76ers

Magic 119, Sixers 98: Sixers with terrible effort vs. playoff-hungry Magic

Magic 119, Sixers 98: Sixers with terrible effort vs. playoff-hungry Magic

BOX SCORE

You can brush off a loss on the road to a feisty young Atlanta team, especially coming off two big wins.

But not showing up two nights later against an Orlando team fighting for its playoff life? Yikes.

The Sixers were physically in Orlando, but their effort was nowhere to be found in a 119-98 loss to the Magic at Amway Center Monday night.

The loss drops them to 47-27 on the season. Ben Simmons missed the game with an illness.

Here are observations from the game.

• The Sixers were sloppy early, turning the ball over eight times in the first half, leading to 10 Magic points. Because they couldn’t take care of the basketball, they were up by just three going into the locker room.

Much like in Atlanta, their defense was not tight. There were plenty of miscommunication issues, especially in the pick-and-roll. They allowed Orlando to shoot 37.9 percent from three.

At one point in the second half, the Sixers went 11:50 without a basket. The Magic are a good defensive team, but not that good. Missing Simmons hurts, but the Sixers still had plenty of offensive firepower on the floor Monday.

Their effort was lacking as the Magic looked like a team fighting for a playoff spot while the Sixers looked like a team playing out the string. It was truly a disappointing effort, especially coming off a disappointing loss.

• It was a weird first half for Joel Embiid, who nearly recorded a double-double but also turned the ball over four times and picked up two early fouls.

To start the second half, he decided to play straight bully ball, beating up on former Sixer Nikola Vucevic on multiple plays.

But the double teams became more aggressive after this basket and the Sixers' perimeter shooters were unable to make Orlando pay. The team went just 6 of 23 from three.

I'm not sure if it was him picking up his fourth or what, but Embiid didn't look right late in the game. He wasn't challenging anything at the rim and looked a step slow. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

• With Simmons out of the lineup, there was no doubt we’d be seeing Jimmy Butler used more as a point guard. Butler continues to look more than comfortable in that role as Brett Brown puts him in more situations that make him comfortable.

This pick-and-roll with Butler and Embiid was a thing of beauty.

I’d like to see Embiid roll to the rim more often. He and Butler can be an incredibly dangerous duo.

Butler was one of the few bright spots for the Sixers tonight, finishing with 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He was also one of the few players that actually showed anything defensively.

• With no Ben Simmons or James Ennis, T.J. McConnell got the start and Shake Milton and Jonathon Simmons got some run.

McConnell struggled, going 1 of 4 from the field with just two assists and two turnovers. He continues to be a liability when asked to defend bigger and more athletic players.

Milton, playing in his first NBA game since Feb. 2, was part of the first wave of subs. The rookie out of SMU has starred for the Blue Coats and gave a glimpse of what he brings to the table.

He made another nice cut to the basket on a Harris drive. Harris hit Milton backdoor, and he finished at the rim. Milton also nailed a three off the dribble. He just really has a feel for the game and can hit shots. He shows a ton of poise for a first-year player as well. He can also keep opposing guards in front of him.

The Sixers would have to convert Milton’s contract from a two-way deal to a standard NBA deal — which they can do at any time before the regular season ends with a corresponding move —  for him to be eligible for the playoffs, but if he keeps showing out like this, he’s going to give the team plenty to think about.

He finished with 13 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field.

• The only benefit of the Sixers getting their doors blown off in the second half was we got to see first-round pick Zhaire Smith make his NBA debut. Smith actually ended the team's scoring drought with his first NBA basket, a three from the top of the key.

• The Sixers were abused by two of their former players, Vucevic and Michael Carter-Williams. Vucevic put up 28 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Carter-Williams, the recent recipient of a second 10-day contract, put up 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. It just adds a little more salt to the wound.

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Sixers’ bell ringing ceremony after win over Nets was especially entertaining

Sixers’ bell ringing ceremony after win over Nets was especially entertaining

The Sixers' ceremonial, celebratory miniature Liberty Bell does travel, even if they've gotten much more use out of it at Wells Fargo Center than on the road this season.

