76ers

Joel Embiid's 1st career back-to-back yields mixed bag

Joel Embiid's 1st career back-to-back yields mixed bag

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — The Sixers would’ve liked a better result, but Saturday night’s final score took a backseat to what they learned about All-Star center Joel Embiid.

He finally played the second night of a back-to-back and, for the most part, looked pretty good doing it. After slowly acclimating the big man through his first 70 career games, Sixers coach Brett Brown was optimistic after a 100-92 loss at Indiana (see observations).

A night after playing 31 minutes, Embiid was on the court for 34 and finished with a game-high 24 points to complement his 10 rebounds, but also ended up minus-20 with seven turnovers.

Brown will take the good with the bad.

“It just goes to show how dominant Joel can be. He ends up with 24 and 10 rebounds, and you question his impact on the game,” Brown said. “That’s a helluva statement.”

“For him to do that in his first back-to-back, full credit to him. To produce those types of stats in a back-to-back is impressive but it wasn’t Joel Embiid.”

Embiid agreed with the coach after a fourth quarter (four points, two turnovers) that mirrored his teammates’ effort. The Sixers managed just three field goals while turning the ball over six times in the first seven minutes of the final period to help doom themselves to their fourth straight road loss.

“I’m happy that I finally played in a back-to-back but wish we would’ve gotten the win,” Embiid said after his 25th double-double of the season. “I felt like the whole time we were just flat. It’s not to the level we usually play at but overall we didn’t have a good game. 

“It just wasn’t our best night.”

Embiid, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons were a combined 14-for-40 from the floor Saturday night and the Pacers, who dropped the Sixers back to the .500 mark with the win, turned the Sixers' 18 turnovers into 22 points.

Still, the final 32 games of the season, which starts with a five-game homestand and legitimate hopes of the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2012, seemed to be the focus.

Brown, who said before Saturday’s game it felt good to not have to alter the plan because he knew he’d have Embiid in the lineup, doesn’t think it’s going to take any getting used to now that it appears the center is ready for a playoff push.

“I think we’ve had enough of a taste of Joel to not have that level of adjustment. I think that it’s only positive; the more he’s with us and playing with us, that’s a good thing,” he said. “We’ve played quite a bit of basketball with him so I don’t feel like there’s any adjustment.

“I feel like we’re going to start to thrive more and more in a very positive way and not speed bumps because we’re now playing with him more.”

The Sixers are at home until the All-Star break. They begin the five-game stretch Tuesday night when Washington visits the Wells Fargo Center.

Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell headline NBA All-Rookie first team

Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell headline NBA All-Rookie first team

Sixers guard Ben Simmons and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell continue to be linked in the quest for Rookie of the Year. 

They both were unanimously named to the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie first team with first-place votes on every ballot. 

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma and Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen rounded out the first team. Tatum was one vote short of also being a unanimous selection. 

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, Hawks forward/center John Collins, Suns forward Josh Jackson and Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. were named to the second team. 

Simmons (15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.7 steals), Mitchell (20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals) and Tatum (13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals) are the finalists for Rookie of the Year. The award will be announced on June 25.

The All-Rookie votes were cast by global broadcasters and sportswriters, choosing five players at any position for each team. First team votes were weighted with two points, second team votes one. 

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Amir Johnson

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USA Today Images

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson

Position: Power Forward/Center

Status for 2018-19: Unrestricted free agent

Johnson in 2017-18
The Sixers signed Johnson to provide solid backup minutes to Joel Embiid. He certainly wasn’t spectacular in that role, but that’s not who he is. He did his job.

Johnson averaged 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, playing in 74 contests. He averaged 15.8 minutes per game, his lowest since the 2008-09 season.

It seemed like Johnson’s name was always linked with Richaun Holmes, the younger, springier center also competing for backup center minutes (see Holmes' evaluation). While Johnson doesn’t have Holmes’ athleticism or offensive ability, Brett Brown preferred the veteran’s defense. During the regular season, Johnson had a 101.3 defensive rating, while Holmes’ was nearly five points worse, at 106.2.

At the start of the postseason, Johnson played some important minutes with Embiid working his way back from a left eye orbital fracture, and he played well. Despite Johnson not creating much of his own offense, the Sixers had no problem scoring when he was on the floor. In fact, Johnson’s 121.5 offensive rating was the best of any player in the first round of the playoffs.

Brown then drastically cut his minutes against the Celtics, Johnson’s former team, leaning heavily on Embiid. Johnson only played 17 minutes the entire Boston series, sitting on the bench for all of Game 4 and 5. He didn’t score in the series.

Signature game
In the Sixers’ 121-113 win over the Hawks on April 10, their 15th straight victory, Johnson posted 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists. That game was during Embiid’s recovery from his eye injury, which gave Johnson more of a chance to shine.

When Embiid was active, however, Johnson mainly just held down the fort while the big man got some rest.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Johnson sometimes seems older than he actually is, mainly because of his experience and the way he carries himself. At 31 years old, Johnson has already played 13 years in the NBA, since he was the last player to be drafted directly from high school in 2005 before the league changed its eligibility requirements.

JJ Redick and Johnson were two players the young Sixers could always turn to for wisdom. Johnson never complains about his minutes, always plays hard and goes about his business like a true professional — there’s no doubt he’s a good guy to have in the locker room.

Does that mean he’ll still be a part of the Sixers’ locker room next season? Not necessarily. With the Sixers looking to acquire a superstar this offseason, Johnson would likely have to take a pay cut from the $11 million he made this year if he wants to stay in Philadelphia.

And in the long term, the Sixers may ultimately want to place their faith in Holmes, who’s seven years younger and has a higher upside. If Holmes can improve his defense, Johnson could be expendable.

On Johnson
“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were. People skills, works his butt off, could handle sitting and swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots isn’t ever on my mind with Amir. He’s a perfect teammate.” 

- Brett Brown on Johnson after the Sixers' 107-86 win over the Jazz on Nov. 20