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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Sixers vs. Nets, Game 5: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Nets, Game 5: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers will look to close out the series at home in Game 5 against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday evening. A Nets starting lineup change in Game 4 (adding Caris LeVert and Jared Dudley) gave Brooklyn a lift. Joel Embiid is officially listed as probable (left knee soreness), while Ed Davis is questionable (right ankle sprain). 

When: 8 p.m., Sixers Pregame Live starts at 7 p.m., Sixers Talk starts at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center  
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app. 

Here are three storylines to watch:

Desperation

Despite dropping the past three, the Brooklyn Nets know that they can beat this Sixers squad, as they still have their confidence from Game 1 at Wells Fargo Center to fall back on. On top of that, the Nets have absolutely nothing to lose in this game. The hungrier and more desperate team should be viewed as a dangerous one.

Keep your eye on JoJo

We said going into Game 4 to expect physicality, and the game lived up to its hype, seeing both Dudley and Jimmy Butler get ejected, while Embiid received a Flagrant-1. The subplot to the physicality is that Embiid already has two flagrant points, and if Embiid receives two more (which could come in the form of two Flagrant-1s or one Flagrant-2), Embiid will be facing a one-game suspension. Going back to the Nets having nothing to lose, expect them to be very aware of this.

If Nets get hot from three…

We all know that a lot of what the Nets do offensively is predicated on the three-point line, and the Nets have really struggled from deep. Joe Harris, who led the NBA in 3-point percentage this season (47.4 percent) has not hit a three in three games (0-12). Credit to the Sixers’ defense (and especially JJ Redick), but imagine if he got one or two of his threes to knock down in Game 4…we might not be talking about the Sixers closing it out in Game 5. 

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Predictions for Game 5 of Sixers vs. Nets playoff series

Predictions for Game 5 of Sixers vs. Nets playoff series

After a dramatic Game 4 win in Brooklyn that had everything you could've wanted, the Sixers can finish off the Nets Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick give their predictions for Game 5: 

Hudrick
We’ve gotten the most positive injury update about Joel Embiid this entire series with him being listed as probable for Game 5 with left knee soreness. Though it’s super dangerous to do so, let’s look at this under the assumption Embiid will play.

Before Game 4 in Brooklyn, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson sounded like a man searching for answers. He lauded the Sixers’ starting five and it’s easy to see why. Of the five-man lineups that have played at least 30 minutes together this postseason, the Sixers’ starting unit has the highest offensive, defensive and net rating. Not too shabby for a group still working on its chemistry.

Brooklyn appears to be a desperate team. Their general manger burst into the referees’ locker room after Game 4 and their owner passive aggressively tweeted about officiating. Both were fined. With that said, it looks like the Sixers took the Nets’ best shot already.

The team has denied it, but that Game 1 loss sure seemed like a wake-up call. Jared Dudley poked the bear with Ben Simmons and Embiid is thriving in his villain role. Tobias Harris has also gotten his swagger back, and not a moment too soon. It feels like there’s a loose vibe around the Sixers right now. As a team, they appear to be in a good place.

“We want Toronto” chants will start about midway through the fourth quarter, and in front of a raucous Wells Fargo Center crowd, the Sixers end the series.

Levick 
The Nets, fined a collective $85,000 following their loss Saturday ($25,000 for general manager Sean Marks, $25,000 for Jared Dudley and $35,000 for owner Joe Tsai), have nothing to lose — besides their season. They’ll reach another level of desperation in Game 5 and keep trying to irritate the Sixers as much as possible. Dudley is going to be booed like he’s never been booed before.

I don’t think any of it will matter much. The Sixers are clearly the more talented team in this series, and Joel Embiid the most dominant player. 

One reason the Nets have for optimism is their subpar three-point shooting over the past couple of games, particularly from Joe Harris. Brooklyn shot a combined 20 for 77 (26 percent) from long range in Games 3 and 4, and Harris — the NBA’s leader in three-point percentage during the regular season — is 0 for his last 12 from three. Though the Sixers’ defense is responsible for some of the Nets’ struggles from three-point territory, Brooklyn has missed plenty of open looks. They're due for an improved shooting performance.

Kenny Atkinson’s decision to place Dudley and LeVert in the starting lineup for Game 4 was effective, but it’s apparent the Nets simply don’t have the personnel to handle Embiid in the paint, Simmons in transition and Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in the pick-and-roll.

I’m sticking with Sixers in five. 

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