76ers

Embiid's ankle better as he embarks on lofty ASG goals

Embiid's ankle better as he embarks on lofty ASG goals

LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid isn’t just going to play Sunday in the NBA All-Star Game. He is aiming to be named Most Valuable Player.

“On Sunday, I expect to go harder,” Embiid said following the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game Friday. “I’m going for that MVP. Guys better make sure they find me because I’m looking to have a good game.”

Embiid is participating in three days of events, including the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday. His availability had been in question after he missed Wednesday’s game against the Heat because of right ankle soreness. That night, Brett Brown said the decision would be based on a collaboration between Embiid and the Sixers’ medical staff.

“The other night, my ankle didn't feel so good,” Embiid said Friday morning. “I've been pushing in the previous games, so it was a little bit [sore]. But the last two days it's been feeling better. But there was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events. It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun.”

Embiid took it easy Friday, clocking the least amount of minutes (8:41) of the 20 participants. He scored five points (2 for 6 from the field, 1 for 4 from three) and pulled down two rebounds.

The Sixers' big man has much more than that to show. He is averaging 23.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. He plans to double that in order to accomplish his goal of MVP honors.

“Score about 40 points and 20 rebounds,” Embiid outlined. “I’ve gotten close before, so it’s possible.”

Embiid was victorious on Day 1 of his competitions. Team World beat Team USA, 155-124. His teammates from the Sixers chipped in for the victory. Dario Saric scored 18 points with five rebounds. Ben Simmons recorded an 11-point, 13-assist double-double along with six rebounds and four steals (see story).

Next up for Embiid is the skills challenge on Saturday before he steps into the starting lineup for Team Stephen on Sunday. With the way he has been playing in less than two full seasons, Embiid is likely to be a familiar face at All-Star weekend. He is already thinking about which other events he’d like to showcase his versatile skills.

“At some point in my career, I want to do everything,” Embiid said. “The dunk contest, that’s a long, long shot, although I’ve got bounce. I can jump, but it doesn’t look as good because I’m too tall. But the three-point contest in the future, definitely, I’ve got to do that.”

Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 5:47 p.m. 

Before Saturday night’s game against the 10-3 Miami Heat and Jimmy Butler, the Sixers (9-5) have a good chance Friday to extend their winning streak to three games.

Here the essentials for tonight’s game against the 5-10 San Antonio Spurs:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Game 1 of Embiid’s first back-to-back 

Joel Embiid is expected to play both tonight and Saturday vs. Miami, his first back-to-back of the season. According to Brett Brown, keeping Embiid in a rhythm was a key factor in the decision.

“I think that has a lot to do with it,” Brown said. “This whole thing is very, very scrutinized, discussed, studied with a handful of people. Really, I’m not saying led by Joel, but with a significant voice in all of it — an opinion. It had been discussed a while ago that this was going to be one of the first back-to-backs that we were going to look at. We hope that’s true. We hope that’s the wise thing to do. I’m looking forward to getting as much of Joel Embiid as I can.”

After this one, the Sixers’ next back-to-back set is a week from now, next Friday at the Knicks and Saturday vs. the Pacers. 

Richardson out again 

Josh Richardson missed the Sixers’ win Wednesday over the Knicks with right hip flexor tightness and, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, will be out again tonight. Trey Burke (left knee and ankle soreness) is questionable. 

Without Richardson, Furkan Korkmaz started against New York and shot 1 for 5 in 16 minutes. Burke has gotten minutes over Raul Neto in the Sixers’ past two games and gave the team a needed jolt in the second half Wednesday playing alongside Ben Simmons (see story).

‘I don’t care about that number’ 

The Spurs enter Philadelphia with a seven-game losing streak, their worst since the 1996-97 season, when Gregg Popovich took over the job. 

Brown, a former Popovich assistant, sees that streak as meaningless.

I didn’t even know that number. I don’t care about that number. They’re coached by Gregg Popovich. I know the large majority of their coaching staff that still exists, not as many of their players. I don’t even pay attention to it. I really don’t. My fondness and affection for Pop, and friendship with Pop, has extended two-plus decades. I just don’t care what they’ve been doing. If they’d won 15 in a row, I’d give you the same answer. All I’m doing is looking down there and it's the San Antonio Spurs, and I know we better bring our A-game or we’ll be in for a long night.

Led by DeRozan (21.7 points per game) and LaMarcus Aldridge (17.9 points), San Antonio has the fifth-best offensive rating in the league despite shooting and making the fewest threes in the NBA. However, the Spurs are No. 28 in defensive rating and have allowed 100 points or more in all but two games. 



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Would Ben Simmons making 3s help with any of the Sixers' spacing issues?

Would Ben Simmons making 3s help with any of the Sixers' spacing issues?

