76ers

Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris outduel LeBron James, Anthony Davis in impressive win

Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris outduel LeBron James, Anthony Davis in impressive win

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With no Joel Embiid or Josh Richardson and LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the vaunted Lakers in town, things didn’t seem to line up well.

Apparently, you can throw everything out the window when the Sixers are at home.

Led by Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, the Sixers took down the best team in the West, 108-91, in a turnover-filled game at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.

The win improves the Sixers 21-2 at home, tied with the Bucks for best in the NBA, and 30-17 overall. They’ll host the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the win:

Containing the King

James had five turnovers in the first half and Simmons and Matisse Thybulle were a huge part of that. 

In an early possession when Thybulle got switched onto James, James wisely decided to use his sizeable weight advantage and back the rookie down. To Thybulle’s credit, he hung in there and then was able to use his lightning-quick hands to poke the ball away from James. Thybulle had four steals in the first half.

In the first quarter, Brett Brown stuck to his usual substitution patterns. Then he adjusted and matched Simmons up with James. James is arguably the best player on the planet and he’s going to get his (29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds), but Simmons didn’t make it easy.

James passed Kobe Bryant for third on the NBA's all-time scoring list in third quarter. He nearly sparked a comeback, but the Sixers did enough down the stretch to keep the Lakers at arm's length.

Harris and Simmons carry the load

With Embiid and Richardson out, the Sixers are missing 38.4 points a game. They needed other players to step up and carry the scoring load. Harris and Simmons did just that.

With Simmons attracting much of the attention, Harris took advantage of the various mismatches he had. He muscled the smaller Danny Green. He drove by the bigger Dwight Howard. He hit threes (3 of 8), he was strong in the midrange, he got to the basket — it was a game that truly showed off his scoring versatility.

He finished with 29 points on 10 of 20. 

After a down game in Toronto, this was the version of Simmons we’d seen since Embiid went down. He was decisive, aggressive and attacked the rim with authority. While L.A. was trying to claw back in the game in the fourth, he drove right by Green, outmuscled him and slammed with two hands. He had another big and-one drive on Green with just under three minutes left.

He had 28 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He did have five of the Sixers' 23 turnovers, but you'll live with that when he's playing like this.

A.D. vs. Horford

Coming in, you figured Anthony Davis and Al Horford would be matched up. It was a fun one to watch. The savvy veteran and 26-year-old superstar were going at each other hard.

It looked like head coach Frank Vogel wanted to attack Horford, but the 33-year-old looked spry and up for the challenge. Davis’ stat line looks good (31 points on 13 of 22), but a lot of that damage came with Horford out. 

With Embiid out, Horford’s play has been up and down. He was definitely up in this one. He had 16 points and nailed a pair of huge threes and a midrange fadeaway with the Sixers clinging to a lead late in the fourth.

Shake up in the starting lineup

Down two starters, Brown started second-year guard Shake Milton. Milton fumbled a Simmons’ pass on a cut to the lane, but that was one of the few things that went wrong.

Milton essentially filled Richardson’s role as the ball handler next to Simmons. They had something going with the dribble handoff early that led to a couple easy baskets.

To his credit, Milton also stood tall as James came at him on a couple drives. It took serious guts. Despite nothing eye-popping on the stat sheet (seven points, nine rebounds, three assists), Milton looked like he belonged out there.

Tough break for Zhaire Smith

Second-year guard Zhaire Smith saw his first NBA action of the 2019-20 season. Unfortunately, he got just under three minutes in before suffering an ankle sprain. He did not return.

It’s a tough break for the 20-year-old who’s already been through so much. The 2018 first-round pick essentially had a redshirt rookie year after suffering a broken foot and a serious allergic reaction. He's spent most of this season in Delaware with the Blue Coats.

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It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

Updated: Tuesday, 5:09 p.m.

We now have a diagnosis on Ben Simmons' injury. Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story). Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news.

Speaking before the Sixers' win Monday night over the Hawks, head coach Brett Brown was unsure how long the injury would sideline Simmons. The 23-year-old sustained the injury at practice Wednesday going up for a rebound, according to Brown, and irritated it in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game against the Bucks.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “And it really is like how long is a piece of string — who knows? Who knows? … Whatever the time equals on days, games, period of time, we can talk more honestly as this thing shakes out.”

However, it sounded as if Brown was preparing for his two-time All-Star point guard to be out for a while. He framed the situation as one the Sixers can cope with if other players take advantage of the chance to play expanded roles.

There’s 25 games left. … It’s an eternity,” he said. “Just keep going back to the end game. What’s the bottom line? I’ll say it again — if you get their health and their spirit, it’s got a chance to equal form. … And it’s all about landing the plane. And so with 25 games left, we’ve taken a hit with Ben. 

"I do see it this way. I’m not spinning it. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and something will emerge. And we need something to emerge. It’s not like we were all saying, ‘Oh, here it is, it’s anointed.’ It wasn’t that. So, I think we’re going to learn something and find something. If this was six games out, I wouldn’t be telling you this story. When it’s 25 games out, it is, with all my heart, what I think. That’s what I said to the team, that’s what I really think and that’s what I’m going to try to pull off.

Who specifically will take over ball handling duties? Brown said it “will be done by committee” for the time being, and he named a few players who he expects to be in that mix. Monday night, the team started Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. 

“The candidates could be Raul Neto or [Furkan Korkmaz] or Alec Burks or J-Rich, Shake," he said. "So, you have capable people that aren’t traditional point guards but have the ability to get the ball up the floor. Then at that point, you’re probably going to have to be in something that has motion and continuity instead of just giving Chris Paul the ball and saying, ‘Go to work’ out of a pick-and-roll, as an example.”

Regardless of Brown’s attitude, the tangible impact of not having Simmons will clearly be significant. He leads the league in steals, has assisted on the most three-pointers and is a highly athletic, versatile and talented player.

The loss of all those attributes will no doubt be difficult to overcome.

“When there is a vacuum, as there is right now with Ben, something will happen,” Brown said. “Somebody will step up. I’m trying to see the world through those eyes, and I really do — it’s not even creative coach speak. I see it as an opportunity, and I think I need to see it that way.”

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Ben Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Simmons will undergo daily treatment. 

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports “there's little expectation that [Simmons would] be ready to return to lineup that soon,” and says “doctors are hopeful treatment can drive improvement, but Sixers are preparing to play without him." 

According to head coach Brett Brown, Simmons was first injured at the team’s practice last Wednesday. The 23-year-old All-Star missed the team’s first game after the All-Star break, a win Thursday over the Nets. 

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said Thursday. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

Simmons sat out the Sixers’ game vs. the Nets on Thursday and played Saturday in Milwaukee. He appeared to be in discomfort after drawing a foul in the first quarter on the Bucks’ Brook Lopez. The 23-year-old stayed in the game to make 1 of 2 free throws, then exited when Matisse Thybulle committed a foul to create a stoppage of play and ensure Simmons could return to the locker room.

Ahead of the game against the Bucks, Simmons had averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds and a league-best 2.2 steals. He’d played 36.3 minutes per game, most on the Sixers and third-highest in the NBA ahead of Saturday’s games. 

Brown talked before the Sixers’ win Monday over the Hawks as if he was prepared for a long-term absence. He said the team would split up ball handling responsibilities by committee, with Shake Milton, Josh Richardson and Alec Burks among the possible candidates. Milton started on Monday. 

The 36-22 Sixers are fifth in the Eastern Conference and play the Cavaliers on Wednesday night in Cleveland. 

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