76ers

Sixers 106, Heat 102: Boban Marjanovic, Tobias Harris lead way in win

Sixers 106, Heat 102: Boban Marjanovic, Tobias Harris lead way in win

BOX SCORE

The Tobi and Bobi show has officially launched in Philadelphia.

The duo led the Joel Embiid-less Sixers to a 106-102 win over the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.

The victory puts the Sixers at 24-7 at home and 38-21 overall.

Here are observations from the win.

• With Embiid out, Boban Marjanovic got the start and the Sixers didn’t miss a beat early. Marjanovic was a perfect 4 of 4 from the field for a game-high 11 points in the first quarter.

Aside from being a massive human, Marjanovic is actually pretty damn skilled. He has excellent touch around the basket and even a little extended.

His passing is also impressive. He’s excellent at finding cutters. He’s also an exceptional screener and roller.

You could make the argument he was the Sixers' best player, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Like Embiid, he does have his issues with ball security. He had five turnovers. The team also certainly missed Embiid's presence on defense.

• The Jimmy Butler at point guard experiment is still intriguing. There are times when Butler just sort of blends in offensively because of the firepower the Sixers now have. Playing the one allows Butler to get the ball in his hands early in the possession.

He’s also an underrated playmaker that takes care of the basketball. When the playoffs arrive, we should see more of Butler at the point — maybe with Ben Simmons playing a more traditional four.

Simmons will still have the ability to grab the ball off the rim and do his thing in transition, like on this play to Butler.

Butler was clearly the focal point of the offense, posting 18 points (5 of 14), six assists and six rebounds.

• Good thing Elton Brand got this Tobias Harris guy. Harris showed off his versatile offensive game once again. He was just 4 of 11 from the field and 1 of 5 from three for 12 points through three quarters. He then made an effort to attack more off the dribble and look for shots around the rim. That led to a 4 of 4, 11-point fourth quarter. Shooters shoot and Harris continued to do so even when he struggled early. He finished with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds.

• The substitutions were interesting Thursday and they’ll likely continue to be as Brett Brown figures out his playoff rotation.

Simmons was again out with the first wave of subs along with JJ Redick. That means Brown wanted to take a look at the Simmons-Redick pairing, which didn’t work out too well offensively with Jonah Bolden, Jonathon Simmons and Mike Scott rounding out the five on the floor.

Brown went with a Simmons-Harris pairing in the second half, which seemed to fare slightly better, but not much.

Simmons in general struggled in the first half (2 of 6, seven points), but looked much better in the second, getting more post touches against some of the Heat's smaller defenders. He recorded 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists. 

When Miami went small with Kelly Olynyk at the five, it allowed Brown to use Simmons as a five and have T.J. McConnell run the point with Marjanovic on the bench. That lineup is the one that got the Sixers back in front in the fourth quarter for good.

• The bench as a whole didn’t produce a ton, combining for just 12 points, but two guys stood out.

McConnell provided his typical energy and mid-range shooting. He made a very T.J. McConnell play, fronting Dwyane Wade and forcing an errant pass. As the ball was about to go out of bounds, McConnell saved it and it led to a Harris layup. As long as Brown picks his matchups with McConnell wisely, he can provide plenty.

The other reserve that stood out was Jonathon Simmons. Simmons is a legitimate NBA perimeter defender. He hasn't been a very good shooter throughout his NBA career, but he does have a little game off the dribble. He had a nice baseline drive and dunk late in the first half.

• Thursday was Dwyane Wade’s final regular season game in Philadelphia. They played a video featuring Sixers legend Allen Iverson honoring him. The Wells Fargo Center crowd cheered after the video ... but booed when he actually checked into the game. Never change, Philly.

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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

Before Saturday night’s game against the 10-3 Miami Heat and Jimmy Butler, the Sixers (9-5) have a good chance Friday to extend their winning streak to three games.

Here the essentials for tonight’s game against the 5-10 San Antonio Spurs:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Game 1 of Embiid’s first back-to-back 

Joel Embiid is expected to play both tonight and Saturday vs. Miami, his first back-to-back of the season. According to Brett Brown, keeping Embiid in a rhythm was a key factor in the decision.

“I think that has a lot to do with it,” Brown said. “This whole thing is very, very scrutinized, discussed, studied with a handful of people. Really, I’m not saying led by Joel, but with a significant voice in all of it — an opinion. It had been discussed a while ago that this was going to be one of the first back-to-backs that we were going to look at. We hope that’s true. We hope that’s the wise thing to do. I’m looking forward to getting as much of Joel Embiid as I can.”

After this one, the Sixers’ next back-to-back set is a week from now, next Friday at the Knicks and Saturday vs. the Pacers. 

Injuries 

Josh Richardson missed the Sixers’ win Wednesday over the Knicks with right hip flexor tightness and is questionable tonight. Trey Burke (left knee and ankle soreness) is also questionable. 

Without Richardson, Furkan Korkmaz started against New York and shot 1 for 5 in 16 minutes. Burke has gotten minutes over Raul Neto in the Sixers’ past two games and gave the team a needed jolt in the second half Wednesday playing alongside Ben Simmons (see story).

‘I don’t care about that number’ 

The Spurs enter Philadelphia with a seven-game losing streak, their worst since the 1996-97 season, when Gregg Popovich took over the job. 

Brown, a former Popovich assistant, sees that streak as meaningless.

“I didn’t even know that number. I don’t care about that number. They’re coached by Gregg Popovich. I know the large majority of their coaching staff that still exists, not as many of their players. I don’t even pay attention to it. I really don’t. My fondness and affection for Pop, and friendship with Pop, has extended two-plus decades. I just don’t care what they’ve been doing. If they’d won 15 in a row, I’d give you the same answer. All I’m doing is looking down there and it's the San Antonio Spurs, and I know we better bring our A-game or we’ll be in for a long night.”

Led by DeRozan (21.7 points per game) and LaMarcus Aldridge (17.9 points), San Antonio has the fifth-best offensive rating in the league despite shooting and making the fewest threes in the NBA. However, the Spurs are No. 28 in defensive rating and have allowed 100 points or more in all but two games. 



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Would Ben Simmons making 3s help with any of the Sixers' spacing issues?

Would Ben Simmons making 3s help with any of the Sixers' spacing issues?

Ben Simmons’ first made three-pointer in a regular-season NBA game Wednesday night did not suddenly solve the Sixers’ spacing concerns. In fact, the Sixers didn’t score for the opening 5:34 of the third quarter in their win over the Knicks, and Brett Brown and Al Horford were both frank Thursday about the state of the Sixers’ offense.

“I’m prepared to be patient and try to fix spatial things, more than anything,” Brown said. “It’s not like a magic bean — here it is, here’s the play — it ain’t that. Space in pick-and-rolls, space in post, space in early offense — space.”

Horford described the issues as stemming from a team-wide desire to play aggressively.

“I just think that we have the mentality that we want to attack, we want to get in the paint, we all want to get in there and score,” he said. “Whether I have a mismatch or Ben has a mismatch, and we’re all in there. It’s just recognizing in the middle of the game if you see someone else, then you kind of find your place and re-space. I think it’s all good intentions. That’s why I keep saying, the more games we play, I feel the better that things will get."

The play below illustrates Horford’s point.

The sequence starts with Embiid rolling to the rim, then setting a down screen for Horford. When the high-low between Horford and Embiid isn’t available, Horford comes out to the left wing and hands it off to Tobias Harris, who attempts to drive to the rim. Julius Randle, though, leaves Horford to help, and Taj Gibson muddies the paint as well.

Gibson sneaks into the lane because he’s guarding Simmons, who sets a weak side flare screen for Shake Milton inside the arc on the right wing instead of planting himself in the corner. 

The idea of Simmons freeing up a teammate on occasion by catching an opponent with a surprise screen is fair enough, but that’s not where Brown typically prefers him to be placed.

Brown wants Simmons to either be in a corner or in the “dunker spot,” hovering in the region near the low block and behind the backboard. When Simmons is in the dunker spot, that tends to relegate his teammates to the perimeter.

On the play above, Simmons starts in the left corner while Harris and Embiid run a middle pick-and-roll, but he leaks down into the dunker spot. Once he's rolled, Embiid discovers the dunker spot is already occupied, meaning he needs to retreat to the corner. An unsightly possession ends with a fadeaway three-point attempt by Embiid at the end of the shot clock. 

Simmons situating himself in the corner more regularly could, in theory, leave that space open for Embiid and create more room for the offense.

“For the obvious space reasons, it helps,” Brown said of how Simmons taking and making threes might benefit the Sixers. “To have him grow to a different floor spot — we’ve talked lots about getting him out of the dunker into a corner. His current world is you will either be in two places — an extreme corner or playing peekaboo behind the backboard in a dunker, because he’s still very good at that. And I think that he’s growing those two areas. 

“He understands when he’s not on the ball, this is my home, this is my world, along those areas. … I think he’s been fantastic at embracing that and I believe that if he can continue to work in that world, that side of it will certainly help us as time unfolds.”

How many threes would Simmons need to hit — and at what rate — in order to merit consistent respect from opposing defenses? 

Even now, defenders will often stay in his vicinity when he’s behind the arc. The play below goes wrong because of Furkan Korkmaz’s drive into trouble, but notice that RJ Barrett guards Simmons close to the way one would play an average outside shooter. He doesn’t entirely abandon a player who’s yet to make a single NBA three from where he’s standing on the left wing.

The court is generally more congested and the distance required to send a double team is shorter when Simmons is in the dunker spot. 

With Simmons deciding to go to the dunker spot on the play above, Randle didn’t have far to travel to wrestle the ball away from Horford. If Simmons had been in the corner and if he’d established himself as something beyond a novice as a three-point shooter, would Horford have had more time and space to post up? Perhaps.

“I think it will open things up even more,” Horford said of Simmons adding a three-point shot. “It will make us more dangerous because teams won’t be able to help as much and clog the lane and things like that. I was just happy to see Ben — he’s been doing it every day in practice. And in different situations I’ve seen him, he’s shooting it comfortably. I was just glad that he took a shot, got it to go down and now we can kind of move forward.”

For the time being, the Sixers’ offense looks most fluid and makes most sense in transition, where one player's instinct to score in the paint tends not to butt heads with another’s insistence on posting up a smaller defender.

There was nothing complicated about the Sixers’ first points of the second half Thursday. Simmons threw the ball ahead to James Ennis, who dropped it off to Horford in an area where he could attack Randle.

Half-court spacing is currently less comfortable. Simmons’ outside shot — were it to become a regular threat — and him permanently shifting to the corners might change things. At the moment, the notion that both those things will happen seems highly hopeful.

We can predict with more confidence, however, that more minutes for this group of players together will help. Time won’t magically make a supersized lineup work offensively, but it should allow teammates to grow a better understanding of each other. 

“As a coach, the first thing I go to is space,” Brown said. “How do you help with space? And then at that point on, you create a gym that can breathe, and their skillsets should be able to shine. And then from that point on, it’s on them.”

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