Ben Simmons’ first made three-pointer in a regular-season NBA game Wednesday night did not suddenly solve the Sixers’ spacing concerns. In fact, the Sixers didn’t score for the opening 5:34 of the third quarter in their win over the Knicks, and Brett Brown and Al Horford were both frank Thursday about the state of the Sixers’ offense.

“I’m prepared to be patient and try to fix spatial things, more than anything,” Brown said. “It’s not like a magic bean — here it is, here’s the play — it ain’t that. Space in pick-and-rolls, space in post, space in early offense — space.”

Horford described the issues as stemming from a team-wide desire to play aggressively.

“I just think that we have the mentality that we want to attack, we want to get in the paint, we all want to get in there and score,” he said. “Whether I have a mismatch or Ben has a mismatch, and we’re all in there. It’s just recognizing in the middle of the game if you see someone else, then you kind of find your place and re-space. I think it’s all good intentions. That’s why I keep saying, the more games we play, I feel the better that things will get."

The play below illustrates Horford’s point.

The sequence starts with Embiid rolling to the rim, then setting a down screen for Horford. When the high-low between Horford and Embiid isn’t available, Horford comes out to the left wing and hands it off to Tobias Harris, who attempts to drive to the rim. Julius Randle, though, leaves Horford to help, and Taj Gibson muddies the paint as well.

Gibson sneaks into the lane because he’s guarding Simmons, who sets a weak side flare screen for Shake Milton inside the arc on the right wing instead of planting himself in the corner. 

The idea of Simmons freeing up a teammate on occasion by catching an opponent with a surprise screen is fair enough, but that’s not where Brown typically prefers him to be placed.

Brown wants Simmons to either be in a corner or in the “dunker spot,” hovering in the region near the low block and behind the backboard. When Simmons is in the dunker spot, that tends to relegate his teammates to the perimeter.

On the play above, Simmons starts in the left corner while Harris and Embiid run a middle pick-and-roll, but he leaks down into the dunker spot. Once he's rolled, Embiid discovers the dunker spot is already occupied, meaning he needs to retreat to the corner. An unsightly possession ends with a fadeaway three-point attempt by Embiid at the end of the shot clock. 

Simmons situating himself in the corner more regularly could, in theory, leave that space open for Embiid and create more room for the offense.

“For the obvious space reasons, it helps,” Brown said of how Simmons taking and making threes might benefit the Sixers. “To have him grow to a different floor spot — we’ve talked lots about getting him out of the dunker into a corner. His current world is you will either be in two places — an extreme corner or playing peekaboo behind the backboard in a dunker, because he’s still very good at that. And I think that he’s growing those two areas. 

“He understands when he’s not on the ball, this is my home, this is my world, along those areas. … I think he’s been fantastic at embracing that and I believe that if he can continue to work in that world, that side of it will certainly help us as time unfolds.”

How many threes would Simmons need to hit — and at what rate — in order to merit consistent respect from opposing defenses? 

Even now, defenders will often stay in his vicinity when he’s behind the arc. The play below goes wrong because of Furkan Korkmaz’s drive into trouble, but notice that RJ Barrett guards Simmons close to the way one would play an average outside shooter. He doesn’t entirely abandon a player who’s yet to make a single NBA three from where he’s standing on the left wing.

The court is generally more congested and the distance required to send a double team is shorter when Simmons is in the dunker spot. 

With Simmons deciding to go to the dunker spot on the play above, Randle didn’t have far to travel to wrestle the ball away from Horford. If Simmons had been in the corner and if he’d established himself as something beyond a novice as a three-point shooter, would Horford have had more time and space to post up? Perhaps.

“I think it will open things up even more,” Horford said of Simmons adding a three-point shot. “It will make us more dangerous because teams won’t be able to help as much and clog the lane and things like that. I was just happy to see Ben — he’s been doing it every day in practice. And in different situations I’ve seen him, he’s shooting it comfortably. I was just glad that he took a shot, got it to go down and now we can kind of move forward.”

For the time being, the Sixers’ offense looks most fluid and makes most sense in transition, where one player's instinct to score in the paint tends not to butt heads with another’s insistence on posting up a smaller defender.

There was nothing complicated about the Sixers’ first points of the second half Thursday. Simmons threw the ball ahead to James Ennis, who dropped it off to Horford in an area where he could attack Randle.

Half-court spacing is currently less comfortable. Simmons’ outside shot — were it to become a regular threat — and him permanently shifting to the corners might change things. At the moment, the notion that both those things will happen seems highly hopeful.

We can predict with more confidence, however, that more minutes for this group of players together will help. Time won’t magically make a supersized lineup work offensively, but it should allow teammates to grow a better understanding of each other. 

“As a coach, the first thing I go to is space,” Brown said. “How do you help with space? And then at that point on, you create a gym that can breathe, and their skillsets should be able to shine. And then from that point on, it’s on them.”

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