Brett Brown's preamble Monday before handing the bell off to Ben Simmons was especially entertaining. Simmons was the Sixers' bell ringer after his 34-point triple-double in a 117-11 win over the Nets, but Brown made sure to praise several others.

“Al Horford … with just some adult f---ing plays at the end," Brown said. "Holy s---. Really just great stuff.”

Brown isolated Mike Scott, too.

“And how ‘bout you? You were great tonight, Mike Scott.”

You can watch the full video below, courtesy of the Sixers' Twitter account.



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Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Before every game, Ben Simmons tweets out an emoji of an angry face with steam coming out of its nose.

In Monday’s 117-111 win over the Nets (see observations), Simmons was the personification of that.

Simmons played angry from start to finish in tying his career-high of 34 points while also notching his fourth triple-double of the season with 12 assists and 12 rebounds. He also had five steals, making him the first NBA player to record at least that stat line since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

The scary thing: He was even better than the box score indicates.

“We learned that he was Conference Player of the Week during this game,” Brett Brown told reporters in Brooklyn. “I would have given him that just for his second half of this game.”

For as good as Simmons was in the first half, he was especially spectacular after halftime. That’s especially notable for all the recent scrutiny he’s faced.

For as well as Simmons has played in Joel Embiid’s absence (19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists per game), many pointed to Simmons’ inability to score late in games. He had just two points (1 of 4) in 37 fourth-quarter minutes over his last four games. To be fair, he also had 11 assists to just two turnovers.

If you didn’t notice him in the second half of this game, you weren’t watching very closely. He had 19 of his 34 points after halftime. He also snagged three of his steals while only turning the ball over once.

Along with rookie Matisse Thybulle, Simmons ignited the team’s defensive effort coming out of the locker room. The Sixers held the Nets to just 43 second-half points and forced 15 turnovers.

“I think Ben's energy, honestly, is just contagious,” Al Horford said. “I think that at the level that he was playing — that kind of All-NBA-type, taking over the game — I just think it really rubbed off on all of us and we just stepped our game up and played free and played hard.”

With Embiid out, Brown turned to little-used Kyle O’Quinn and the even less used Jonah Bolden to back up Horford in the first half. They were a combined minus-six with six fouls in 15 minutes.

Enter Simmons.

We haven’t seen a ton of Simmons at the five this season, but desperate times may have caused the Sixers to “trip on something,” as Brown likes to say. They went to a lineup with Raul Neto at the one and found success using Simmons as a screener and roller.

Rookie Nicolas Claxton, who had a big first half for the Nets, wasn’t a physical match for Simmons. That won’t happen on most nights in the NBA, but when teams go small, the Sixers have quite an answer.

“It’s tough for any big to really guard me when I’m going at them,” Simmons said. “That’s not a knock on any bigs, I’m just pretty fast and can get to the rim.”

As we’ve seen many teams do this season, Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson used a center, Jarrett Allen, on Simmons. Allen just sat in the paint and dared Simmons to shoot. 

In the past when the strategy was deployed, Simmons wouldn’t attack it. That's changed of late. Instead of trying to beat that tactic by shooting, Simmons has eaten that space and taken on opposing bigs at the rim — with a ton of success.

We all know the strengths of Simmons and that one glaring weakness. It seems like Brown has maximized those strengths recently and Simmons has taken on a different mindset.

“Same s---, you know what I’m saying? That’s Ben Simmons,” Mike Scott said. “He’s an All-Star. He’s our leader. I thought it was as he should.”

While Simmons recorded easily the best stat line of his NBA career, this may have been his finest performance as a pro.

“He just peppered the stat sheet all over the place,” Brown said. “But what I see is his spirit, his body language, his facial expressions. They reeked of, ‘We’re going to win, and you guys hang on to me and I will carry you.’ And I felt like he did that in many, many ways.”

By the way, that emoji is known as “face with look of triumph.”

Yeah, that works.

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