Joel Embiid is scoring (and dominating) again, but Josh Richardson exits early in Sixers' win over Kings

Joel Embiid is scoring (and dominating) again, but Josh Richardson exits early in Sixers' win over Kings


Joel Embiid is scoring again. He’s dominating again, too. 

The Sixers’ All-Star center followed up the first scoreless game of his NBA career Monday night in Toronto with 33 points and 16 rebounds Wednesday in the Sixers’ 97-91 win over the Kings.

With the win, the Sixers are 12-6 overall, 8-0 at home.

The significant concern out of Wednesday’s game for the Sixers is that Josh Richardson exited early with right hamstring tightness.

Here are observations from the win: 

The Embiid we know 

Embiid got on the board early in emphatic fashion with a slam over former teammate Richaun Holmes. 

He then drained a jumper from the top of the key on the Sixers’ next trip down the floor. Embiid was predictably determined to make his scoreless effort seem like as much of an aberration as possible and immediately came out with a high energy level — he had seven rebounds in the game’s first six minutes. 

Performances like this make it even more difficult to wrap one's head around how he played 32 minutes in a game and didn't score.

Richardson exits early 

Richardson sat out the second half because of his hamstring injury. He’d missed the Sixers’ games vs. the Knicks on Nov. 20 and Spurs on Nov. 22 with right hip flexor tightness but had played well since then, totaling 57 points on 58.8 percent shooting over the past two contests. In 17 first-half minutes Wednesday, he had nine points and three assists. 

Thybulle makes a big impact 

Matisse Thybulle (15 points on 5 for 5 shooting, four steals, two blocks) was excellent in the second half, knocking down open threes, choosing the right gambles to take on defense and helping the Sixers extend their lead.

The rookie’s ability to turn ultra-aggressive defense into transition offense is a quality Brett Brown and the Sixers love, and it definitely endears him to fans. 

An odd game from Simmons 

Ben Simmons received two loud cheers from the Wells Fargo Center crowd in the first half. One was for a highly unusual reason — he knocked free a ball suspended on the top of the backboard with the knob of a broom.

The other was for a 13-foot fadeaway jumper.

“In general, I want him to shoot more,” Brown said of Simmons pregame.

Simmons shot 5 for 11 from the floor Wednesday, posting 10 points, 14 rebounds and five assists.

He had a poor second quarter as he committed four turnovers, wasn’t as engaged as usual on defense and didn’t push the ball ahead with much purpose. At one point after a Kings make, Richardson seemed to gesture at Simmons as if to say, “Come on, let’s get into the offense.” Later, Richardson pulled Simmons away from a referee to stop him from carrying on an extended discussion.

The second half started much better for Simmons. He converted a layup and a dunk in transition within the first 35 seconds. 

Containing Hield 

Buddy Hield scored 22 points for the Kings, but few of them came easy. The Kings’ wing shot 9 for 24 from the floor.

He’d scored 41 points and made 11 three-pointers Monday against the Celtics, so the Sixers did well to contain him.

It was a team effort for the Sixers vs. Hield. Furkan Korkmaz competed hard to tail him around the floor and, on one sensational third-quarter sequence, Thybulle blocked Hield’s shot and was rewarded with a dunk on the other end. 

Outside of Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic (17 points), the Kings’ offensive firepower was limited — Sacramento is missing two of its top players in point guard De’Aaron Fox (Grade 3 left ankle sprain) and power forward Marvin Bagley (right thumb fracture).

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What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons

What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons

When Ben Simmons missed his first game of this season on Nov. 8 because of an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, Raul Neto started and Trey Burke played 17:34 as the Sixers’ backup point guard.

Burke was waived in February and is now a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Brett Brown, however, often uses Burke’s surname when he’s talking about Alec Burks, whose addition prompted the release of Burke.

The prior sentence was likely confusing, but let's be clear: Brown knows the player who scored 22 points Friday night and closed out the Sixers’ 108-101 win over the Magic (see observations). He’s colorfully discussed Burks’ “streetball-type game” and “lightning in a bottle” potential, and he had more praise to dish out Friday. 

