76ers

Breaking down 4 interesting plays from Sixers' last game before NBA's hiatus

Breaking down 4 interesting plays from Sixers' last game before NBA's hiatus

The last time the Sixers played a game, the final score was an afterthought. In the context of the NBA season being suspended that night as the reality of facing a global pandemic set in for many fans, Joel Embiid looking good in his return from a left shoulder sprain and the Sixers beating the Pistons wasn’t very important. 

With the NBA’s owners and NBPA having approved a tentative plan to restart the season at Walt Disney World on July 31, we have a chance to both look back and look ahead at key questions for if/when the season resumes. We’ll start by highlighting a few notable plays from that March 11 game vs. Detroit.

This first play is a negative one as Mike Scott falls behind in defending a ball screen, calls on Joel Embiid to switch and watches Tony Snell hit a runner over the big man. 

The defense at the point of attack generally wasn’t very good from the Sixers in this game, with Pistons ball handlers penetrating too frequently. While the Sixers’ preferred mode of pick-and-roll defense is having the perimeter defender go over the screen and the big man drop, can players like Scott and Furkan Korkmaz fight over picks and manage to stay in the play enough in a postseason series? 

Statistically, the Sixers have been above average defending the pick-and-roll, but far from elite. That’s an accurate description of their defense overall, too. 

This next sequence is a strong one for Al Horford, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in this game, albeit against a bad Pistons team. 

After Detroit runs a double drag action and both Embiid and Horford drop, Brandon Knight kicks the ball out to Christian Wood, and he blows by Embiid. Horford does a nice job sliding over to help and contesting Wood’s shot, though he does get away with a slight bump. It’s also encouraging to see Horford show he still can take a rebound, start the offense and make an intelligent play by finding Embiid deep in the paint against a smaller defender. 

The Horford-Embiid pairing has consistently been the Sixers’ worst regular duo, but plays like this are small slivers of hope. Though it’s not worth forcing a frontcourt that doesn’t work, Horford theoretically still could have positive value next to Embiid in certain situations, especially as a passer. 

Of course, adding Ben Simmons back into that mix presents a different challenge. The Simmons-Horford-Embiiid trio has excelled defensively but been the Sixers’ worst three-man lineup in terms of offensive rating by over two points. 

When play resumes, there’s a strong case for shifting Horford back to the bench and keeping Shake Milton in the starting lineup. Milton’s shooting numbers were incredible after Simmons exited early with a lower back injury on Feb. 22 in Milwaukee — he made 60.4 percent of his three-pointers on 5.3 attempts per game — but that’s not the only reason he should stick as a starter. 

Milton shows a capacity for probing the defense and making the simple, correct play. In fact, the entire Sixers team does that in the sequence below.

Here, the Sixers start in a “Horns” set, with Milton at the point. As Milton gives the ball to Horford on the left wing, Embiid sets what the Sixers refer to as a “sprint away screen” on the opposite side of the floor, otherwise known as a wide pin down. Richardson doesn’t use it here, perhaps because he doesn’t want to curl up and disrupt the two-man game with Milton and Horford. 

Notice how Milton waits until Horford has screened off Svi Mykhailiuk before driving and hitting a long runner off the “wrong” foot.

The outside shooting is an attractive skill, but Milton’s ability to accurately diagnose plays and capitalize on attacking opportunities is another persuasive argument for him being part of the Sixers’ Disney World starting five. 

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Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

The Sixers have yet to lose a home game this calendar year.

Monday night, they’ll look to maintain their home excellence, just not at Wells Fargo Center. They lost their seeding game opener at Disney World, a designated road matchup against the Pacers, and "host" the Spurs tonight.

The team has worked to replicate the environment in which the Sixers went 29-2 this season as closely as possible.

“We want to keep that going,” Sixers Chief Marketing Office Katie O'Reilly told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Paul Hudrick in an interview Monday. “Our fans are incredible. Our season ticket members are incredible, they’re loyal, they’re passionate. They really create that environment.”

For Monday's game against San Antonio, you’ll see on screens courtside “virtual fans," which will include, according to O’Reilly, “season ticket members, our marketing partners, our community partners, as well as friends and family of the players.” Those virtual fans have been given packs that have T-shirts, hats and noisemakers.

