76ers

Sixers need to get Ben Simmons going, incorporate Tobias Harris, Al Horford with Joel Embiid

Sixers need to get Ben Simmons going, incorporate Tobias Harris, Al Horford with Joel Embiid

The Sixers weren’t going 82-0. We all knew that.

Their first defeat came in a 114-109 loss to the Suns Monday night and they still have two games remaining on a tough West Coast swing.

But what their first loss of the season did was expose a few of the warts on what is still an extremely talented basketball team.

Still playing without Joel Embiid, who was serving the final game of a two-game suspension, the Sixers needed the supporting cast to step up.

Al Horford (32 points) and Tobias Harris (24 points) did just that.

While he was strong defensively, Ben Simmons just couldn’t get it going on offense. The All-Star point guard scored just six points on 2 of 8 from the field.

Former Sixers assistant and current Suns head coach Monty Williams had a plan in place that worked to perfection. Williams decided to match up center Aron Baynes on Simmons. Unconventional, but with Simmons still unwilling to take shots outside the paint — he hasn’t made a basket outside of seven feet this season — it clogged things up. 

Five games in, the Sixers had the highest percentage of points in the paint in the league. On Saturday night in Portland, they scored 84 of their 129 points in the restricted area. Against the Suns, they were outscored 48-32 in that department. The 32 points were by far their lowest output.

Brett Brown ran more pick-and-rolls than we’ve seen this season. He used Harris as the ball handler and Simmons as a screener a few times. While it worked in helping Harris shake loose for a few good looks, the Suns’ strategy worked better than Brown’s counter.

“I think putting [Simmons] in pick-and-rolls and trying to roll him out of it was sort of our mission,” Brown said to reporters postgame. “I think letting the ball handler be involved with Baynes so far back. Maybe there's some things we could've done on some elbow isolations but Baynes is good now. Like he moves his feet. He's physical. It's not like a blatant area that stands out as much as you might think.”

It’s fair to point out that Baynes, who has always seemed to be a thorn in the Sixers’ side, is having an excellent season and has looked like an absolute steal for Phoenix.

But should he be able to guard Simmons? To put it bluntly, no.

Simmons seemed to have a different recollection of what happened during a brief postgame availability.

“He allowed me to get my teammates open and get great looks,” Simmons, who had six assists and four turnovers, said of being guarded by Baynes.

Simmons isn’t the only big picture issue for the Sixers’ offense — though he's the biggest.

Horford and Harris were outstanding, but what happens when Embiid, the team’s “crown jewel,” returns to the lineup Wednesday night in Utah?

With Horford, the adjustment will be easy. He’s the type of player that can alter his role. He knows he won’t be asked to carry as much of a scoring load with Embiid back in the lineup and contributing at the center position.

But with the way he’s played in Embiid’s absence, he’s easing a lot of minds.

“Well, the last couple games, obviously, Joel being out, I felt like I've had to step up a little more and be more aggressive looking to score,” Horford said. “Tonight, the way that they were playing, it was kind of giving me a lot of looks and I took advantage of that.”

Harris is the trickier situation. 

His best two games this season have been against the Pistons and the Suns — two of the three games the Sixers have played without Embiid. Embiid is the team’s franchise player and Harris just signed a five-year, $180 million contract this past offseason. Something has to give.

The aforementioned pick-and-rolls did work out quite well for Harris. It’s an action he ran a ton of with the Clippers last season when he was playing at a near All-Star level.

You got glimpses of that player Monday night.

“I think just putting them in some of the action and the mindset,” Brown said. “The guys have been great. They really have been. I think Al and Tobias especially were great tonight. We probably would want that foul back when we cut it to three with 30 seconds left. That isn't something that we would do. Short of that mental mistake, I thought Tobias was exceptional. I really thought he carried us offensively.”

All of this and we haven’t even mentioned Josh Richardson, who had arguably his roughest game as a Sixer. He seems to be dealing with what Harris dealt with last year. He doesn’t quite know where he fits offensively.

The good news is, unlike last season, they still have 76 games to figure out how to get Simmons going and where all the new pieces fit.

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Shake Milton on NBA return: 'I don’t really think we should be playing'

Shake Milton on NBA return: 'I don’t really think we should be playing'

It wasn’t surprising to hear Joel Embiid say he “hated the idea” of the bubble or Mike Scott voice his displeasure for the NBA’s jersey idea.

It was mildly surprising to hear second-year guard Shake Milton take the strongest stance when it came to the NBA’s decision to resume the season.

I don’t really think we should be playing,” Milton said in a video conference call with reporters Tuesday, “but I think the NBA is doing all that they can to make the environment as safe as possible. My teammates want to play so we’re going to go down there and try to win.

