76ers

Time for Sixers to turn the tables on opponents with pick-and-roll

Time for Sixers to turn the tables on opponents with pick-and-roll

The pick-and-roll is one of the simplest plays in basketball.

Generally, a big man will set a screen for the ball handler. The big will roll to the basket and the ball handler will assess their options.

As simplistic as it may be, it’s incredibly hard to guard — as the Sixers have demonstrated over the last couple of seasons. It also helps when both players running it are exceptionally skilled.

Perhaps it’s about time the Sixers flip the script and force other teams to guard them in that action.

In a 106-104 loss to the Jazz in Utah Wednesday night (see observations), they were victimized yet again by it. Donovan Mitchell hit his first four shots with a couple coming out of it. Mike Conley, who killed the Sixers last year while with the Grizzlies, also gave them some problems. Same goes for Bojan Bogdanovic, another player that’s given them fits in the past.

Raul Neto, who was thrust into action when Ben Simmons had to leave the game with a shoulder injury, acquitted himself well against his former team. He did help mitigate a little of the damage Mitchell and the Jazz were doing, but by the time the Sixers tightened things up, it was too little too late.

"I think it's all details,” Neto said to reporters postgame. “Some mistakes on our coverage with our defense. They're a great team — they've got great shooters and I think little mistakes, you pay for them. It's the beginning of the season — we've gotta get better, gotta get our communication on a better level. I think that's going to be huge for us."

To be fair, the Sixers are defending the pick-and-roll much better than they have in seasons past.

Part of that is new assistant coach Ime Udoka, who came over from the Spurs this offseason. Udoka serves as Brett Brown’s “defensive coordinator.” The team appears more willing to switch up coverages and make in-game adjustments so far this season.

The other part is personnel. Replacing JJ Redick with Josh Richardson defensively is a massive upgrade. Richardson is long, athletic and excels at “rearview” contests. 

Richardson felt that the Sixers could’ve been a little more aggressive and put the Jazz’s skilled players in tougher situations.

“I think we gotta guard a couple actions better,” Richardson said. “I think we let them play too comfortable at the top of the key, entering the ball in the offense, I think that hurt us pretty bad. Just because they got a lot of tall guys that can play out of pin downs and that can play make and score. So I think we got to make a play a little bit further up.”

Richardson had his best game as a Sixer. Though his defensive presence has been felt throughout his first six games, Wednesday night was the first true glimpse of what he can do offensively, as he finished with 24 points (8 of 13) and four assists.

The same cannot be said for Tobias Harris and Al Horford. Both players were excellent in Joel Embiid’s absence over the last two games. On Wednesday, they struggled from the field, going a combined 7 of 25.

With Horford (seven points, 3 of 14), he was getting good looks and it appeared to just be one of those nights.

For Harris (16 points, 4 of 11), perhaps it’s time for Brown to start adjusting his offense to fit the $180-million man’s skill set. Harris was excellent in the pick-and-roll during his time with Clippers, where he was a borderline All-Star last season.

Brown has never run much pick-and-roll during his time with the Sixers. Again, a large part of that is personnel driven. Not only has Brown not had the players to optimally execute it, but he also has a center in Embiid that’s admitted that he doesn’t love rolling.

Embiid is also a dominant force and the main reason the Sixers lead the league in post ups per game. They're dead last in the percentage of pick-and-rolls they run. Those numbers shouldn't completely flip, but a better balance might do some good.

The Sixers need the best out of both Harris and Embiid if they’re going to get to where they want to go. You saw in the second half Wednesday that the combination of these players can produce good looks. Yes, the post is still where Embiid needs to/will do the bulk of his damage, but you could tell in the second half he was laboring after missing two games.

The pick-and-roll could allow him to maybe get better looks around the basket, perhaps even allowing him to post up after smaller players switch onto him.

“You got to give them credit — they got the shots they wanted,” Harris said of the Jazz. “They played at a really good pace that kind of over the course of the game was just a little bit too much for us. But I will say that and their ability to limit us to taking some tough shots. We still put ourselves in position to be able to win the game, came up short. So I just think a lot of things we can learn from this game moving forward and you just got to chalk it up and get ready for the next.”

Maybe it’s time for Brown to switch things up and start putting the opposition in a similar bind.

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Sixers take out frustrations on Cavaliers in blowout win

Sixers take out frustrations on Cavaliers in blowout win

BOX SCORE

If ever a team needed a laugher, it was the Sixers.

After dropping five straight road games, they took their frustrations out on the Cavaliers in a 114-95 win at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Sunday.

It’s the Sixers’ first victory away from home since their thrilling win in Portland on Nov. 2. They improve to 8-5 on the young season. They’re back at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday to take on the Knicks (7 p.m./NBCSP)

Here are observations from the win.

