76ers

Shake Milton puts on a show, Josh Richardson leaves with injury as Sixers fall to Clippers

Shake Milton puts on a show, Josh Richardson leaves with injury as Sixers fall to Clippers

BOX SCORE 

Shake Milton tied an NBA record for consecutive made threes Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, reaching 13 threes in a row across the past three games. That was, without question, the most extraordinary part of the Sixers’ game against the Clippers.

The fact that the Sixers lost to the Clippers, 136-130, without Ben Simmons (nerve impingement in lower back) and Joel Embiid (left shoulder sprain) was much less surprising.

The defeat is the Sixers’ eighth straight on the road and drops the team to 37-24. Next up are the Lakers on Tuesday night.

Here are observations on the loss: 

The Shake Milton Show 

The Sixers couldn’t have started much better offensively, hitting 11 of their first 14 shots and taking a 25-11 lead. They hit 7 of 11 threes in the first quarter and had six assists and no turnovers. 

Josh Richardson picked up where he left off in the second half Thursday, knocking down his first three mid-range jumpers and, late in the period, a right wing three. Tobias Harris was sharp, too, and scored 13 points in the first on 5 of 8 shooting. 

Milton stood out, showing off a versatile, confident game. He hit a pull-up off a smooth crossover, accelerated into a lefty layup and sunk a short fallaway jumper over Ivica Zubac. Then, just to hammer home the point that he is indeed a legitimate NBA-caliber player, the 2018 second-round pick unearthed a steal and slammed it in on Patrick Beverley with his left hand. 

After a Clippers timeout, he converted a three. He wasn’t done, sinking three more in the second period and finishing the first half with 26 points on 10 of 11 shooting. His three-point streak finally ended with a third-quarter miss from the left corner. 

Though he couldn’t quite sustain the absurd highs of the first half, Milton finished with a career-high 39. 

We knew Milton was a good outside shooter, a poised player regardless of the circumstances and a star in the G League, but the burst, decisiveness and audacity on display Sunday were all highly impressive.

“When there is a vacuum, as there is right now with Ben, something will happen,” Brett Brown said last Tuesday. “Somebody will step up.”

Milton certainly has. 

Yet another injury

Richardson collided with Alec Burks and stayed down on the floor with 11:17 left in the second quarter. It appeared that, as Burks was leaning backwards after a driving layup attempt, the back of his head bumped into Richardson’s face. As he went to the locker room, Richardson had a towel pressed against his nose. 

He was ruled out of the game late in the second quarter with a nose contusion. Richardson was also later diagnosed with a concussion

The injury left the Sixers with just two of their original starters this season in Harris and Al Horford. 

The burden on Harris and Horford 

Harris, outside of his hot start, wasn’t great (25 points on 11 of 21 shooting, four rebounds, four assists). Horford (12 points on 4 of 11 shooting, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t either.

That’s not to imply those two were terrible. Harris was a big reason why the Sixers took their early lead, and came out with an aggressive mentality. Horford, who fouled out with 4:25 left, didn’t give the Sixers enough as a rim protector or scorer, though he had his second straight good game as a passer. That remains perhaps his best skill. 

It’s just that, given the current injury situation, the Sixers would have needed both Harris and Horford to be tremendous — on a normal night. Given Milton’s star turn, it probably would have been sufficient if one of the two had a huge game. Neither did. 

Rotation juggling 

Brown initially played Kyle O’Quinn at backup center over Norvel Pelle for the second straight game. With Horford getting into first-half foul trouble, the team preferred using Mike Scott as a small-ball center over extending O’Quinn’s minutes.

Scott held his own in that role, conceding some ground defensively against Montrezl Harrell but also scoring 11 points and grabbing six rebounds. Pelle and Scott split the backup five minutes in the second half.

Glenn Robinson III started the game, but Brown used Scott to begin the third quarter. Matisse Thybulle also opened the third, replacing Richardson. 

