76ers

Hawks 123, Sixers 121: Jimmy Butler misses a pair of free throws in rough loss

Hawks 123, Sixers 121: Jimmy Butler misses a pair of free throws in rough loss

BOX SCORE

The Sixers got what they wanted with Jimmy Butler at the line with a chance to tie the game with 2.4 seconds left.

But the four-time All-Star missed both free throws as the Sixers fell to the lowly Hawks, 123-121, at Wells Fargo Center Friday night.

John Collins' fadeaway jumpers with 9.5 seconds left was the dagger that finished them off. Collins finished with 25 points while rookie guard Kevin Huerter had 29.

The loss drops the Sixers to 18-4 at home and 27-16 overall.

The Sixers were without Joel Embiid, who was sidelined with right ankle soreness.

Here are observations from the loss.

• The two glaring stats that stood out for the Sixers were three-point shooting and rebounds.

The Sixers didn’t do well defending the three yet again, allowing the Hawks to shoot 48 percent (12 of 25). That after they allowed the Wizards to shoot 48 percent Wednesday night.

They were also outrebounded, 44-30. The biggest factor there is Embiid’s absence, but it’s also the result of not having a legitimate backup five.

• With Embiid out, it was clear that Jimmy Butler was the focal point of the offense. We did see a few of the new wrinkles Brett Brown has put in to get Butler more comfortable.

One of the more interesting sets had the Sixers using JJ Redick as a screener up high. They ran that set twice in the first half. Both possessions resulted in baskets — a Ben Simmons layup and Mike Muscala corner three. With how much attention Redick draws, it did seem to open up the floor for Butler.

At the half, Butler had 16 points and was 5 of 9 from the field. He also got to the line, making 6 of 6. He struggled in the third quarter but was huge down the stretch — other than the free throws — including this big alley-oop. 

With all the exhaustive talk of fit and offensive roles, there seems to be a fairly instinctual connection between Simmons and Butler that’s been there since day one.

He finished with 30 points on 9 of 19 from the field.

• After a rough outing in D.C. in which he turned the ball over seven times, Simmons was back to being his aggressive and assertive self. 

He spent a considerable amount of time at the five with Embiid out. It was interesting that Brown sort of ran the offense through Simmons in the post for a few stretches. It did lead to a few good looks.

In the Simmons jump shot watch department, he missed two baseline fadeaways in the first half and made a fadeaway in the post in the third quarter. All of them were good shoots in the flow of the offense.

Simmons finished with yet another triple-double with 23 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds.

• Redick struggled from the field early on after missing the last two games with a back injury (7 of 21), but he nailed two huge threes — one with 7:20 left to tie the game at 103 and another with 5:45 left to tie the game at 109.

You can see what this team misses when Redick isn’t in the lineup. The space he creates for Embiid, Butler and Simmons isn’t the easiest thing to quantify without advanced metrics, but it’s easy to notice when watching the team play without him.

• Mike Muscala was solid starting in Embiid’s absence against his former team. Over his last 13 games, Muscala’s highest point total was 11. He reached 11 points with 9:34 left in the second quarter Friday. He drilled a huge three-pointer to tie the game at 116 with 3:20 left. He recorded 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting.

• Brown provided brief injury updates before the game on Markelle Fultz (thoracic outlet syndrome), Zhaire Smith (foot) and Justin Patton (foot).

Brown mentioned that general manager Elton Brand will be giving a statement on Fultz’s status in the near future. He said he expects to see Fultz around the team again soon, but is unsure of when the 2017 No. 1 overall pick will be able to practice.

Smith continues to work out and do some shooting, but Brown isn’t sure when he’ll be able to start practicing with the team.

Brown expected Patton to be able to participate in team activities at the beginning of February.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers stock watch: Contributions from Joel Embiid, Jonah Bolden, but T.J. McConnell, Landry Shamet struggling on D

Sixers stock watch: Contributions from Joel Embiid, Jonah Bolden, but T.J. McConnell, Landry Shamet struggling on D

There’s never a dull moment with the Sixers.

After barely escaping Madison Square Garden with a win, they crushed the Timberwolves and took care of the Pacers before suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Thunder.

The Sixers are now two games into their 12-game gauntlet and are 1-1.

