Sixers 117, Nuggets 110: Sixers' new starting five shows off its firepower vs. Nuggets

Sixers 117, Nuggets 110: Sixers' new starting five shows off its firepower vs. Nuggets


There was a basketball game played at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night, but at times, it felt more like a party.

The Sixers' new juggernaut starting five got off to a strong start but had to hang on to beat the Nuggets, 117-110.

After leading by as many 16 in the first half, leaky defense allowed Denver to come back and make it a tight contest.

The win improves the Sixers to 22-6 at home and 35-20 overall.

Here are observations from the win.

• Well, Tobias Harris couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start.

He missed his first look, a bunny on a great look from Ben Simmons. But he buried his next chance, knocking down a transition three from the wing on a rope from Simmons. This is something we could be seeing a lot more of. 

He nailed a huge fourth-quarter three on a similar play.

The common theory has been that Harris will fit in nicely because of his ability to shoot, but what stood out in his debut is that he’s just a damn good basketball player. He recorded 14 points in his Sixers debut.

• The biggest beneficiary of all the added star power might just be JJ Redick. Redick likely had the cleanest looks he’s had all season. His movement away from the ball is so good and he continued to just find the open spots all night.

With Redick scorching the nets all night, it helped loosen things up around the basket for everyone else.

This Ben Simmons dunk is a prime example, as he fakes the hand off to Redick and drives to the basket instead.

He finished with a season-high 34 points and hit 6 of 7 from three. It’s nice to have four star-caliber players, but it’s even better to have a guy like Redick to open things up.

• Joel Embiid, who was questionable with a stomach bug, gutted this one out, but struggled offensively. He didn't look like himself all night, but you have to give him credit, he played hard all night. 

This block to end the third quarter was just pure hustle and effort.

The shooting numbers look ugly (4 of 17 from the field), but he still managed to record his league-leading 45th double-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.

• Nikola Jokic was a problem yet again for the Sixers. The All-Star center and guard Jamal Murray gave the Sixers' fits in running the pick-and-roll together. The pair finished with a combined 50 points.

• The Sixers’ defense is still very clearly a work in progress. They continue to struggle against the pick-and-roll and, with a bunch of new pieces, had a miscommunications that led to a few open looks.

With that said, you have to give Brand credit for the role players he picked up. A guy like James Ennis is a perfect example of the kind of guy this team needs. He defended a pick-and-roll better than I’ve seen any Sixers’ defender do it all season. If he can hit an open three every now and then — he hit two Friday — he could be a huge pickup.

• Speaking of the bench, it’s going to be interesting to see Brett Brown’s rotations going forward. He didn’t have his full complement of players with Jonathon Simmons, acquired from Orlando in the Markelle Fultz trade, not in uniform.

One intriguing thing was how Jimmy Butler worked in the pick-and-roll with Boban Marjanovic — who got a rousing ovation from the crowd. Their first play running it led to Marjanovic’s first basket as a Sixer.

Another rotational change that’ll probably benefit the Sixers going forward is the separation of Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell. With both players unwilling to shoot from the outside, it just leads to poor offense.

It was nice to see Butler and Simmons get some run together again. They’ve had a connection pretty much since Butler arrived. Brown wanted to get Butler playing more with Embiid — for obvious reasons — but the chemistry between Butler and Simmons is undeniable.

Butler had an excellent all-around game, recording 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. He did serious damage from the line, making 14 of 14.

• Simmons has to cut down on his turnovers. He had nine Friday night. When you're surrounded by so much offensive talent there's no excuse for it. 

• Needless to say, Sixers fans are pretty delighted with the moves the team made. GM Elton Brand got the rockstar treatment, at one point getting a, “Thank you, Elton,” chant by a section of fans.

• The Sixers finally retired the late great Moses Malone's No. 2.

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NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

“The Latvian Laser” might not be for sale.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the Wizards haven’t been listening to offers for sharpshooter Davis Bertans. 

“Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal,” Mannix reports. “Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline."

NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and Mannix have all reported that the Sixers have interest in Bertans, who’s shot 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game. That’s the best percentage in the league among players who have attempted at least eight threes per contest. 

