76ers

Sixers 120, Pacers 96: Sixers kick off brutal stretch with arguably best win of season

Sixers 120, Pacers 96: Sixers kick off brutal stretch with arguably best win of season

BOX SCORE

The Sixers kicked off a tough upcoming stretch with arguably their most impressive win of the season.

They took down the Pacers, 120-96, Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Indiana has been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning nine of their last 11. The Sixers were able to capture a win in the first game of a brutal 12-game stretch.

Here are observations from the win.

• The Sixers have moved the ball extremely well over their last two games. After collecting 40 assists on 55 made field goals on their way to waxing the Timberwolves Tuesday, they recorded 38 assists on 46 field goals against the Pacers, a team that came in with the third-best defensive rating in the NBA. The Sixers have the look of a team that's starting to click offensively.

They also held Indiana, the second-best shooting team in the NBA at 48.3 percent, to just 40 percent.

• Brett Brown has said on more than one occasion he’d like Jimmy Butler to be more assertive. On Thursday, Butler certainly was. He abused Bojan Bogdanovich — who’s out there for his offense — every chance he got.

What stood out in the first half was Butler’s movement without the basketball. On more than one occasion he was able to make a sharp cut to the basket for an easy bucket.

Butler was his usual active self on the defensive end. What’s most impressive is his recovery speed when he tries to cheat for a steal or deny his man the ball. It’s part of what makes him elite on that end of the floor. 

He finished with 27 points on 10 of 17 from the field. He also had eight assists with zero turnovers. You could make the case this was his best game as a Sixer.

• Joel Embiid, who was a game-time decision with a back issue, was clearly in discomfort. He was noticeably grimacing on the floor and trying to stretch on the sideline. 

With that said, the All-Star center gutted it out on both ends of the floor. He recored his league-leading 38th double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds. He came up just two assists shy of a triple-double and had three blocks. 

• Simmons has been phenomenal lately, but we didn’t see the same aggressive player he’s been since the calendar turned to 2019. Simmons has done an excellent job recently of being aggressive and looking for his shot early.

In this one he took just two shots in the first half. He seemed to fall back into the trend of getting into the paint without a plan which generally has led to turnovers. He committed five in the first half. Simmons is so much better when he goes to the rim looking to score first and pass second. His indecisiveness has hurt him. He did commit just one turnover in the second half and still finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

To Simmons’ credit, he didn’t let his early offensive struggles affect him on the other end. He was charged with guarding the dangerous Victor Oladipo and held the All-Star guard to just 15 points.

• Jonah Bolden has been a revelation off the Sixers’ bench. Sure, he only played 12 minutes tonight, but his impact on the defensive end has been huge. His length, athleticism, quick feet and ability to protect the rim have been a big addition off the bench. Bryan Colangelo’s tenure as Sixers GM didn’t go well, but he may have hit on this second-round pick.

• It’s amazing what Bolden’s emergence and Wilson Chandler’s reemergence (10 points) has done to improve the team’s bench and somewhat solidify the team’s rotation. Using Bolden as the backup five allows Mike Muscala (11 points) to play more four and Chandler to play more three. Both players seem more comfortable at those positions.

This team likely isn’t a finished product as we approach the Feb. 7 deadline, but it appears Brett Brown has finally found a rotation he feels comfortable with.

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Sixers' Josh Richardson has a unique defensive challenge ahead

Sixers' Josh Richardson has a unique defensive challenge ahead

There are plenty of new things in store for Josh Richardson as one of the newest members of the 76ers, but there is one in particular that’s going to take some getting used to.

At 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, Richardson will be the smallest guy in the Sixers' starting lineup this upcoming season.

“I have never been that, ever in my life,” Richardson said with a laugh at the Sixers Summer Shore Tour in Wildwood, New Jersey. “It will be interesting looking up to my teammates, talking in huddles and stuff.”

On a serious note, Richardson is looking forward to the challenge on defense. Richardson guarded point guards quite a bit during his four years with the Miami Heat and has confidence he’ll be able to guard smaller guards.

“I know that I’ll be the shortest starter here and I don’t mind guarding all of the guys that like to get in the paint and use their speed a lot,” Richardson said.

One thing is for certain: Richardson is ready for the season to get started, especially after the NBA schedule release.

“I’m just excited," Richardson said. "I saw we open with Boston and I know there’s a little rivalry history there, so it’s going to be fun to be a part of that.”

And as for his former team?

“I always have Miami circled to go back there and compete against my brothers down there," Richardson said, "but I’m just ready, excited to compete every game.”

Richardson has kept in touch with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Mike Scott throughout the offseason. He met Shake Milton for the first time, working out at the Sixers' training facility on Saturday morning.

The former Tennessee Volunteer has been getting his own work in this summer.

“Health, I think health is a big part, just being able to be out there for as many games as I can is going to be huge, and being able to make shots,” Richardson said of his offseason goals. “I think being a shot maker is going to be big for us.”

Looking back at the trade, despite there being a shock factor in the moments following, he couldn’t be more eager for this new opportunity. Richardson said his excitement occurred "almost instantly."

“After I started looking at the pictures of our lineup, it turned into straight excitement, like as soon as it happened,” Richardson said. “As long as we all gel, as long as we all have the same goal in mind, I think we’ll have a strong season.”

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Zhaire Smith has a clear goal for his first full NBA season with the Sixers

Zhaire Smith has a clear goal for his first full NBA season with the Sixers

Zhaire Smith has packed on some pounds this summer, most recently weighing in at 212 as he continues to grind in the weight room over the offseason.

“I’ve got a lot of goals, especially in the weight room, to get bigger, stronger and faster,” Smith said at the Sixers Summer Shore Tour in Wildwood, New Jersey.

There’s a reason that when you ask Smith about his goals this summer, he always makes a reference to the weight room.

After a severe allergic reaction nearly takes away your entire rookie season, leaving you in a hospital for weeks and with feeding tubes for months, gaining back the 40 pounds (and some) you lost becomes a pretty important goal.

“With all I’ve been through the past 12 months, and it’s been a crazy ride, a lot of bumps in the road, but we here now and I’m not looking back.”

If that crazy ride he’s been on has taught him one thing, it’s this:

“I know not to take the game for granted and work hard every day, like it’s my last.”

If you talk to those around Smith, you’ll find out quickly that working hard isn’t something the young guard takes lightly. He also knows that minutes aren’t going to be handed to him, and he’s ready to get to work.

“To get in the rotation, play hard and just do what I do and have fun with it,” Smith said of his goals this season.

Smith is also looking forward to practices and bonding with his new teammates.

“It’s going to be competitive. I can see it right now, that practice is going to be really intense and we are just going to go at it.”

On top of that, Smith is ready to soak up all the knowledge he can, especially on the defensive end.

“I’m looking forward to asking questions and learning, so it’s going to be a fun ride. I believe we are all going to bond together really quick and have a fun time.”

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