Joel Embiid's absence was certainly felt on Saturday.
Without the All-Star center, the Sixers were beat up on the glass and on the scoreboard in a 130-115 loss to the Blazers in a matinee at the Wells Fargo Center.
This one wasn't pretty. The sold out crowd started clearing their seats with a little over five minutes left in the third.
The loss drops the Sixers to 24-8 at home and 38-22 overall.
Here are observations from the loss.
• Defense — especially from a communication standpoint with new pieces — continues to be an issue at times, but in the first half, the Sixers were solid in this one, holding Portland to 41 percent shooting. In the second half, Blazers coach Terry Stotts exposed more mismatches and the Sixers didn't have answers, letting Portland shoot 63 percent in a 41-point third quarter.
• What hurt most in the first half was the Blazers hitting the offensive glass. Portland grabbed an incredible 14 offensive rebounds before halftime. Overall, the Blazers outrebounded the Sixers, 53-33. Boban Marjanovic seems to struggle in controlling rebounds. What also hurt was when Marjanovic got in pick-and-roll situations with Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. On those plays, Marjanovic is scrambling defensively, which hurts him on the boards.
• In general, Nurkic gave Marjanovic a hard time. Brett Brown actually went to Amir Johnson, fresh off his stint with the Delaware Blue Coats on Friday night, early in the third quarter to try to mitigate some of the defensive issues … it did not help. Brown also tried tried to go small, going with Mike Scott at the five, also with poor results. It was odd that Brown didn't go back to Jonah Bolden, who was solid defensively in the first half.
Nurkic went for 24 points and 10 rebounds and new backup Enes Kanter went for 16 points and eight rebounds.
• Things normally go well for Ben Simmons when he’s aggressive and looking for his shot early. He did so in this one and picked up where he left off against the Heat, where he punished them in the post.
He attacked Portland’s smaller guards early and often and it seemed to help him get into the flow of the game.
He also took another mid-range jumper from the left wing that was in and out. It looked like he thought about pulling up from three, but took a couple dribbles in and pulled up. In that situation, he’s probably better off taking the three and looking to get the extra point on a low-percentage shot.
Despite the loss, Simmons was good in this one, finishing with 29 points (11 of 17), 10 assists and seven rebounds. It's a shame one of his better NBA performances was wasted in a blowout.
• During the All-Star break, Simmons referred to Tobias Harris as a “silent assassin" while on ESPN’s The Jump. It’s such a perfect way to put it. There’s nothing flashy to Harris’ game, he’s just really, really good.
As much as having an experienced backup five like Boban Marjanovic can help mitigate the absence of Embiid — obviously not on Saturday — it’s even more crucial that the Sixers have another elite scorer like Harris. He’s stepped up with the All-Star center out the last two games. It wasn't enough, but he was also big, recording 20 points (8 of 14, 3 of 7 from three) and eight rebounds.
• Jimmy Butler’s aggressiveness offensively is certainly a good sign for the Sixers. He scored the first two buckets of the game for the Sixers and looked to get to the basket frequently.
The amount of body control he has in the air is insane. On one play, T.J. McConnell attempted an alley-oop but the pass was a little too high for Butler to finish. Butler was able to gather it, come down with it, dribble from underneath the basket and get an easy basket on the other side of the rim.
Butler had 15 points (5 of 9). The Sixers' three stars were all good in this one. Everyone else ... not so much.
• JJ Redick went to the All-Star break playing some of his best basketball, shooting 48 percent from three over the 11 games prior to the break. In his first two after the break, he's really struggled. He was just 4 for 12 (3 of 10 from three) on Thursday vs. Miami. Those struggles continued Saturday as Redick scored just seven points on 1 of 10 (1 of 5 from three).
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