76ers

Sixers' road trip ends in a collapse as big lead slips away in Denver and Nikola Jokic makes game-winner

Sixers' road trip ends in a collapse as big lead slips away in Denver and Nikola Jokic makes game-winner

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ four-game West Coast road trip ended Friday night in a collapse.

They blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter in Denver and fell to their third straight loss, 100-97, to the Nuggets.

Nikola Jokic won it for Denver after a broken, chaotic play that ended with him knocking down a long jumper from the left elbow extended. 

The Sixers, now 5-3 on the year, tried inbounding it to Joel Embiid on their final possession, but he was called for a push off.

Ben Simmons was out for the Sixers with a Grade 1 AC joint sprain in right shoulder. He’ll be re-evaluated before the Sixers play the Hornets Sunday (6 p.m./NBCSP+).

Offense falls apart late 

The Sixers only managed 13 points in the fourth period. They had problems with the basics, like throwing good entry passes to Embiid and making open shots in the paint, and just about everything was a struggle. It was not hard to tell they were playing the last game of a long trip — Al Horford’s air ball of an open three from the top of the key before Jokic's game-winner summed up their efforts in the fourth. 

Jokic wins this duel 

Embiid admitted after Wednesday’s loss in Utah that the altitude affected him, and he again appeared lethargic for much of the game in the Mile High City.

He was the last man down the floor time after time and was slow in his decision making. 

But, after starting 1 for 9 from the floor and taking a seat five minutes into the third quarter, Embiid woke up a bit when he checked back into the game, hitting four straight shots and helping the Sixers build their lead back up— for the time being — after a Denver run. Embiid finished with 19 points on 6 of 17 shooting, 15 rebounds and eight turnovers.

His block of Paul Millsap’s emphatic dunk attempt was one of the plays of the night. 

Jokic wasn’t quite himself either for most of the night before elevating his play in the second half. He picked up a technical in the first quarter for arguing what he thought was a foul by Mike Scott under the rim and his body language was somewhere between exasperated and infuriated in the first half, but give him credit for turning it around. He tallied 26 points (16 in the fourth quarter), 11 rebounds and six assists. 

A strong night for the bench 

The Sixers’ bench put them in a good position to win this game, outscoring the Nuggets’ 37-12.

Furkan Korkmaz looks like he believes everything he puts up is going in. He’s using his pump fake well to both create open jumpers and to draw fouls, shooting the ball with balance and hunting opportunities to score.

He had 12 points on 4 for 6 shooting and was 3 for 3 from three-point range. The Sixers had their best night as a team from long range, converting 13 of 26 attempts. 

Trey Burke had to wait seven games, but he finally made his regular-season debut as a Sixer in Denver.

He showed his best skill on his first basket — the ability to use a ball screen or stare down his defender in isolation and create a shot — sinking a jumper from the left elbow with 0.2 seconds left in the first quarter off a screen from Embiid. 

We saw the best and worst of James Ennis, who was beaten twice on back doors in the first half and once by Will Barton. He also converted a difficult layup after a steal that required elaborate body contortion and slammed in a dunk off a Burke miss. 

Kyle O’Quinn (11 points on 5 for 6 shooting) gave Brett Brown quality minutes in the second quarter before taking a seat in the second half.

Neto steps into the lineup  

For the second time in the last three-plus seasons, Raul Neto started an NBA game.

He played very well, with the exception of a couple of occasions late in the shot clock when he dished the hot potato off to a teammate after being unable to generate anything himself.

Neto held Gary Harris, his primary assignment, to five points on 2 for 9 shooting, and also posted 13 points and six assists himself. He’s about nine inches shorter than Simmons and substantially less athletic than the All-Star, but Neto was a decent temporary replacement. 

Thybulle sits 

Rookie Matisse Thybulle stayed on the bench Friday. He’s struggled with his shot early in his NBA career (24.2 percent from the field) and hadn’t recorded a steal or a block in the Sixers’ last two games.

Thybulle had an incredible first few games in the NBA defensively, but he’s often seemed a step behind the game on offense, and missing open threes certainly hasn’t helped as far as his level of comfort or confidence.  

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

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Sixers' putrid fourth quarter dooms them in loss to Magic

Sixers' putrid fourth quarter dooms them in loss to Magic

BOX SCORE

In a game between two of the best defensive teams in the NBA, the Sixers weren't able to get enough offense to win.

