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Sixers at Hornets: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

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Sixers at Hornets: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Following one of their biggest wins of the year over Milwaukee, the Sixers (45-25) are back in Charlotte (31-38) for their final matchup against the Hornets this season. Joel Embiid (load management) is out for tonight’s game. Here are three storylines to watch:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Spectrum Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC MyTeams app

The closer

Despite Kemba Walker dropping 60 in their last matchup, Jimmy Butler was the one who got the last laugh, coming up with a huge block and the overtime game-winner. Butler is a closer, and his presence in fourth quarters has been consistent since the Sixers traded for him back in November. We saw it again on Sunday when Butler was vital in helping withstand a Bucks late run in the game, knocking down 4 of his 8 field goals in the final six minutes. Butler said on Monday he thinks the Sixers are a good enough team to put this Charlotte squad away early. But, if not ... expect Butler to do his thing late.

Kemba Walker

Speaking of Walker, he is coming off arguably his worst game of the year, finishing with just 10 points (4 of 16 shooting) in the Hornets' 93-75 loss to Miami on Sunday. But Walker is averaging 40.2 points against the Sixers through three games this season.

Playoff inching closer

That loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday was a big one for Charlotte. The Heat now own the tiebreaker, and the Hornets are essentially three games behind Miami for the eight-seed. With 13 games left, Charlotte knows its playoff hopes are on the line. As for the Sixers, who sit third in the East, they are well aware of how locking up that three-seed could have a serious impact on how deep they’re able to make a run in the playoffs. Plenty on the line for both teams tonight.

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Sixers summon ‘dark' boxing analogies, make the highly unusual seem normal in blowout Game 5 win over Nets

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As an observer, it was difficult to process what you were watching. 14-0. 20-2. 30-6. 

The Nets missed their first eight goal attempts. Joel Embiid had 10 points before Brooklyn had any. In their last chance to preserve their season, the Nets had their lowest first-quarter scoring output of the year — 15. 

None of the numbers made sense, and it felt like nobody at Wells Fargo Center could quite believe what was happening besides the Sixers’ players.

They understood this was a possibility, JJ Redick said after their 122-100 win to advance to a second-round playoff matchup against the Raptors (see observations)

We had talked about how a team’s mindset down 3-1, if you can take their heart early, you might have a chance to put them away, deliver the knockout punch, all the boxing analogies I can come up with. I have some dark analogies, but I shared those with the team. I don’t want to share them with you guys, but they’re dark. But yeah, you gotta put people away. 

The Sixers put the Nets away so early there wasn’t much of the exultation, relief or sense of profound fatigue that might typically correspond with winning a a playoff series — especially one that featured various skirmishes, trash talk and fines.

Joel Embiid’s analysis was understated.

“Tonight was a good game,” he said. “If we're as focused as we were tonight, then we got a pretty good chance to accomplish what we want. After the type of game like tonight, you go back and watch the tape and see what worked out and what didn't. Obviously we've got to lower our turnovers [19], but other than that I thought our defense was great.”

With the exception of Game 1, the Sixers ultimately did what they were supposed to do against the Nets. It’s exciting to move on to the second round, sure, but it isn’t foreign or unexpected.

After winning the first playoff series of his eight-year NBA career, Tobias Harris acknowledged he’s likely never been involved in a game that began the way Tuesday night’s did.

“Probably not,” Harris said. “I think our start really dictated the whole pace of the game. We said it after last game — we get out to a good start, really kill their momentum, kill their vibe all around. I thought the start to this game was impactful, was powerful for us. When we talk about imposing our will, that was a sound example of that.”

Taking a 24-point lead in the first quarter, depleting an opposition of whatever energy they might have had left, matching playoff records — none of those things should be easy to accomplish against the Raptors.

The expectations will change in that series as well, with the Sixers no longer assuming the role of favorites. The boxing analogies Redick employs might need to shift.

The Sixers’ reaction to Tuesday night’s obliteration of the Nets, though, indicates that they don’t feel much of anything is beyond their capabilities. 

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Before his team took the floor, Brett Brown admitted the Sixers had “dodged some bullets” in their first four games against the Nets. He was especially wary of Joe Harris, the NBA leader in three-point percentage during the regular season, noting the open looks he’d missed.

The Sixers’ defense made sure Brooklyn didn’t have any more bullets in the chamber Tuesday night in a 122-100 win that sealed a spot in the second round (see observations).

Though aided by Brooklyn’s abysmal effort, the Sixers’ first-half defensive performance couldn’t have been much better.

Ben Simmons smothered D’Angelo Russell, who shot 1 for 9 in the half. Jimmy Butler hunted the ball, recording three steals and causing chaos. The rotations were sharp, the communication crisp, and the intensity only escalated as the Nets’ shoulders collectively slumped. 

Brooklyn at one stage had as many made field goals as turnovers (seven). It finished the half with 31 points, tied for the fewest the Sixers have ever allowed in a playoff game, per Basketball-Reference. 

“Maybe the best we’ve defended all season, given the problems they present for our team,” JJ Redick said. “The first half was as good as you can guard.”

Defense was a concern for the Sixers entering the playoffs. Third in defensive rating in 2017-18, they finished this year tied for 13th. Pick-and-roll defense was a familiar problem. The big-picture question Brown posed at the start of training camp about how to cope when teams went small and tried to pull Joel Embiid away from the rim remained open throughout the season. 

They seem to have hit on some solutions, though simply having superior individual perimeter defenders compared to last season’s team might be the most important one. 

“I’m not going to say anything about last year's guys,” Embiid said, “but it doesn't make a difference. We got to stick to the game plan and usually the game plan is to drive all these guys to me and let me do my job as the best defensive player in the league.”

An excellent fourth quarter in Game 4 and a record-tying half in Game 5 doesn’t indicate that the Sixers’ defense is flawless. They’ve yet to show they can defend this well on a consistent basis, and potential liabilities like Redick and Boban Marjanovic will likely be challenged more in the second round against the Raptors. 

The Sixers have demonstrated, however, that all the platitudes about defense fueling offense and being a priority in the playoffs are more than just words.

“I think [losing Game 1] immediately forced us into recognizing that we are vulnerable if we don't play like we got to play defense,” Brown said. “If I were to go to one specific thing, the first game was a reminder that we better guard the way that we said we wanted to defend them or it's going to be a long series and one that we could lose.”

Regardless of whether Redick is making shots or Simmons is effective in the half court or Embiid can dominate Marc Gasol and company, this level of defense should keep the Sixers in every game. 

If Butler is to be believed, the Sixers are capable.

He didn’t agree with Redick that this was the best the Sixers have defended all season.

“Nah,” he said, unmoved. “We’ve been locking up at practice.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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