76ers

With the ‘end in mind’ more than ever, will Sixers’ plans eventually come together?

With the ‘end in mind’ more than ever, will Sixers’ plans eventually come together?

Even with 58 regular-season games to go, Brett Brown has “the end in mind” for his team. As he ponders how to best prepare the Sixers for playoff basketball, he's referred to that idea time and time again.

The end of the Sixers' 110-104 win Sunday night over the Raptors at Wells Fargo Center was ugly. The Sixers turned the ball over seven times in the final 4:14 against the Raptors’ full-court pressure, with Joel Embiid giving it away three times.

“It is disappointing the way that ended because I thought for the most part, we played good basketball,” Brown said. “It's just the way that it ended, you have a little bit of a sour taste in your mouth. And then I'm reminded it was a good weekend, we just beat the NBA champs. And there's lots of good things that came out of it, just the last part wasn't one of them.”

The weekend back-to-back was indeed a fruitful one for the Sixers, who led the hapless Cavs by a franchise-record 41 points at halftime and played very well vs. the 15-7 Raptors with the exception of those final few minutes when it seemed everyone besides Toronto just wanted to hear the final buzzer. 

But, with almost anything this team does, there’s a natural instinct to consider the big picture.

Three of Simmons’ career-high 34 points Saturday came on a long range jumper, and Brown wants him taking "a three-point shot a game, minimum,” along with eight free throws a night. If Simmons gives Brown what he's looking for, what would it mean for the Sixers against opponents much better than the Cavs? 

In his last two games, Embiid has 15 turnovers, and he’s been an unfortunate combination of careless and oblivious against fourth-quarter pressure and double teams. Do the Sixers have a real chance to contend for an NBA title if he’s making similar mistakes when the games are higher stakes?

Rookie Matisse Thybulle is emerging as a three-and-D player, and his success at home has mirrored the Sixers’. He’s shot 65.4 percent from three-point range at home and has a plus-12.7 net rating at Wells Fargo Center. Those numbers plummet to 20.8 percent from long distance and a minus-14.1 net rating on the road. Can Thybulle and the Sixers — 12-0 at home, 5-7 away — eventually figure out how to win on the road?

Few of these larger questions lead to obvious answers at the moment, in part because of how often the starting lineup has been fractured.

Josh Richardson has missed six games in a row with a right hamstring injury. Al Horford is experiencing load management for the first time in his NBA career. Simmons was sidelined for consecutive games in early November with a shoulder sprain. And Embiid has sat out five games as a result of suspension, injury and load management. 

The whole season it feels like I've been going through the motions and part of it is also making sure I'm healthy for the playoffs,” Embiid told reporters Sunday. “Going into the season, the last playoffs that I've been part of I've not been healthy, so for me going into this season, my main goal was to make sure that I get to the playoffs healthy and so far I've been doing a good job of that —taking care of my body and also, on the court when I'm needed, I'm gonna bring it. But then again, I'm also lucky that we got so many guys that can make a lot of things happen. But if I'm needed, I'll be there.

Embiid’s time on the court is substantially down from where it was at this point last season, even if this path isn’t the one the Sixers would have meticulously mapped out before the year. He’s played 19 of the team’s first 24 games and 30.4 minutes per contest. In 2018-19, he played every one one of the team’s first 24 games — all of the first 26, in fact — and averaged 34.1 minutes.

The idea of a player feeling as if he’s “been going through the motions” might not be palatable for many fans. Embiid and the Sixers, though, aim to be healthy and the best versions of themselves when the games are more important.

Competing with that priority is Brown’s insistence that the Sixers are chasing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. He said Saturday he hasn’t “recalibrated” that preseason goal.

The Sixers obviously want the best of both worlds. These first 24 games, however, seem to suggest that — should they be competing in the second round of the playoffs for a third straight year — they see being better equipped to advance as more important than seeding. They want to have their top players available and well-conditioned. They want to understand how to capitalize on their strengths — size, defense, rebounding — and either gloss over or eliminate weaknesses with turnovers and shot creation. 

Though Brown and his team have their ideas at this stage about how to reach those broad objectives, there’s no preset path to follow. One of the Sixers’ best players has a history of injury and conditioning problems, another is being asked to play point guard and doesn’t have a history of taking and making jump shots, and the three other starters are relatively new additions.

None of that prohibits everything from working out in the end.

The Sixers are 17-7, have won 10 of 12 games and have 58 to go before the fun starts. 



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Sixers sweat out a win over Knicks and end skid on road

Sixers sweat out a win over Knicks and end skid on road

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ six-game road losing streak is over thanks to a 90-87 win Saturday night at Madison Square Garden over the New York Knicks. It was certainly not an easy victory.

Tobias Harris’ three-pointer with 27.7 seconds left gave the Sixers the lead.

Marcus Morris’ heave from near half court at the buzzer to tie the game went off the back rim. 

The win moves the Sixers to 28-16 this season and 8-14 on the road. 