That’s how you get right

The first few possessions were not great for the Sixers defensively. It looked like another game that could be doomed by poor pick-and-roll defense and turnovers — a familiar theme throughout the young season. 

Boy, did that change in a hurry. 

The Sixers got a nice defensive boost from James Ennis, ending the first quarter on a 17-4 run and assisting on 12 of their first 15 makes. They played smothering defense and turned that into easy offense.

It was by far the Sixers’ best half of the season as they shot 68.3 percent from the field, committed just five turnovers and outscored the Cavs, 68-44. 

The most encouraging thing is that they didn’t let up. They kept their foot on the gas and never let Cleveland back in the game.

This is what it was supposed to look like

The Sixers had lost five of their last seven, which exacerbated the issues of the starting five. On Sunday, they looked like a well-oiled machine. We saw the “bully ball” offense out in full force. With their size, the Sixers are going to have mismatches pretty much every night. It was a clear emphasis against the Cavs. 

You saw Ben Simmons find Josh Richardson for a wide open three out of the post. Tobias Harris got doubled in the post and found Joel Embiid for an easy bucket. Al Horford ran the pick-and-pop with Simmons for a short jumper. 

No, Cleveland is not a defensive juggernaut, but this was the most encouraging offensive showing by the starters this season. At times, their ball movement was unreal. Now it’s about taking this performance into their next game.

It’s worth noting that Harris appears to be off the schneid as he stuffed the stat sheet with a game-high 27 points (12 of 14), five rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.

When Jo and Ben are at their best …

For those screaming that Embiid needs to be in the post, this had to be refreshing. There’s no secret to it. Brett Brown didn’t make any crazy adjustments. It boils down to Embiid running rim to rim instead of three-point line to three-point line. He got down the floor and got early position for easy post ups. He screened and rolled hard to the rim as well, which makes a huge difference. He was his dominant self Sunday, but more importantly, he played just a little over 22 minutes.

Though as mentioned it was against the Cavs, it’s always encouraging to see both Embiid and Simmons get going in the same game. Cedi Osman was no match for Simmons. Simmons took him off the dribble and punished him in the post. Simmons also continues to be strong defensively. He looks more engaged this season and well on his way to earning some type of All-Defensive Team honors. 

He finished with 10 points, 11 assists, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal in just under 26 minutes.

Boost from the bench

The Sixers got just 11 points from their bench Friday in Oklahoma City. The reserves had 20 at the half Sunday.

Ennis was a huge part of that. He hit a trio of corner threes and was active defensively and on the glass throughout. Ennis has given the Sixers solid run his last three games. He had a season-high 14 points.

It’s clear that Furkan Korkmaz has cooled from his torrid pace, but it was good to see the Turkish wing put the ball on the floor and make a couple plays for 13 points. Rookie Matisse Thybulle was good in his first-half run, hitting a three and finishing on a rare drive. Trey Burke got the backup point guard minutes over Raul Neto.

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

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

The Sixers (7-5) will look to get back into the win column in Cleveland when they take on the Cavaliers (4-7) this afternoon.

Here are the essentials for today’s game:

When: 3 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Time to get right

There’s no such thing as a good loss, but man, the Sixers’ losses have been particularly brutal. On Friday night, they held a nine-point lead with 7:20 to go but gave up a 12-2 run and eventually lost in overtime to the Thunder.

The Sixers have glaring issues — especially in their starting five — but Brett Brown feels like he knows what they are.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

We'll see.

Taking care of business

This Cavs team isn’t as bad as perhaps we all thought coming into this season. They start two extremely young guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, but they’re still flanked by veteran bigs Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

Cleveland also gave the Sixers all they could handle earlier this week — especially veteran guard Jordan Clarkson (20 points). The Sixers were able to sneak out of the Wells Fargo Center with a 98-97 win. Then again, when is the last time this team played a game that wasn’t close?

While the Cavs are maybe better than anticipated, this is a team the Sixers should be able to get well against. On Tuesday, they held Cleveland scoreless for over three minutes to close out the game. They need to bring that for 48 minutes and get right with a win over a team they’re clearly more talented than. 

Sorting out the bench

Furkan Korkmaz was scorching hot for a six-game stretch. He shot 50.9 percent from three and averaged 13.8 points in mostly bench minutes. In his last three games, he’s just 4 of 16 from distance. The issue with Korkmaz is if he’s not hitting shots, he doesn’t bring much else to the table. You saw Oklahoma City pick on him in overtime after Tobias Harris fouled out.

Korkmaz has been getting the most minutes off Brown’s bench recently. Should he be? Rookie Matisse Thybulle got off to a roaring start, but has looked overmatched offensively. With that said, he’s just so special defensively, Brown should deal with the growing pains on the other end. In games Thybulle has played at least 12 minutes, the Sixers are 6-1.

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