Here’s this week’s stock watch:

Stock up

Joel Embiid

It was yet another impressive week for the All-Star center, who looks like a shoo-in to be back in this year’s game. In four games last week, Embiid averaged 27.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.8 blocks. 

While Embiid continues to dominate in the post and patrol the paint at an elite level, his three-point shooting has really improved. He’s shooting 39 percent from three over his last 11 games. Defenders go for his pump fake when he’s missing. Imagine what happens if he keeps making them.

All of this while dealing with a tight back that’s forced him to be a game-time decision for two straight games. It’s going to be tough to get the big man a break over this stretch. 

MVP favorite James Harden is in the building Monday for a nationally televised game. Then the Sixers play the Spurs, a team that waxed them just a month ago. That’s followed by a matchup against Nikola Jokic, one Embiid will not want to miss.

Jonah Bolden

Another mention for the rookie in this space because of a new dimension he’s shown: being able to play minutes as a backup five. It’s a role that doesn’t need to be huge given how many minutes Embiid plays, but Bolden's been impactful for the Sixers over the past week.

The move has allowed Mike Muscala to play more four and Wilson Chandler to play more three. It also just gives the Sixers a different dynamic off the bench. Bolden is extremely athletic — something the bench sorely needed — and plays with a ton of energy. Bolden has been a huge part of the team’s recent success.

Stock down

The bench guards

T.J. McConnell and Landry Shamet have helped the team this season. McConnell has given the Sixers a big spark at times and is an unquestioned leader. Shamet, who nobody even considered for a rotation spot when he was drafted 26th overall, is shooting threes at an elite level (40 percent).

Neither player is giving the team what it needs defensively. It was evident during the loss to Oklahoma City that neither McConnell nor Shamet had the athleticism or size to compete with the Thunder’s guards. 

Both players have had their moments this season, but don’t be surprised to see Elton Brand upgrade at both spots.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

 

What Sixers really need for their bench

What Sixers really need for their bench

It’s no secret the Sixers need bench help.

The question is which position they should be targeting. If your first response isn’t a 3-and-D wing, then you haven't been watching this team very closely. 

With all due respect to Landry Shamet, a rookie who has been thrust into a position nobody thought he’d be in, imagine his minutes going to a proven swingman. 

You look at a player like Reggie Bullock from the Pistons. He’s on an extremely affordable and expiring contract. He’s been an above-average three-point shooter (41 percent during his four years in Detroit). He’s also a decent and versatile defender. 

The Pistons are clinging to the hope they can land the East’s eighth seed, so he may not become available. And that’s not to say the Sixers should go all in on Bullock — though it would make a ton of sense to place a phone call — but a player like him would certainly help. For the record, there is no indication the Sixers have shown interest in Bullock.

The second position to look at has been up for debate. 

A backup five? A true stretch four? While those spots could also use an upgrade, the Sixers’ second-biggest need is a backup point guard.

This is the point of the story where all of the T.J. McConnell lovers will start prepping their hate tweets. But the reality is that McConnell is not a backup point guard for a team with its sights set on winning the Eastern Conference.

There is no doubt McConnell has earned his place on this team and in this league. He’s a dogged competitor that’s given this team a huge spark at times. He’s also been almost automatic in the mid-range.

But his unwillingness to shoot threes is crippling the offense — especially when playing alongside Ben Simmons. His lack of athleticism has also hurt them on the defensive end. It’s never been more evident than in Saturday’s loss to the Thunder.

Unlike on the wing, there are no clear upgrades at the position. Elfrid Payton, who’s on an expiring deal, would be intriguing if the Pelicans fall out of it. It’s more likely they hold onto him to stay competitive and keep Anthony Davis happy.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Sixers needing another big, but that seems pretty low on their list of needs. Joel Embiid is playing 33.5 minutes a game. So basically you need a backup center to play roughly 14.5 minutes a night. That number will go down even more in the playoffs.

Plus, Jonah Bolden has given the bench a real spark. His athleticism, quick feet, rim protection and overall activity have given the team a big boost. His presence has allowed Mike Muscala to play more four and Wilson Chandler to play more three.

Would adding a player like Noah Vonleh help? Sure. Vonleh is a solid backup big that has added the three to his game. If he can be added for little to nothing, then it couldn’t hurt. It just seems like the other positions are of more concern.

One thing is for sure: Expect Elton Brand to make at least one move to bolster this roster. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers