76ers

For once, Robert Covington steals the show

For once, Robert Covington steals the show

It’s usually easy to notice when Robert Covington doesn’t play well. Missed threes, getting torched by the opposing star, bad fouls — the signs are obvious.

It’s not always as clear to recognize when Covington does play well, but everyone who watched the Sixers beat the Hornets on Saturday night, 105-103 (see observations), was reminded how important Covington is to this team.

Head coach Brett Brown said postgame Covington was the Sixers’ bell ringer (the player Brown chooses to ring a miniature replica Liberty Bell in the locker room after a win), and that’s no surprise. 

Covington was excellent on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he was his usual, disruptive self with two steals and four blocks. Covington was tasked with guarding Kemba Walker, who entered averaging 30.8 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting. Walker scored 37 on Saturday, but he shot 11 for 31.

Much of his success came when Covington was off the floor. Covington guarded Walker late in the fourth quarter, and he shut him down when it mattered. 

“Robert Covington played an amazing game on Kemba, made it tough for him to score,” Ben Simmons. “But also, you know, it’s Kemba, so he’s always going to score. But I thought he did a great job.”

A lot of what Covington excels at doesn’t show up in the box score —  another 20-point, 10-rebound night from Joel Embiid is often going to get more headlines than solid off-ball defense and deflections.

Covington takes on the responsibility of guarding the opponent’s best player most nights. Through the first five games, he hadn’t played to the First Team All-Defense standard he set last year, and the Sixers' defense overall had't been very good. in fact, Covington's 112.7 defensive rating was actually second-worst on the team heading into the game vs. Charlotte. 

But against one of the better scorers in the NBA, Covington knew he needed to be at his best.

“Short, quick, shifty, quick burst speed,” Covington said of Walker. “But I gotta guard some great superstars each and every night. So it was just another one of those tasks that I had to buckle down. We needed a win, so I had to do whatever it takes.”

Offensively, Covington hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game for the Sixers, a three-pointer from the right wing with just under two minutes remaining to put the Sixers up, 105-101. His 18 points (4 for 7 from three-point range) were needed on a night in which Simmons made just 5 of 20 field-goal attempts.

Covington knows his contributions tend to fly under the radar and he says that doesn’t bother him.

“From the outside looking in, a lot of people don’t understand what all goes into it,” he said. “You can’t get caught up in that. The people who understand the way the game is and how everything goes can get a better feel for it, how everything happens. You just can’t get caught in what they’re saying, you just have to focus in.” 

There probably won’t be many more games this season where Covington’s value is so apparent to the casual observer. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are usually going to steal the show.

But on Saturday night, Covington made it obvious how integral he is to the Sixers’ success.

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It's going to take more than Jimmy Butler and one game to fix Sixers' issues

It's going to take more than Jimmy Butler and one game to fix Sixers' issues

This is Philadelphia and the idea of telling fans not to overreact is probably futile, but here goes …

R-E-L-A-X.

Yes, the Sixers lost in Jimmy Butler’s debut, 111-106, to the Magic Wednesday. Yes, Joel Embiid had 16 points in the first half but had just three points on 1 of 10 shooting in the second. Yes, Ben Simmons was quiet with nine points, six assists and three rebounds.

But it’s one game. When Butler first landed in Philly he said that the team was going to have things to figure out and that’s what it looked like. Butler told reporters after the game that everyone has the right mindset.

That’s the first thing: We all want each other to be great. We’re all talking about where we’re supposed to be and what we see out there on the floor. I’m telling you it’s coming sooner rather than later. We’re going to be just fine. Because once we put this thing together, we’re going to be tough.

One of the concerns in acquiring Butler was that he wasn’t an elite three-point shooter, something needed to complement the skills of Embiid and Simmons. That looked to be part of the issue Wednesday, but there’s no reason to panic.

These three players are all exceptionally talented, but that doesn’t guarantee success. It’s going to take more than just one shootaround and one game to develop that chemistry.

With that said, there were moments that showed promise. The first unit of Simmons, Butler, Embiid, JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler showed great potential and moved the ball extremely well. The flashes of the two-man game between Butler and Embiid were promising.

"I think if you put really good basketball players out on the court, it’s always going to look good as long as you play basketball the right way," Butler said. "We just came up a little bit short. We’re OK. We just have to go back to the drawing boards at practice and get the W next time."

As great of a player as Butler is, he wasn’t going to come in here and solve all the Sixers problems right away. There are bigger concerns for the Sixers that were here before Butler arrived and you can’t expect them to be solved after one game with him.

This is a team that finished third in defensive rating last season. This year they’re 11th. That’s simply not good enough. They gave up 111 points to an Orlando team that averages 104.4 a game, good for 25th in the league. 

There are also these big runs and quarters they’ve been prone to give up. They blew a 21-point lead against the Hornets last Friday and barely escaped with a win in overtime. After building a 63-50 lead at the half, the Sixers were outscored 52-39 in the second half of their overtime loss in Memphis. 

On Wednesday night, they took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. They then allowed the Magic to go on a 21-0 run. You read that correctly, 21-0. I don’t care if you’re playing the Warriors, a 21-0 run in the fourth is completely unacceptable. 

The new defensive scheme is surely a factor. The Sixers not having all their pieces at one time certainly is as well.

At some point, with Butler in the fold, there won’t be any more excuses. But that time is not after one game.

"It is the NBA. You don’t just click your heels and win NBA games," Brett Brown said. "It takes patience and work and time. We have that."

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Jimmy Butler-only observations for his Sixers debut

Jimmy Butler-only observations for his Sixers debut

Jimmy Butler’s debut didn’t end the way he would’ve liked, but he showed flashes of why Elton Brand made the move.

He finished with 14 points (6 of 12) in the Sixers’ 111-106 loss to the Magic Wednesday (see non-Butler observations).

Here are a few observations from Butler’s performance to hold you over before our film review Thursday.

• Early on it looked like Butler was really just trying to let the game come to him, which makes sense in his first game with the team. 

He was perhaps a little too unselfish on the Sixers’ first possession of the game. They ran him off a double screen with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and it looked like Butler had a mid-range jumper that he passed up.

But he was doing a lot of the little things that maybe not every star player does. He moved well away from the ball and was engaged even when the offensive set wasn’t meant for him.

• His first bucket was a thing of beauty. Butler and Embiid ran the two-man game much like Embiid and JJ Redick do. Embiid faked the dribble handoff and Butler made a great cut to the basket to get the easy bucket.

This is something Brett Brown will surely be taking a long look at. Keep in mind, Brown has basically had one shootaround to get Butler acclimated. As the season goes, he’ll learn what works well for Butler and the rest of the team.

• The diversity of Butler’s offensive game is impressive and it was on full display. He’s outstanding in the mid-range …

He’s also so strong finishing around the basket. You can also see how his ability to create shots is going to help the Sixers.

This play where he splits the defenders and finishes is as pretty as it gets.

• Butler has made the NBA’s All-Defensive first team four times and it’s easy to see why. Butler is so much fun to watch on defense. 

He has such quick feet and awareness. You can see how uncomfortable he makes offensive players with the pressure he puts on them. His recovery speed when he cheats in the passing lanes is also really impressive.

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