76ers

Familiar problems have Sixers in a funk

Familiar problems have Sixers in a funk

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The Sixers’ losing stretch has hit seven losses in the last eight games, and there is no quick fix for their recent struggles. The team that began the season quickly exceeding expectations by defeating playoff contenders is now fighting to get back to .500 amid a flurry of missteps. 

Pointing to Joel Embiid as an instant solution is not on the table. The big man missed Tuesday’s 101-95 loss to the Kings because of back tightness and his status for their next game Thursday is up in the air. 

Tuesday’s defeat — a game the Sixers led by as many as 16 points — was another instance of the Sixers not locking down a winnable matchup (see observations).

“I don’t think we’ve been focusing down the stretch, missing shots, not calling the right plays, just the little things like that,” Ben Simmons said. “It comes down to us focusing and making sure we’re committed to defense and offense at the same time.”

Turnovers have plagued the Sixers all season (and years beyond that). They rank worst in the league with 18.0 per game, and the errors have been in the spotlight in the last two losses because their opponents have capitalized on them. 

The Sixers have given up a total of 49 points off 40 turnovers over the last two games against the Bulls and Kings. That makes up for 22.5 percent of their opponents’ points in those games. They committed six turnovers against the Kings in the fourth quarter alone.  

Those late-game errors play into the Sixers’ second-half troubles. They led the Kings by 16 points in the third quarter, only to be outscored 13-0 to start the fourth. The Kings, fueled by that earlier jump, netted 30 points in the final quarter compared to 17 by the Sixers.

“[We] just got stagnant, really,” T.J. McConnell said. “Didn’t have flow like we did in the first half, and that’s kind been our M.O. Kind of just playing well all game and then get stagnant. We’ve got to buckle down, and that’s what cost us. Our defense wasn’t very good either. We had breakdowns, missed assignments. We’ve just got to be better, simple as that.”

The shooting struggles were prominent from long range. The Sixers went 10 for 35 from three (28.6 percent), including a 2-for-13 night by Robert Covington. The Sixers have the green light to shoot from beyond the arc, even during slumps, but they could mix in different looks at the basket without Embiid on the court. The Kings outscored them 48 to 32 in the paint, 15 points below the Sixers’ season average.

“I don’t know if we can pinpoint just one area, where maybe we’re missing shots or turning the ball over,” Jerryd Bayless said. “I think we’re doing a lot of things that are making it very difficult for us.”

Whether a team has a hot shooting night or not, the Sixers have to stay locked in for 48 minutes (or a few overtimes, as the case lately). It can be easy to get flustered when a lead dwindles away, but fighting until the end is required to become a playoff team. 

The Sixers will be better suited to do that when their injury list that includes Embiid, Markelle Fultz (shoulder) and Justin Anderson (shin splints) clears up. In the meantime, those who are available need to seize the opportunity to step up and make an impact. Brett Brown said part of navigating the lineup without Embiid is identifying offensive targets. 

The Sixers could get more scoring production from their consistent starters. Simmons, for example, attempted just six field goals in 33 minutes (13 points) (see highlights). Dario Saric, who has played well in the past without Embiid, shot 3 for 10 from the field. JJ Redick, who also went 3 for 10, left the game with right hamstring tightness.  

“I think we look forward to reclaiming some health, we look forward to reclaiming some form and rebuilding our confidence,” Brown said. “It’s a prideful group, they work hard. I think any time you have this volume of losses in the month of December, you have a tendency to second-guess, I’m sure, it’s human nature of all of us. But we will stay strong and stay together, welcome some healthy people back into the mix, and try to just get better.” 

The Sixers have to tackle the 20-8 Raptors in their next two games, one at home and one in Toronto where the Raptors are 11-1. 

"We all want to win," Simmons said. "Everybody wants to be here. It’s not one of those things where guys don’t want to win or anything like that. I think we’ll pull it together."

Sixers 149, Timberwolves 107: Sixers dominate in Jimmy Butler's first game vs. his old team

Sixers 149, Timberwolves 107: Sixers dominate in Jimmy Butler's first game vs. his old team

BOX SCORE 

There’s little question Jimmy Butler’s new team is better than his old one.

Butler and the Sixers (29-16) resoundingly beat the Timberwolves on Tuesday night, 149-107, in the first game between the two teams since their trade in November. 

The Sixers now face a challenging stretch before the All-Star Break that includes games against six of the current top-eight teams in the Western Conference, beginning Thursday night at the Pacers. 

• Butler was deferential early, despite the Sixers running plenty of plays for him. He didn’t attempt his first field goal until over nine minutes into the game and didn’t score his first points until early in the second quarter, on a three-point shot from the left wing off some nice two-man action with Joel Embiid. 

He looked like himself after that, finishing with 19 points on 8 for 10 shooting.