The Magic used a 32-15 fourth quarter Wednesday night to down the Sixers, 112-97, at Amway Center.

With Joel Embiid out (injury management/left knee soreness), Ben Simmons shined on both ends of the floor, but Tobias Harris' struggles continued. The Sixers move to 7-4 as they fly to Oklahoma City for a date with the Thunder Friday night (8 p.m., NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss.

Getting defensive

Coming into tonight’s action, these were two of the top six teams in the NBA in terms of defensive rating. It didn’t look like that from the jump as both teams got off to hot starts from the field. The Sixers’ transition and pick-and-roll defense weren’t great in the first quarter but tightened up in the second. They appeared to turn up the heat a little bit, pressuring at full court a couple times and also trapping more. But the Magic appeared to get whatever they wanted in the fourth.

The biggest surprise was Orlando’s three-point shooting early. The Magic came into the contest as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA — yes, much worse than the Sixers. But they shot a torrid 42.9 percent (6 of 14) in the first half. Those percentages evened out as the game went on. Orlando hit just 2 of 11 in the third quarter. It was the Magic's defense that clogged the paint as the Sixers were unable to capitalize on their open looks from the outside. A night after hitting just 8 of 38 from three, they hit 8 of 30.

Simmons shines

This was arguably the most attacking and aggressive Simmons we’ve seen since opening night. He had a strong performance — especially on the defensive end — which went for naught. He was engaged and put an awful lot of pressure on Orlando’s ball handlers. It led to a couple fast breaks and easy transition baskets for Simmons.

This lob from Shake Milton was mighty impressive.

He finished with 18 points (9 of 12), eight rebounds and five assists.

Simmons was also called for a technical foul in the second quarter. 

There was a huge free throw disparity in the first half. The Magic got to the line 17 times while the Sixers got there once. In defense of the officials, Orlando did do a nice job packing the paint.

Mixed results with no Jo

With Embiid sitting, Al Horford got the start and Kyle O’Quinn saw a jump in minutes. O'Quinn was more effective than Horford in this one.

Horford, who sat Tuesday night for load management purposes, looked spry but perhaps a little rusty early. As he got into the flow of the game, he was strong in pick-and-roll defense, but his shot just wasn’t falling (5 of 18).

This drive and dunk was done by a man with fresh legs.

O’Quinn continues to impress with his passing prowess. He dished out four assists in the first half and hit yet another three. Just a 22.4 percent shooter from three for his career, he’s now 6 of 12 this season. Snagging O’Quinn as basically a third-string center was one of the shrewdest moves of GM Elton Brand’s offseason.

A bounce-back game for J-Rich

Josh Richardson didn’t have a stellar shooting performance Tuesday (1 of 8 from three) but looked good against the Magic. A new wrinkle Brown seems to like is using Richardson as a ball handler and Simmons as a screener and roller in the half court. With Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot, but strength as a roller, it’s an action that makes sense for both players.

Richardson also navigates the pick-and-roll well as a ball handler and did so a bunch with Horford in the second half. Richardson had 19 points (7 of 14, 2 of 4 from three), six rebounds and five assists.

More struggles for Harris

Harris made his first shot after dipping in and swishing an elbow jumper. Unfortunately, that was really the last highlight of the night. Following his 0-for-11 performance from three-point range Tuesday night against the Cavs, it appeared Harris was trying to be aggressive and get to the rim. Too many times he looked indecisive — getting caught in between whether he should pull up or try to finish at the basket. He also had a couple brutal turnovers in the fourth quarter on back-to-back possessions.

He went just 4 of 13 for eight points. These issues sure look mental. This is a guy that shot the ball at an elite level from three over a large sample size. I’m not sure what you do if you’re Brown, but you have to do something. 

Not quite the Markelle Fultz revenge game

Fultz looked a lot like the player he was early last season for the Sixers. He’ll make some tremendous plays off the dribble and flash some defensive potential, but while he is willing to shoot again, the form just doesn’t look right. He missed a three late in the first half that just barely grazed the rim and missed another badly in the second half. He still just looked like he’s pushing the ball from his chest. It was D.J. Augustin running the point off the bench that led Orlando's late run.

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