”

Simmons made a pair of layups on consecutive possessions and jogged gingerly up the floor before being replaced.

The reigning Rookie of the Year ended his night with four points and four assists in eight minutes.

“I thought he played OK, but it was clear that something was going on,” Brown said. “Despite that, I thought he was OK on the floor, and I just took him out and was informed that he wouldn’t be coming back.”

Simmons had come out of the gates roaring to start 2018-19. He was averaging close to a triple-double in the Sixers’ first two games with 16.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 9.5 assists.

He now joins Jerryd Bayless (left knee), Zhaire Smith (left foot), Wilson Chandler (left hamstring) and Mike Muscala (right ankle) as Sixers dealing with injuries. 

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Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook has become must-watch television

Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook has become must-watch television

Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook has become must-watch television.

In the national spotlight Saturday, the Sixers and Thunder put on one hell of a show at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations). Paul George’s four-point play with 5.1 seconds remaining sealed a 117-115 win for Oklahoma City.

What happened with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter was at the height of the day’s entertainment. 

Off a Sixers’ turnover, Westbrook took off in transition with Embiid waiting for him at the other end. Westbrook then lost the handle as he went up for the shot. As he was reaching to grab the ball, Embiid, who was attempting to block the shot, fell on top of Westbrook.

Westbrook was less than thrilled at the exchange.

I don’t think he just landed on me. He added a little extra to it. But it’s OK.

So everything is good between the two, right?

F--- no.

Westbrook doesn’t exactly have a warm and fuzzy relationship with the media, later telling a reporter, “Go home, bro,” when pressed further on his relationship with Embiid. Ben Simmons did a pretty good job on Westbrook, holding the perennial All-Star to 8 of 21 from the field.

Embiid, who finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists, didn’t see anything wrong with the play and wasn’t really sure what Westbrook’s problem was. 

I don’t know why he was mad. I have no idea. But he’s always in his feelings, so I have no idea.

These two, of course, have a history dating back to last season.

It started on Dec. 15, 2017, during an epic triple-overtime game at the Wells Fargo Center. Embiid was able to get the better of big man Steven Adams. After Adams fouled out, Embiid waved to him as he was leaving the court — Embiid also waved after Westbrook fouled out Saturday.

After Oklahoma City got the win, Westbrook then waved to Embiid. Embiid went on to roast Westbrook postgame for shooting too much after the point guard went just 10 of 33 from the field.

In their next matchup a month later, Embiid posterized Westbrook and stared him down afterward.

The unfortunate thing for Embiid is that the Sixers just can’t seem to get the better of Westbrook. The team hasn’t beaten the Thunder in 11 years. That’s 19 straight games now.

Embiid was questionable again Saturday afternoon with a sore back. He was pretty clear as to why he wanted to play.

“Because the Sixers haven’t won against them in [11 years],” Embiid said. “That’s just ridiculous. I wanted to get the win. That’s one more reason that it pisses me off that we gave [the game] away and we had it.”

Embiid and the Sixers get another crack at Westbrook in Oklahoma City on Feb. 28. A good suggestion would be to get your popcorn ready.

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Thunder 117, Sixers 115: Sixers lose heartbreaker on national TV

Thunder 117, Sixers 115: Sixers lose heartbreaker on national TV

BOX SCORE

The Sixers put on a show on national television, but it was too little too late.

Jimmy Butler struggled offensively and the Sixers couldn't keep up with the size and athleticism of the Thunder in a 117-115 loss Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.

Paul George's four-point play with 5.1 seconds left sealed the win for Oklahoma City. Butler did hit a couple of big shots in the guts of the game but missed a three on the final possession.

The loss ends the Sixers' modest three-game winning streak and drops them to 19-5 at home and 30-17 overall.

Here are observations from the loss:

• The overall size and athleticism of the Thunder was a problem for the Sixers. Players like Jerami Grant and Nerlens Noel — remember them? — are really difficult to combat when you don’t have the athletes to match.

It seemed like Butler was bothered by it. He was settling for jump shots on his way to a 1 for 8 first half. Even as he got more aggressive going to the rim in the second, the shots just weren't falling. He hit a huge three to get the Sixers within one with about a minute left and coverted an and-one to reduce the Thunder's lead to one with around 30 seconds left. He went 5 of 18 overall for 18 points.

• It was clear early on that Thunder head coach Billy Donovan wanted to match up Ben Simmons with Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid with Steven Adams. 

It was also pretty clear that Oklahoma City was targeting Embiid and his bulky back. Adams, who averaged 15.4 points coming in, had 12 in the first half. 

Embiid got off to a slow start and didn’t look right in the first quarter. As the game went on and his back loosened up, he began to look more like himself. In the second half, he looked flat out dominant. He finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists (see story).

It was intriguing to watch the Simmons vs. Westbrook matchup. Simmons did a tremendous job on him defensively, holding the perennial All-Star to 21 points on 8 of 21. The Sixers took advantage of the size mismatch, posting Simmons. Against a very good team, this might've been Simmons' best game of the season. He had 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. The free throws continue to be an issue, as Simmons went 3 for 6 down the stretch and 4 of 8 overall.

• One of the guys that killed the Sixers was reserve guard Dennis Schroder. His elite quickness gave the Sixers’ guard trio of JJ Redick, T.J. McConnell and Landry Shamet fits. All three sagged off Schroder to combat that quickness, but that allowed Schroder to get his mid-range game going. Schroder had shot just 35 percent from the field over his last nine, but always seems to perform well against the Sixers. He recorded 21 points.

• Shamet may have his shortcomings defensively, but he gave the Sixers a huge offensive boost in the first half, nailing three straight threes. Give the kid credit, it wasn’t the easiest atmosphere to perform in, but he showed no hesitation in knocking those shots down. The first half score might have looked a lot different if not for those. 

With that said, this team feels like it's still — at least — one solid veteran bench player away from hanging with the NBA's elite.

• Markelle Fultz was back in the building and a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia that he'll be continuing his medical treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome with the team's medical staff.

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