76ers

Fit doesn't matter if Sixers can't fix 'soft' defense

Fit doesn't matter if Sixers can't fix 'soft' defense

There’s been a lot of talk about offensive roles and how the Sixers’ three stars fit.

None of that means a damn thing if the Sixers don’t start playing better defense.

On Friday night, they were beaten on their home floor by the Hawks — a team ranked 20th in the league in scoring — 123-121 (see observations). Atlanta shot 55 percent from the field and 48 percent from three. The loss comes two nights after they allowed the Wizards to shoot 54 percent from the field and 48 percent from three.

A big part of that issue is their lack of perimeter defenders off the bench. Furkan Korkmaz, who at times has provided a nice spark, has struggled mightily on that end of the floor. On Friday, Brett Brown played the 21-year-old only four minutes after a couple defensive miscues.

“When I go back and watch the game in Washington, it was disturbing watching our bench guard,” Brown said. “We have to get better. Opportunities for Jonah [Bolden] or Shake [Milton] or Landry [Shamet] or Furkan — we’re counting on them. We play them. They’re in the rotation …

“In general, those young guys that I just mentioned, we’re going to try to grow them and do it with patience, but do it with a level of a sting where it’s just the NBA and it’s not good enough right now. We need more and I believe it’s in them.”

Personnel is certainly a factor, especially considering that Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joel Embiid missed the game with a right ankle injury. 

Still, you have a lineup featuring players like Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons. With all due respect to rookie Kevin Huerter, who was impressive, there’s no way he should’ve dropped a career-high 29 Friday. 

There was clearly something more than Embiid missing.

I think we were just too soft,” Simmons said. “I think defensively, we are not taking it personal enough when guys score on us. It should be a pride thing. When someone scores on you, you should be frustrated every time. I think that comes with age. We have a lot of young guys, but at the same time, we have to expect more from each other to get that and to get to the next level so then once playoff time comes, it’s another level.

This is a team and head coach that's always prided itself on defense. Last season, the Sixers finished third in the entire NBA in defensive rating. They’re currently 12th. 

Adding a player like Butler, one of the best two-way wings in the game, should be helping that. While it’s no fault of Butler’s, the team’s struggles remain despite his presence.

While Butler didn’t want to use the word “soft” to describe his team’s play, he did think that the Sixers as a team are too reliant on Embiid. 

Luckily it still has time to find answers on the defensive end.

“Ain’t nobody pointing fingers at anybody,” Butler said. “We got plenty of games left, we just got to fix it. I think we’re going to be fine. All I know is, everybody’s in there. We’re in it together, we’re not going separate ways. Stay as a whole, win and lose as a team.”

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Dominant Joel Embiid looks ready for the games to count as Sixers beat Pistons in preseason

Dominant Joel Embiid looks ready for the games to count as Sixers beat Pistons in preseason

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers have one more preseason contest before the games count, and Joel Embiid certainly looks ready for that moment.

Embiid was dominant Tuesday night, with 24 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes as the Sixers beat the Detroit Pistons, 106-86.

Six players missed Tuesday's game. Ben Simmons (back tightness), James Ennis (right calf strain) and Al Horford (rest) were out for the Sixers, and Andre Drummond (rest), Blake Griffin (left hamstring soreness) and Markieff Morris (illness) sat for Detroit. 

The Sixers, 4-0 in the preseason, play the Wizards on Friday at 7 p.m. before their regular season opener next Wednesday vs. the Celtics. 

• Detroit started Thon Maker in Drummond’s place. Embiid attacked him immediately, scoring the Sixers’ first six points on a jumper from the foul line, two free throws earned after a strong drive to the rim and a lefty layup that was a byproduct of deep post positioning. 

It was a predictably aggressive start by Embiid, who had 12 points in the first quarter and made all six of his free throws. Playing against Drummond might have been better preparation for the regular season, but looking to be ruthless inside vs. overmatched players is useful for Embiid, too. He finds himself in that situation plenty. 

• Josh Richardson started at point guard, a look Brett Brown said pregame he was “excited” to further explore. 

Richardson had 11 points on 4 for 12 shooting, six rebounds, five assists and two turnovers. He sometimes struggles playing against length and through contact, but he’s tended to make good decisions with the ball in his hands. 

If Richardson begins the season as the backup point guard — as he was Sunday night against the Magic — that would shift the competition between Raul Neto and Trey Burke to the background.

