76ers

Sixers trounce Jimmy Butler, Heat in finest performance of young season

Sixers trounce Jimmy Butler, Heat in finest performance of young season

BOX SCORE

There was only one thing that could overshadow Jimmy Butler’s return to the Wells Fargo Center: a blowout.

A game with so much buildup became lopsided in a hurry as the Sixers had their most impressive performance of the young season in a 113-86 drubbing of the Heat Saturday night.

Butler was lustily booed every time he touched the basketball and Ben Simmons was instrumental in disrupting his former teammate and the Miami offense. Josh Richardson, who came over from the Heat in the sign-and-trade for Butler, made his former team pay all night.

The Sixers improved to 7-0 at home and 11-5 overall. They’ll travel back to the place last season ended for a date with the Raptors Monday.

Here are observations from the win:

A dominant performance

The Sixers’ defense was stifling all night. Miami simply couldn’t get the looks it wanted. The Heat came into the game as one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league. They went just 1 of 12 in the first half and finished just 6 of 24, thanks in large part to the Sixers’ D.

Miami has been the worst team in the league in terms of taking care of the basketball. That trend continued as it turned the ball over 10 times and had just two assists in the first half, allowing the Sixers to build a 55-35 advantage.

The Sixers never let off the gas. They started the second half on a 10-0 run on their way to a 37-24 third quarter.

Offensively, this was easily one of the Sixers’ best games. They moved the ball well and seemed to be playing a little more selfishly — in a good way. Guys are starting to find their spots on the floor and go. Also, don’t look now, but the Sixers are shooting the ball much better recently. They were 14 of 29 from three Saturday.

J-Rich revenge game and the attack of the midrange

Lost in all the Butler drama was the fact that Richardson was squaring off against his former team. And he might have had his finest game as a Sixer.

Richardson showed off a little bit of what the Sixers have missed while he was out the last two games with right hip flexor tightness. Brett Brown mentioned pregame that the biggest thing they’ve missed about Richardson is his ability to handle the basketball and “get into cracks.” He’s excellent at navigating around screens and punishing teams in the midrange.

He also had the long-range stroke going.

He had a season- and game-high 32 points (11 of 15, 6 of 7 from three) and four assists.

Speaking of the midrange, Al Horford feasted there Saturday. He loves the elbow and elbow extended jumpers and buried four of them in the first half. Horford talked after the San Antonio game about how the analytics don’t favor those shots, but that the Sixers have multiple players that excel there. Horford finished with 16 points (7 of 9) with six rebounds and three assists.

The starting five as a whole was excellent and the newest additions put their thumbprint on the offense. This was easily the best game they played together.

Simmons on another level

Ben Simmons always plays 100 mph. Over the last couple games, he’s been around 110. This was a prime example of how Simmons can take over a game while barely even shooting the basketball. He threw off the Heat’s entire offense with his tough defense on Butler and pushed the ball constantly on the other end.

We truly appear to be seeing the evolution of Simmons’ game. It’s great that he took and made a three, but the way he impacts a game on both ends is what has truly stood out. Simmons had just four points, but had eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

‘Steady’ Jo

As is the case on most nights, the opposition had no answers for Joel Embiid.

Meyers Leonard did not have a good time on this play.

A big reason for the better ball movement was because of Embiid’s decisiveness. He was making quick moves and recognizing double teams to get the ball out quickly. Brown talked about Embiid playing more of a “steady” game Friday night against the Spurs. He played a similar style Saturday.

Brown also talked about not wanting Embiid to “float” around the perimeter and spend his time on the block. He did that in the first half, but then knocked down 2 of 3 from three on the Sixers’ first three possessions of the second half.

In a back-to-back situation, it was mighty impressive to see Embiid hustle on this block on Duncan Robinson.

He recorded 23 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in just 26 minutes.

Tobias’ ‘scorer’s mentality’

Brown has also repeatedly talked about wanting Tobias Harris to have a “scorer’s mentality.” Against the Knicks Wednesday, Harris took just two shots in the second half. The last two nights, he has been as aggressive as we’ve seen him in a Sixers uniform. He’s posting up smaller defenders and finding his spots off the ball. It’s taken a bit, but Harris may finally be settling into his role. Harris had 19 points (7 of 11) and eight rebounds in 26 minutes.

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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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