• The team prepared a video tribute for the returning Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless that played in the middle of the first quarter.

Saric and Covington got a loud, sustained ovation for their time in Philadelphia, while Bayless heard a few boos.

Covington, who is sidelined with a right ankle injury, did travel with the Timberwolves. He was spotted about two hours before the game giving hugs to members of the Sixers Dunk Squad. 

Saric had 11 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes.

The crowd’s favorite play of the night came in the third quarter, when T.J. McConnell crossed over Saric, drained a mid-range jumper, then gave his good friend a pat on the behind. 

• Embiid decisively won his matchup against Karl-Anthony Towns, posting 31 points and 13 rebounds.

Towns had 13 points and three rebounds and was a game-worst minus-42.

The Timberwolves’ big man is a skilled, versatile offensive player, but he’s not in Embiid’s league defensively. In general, Minnesota is just a bad defensive team without Covington. 

• When Ben Simmons builds up a head of steam in the open floor, it’s typically going to end poorly for opposing teams. 

He predictably had a ton of success in transition against the Timberwolves. The Sixers also used Simmons as a screener on a few pick-and-rolls with Butler, an action which netted Simmons a dunk on one occasion.

In fact, just about everything the Sixers tried on offense was effective. The Embiid-JJ Redick two-man game, Butler pick-and-rolls with Simmons and Embiid, Simmons finding shooters on the break — it was all working.

The Sixers easily surpassed their previous season high of 133 points.

• Wilson Chandler looked as good as he has as a Sixer, breaking out of his shooting slump with 14 points on 5 for 7 shooting, five rebounds and four assists.

Since Christmas, Chandler had been shooting 31.6 percent from the floor, 23.5 percent from three-point territory.

Perhaps most encouraging for the Sixers is that Chandler stepped into his shot without any hesitation. Chandler is very much the fifth wheel of the starting lineup, but he shouldn’t have the lowest usage rate (11 percent) of any Sixer.

• More often than not, Jonah Bolden has made positive contributions off the bench for the Sixers over the past few weeks.

Those positives have usually been, in part, offset by major negatives — he’s good for a couple bad fouls or a head-scratching turnover most nights. 

But Bolden moves his feet on the perimeter and protects the rim well, and he adds a little bit of athleticism that the Sixers’ bench has been lacking. 

We saw all those qualities on Tuesday, and Bolden, a 16 percent three-point shooter entering the game, also made four long-range shots.

You wonder how Bolden’s emergence might affect the Sixers’ priorities as the Feb. 7 trade deadline approaches. The rookie is raw, an inconsistent shooter (to put it kindly) and has no track record in the NBA, so it still wouldn’t be surprising if the Sixers wanted to acquire a backup center. 

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Sixers sign veteran wing Corey Brewer to 10-day contract

Sixers sign veteran wing Corey Brewer to 10-day contract

Updated: 6:25 p.m. 

The Sixers have filled their open roster spot. For the time being, anyway.

General manager Elton Brand signed veteran Corey Brewer to a 10-day deal on Tuesday.

Brewer was among a group of players the Sixers had recently worked out that included Brandon Rush and Jodie Meeks

A back-to-back national champion at Florida in 2006 and 2007, the 32-year-old Brewer also has an NBA title, with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. He's averaged 8.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 11 NBA seasons, and last played in the league last season, appearing in 72 total games for the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Brewer, who will wear uniform No. 00 for the Sixers, is available for Tuesday night's game vs. the Timberwolves. The veteran explained why he signed a 10-day deal with the Sixers.

For me, I love playing basketball. I just wanted another opportunity. I feel like I did enough last year that I should be on a team. But sometimes things don’t work out the right way … you can’t look it like that. An opportunity is an opportunity. I get to come here, and I gotta prove myself.

The 6-foot-9 Brewer will have a chance to show he can provide some of the perimeter defense and athleticism the Sixers have been lacking off the bench. The Sixers have had a vacant roster spot since their trade for Jimmy Butler, when they acquired two players (Butler and Justin Patton) in exchange for three (Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless).

Head coach Brett Brown said Brewer was appealing to the Sixers because he's "good people," a "prideful defender" and capable of hitting an outside shot — though Brewer is just a 28.3 percent three-point shooter for his career. Brown also mentioned that he remembers Brewer being a threat running the floor early in his career. 

Brewer still thinks he can be effective in transition with the Sixers.

“I’m like a glue guy," he said. "I do all the little stuff. I play hard, I’m going to run hard and I feel like the way Ben [Simmons] pushes it, that’s right up my alley.”

The team will have a chance to assess Brewer and determine if it wants to sign him to a longer deal prior to the Feb. 7 trade deadline. Over the next 10 days, the Sixers play five games — against the Timberwolves, Pacers, Thunder, Rockets and Spurs. 

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