76ers

Sixers 123, Kings 114: Sixers look more focused in win over playoff-hungry Kings

Sixers 123, Kings 114: Sixers look more focused in win over playoff-hungry Kings

BOX SCORE

After taking the lowly Cavs a little lightly on Tuesday, the Sixers looked like a more focused team against the hungry Kings.

It was a tight affair, but the Sixers managed to hang on for a 123-114 win over Sacramento Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The victory brings the Sixers to 44-25 on the season, same as the Pacers — a team they've already won the season series against — and two games ahead of the Celtics for the Eastern Conference's third seed.

Here are observations from the win:

• Joel Embiid has had plenty of dominant halves this season, but the first half of this one had to be right up there among his best. He had 14 points (7 of 10 shooting), nine rebounds and two blocks before the break.

He looked spry as he crossed over Willie Cauley-Stein for a mid-range jumper and also had a pull-up jumper from the top of the key.

Harry Giles is a good-looking young center, but he was no match for Embiid on the block.

Perhaps proof that he hasn't quite rounded into shape from his eight-game absence, Embiid finished with just 21 points. He did hit a huge jumper over Cauley-Stein with the Kings threatening with under two minutes in the game. He also grabbed 17 boards and blocked four shots overall.

It’s amazing how much of a difference Embiid makes on defense. Beyond covering the Sixers' mistakes — which he does a ton of — it just seems like the team communicates and helps at such a higher level with him on the floor.

• Early on, Ben Simmons exposed the size advantage he had on the Kings’ guards. He bullied De'Aaron Fox on multiple plays and imposed his will in driving to the basket. He put a lot of pressure on Sacramento overall, pushing the basketball and causing the Kings to scramble.

After struggling against Marvin Bagley III in the first half, Simmons was able to use his quickness and craftiness to elude the rookie. He finished with 18 points (8 of 12 shooting) and was also 2 of 2 from the line. Most impressively, he continues to do a better job taking care of the basketball, with five assists and zero turnovers.

• It appeared that Brett Brown wanted to get a look at a Simmons-Embiid pairing in the first half. Unfortunately, the duo was a combined minus-one at the half and finished minus-six. 

It was odd that Brown staggered his bench to have Mike Scott close out the first half instead of Tobias Harris. The starting unit started the game by taking a 19-13 lead and didn’t get another run together before halftime.

• There’s no way you could argue that Jimmy Butler wasn’t assertive on Friday night. He had several physical drives to the basket and really looked to take over when running with the team’s second unit.

Much to the crowd’s delight, Butler abused (former Sixer?) Nemanja Bjelica for this crazy and-one.

Butler also hit a mid-range jumper with under a minute left which proved to be the dagger. He wound up with 22 points (8 of 14) with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Defensively, this was one of the better games I’ve seen from Butler. He was his usual active self looking for steals and deflections, but he was also better on the ball, keeping the game in front of him for most of the night.

• Tobias Harris is in a mini-slump from deep. He’s shot just 33 percent from three over his last six games, which isn’t bad for most players, but for a guy shooting over 42 percent from the season, it’s a bit of a dry spell. He had a rough night shooting-wise Friday, going 1 of 5 from three and 7 of 16 overall for 19 points.

To Harris’ credit, he played though it. You do continue to see the pick-and-roll chemistry between Harris and Boban Marjanovic. Especially when the Sixers’ offense was sluggish to start the second half, that pairing got the team going.

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Tobias Harris delivers, Norvel Pelle brings the energy (and the blocks) as Sixers top Pelicans

Tobias Harris delivers, Norvel Pelle brings the energy (and the blocks) as Sixers top Pelicans

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ home record is still unblemished.

They beat the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, 116-109, to move to 20-7 on the season and 14-0 at Wells Fargo Center. This was New Orleans’ 11th straight defeat. 

Tobias Harris scored a team-high 31 points on 12 for 20 shooting, helping the Sixers to overcome an uneven effort. 

Here are observations on the win: 

Harris and Simmons strike the right balance 

Yet again, Harris struck the right middle ground between letting the game come to him and forcing the issue offensively.

He scored nine points in the third quarter, including a three from the right corner when the Sixers were searching for something to wake them up. 

For Harris, this was another game in which he seemed to both understand and provide what the Sixers needed. 

