Bulls 108, Sixers 107: Inexplicable late mistakes cost Sixers

Bulls 108, Sixers 107: Inexplicable late mistakes cost Sixers


On the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, and without Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a few good excuses. That said, Wednesday night’s 108-107 loss to the Bulls is difficult to accept.

Mike Scott and Jimmy Butler blew their coverage of a dribble handoff between Robin Lopez and Zach LaVine on the Bulls' final offensive possession, with both players taking Lopez and leaving LaVine free for an and-one layup with 1.6 seconds remaining. It was an inexplicable mistake, especially given LaVine had a game-high 39 points. 

The game had a bizarre ending, as the officials determined the clock started early on the Sixers’ final play with 0.5 seconds to go, allowing the Sixers another attempt to win. The Sixers didn’t manage to get a shot off on either play.

The loss drops the Sixers to 41-24 and 4-3 since the All-Star break without Embiid.  

• Up 10 in the fourth, the Sixers let the Bulls get right back into the game with a 10-0 run. The team’s sloppy late execution was disappointing. This was a game the Sixers had so many chances to win, and their carelessness with the ball late in the fourth quarter is one of the biggest reasons why they were unable to capitalize on any of those opportunities. 

• Back on his old stomping grounds, Butler (22 points) didn’t wait until the fourth quarter to turn it on against the Bulls. He shot 3 for 3 in the first three minutes, lifting the Sixers to a 12-4 lead with a pretty backdoor cut and dunk off a feed from Ben Simmons. 

With Butler at the point, the Sixers had T.J. McConnell screen for Butler on several occasions to force the defense to switch and get Butler an advantageous matchup against a smaller defender — in this case, Ryan Arcidiacono. It’s a tactic the Sixers have started using with greater frequency, and a simple, effective look they can go to moving forward when Butler is at the one. 

• For the second straight night, Amir Johnson got the start. Even with Jonah Bolden back after missing Tuesday’s game with sinusitis, the decision to keep Johnson in the starting five made sense. He earned it with his performance against the Magic, posting a season-high 13 points, and Lopez is about as close as you can get to an ideal matchup for Johnson.

Johnson had nine points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. 

Though Bolden was impressively agile as usual when switched onto perimeter players, he struggled with Lopez’s strength inside and picked up his fifth foul less than a minute into the fourth quarter.

Lopez had 19 points, 13 in the first quarter. 

• One action Simmons (18 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) and the Sixers have gone to more recently is the quick dribble handoff in semi-transition. While it’s obviously most dangerous when JJ Redick is involved, Simmons himself puts so much pressure on the defense with how fast he gets the ball up the floor, forcing the defense to have sharp communication. 

His fake dribble handoff to McConnell on this play in the second quarter was masterful.

• Well, Tobias Harris was due for a clunker, and after a two-point first half, he seemed to be having one.

But Harris picked it up in the third quarter, scoring nine points in the period. He just has too polished and balanced an offensive game to be held down forever.

In the final quarter, Harris was a non-factor. He finished with 13 points on the night as his streak of 20-plus point games ended at seven. 

• Following two straight games on the bench, James Ennis played over Jonathon Simmons. Ennis blended into the background for most of his first stint … and then he did this. 

Ennis had his best game as a Sixer, posting 11 points on 5 for 7 shooting and seven rebounds. The “quiet tournament” Brett Brown is holding for minutes between Ennis and Simmons is nowhere near decided. 

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NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

“The Latvian Laser” might not be for sale.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the Wizards haven’t been listening to offers for sharpshooter Davis Bertans. 

“Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal,” Mannix reports. “Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline."

NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and Mannix have all reported that the Sixers have interest in Bertans, who’s shot 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game. That’s the best percentage in the league among players who have attempted at least eight threes per contest. 

Hughes reported on Jan. 6 that the Wizards were “fielding calls” for Bertans despite general manager Tommy Sheppard saying the team had “every intention of retaining” the forward in free agency. The Celtics, Lakers, Hawks and Nuggets are also suitors for Bertans, according to Hughes.

Bertans is making $7 million this season but looks set to earn substantially more when he becomes a free agent. The Wizards hold Bertans’ Bird Rights after landing him in a trade this summer, which means they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him.

The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 6, so it’s certainly possible that the Wizards will be open for business when it really matters. It seems that it would make sense to at least consider offers. 

Regardless, Bertans is an attractive player for the Sixers, and for contending teams in general who want an elite shooter. 

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Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

CAMDEN, N.J. — Shake Milton hasn’t spent much of his second professional season playing competitive basketball. As a result of a left knee injury he sustained on Oct. 28 and an inability to find consistent playing time when he returned, Milton has only played in 19 games this year — 13 in the NBA, six in the G League. 

Suddenly, it sounds like he’s going to assume a prominent role.

Milton played a season-high 22:31 Wednesday night after Josh Richardson strained his hamstring early in the first quarter, posting nine points on 3 of 10 shooting (3 of 6 from three-point range), four rebounds and two assists. With Richardson set to be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, Brett Brown now sees a significant job for Milton to fill.

It’s always on my mind to try to find a pick-and-roll partner for Ben [Simmons],” Brown said Friday. “Then it’s on your mind, ‘Well, what do you do with the other players?’ Namely your center. Do you play Ben at a five? And so Shake comes in, he actually can run a pick-and-roll, he can shoot, and so that interests me. 

“We’ve seen [Furkan Korkmaz] in that environment. When you take out J-Rich, you’re wondering what’s it look like if I want to pursue and continue to grow that part of Ben’s game and our understanding of how do we take the group and maximize it. Shake, I think, has a chance to come in and play a role in that. So, my intention is to continue to look at that.

Milton’s background suggests he might profile well for what Brown desires. A major focus of his rookie season, when he was under a two-way contract, was developing as a ball handler and decision-maker. He averaged 24.9 points per game in the G League last year and worked on areas like learning how and when to attack the rim, drawing fouls and, of course, running the pick-and-roll (see story)

“Just get to my spots and knock down shots,” Milton told reporters Wednesday in Toronto. “Just play with confidence and once you get up the floor a couple times you get in your groove and it’s just like playing basketball again, so it felt good.”

Al Horford highlighted defensive communication as the biggest emphasis with Milton and without Richardson. The Sixers have often asked Richardson to guard top opposing scorers this season. 

“It's hard to replace Josh, first of all, and obviously we hope that he gets healthy and gets back to us, but with Shake, just making sure that we're helping him, on the defensive end especially, getting familiar,” Horford said. 

“Offensively, I'm not worried about him. He can really, really shoot the ball and he'll have his looks, his opportunities and I'm confident in him. And defensively, just helping him, talking to him, making sure that he's in the right places and doing the things he needs to do, because that's something that Josh is great at.”

Brown was straightforward in saying that another way he'll respond to Richardson's injury is by looking to give rookie Matisse Thybulle more minutes. 

He was less clear in describing what the future might hold for Zhaire Smith. The team recalled Smith Friday from the G League, and the 20-year-old will be available Saturday night vs. the Lakers. 

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a 2018 draft-night trade, had his rookie season derailed by a broken foot and severe complications from an allergic reaction. He’s been “hunting threes” with the Delaware Blue Coats and shooting the ball well recently (see story).

Brown said he’s been following Smith’s progress and is encouraged by what he’s seen and heard. 

“[Blue Coats head coach] Connor Johnson and I talk, we follow his statistical progress, namely how does he do at shooting threes in the corner. We get he plays hard, we get that he’s an athlete, and so now what? How can we maximize or tap into a little bit offensively what he’s been growing? 

“I think that there is an upward trend, a growth that we’ve seen for two reasons: First, him — he’s embraced the fact that he’s with the G League. Some people treat that as you’ve been scolded, and he’s handled it maturely. And two, there’s a symmetry with the programs that I think enables him to feel like there’s a progressive path in the next step when he comes up here — same words, same language, same system. And I think for those two reasons we’re looking at him a little bit more seriously, especially without J-Rich.”

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