Hughes reported on Jan. 6 that the Wizards were “fielding calls” for Bertans despite general manager Tommy Sheppard saying the team had “every intention of retaining” the forward in free agency. The Celtics, Lakers, Hawks and Nuggets are also suitors for Bertans, according to Hughes.

Bertans is making $7 million this season but looks set to earn substantially more when he becomes a free agent. The Wizards hold Bertans’ Bird Rights after landing him in a trade this summer, which means they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him.

The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 6, so it’s certainly possible that the Wizards will be open for business when it really matters. It seems that it would make sense to at least consider offers. 

Regardless, Bertans is an attractive player for the Sixers, and for contending teams in general who want an elite shooter. 

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Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

CAMDEN, N.J. — Shake Milton hasn’t spent much of his second professional season playing competitive basketball. As a result of a left knee injury he sustained on Oct. 28 and an inability to find consistent playing time when he returned, Milton has only played in 19 games this year — 13 in the NBA, six in the G League. 

Suddenly, it sounds like he’s going to assume a prominent role.

Milton played a season-high 22:31 Wednesday night after Josh Richardson strained his hamstring early in the first quarter, posting nine points on 3 of 10 shooting (3 of 6 from three-point range), four rebounds and two assists. With Richardson set to be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, Brett Brown now sees a significant job for Milton to fill.

It’s always on my mind to try to find a pick-and-roll partner for Ben [Simmons],” Brown said Friday. “Then it’s on your mind, ‘Well, what do you do with the other players?’ Namely your center. Do you play Ben at a five? And so Shake comes in, he actually can run a pick-and-roll, he can shoot, and so that interests me. 

“We’ve seen [Furkan Korkmaz] in that environment. When you take out J-Rich, you’re wondering what’s it look like if I want to pursue and continue to grow that part of Ben’s game and our understanding of how do we take the group and maximize it. Shake, I think, has a chance to come in and play a role in that. So, my intention is to continue to look at that.

Milton’s background suggests he might profile well for what Brown desires. A major focus of his rookie season, when he was under a two-way contract, was developing as a ball handler and decision-maker. He averaged 24.9 points per game in the G League last year and worked on areas like learning how and when to attack the rim, drawing fouls and, of course, running the pick-and-roll (see story)

“Just get to my spots and knock down shots,” Milton told reporters Wednesday in Toronto. “Just play with confidence and once you get up the floor a couple times you get in your groove and it’s just like playing basketball again, so it felt good.”

Al Horford highlighted defensive communication as the biggest emphasis with Milton and without Richardson. The Sixers have often asked Richardson to guard top opposing scorers this season. 

“It's hard to replace Josh, first of all, and obviously we hope that he gets healthy and gets back to us, but with Shake, just making sure that we're helping him, on the defensive end especially, getting familiar,” Horford said. 

“Offensively, I'm not worried about him. He can really, really shoot the ball and he'll have his looks, his opportunities and I'm confident in him. And defensively, just helping him, talking to him, making sure that he's in the right places and doing the things he needs to do, because that's something that Josh is great at.”

Brown was straightforward in saying that another way he'll respond to Richardson's injury is by looking to give rookie Matisse Thybulle more minutes. 

He was less clear in describing what the future might hold for Zhaire Smith. The team recalled Smith Friday from the G League, and the 20-year-old will be available Saturday night vs. the Lakers. 

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a 2018 draft-night trade, had his rookie season derailed by a broken foot and severe complications from an allergic reaction. He’s been “hunting threes” with the Delaware Blue Coats and shooting the ball well recently (see story).

Brown said he’s been following Smith’s progress and is encouraged by what he’s seen and heard. 

“[Blue Coats head coach] Connor Johnson and I talk, we follow his statistical progress, namely how does he do at shooting threes in the corner. We get he plays hard, we get that he’s an athlete, and so now what? How can we maximize or tap into a little bit offensively what he’s been growing? 

“I think that there is an upward trend, a growth that we’ve seen for two reasons: First, him — he’s embraced the fact that he’s with the G League. Some people treat that as you’ve been scolded, and he’s handled it maturely. And two, there’s a symmetry with the programs that I think enables him to feel like there’s a progressive path in the next step when he comes up here — same words, same language, same system. And I think for those two reasons we’re looking at him a little bit more seriously, especially without J-Rich.”

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