Robinson didn’t have much of an impact. His three-point shooting, the skill that was most appealing to the Sixers, has yet to translate to Philadelphia — he’s now 0 for 10 from three since the trade. With Golden State, Robinson was a 40 percent three-point shooter. 

Defensive vulnerabilities 

Missing three of their best defensive players in Embiid, Simmons and Richardson (for most of the game), the Sixers predictably had trouble stopping the Clippers, who shot 59.2 percent and got 20 or more points from Lou Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Harrell. 

There weren’t any issues with effort — as there have been during plenty of other road games this season — just a lack of healthy bodies. 

Every button Brown pushed in the first half seemed to work but the Clippers were, on paper, the superior team. They showed it in the third, outscoring the Sixers by 14 and dimming hope that a shorthanded, Shake Milton-led team could begin its four-game West Coast road trip with an improbable win. 

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How to watch Sixers vs. Magic: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

How to watch Sixers vs. Magic: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

Updated: 11:51 a.m.

We’re waiting for a timeline on how long Ben Simmons, who suffered a left patella subluxation in Wednesday’s game, will be sidelined. Meanwhile, the 41-27 Sixers will play their fourth seeding game on Friday night against the 32-37 Magic.

Here are the essentials: 

When: 6:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6 
Where: HP Field House 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

One of the impacts without Simmons 

Before sustaining his injury, Simmons attempted a corner three last game, his first legitimate long-range try since Dec. 7. The Sixers will likely miss his passing to three-point threats far more than his own three-point shooting. 

That said, the team took 35.8 threes per game and made 42.3 percent in its eight games before the hiatus, with Simmons out because of a nerve impingement in his lower back. Through three games at Disney World, the Sixers have taken 28.3 threes per contest (20th of 22nd teams) and converted 40 percent. The offense without Simmons should revolve around Embiid, but firing up more threes than they have so far will also need to be an emphasis. 

We reviewed several other potential ripple effects of Simmons’ injury, including options for the new starting lineup and the expected reliance on Joel Embiid, here

Other key injuries 

Simmons’ injury isn’t the only notable one affecting this game.  

Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac suffered a torn ACL on Sunday. Michael Carter-Williams (tendon strain in left foot) and Aaron Gordon (left hamstring strain) are also out. Center Mo Bamba has only played 11 minutes at Disney World. He told The Athletic’s Josh Robbins that’s because he had COVID-19 in June, which impacted his conditioning. 

For the Sixers, Mike Scott is questionable with right knee soreness and Glenn Robinson III is doubtful with a left hip flexor. Those two have yet to play in the Sixers’ seeding games. 

Former Sixers watch 

In addition to the aforementioned Carter-Williams, former Sixers Nikola Vucevic, James Ennis and Markelle Fultz are members of the Magic. 

An All-Star for the first time last season, Vucevic should have a challenging matchup against Embiid. Ennis, who was traded in February, starts for the Magic and has averaged 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds for the team in 16 games. Fultz has only missed one game this season, posting 11.9 points, 5.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, and is 4 for 5 from three-point range after the hiatus.

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Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Updated: 8:42 p.m.

Ben Simmons is out for the Sixers’ seeding game Friday against the Orlando Magic with a left patella subluxation and there's not currently a timeline for his return as he considers treatment options. That news is clearly significant in the Sixers’ world, and it raises a range of questions. 

Let’s run through some of the bigger ones: 

What exactly is the injury? 

A simpler way to classify the injury is as a partial dislocation of the kneecap. 

How long will Simmons be out?

This is the largest question and still murky. Brett Brown on Thursday said “stuff is still being evaluated” and that he wasn’t in a position to offer a timeline. Presumably, factors such as the state of the ligaments around the knee could play a key role in determining how long Simmons is out. 

Outside of Simmons’ physical status, the team’s approach will be important. There’s no reason to put Simmons back on the court before he’s healthy. 

Shake Milton is hoping for a speedy return.