Several unique features of a typical Wells Fargo Center game night aren’t going anywhere. PA announcer Matt Cord has some pre-recorded segments, and, per O’Reilly, the beloved Ron Brooks — “the world’s first double amputee to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout,” as Cord always introduces him — will still be belting out the national anthem. 

“Even in-arena for our home games, we’ll have Ron Brooks, our guy, singing the national anthem,” O’Reilly said. “We’ll have our traditional bell ringing, we’ll have our player intros, we’ll have our open video. So that sort of entire pregame ritual that we have will run really exactly the same, just virtually on video.”

And the Wendy’s Frosty Freeze-out? 

“If someone misses two (straight) free throws, you will still be able to redeem for your free Frosty,” O’Reilly said. 

The roar of the crowd obviously won’t be nearly as loud or intense after a big play, but many of the “sounds of the game” should be familiar for players. O’Reilly didn’t mention the boos that both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hope to hear if the Sixers aren’t playing well, but player input factored into the new home gameday experience. 

“Our players are constantly collaborating with our marketing and game operations department on the look and feel,” O’Reilly said, “and they really feed off that home energy, so it was important for us to maintain as much of it as we could down in Orlando, and we’re excited to see it come to life tonight.

“Our players’ voices are always heard. We’re always receiving feedback from everybody, whether it’s front office, season ticket members, the players, the coaches, and we really take pride in delivering on that. … Every player has a song that they get to pick to play in-arena when they make a big play or a big shot. So it is really important to us that we sort of curate the experience based on everyone who is there, and we’re collaborating all the time.”

Given how invincible the Sixers appeared at home before the coronavirus pandemic forced the season to pause, the idea to essentially duplicate a normal home atmosphere that players feel comfortable in seems intuitive. We'll learn soon just how effective it is.  

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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: 1:48 p.m. 

The Sixers (39-27) and Spurs (29-36) will meet Monday over eight months after their first matchup this season, a 115-104 Sixers win on Nov. 22. It’s technically a home game for the Sixers, the team’s first since March 11. They were 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center. 

Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is out and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful. Kyle O'Quinn missed his coronavirus test on Sunday and is not eligible to play, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

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

And here are three storylines to watch: 

An outlier opener? 

In several ways, Saturday’s defeat to the Pacers wasn’t like most for the Sixers this season.

The team outscored Indiana by a point in nine Joel Embiid-Al Horford minutes but saw their 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate when Horford stepped in at center, the opposite of the trend this year. The starting backcourt combined for four points on five field goal attempts. Turnover problems that had characterized seasons past resurfaced as the Sixers gave it away 14 times in the first half and 21 times in the game. They’d been 10th in turnovers (14.2 per game) before the hiatus. Ben Simmons’ defense was not anywhere close to as great as it’s been for much of the season. 

A loss is a loss, but perhaps the Sixers on Monday will look more like the team we saw in their first 65 games. 

Another size disparity 

Jakob Poeltl is the only traditional frontcourt player in San Antonio’s starting lineup, which means the Sixers will again have plenty of size advantages. With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the season after right shoulder surgery, DeMar DeRozan is the Spurs’ second-tallest starter at 6-foot-6. Shake Milton and Josh Richardson are the Sixers’ shortest starters at 6-5. 

The Spurs have opened well at Disney World, winning their first two games and moving into ninth in the Western Conference, but the Sixers will present a unique challenge. 

'Walking that line'

Brett Brown doesn’t generally have an endless level of patience with younger players. He’s sometimes quick to pull the plug when they make mistakes or have trouble adjusting to a new situation.

Following Milton’s poor first game in the new starting lineup (no points, three assists, three turnovers, five fouls), it will be interesting to see Brown’s approach if Milton struggles again early. 

“The tolerance level … whether it’s trying to persevere and grow Shake, whether it’s the distribution of how you actually use Ben Simmons, all of those things are always on my mind,” he said Sunday. “It’s the launching pad that we have now where you’ve got some games before you enter the playoffs. And life moves quickly where you get stuck in this current where you’re going to blink and the playoffs are going to be right at your doorstep. 

“Walking that line of persevering and patience vs. gut feel — you like it or you don’t — that ecosystem is my job.”

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