When asked why specifically he thought the league shouldn’t resume play, he provided a poignant response.

I think [the spread of the virus], and then also I feel like there’s a lot of other stuff going on,” Milton said. “There are issues going on right now in the world that are way bigger than a sport, way bigger than the game of basketball. I feel like we’re on the cusp of finally having people tune in and really try to listen and try to understand more about the things that are happening in our country. I feel like the moment is too big right now and I don’t want the game of basketball to overshadow it.

Perhaps lost in the shuffle of so many things being shared on social media was Milton posting something that seemed a bit out of character for the soft-spoken 23-year-old. 

Milton is a native of Owasso, Oklahoma, a northern suburb of Tulsa. The 23-year-old has shared various posts about the city and the Tulsa race massacre that occured in 1921 as well as posts about Breonna Taylor, the Louisville EMT who was fatally shot by police while sleeping in her apartment.

While he’s glad to see the league wants to keep the message in the public scope, he’s curious to know how they’ll do it.

I think [the NBA trying to highlight racial injustice is] good — I think we should definitely do it,” Milton said. “I want to know how we’re going to go about doing it, that’s really my concern. I heard ideas about the names on the back of the jerseys and putting stuff on the court, but I kind of want to see what the NBA is actually going to do. That’s cool and all, but that’s kind of like the same as having a T-shirt where you see somebody’s face and it says RIP on the back. That’s only going to take you so far. So I’m interested to see what else the NBA has planned and what else they’re going to do.

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Sixers' Joel Embiid doesn't believe in the NBA's restart plan

Sixers' Joel Embiid doesn't believe in the NBA's restart plan

Joel Embiid intends to travel with the Sixers to Orlando for the NBA’s resumption, but he is not confident in the league’s plan and does not endorse it.

On a video conference call Tuesday, the All-Star center explained why he does not support the NBA heading to Florida during the coronavirus pandemic in an attempt to conclude the 2019-20 season with a champion.

I hated the idea,” Embiid said. “I feel like with everything that has been going on, it’s unfortunate what’s been going on in the world. Obviously people look at it in a different way. There might be some other reasons behind everything going on. To me, that part never mattered. To me, all I want is to stay healthy and stay safe, keep the people around me safe. I want to make sure I’m able to live for a long time and not have any sort of consequences in the future from this if I were to be in a situation where I was getting the virus. 

“Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.

“Because I know I’m going to do the right things, I know I don’t ever do anything, I only play video games, I’m always home — I don’t do anything. But then again, I don’t trust those other guys to do the same. But, like I said, I’ve gotta do my job.

The Sixers will travel to Walt Disney World on Thursday and are scheduled to resume play on Aug. 1 against the Indiana Pacers. There’s been a spike in coronavirus cases in Florida, which reportedly has raised concerns around the league. Positive coronavirus tests during the NBA’s Phase 2 protocol have prompted several teams to shut down their facilities, including the Bucks, Heat and Clippers. 

There have been over 2.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States and over 130,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the country, according to NBC News

Embiid said he considered opting out but felt obligated to play. 

I thought about it,” he said, “but then again, I wouldn’t let my teammates down. I play in a city that’s tough and I consider myself as being tough … I’m not going to give up that easily. If you told me that the current trend is that people are getting sick and a lot of people are dying, obviously you don’t know what's going to happen and you don’t want to be in a situation where you put your life at risk ... and all that stuff, just for what? The money and all that stuff. At the end of the day, basketball is not all that matters. I've got family, I've got myself to look out for. That's all I care about.

"At the end, when it’s all said and done, basketball shouldn’t define me. I should be looked at as just Joel Embiid the person. Like I said, it’s unfortunate but I want to represent my city. I've been here too long. This is my opportunity. I believe we have a great chance of winning the championship. Still not 100 percent sure, but that's what I'm thinking. I want to represent the city. I don’t want to let my teammates down, I don't want to let anybody down. I’ve been working too hard for this and I've just got to keep pushing and hope for the best. 

Embiid sees no reason why he personally will have any trouble adhering to the NBA’s health protocols, which detail everything from testing procedures to physical distancing mandates to approved recreational activities. But he’s somewhat skeptical that more outgoing NBA players will follow all precautions to minimize the risk of coronavirus exposure. 

“I look at myself and I’ve been doing this for quite a bit now — six, seven years,” he said. “Like I said, all I do is play video games and stay in my room on the road, or even when I’m home. Just stay home, play video games, do what I've got to do. Just being with my family. 

“And obviously we’re all different. Some guys like to go out and some guys like to do stuff, (there are) some guys that like adventure. So that’s the way I’m thinking. I know myself. I know I’m not going to put everybody else at risk, but the question is, is everybody else going to do the same? And just being around this business, I surely don’t think so.”

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