“It’s tough for us,” he said Thursday. “Ben is an incredible player, an incredible athlete. I don’t know, he’s like a freaking superhuman, so hopefully he’s able to heal super fast and get back on the court, because we definitely need him.”

How will the starting lineup change?

On March 11, the Sixers’ final pre-hiatus game, the team started Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. That’s one possibility. The Horford-Embiid pairing is still the Sixers’ worst regular duo in terms of net rating despite having a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World.

If Brown wants to prepare for a scenario in which Simmons is available and in the postseason starting five, he could keep Horford as the sixth man. He could instead turn to a wing such as Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz or Glenn Robinson III, all of whom have started games for the Sixers this year. Robinson, who has missed the Sixers' first three seeding games with a left hip pointer, is doubtful for Friday's game. 

What about the rotation?

Robinson’s health is a relevant issue with the rotation, which Brown shrunk to nine players when the Sixers played the Wizards. Raul Neto didn’t play against Washington after seeing time in the first two seeding games.

It’s interesting to note that Neto started in Simmons’ place on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10 when the Australian was out with a shoulder injury. The circumstances were very different, however, as Milton was sidelined by a bone bruise and left knee sprain, leaving Neto and Trey Burke as the two main ball handlers on the roster. Trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks now appears ahead of Neto in the backup point guard pecking order, and Simmons’ injury should increase Burks' value a touch. 

As of Wednesday, Brown said his plan was still to have a nine-player rotation for the playoffs. 

What’s the intangible impact? 

When Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back on Feb. 22, Brown recalled him vomiting because of pain. He’s lauded Simmons often for the diligent rehabilitation he did to recover from that injury and be ready to go when play resumed amid a pandemic.

Injuries aren’t anything new to Brown, but he admitted it hurt some to learn about this one after witnessing the process of Simmons’ back rehabilitation. 

“It’s the life that we've lived since I have been in Philadelphia,” he said. “I’m sure every coach has some level of a similar story. This one stings, for sure. We all felt with the pandemic and are we going to play again, it obviously bought time for Ben — had the season kept going, it’s anybody’s best guess. In relation to being incredibly down about it, I’m not. When I think too long about it, probably I can go there.

“But I feel numb to it. I feel conditioned, that we’ve gone through this type of thing before. There is a level of faith that I have in the rest of the team that we can hold the fort until we hopefully get him back. But snakebitten, woe is me, I don’t go there.”

In addition to dealing with the disappointment of a star going down, the Sixers will have to tinker with ingredients like leadership that aren’t necessarily evident to an outsider.

“It’s going to be kind of everyone has to step up by committee,” Richardson said. “I think we have a few guys that can step up as leaders, who can step up and have big games for us. We don’t really like to put too much pressure on one or a few guys. Everybody’s going to step up in his absence.”

Can the Sixers manage without Simmons? 

Again, the lack of a timeline looms large here. We can say without question that the Sixers are 6-5 this season without Simmons and don’t have direct replacements for his elite defense, transition talents, creative passing and more.

It’s also logical that the Sixers will rely on Embiid defensively and feed him frequently in the post. His 34.4 percent usage rate so far in Florida may very well rise. 

“Offensively, he needs to get as many touches as we can get him,” Brown said. “And I think that one of the areas of most noticeable growth … is what he’s been doing passing out of the post. It’s maybe the single thing that stands out most to me offensively when you look at whether it’s Jo, or just us as a team — I like our post spacing.

“I like Jo’s unselfishness quarterbacking the gym. His ability to read where the double teams are coming from I think has been shown.”

Thybulle, Richardson, and perhaps Robinson when healthy could assume challenging defensive assignments that otherwise would have been Simmons’. Players like Harris and Korkmaz will miss Simmons’ ability to drive and set up three-pointers. 

Initially, the Sixers are coming to terms with the situation and hoping the injury doesn’t dent their playoff hopes.

“There’s a lot of moving parts right now and really we're all coming to grips with the news that we’ve received,” Brown said. 

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