Burke played with the regulars and had six points and an assist in 15 minutes.

• Shake Milton saw time off the bench at the wing next to Richardson and turned in a solid performance, with six points on 3 for 5 shooting. He’s generally kept his man in front of him on defense during the preseason and had a well-timed block on Derrick Rose at the end of the first quarter. 

• Matisse Thybulle has an exceptional ability to chew up ground and recover when he’s seemingly out of the play.

“I make a lot of mistakes, it’s just covered up by steals and deflections,” he said before the game, a humble assessment. 

Brown has encouraged Thybulle to gamble and make those “mistakes,” and he’s delivered with disruptive defense. The rookie had seven points, six rebounds, four steals and two blocks in his first career start.  

• Even though Tobias Harris started at power forward in this game, the continued emphasis on getting him opportunities with his back to the basket was noticeable. The movement around Harris and understanding of how to play off him in the post is still developing, but the desire to put Harris in more of those spots makes sense. When he has size and strength on an opponent — as he will often this season at small forward — Harris is good at taking his time and making his advantages count. 

He had 10 points on 4 for 11 shooting, five rebounds and three assists vs. Detroit.

• The question of whether the Sixers have adequate outside shooting after the departure of JJ Redick remains a valid one. They entered Tuesday’s game shooting 34.5 percent from three-point range in the preseason, and that percentage fell after a 6 for 24 night.

Furkan Korkmaz’s path to consistent minutes is through helping to mitigate that issue. He has a reputation as a three-point marksman, though he’s shot just 32.3 percent from long range in 62 NBA career games. His performance Tuesday — 10 points on 4 for 7 shooting (2 for 4 from three) — might strengthen his case in Brown’s eyes.

• Kyle O’Quinn seems to make at least one eyebrow-raising pass every game — in a good way. He had nine assists in Orlando and five Tuesday, including a perfectly timed and weighted bounce pass to Thybulle for a dunk. 

• Two-way player Norvel Pelle kept the crowd at Wells Fargo Center excited late with his blend of lobs, blocked shots and theatrical poses. He played the entire fourth quarter and had 13 points and five blocks.

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Sixers vs. Detroit Pistons preseason: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Detroit Pistons preseason: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 5:48 p.m. — Andre Drummond (rest) is not playing tonight.

The Sixers are back home and back on NBC Sports Philadelphia tonight.

Below are the essentials for their preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. The Sixers are 3-0 in the preseason and Detroit is 2-1.

• When: 7 p.m. ET 
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Key Sixers out 

Last season, the Sixers were without Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler, two key bench players at the time, for opening night against the Celtics. They're determined to be fully healthy this year.

Ben Simmons (back tightness), James Ennis (right calf strain) and Al Horford (rest) are all out for tonight's game. The sensible, obvious goal for the Sixers is to have everyone fresh and ready to go next Wednesday vs. Boston.

All-Star forward Blake Griffin is out for the Pistons with left hamstring soreness.

The offense is humming 

General manager Elton Brand forecasted in July that the Sixers would be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, but he thought it was "going to take some time" to figure things out on offense.

Through three preseason games, though, the offense has been excellent. The Sixers are first in the NBA in offensive rating (119.7), offensive rebounding percentage (35.4 percent) and assist to turnover ratio (1.69), and tied for first in assists per game (30.3). The caveats of having played their preseason opener against an inferior Chinese Basketball Association team and the sample size being minuscule are important, but the offense has performed very well so far. 

Embiid vs. Drummond, preseason edition 

Yes, it's just the preseason, but there's often drama when Joel Embiid and Pistons center Drummond match up. 

Just last season, the following happened: Drummond was ejected for an elbow to Embiid's face during the Pistons' overtime win vs. the Sixers on Oct. 23, and Embiid appeared to exaggerate the contact. Embiid told reporters after the game that he "owns a lot of real estate in [Drummond's] head," which led to the feud spiraling to social media. In their next meeting, on Nov. 3 at Wells Fargo Center, Embiid posted 39 points and 17 rebounds in a victory, then said of Drummond and then-Pistons backup center Zaza Pachulia, "I kicked both of their a--." 

The trash talk between the two dates further back than last season, too. When Embiid and Drummond share the floor, it's usually worth watching, and then listening to what the two have to say afterwards.

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