Here are observations from the game: 

The same story for Simmons 

Ben Simmons, as he’s made a habit of doing lately, started in attack mode. 

He shifted gears very well. He drew two free throws off a Furkan Korkmaz ball screen in the first quarter by picking the right occasion to drive when the Knicks hedged. In the second, he took advantage of the Knicks’ confusion to go right through the heart of their defense. 

It probably doesn’t need to be said because he has shown it so often, but Simmons always seems on the verge of a highlight in transition. 

Yet again, Simmons was much less effective on offense after halftime and especially so in the fourth quarter, when he was scoreless. He scored 16 of his 21 points in the first half and has now scored 20-plus points in four straight games. 

It’s understandable that Simmons isn’t the focal point of the Sixers’ offense in the second half, but the team needs him to be a little more of a threat to score late in games. He was too deferential in the fourth, content to run the called play and then wait for something to happen. 

Make no mistake, though: Simmons was the Sixers’ best player Saturday. He had eight assists, no turnovers and two steals. 

Furkan’s on fire 

Friday night was all about Korkmaz. He scored a career-high 24 points, made six threes and even took a charge in the fourth quarter on the Bulls’ Zach LaVine. His confidence didn’t wear off during the commute to New York.

Korkmaz had eight points in his first stint, dropping in a floater before hitting one three from the right wing and another from the left. 

He made his next shot, too, absorbing contact from Allonzo Trier and converting a four-point play early in the third quarter, and he followed that up by running a sharp two-man game with Al Horford and driving smoothly to the rim. 

Korkmaz finished with 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting. 

They’ll take it … 

This was far from the Sixers’ finest performance.

They only managed 38 second-half points, allowing the 11-32 Knicks to stay competitive. Josh Richardson was too careless with the ball, turning it over seven times. Harris shot 5 for 13. New York had 12 offensive rebounds, while the Sixers only had five. 

All that said, earning a road victory for the first time since Dec. 23 was important. Heading into Monday’s game in Brooklyn (3 p.m./NBCSP), what matters the most for the Sixers is just that they found a way to win away from Wells Fargo Center. 

Scary moment with Horford

Horford went down after being fouled by Reggie Bullock with 6:31 left in the third quarter, and he appeared to be holding his left hand as he went to the bench.

Though Horford didn’t play well in New York (four points on 2 of 9 shooting), a serious injury to the 33-year-old obviously would have been big. 

The Sixers are a massive team, but losing Horford would have tested their depth and perhaps forced Simmons to play minutes at center.  

Another start for Thybulle 

Matisse Thybulle, who started for the third straight game, still regularly makes plays that, as they unfold, are hard to believe.

The speed with which he closed out on Reggie Bullock and swatted his shot early in the third quarter was impressive.

Thybulle has a rookie-high 51 steals and 32 blocks in 36 games. 

Guaranteed entertainment 

Two-way player Norvel Pelle was back with the Sixers on Saturday night.

The 26-year-old rookie sure looks like he has NBA skills in his shot blocking and screening and rolling. It will be interesting to see how his situation shakes out. 

If nothing else, he is highly entertaining to watch. 

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

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

The 27-16 Sixers begin a three-game road trip Saturday night against the 11-31 New York Knicks.

Here are the essentials:

When: 7:30 ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Campaigning for Simmons 

Despite posting 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in addition to playing smothering second-half defense, Ben Simmons might have been a bit overshadowed Friday night by Furkan Korkmaz’s career-high 24 points.

Brett Brown didn’t want that to happen.

How can we not recognize Ben Simmons' defense? After the first timeout in the third period, are you serious? He was just the adult in the room defensively. He's a physical presence by a lot when you watch him play defense. I thought he changed the game. How can he not be a First Team, All-League defensive player? I don't know.

A great chance to win on the road

The Sixers are 20-2 at Wells Fargo Center and 7-14 on the road. Simmons doesn’t know why there’s such a disparity. 

“If I knew the answer I’d probably fix it on the road,” he said Friday.

A game against the Knicks presents the Sixers with a strong opportunity to win away from home for the first time since Dec. 23. The Knicks are 6-14 at Madison Square Garden.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to playing defense, locking in from the first to the fourth quarter, and keeping that mentality and not letting up,” Simmons said. “Just staying locked in to that team game and playing defense.”

The Sixers beat the Knicks in New York on Nov. 29 without Al Horford, Josh Richardson and Kyle O’Quinn, coming back from a 16-point second-quarter deficit. All three of those players should be available tonight, while Joel Embiid is set to miss his sixth straight game after having surgery last Friday for a torn ligament in the ring finger on his left hand. Knicks rookie RJ Barrett is out with a sprained right ankle. 

Not so fast … 

We all expected the Sixers to play at a quicker pace in the absence of Embiid. So far, though, that hasn’t been the case.

The team’s 95.8 pace since the Boston game last Thursday is 29th in the NBA. 

They have, however, taken better care of the ball since Embiid’s injury, turning it over only 11 times per game, tied for best in the league. 

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