Simmons imposed his physical advantages well and finished with 24 points, 11 assists and just one turnover. He missed three of his first four free throws when New Orleans turned to the "Hack-a-Simmons" strategy, then converted his next four.

Norvel Pelle, undeterred 

Two-way player Norvel Pelle initially received the backup center minutes over veteran Kyle O’Quinn.

In his third NBA regular-season game, Pelle quickly picked up two fouls on aggressive challenges at the rim. The 26-year-old was, as usual, undeterred. He blocked former Sixer Jahlil Okafor, leading to a Simmons dunk on the other end, then swatted Brandon Ingram’s dunk attempt and watched from the floor as the Sixers started a fast break that ended in a three by James Ennis.

Pelle earned First Team All-Defense honors last season in the G League with the Delaware Blue Coats. After an unconventional route to the NBA that took him to Taiwan, Lebanon and Italy, he’s flashed some of the same skills that made him a star attraction at his other stops. On Nov. 30, Brett Brown said he thought Pelle was “an NBA player.”

Whether or not his chance comes with the Sixers, Pelle took another step toward showing he has a future in the league Friday night, though his fouls (five in 12 minutes) are a concern. Despite the irregular playing time and uncertainty about when he’ll have opportunities, he was ready to go vs. the Pelicans. 

“Preparation is the main thing, especially being on this level,” he said Nov. 12. “Getting your number called and coming in, doing what you’ve gotta do — that’s the main thing. Focusing on your job and excelling at that job. I’ve learned moving forward, just be ready. Always be ready.”

What the Sixers do with him moving forward will be interesting. Since he’s signed to a one-year, two-way deal, he can spend a maximum of 45 days with the Sixers between the start of Blue Coats training camp and the end of the G League regular season. He’s currently ineligible for the NBA playoffs. 

Pelle had six points, five rebounds, three blocks and two assists.

Redick’s return 

JJ Redick had 19 points on 6 of 15 shooting in his return to Philadelphia. The 35-year-old guard, who signed a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Pelicans this offseason, shared his thoughts on Joel Embiid, Simmons and the Sixers’ new offensive identity earlier in the day (see story).

The Sixers showed a tribute video for Redick in the first quarter. 

Redick beating Furkan Korkmaz back door and then sprinting around screens to create a small gap for a leaning three a few minutes later was an odd sight, even if the plays themselves were familiar. 

A lousy stretch

The Sixers started the way they were supposed to, taking a 39-23 lead after the first quarter.

Their defensive execution went downhill from there as the Pelicans went on a 48-31 run to take the advantage.    

Redick, Ingram and the Pelicans deserve part of the credit for their shotmaking, but the Sixers’ defensive intensity — fighting over screens, boxing out, closing out — all deteriorated. 

They looked like a team playing the second game of a road-home back-to-back, confident that their superior talent would win out in the end. Their surge to retake the lead was impressive, though the way they finished the game did not inspire confidence.

Embiid not quite as dominant 

The night after his 38-point, 13-rebound performance vs. the Celtics, Joel Embiid did not reach that same elite level again.

He did look to attack favorable matchups in the first half against Derrick Favors and Okafor and yes, he appeared to be having fun. 

Embiid just wasn’t as efficient as he’d been in Boston (24 points on 6 for 16 shooting), though he mostly did well when double teamed. He had 11 assists and four turnovers over the back-to-back. 

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Watch NBC Sports BetCast for live betting analysis during Sixers vs. Pelicans

Watch NBC Sports BetCast for live betting analysis during Sixers vs. Pelicans

Marc Farzetta, Tyrone Johnson and betting expert Brad Feinberg will host NBC Sports BetCast Friday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia+ during the Sixers' game vs. the Pelicans. 

It will be the third of 10 BetCast broadcasts this season on NBCSP+, with Marc Zumoff, Alaa Abdelnaby and Serena Winters calling the game simultaneously on NBCSP.

The BetCast broadcast will focus on real-time sports betting data and provide live analysis on the odds.

Will the total score be over or under 223 points? How many points will JJ Redick score in his return to Philadelphia? After making two three-pointers Thursday night in Boston, how many will Joel Embiid hit tonight?

Farzetta, Feinberg and Johnson will break it all down as the game unfolds Friday night.

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