You just felt confident that something as simple as a spaced pick-and-roll — put Al (Horford) or (Joel Embiid) in, roll Joel, let Alec dance … it was a clean, simple environment that I thought he really was excellent in. He can get into the paint at times and just play bully ball. And he has the ability to create his own shot — he sometimes doesn’t even need a pick-and-roll. And so all of those things were part of the reason that I extended his minutes, and maybe none more importantly, I think, than his defense.

“I think he’s really taken pride in knowing the scouting report. I think he’s sitting in a stance and taking pride in not getting beat on the first or second dribble with live-dribble guys. And so the package just enabled me to play him more than I normally have been, and I think he was a major contributor to the win. He was our bell ringer tonight, and we need him doing those types of things going forward.

With Simmons sidelined by a left patella subluxation, Burks’ abilities to run a pick-and-roll and conjure offense from nothing become more valuable. In truth, though, his strengths are skills the Sixers lacked back in October. It’s why Burke — the 6-foot Allen Iverson admirer, not the 6-foot-6 University of Colorado product — held appeal as a backup point guard possibility. Many of the themes we’ve heard from Brown about instant offense and shot creation echo. 

“I think my skill set adjusts well — playing great in the pick-and-roll and I can read the defense, find open people,” Burks said. “I’m just trying to thrive in that and help the team any way I can.”

The Sixers need these traits because zero members of their original starting lineup have them. Josh Richardson, the player who comes closest to resembling that mould, shot 2 for 12 vs. the Magic and has struggled to find his spots in an offense where he’s far from the first option. The fact that Shake Milton can handle the ball, conduct a pick-and-roll and hit open shots boosted his case to start, as basic as it sounds. 

Though Burks and Milton’s minutes were staggered with the exception of an early-fourth quarter stretch, there were encouraging signs from both players individually. Milton had six points, a career-high eight assists and only one turnover in 25 minutes. Since turning it over three times in the Sixers’ seeding game opener, he has two turnovers in 78 minutes. 

“With Shake, he’s going to continue to figure it out,” Horford said. “Obviously we all haven’t played together, and that makes a difference. He continues to feel it out, he continues to understand how he needs to play. And he was good tonight. He was solid, making the right plays … not turning the ball over. 

“And then Alec, he just has the ability to score in bunches, and we need that. We just need to continue to keep him involved and put him in positions where he can help us.”

Horford started Friday alongside Milton, as he’d done on March 11 in the Sixers’ final game before the NBA’s hiatus. He played well, posting 21 points and nine rebounds, and adding a physicality that Brown appreciated. 

Despite the aforementioned positives, the Sixers trailed the 32-38 Magic by two points after three quarters. Competent ball handling and shotmaking in Simmons’ absence is necessary, but it's fair to be skeptical about whether that would be enough in the playoffs against a team like the Celtics or Bucks. After all, none of the Sixers’ three wins at Disney World have been comfortable or against top-tier opposition. 

“It’s hard to replace Ben,” Horford said. “He does a lot for our group. The way that we’re looking at it is we all just have to step up a little more. It’s going to give opportunities to guys from the bench and other guys to come in to have an impact. We really don’t know. We don’t know, we just hope that he’s able to get healthy and get healthy quickly.”

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Sixers Talk podcast: Alec Burks is earning more minutes

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Sixers Talk podcast: Alec Burks is earning more minutes

On this edition of the Sixers Talk podcast, Danny Pommells, Paul Hudrick and Ben Berry discuss:

(1:11) — The Sixers' play in the bubble doesn't leave us with any confidence.
(5:45) — Embiid, Simmons and Horford do not fit together.
(11:45) — Should Alec Burks be higher in the rotation?
(20:55) — Josh Richardson looks out of sorts.
(24:04) — Draymond Green critical of Joel Embiid's play.
(33:40) — The reasons to be optimistic are shrinking.

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