76ers

Sixers-Kings observations: Unable to survive in Sacramento

Sixers-Kings observations: Unable to survive in Sacramento

BOX SCORE

Teams looking to take that next step finish off games and opponents like this one.

The Sixers battled back in the second half before ultimately suffering a 109-108 loss to the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on Thursday night.

De’Aaron Fox hit a pull-up jumper with 13.4 seconds remaining in regulation to put the Kings ahead by one. The Sixers struggled to find a decent look on the other end before Joel Embiid rimmed a jumper to seal the defeat.

The loss snapped the Sixers’ five-game win streak and dropped their record to 6-5.

• After missing Tuesday’s win over the Utah Jazz, Embiid returned to the lineup against the Kings.

The extra rest didn’t appear to do Embiid any favors early on as he looked rusty and lethargic for much of the first half. However, the big man came on strong late to still notch 22 points (7 for 20 shooting), 15 rebounds and three blocks.

• How does a team that’s last in the NBA in scoring (93.8 points per game) put up 64 points in the first half? It simply shoots 50 percent from the field and 61.5 percent from three-point range.

• That effort has a lot to do with the Kings’ bench. Led by Justin Jackson (19 points) and Fox (11 points, seven assists), Sacramento’s reserves sparked the team’s charge. The Kings won the battle of the bench points, 56-17.

• It appears the only way to slow down Ben Simmons is to get him in foul trouble. Simmons was limited to a season-low 27 minutes as he picked up five fouls in the contest. He still managed to put up 18 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in the game.

• You’ve heard the phrase “California cool” before, but one incident on Thursday night was a little bit different. Robert Covington was fouled by Bogdan Bogdanovic shooting a three-pointer early in the first quarter. Covington stepped to the stripe and nailed the first two free throws before several players for both teams began to run down the court the other way. They clearly forgot it was a three-point attempt and had to come back down for the final free throw, which Covington sank.

• Speaking of Covington, that wasn’t the only time he was fouled on a three-pointer. It actually happened three times in the game. The other two went in to give Covington chances at the four-point play. He pulled off the feat once.

Overall, it was another strong outing for the swingman. He finished with 24 points on 7 of 16 shooting (6 of 12 from long range). 

While most Americans are counting the days to Thanksgiving, Covington has his eyes set a little bit earlier to Nov. 15. That marks the day he can officially begin working on a new deal with the Sixers. #PayThatMan

• Embiid and Simmons continue to carry the offensive load for the Sixers, but the dynamic duo is also leading the way with miscues. Embiid and Simmons combined for nine of the team's 17 turnovers in the loss. The Kings had nine turnovers as a team on Thursday night.

• Sixers special advisor Jerry Colangelo joined the broadcast for a stretch during the first and second quarters. He touched on several topics, including  his thoughts on the team’s early-season performance.

“I’m very pleased,” Colangelo said. “I’m very excited about the future and the development of some of the young players. It truly is a process in terms of how long. It will take a while for them to mesh. At midseason we’re gonna have a much better feel for who they are.”

• Jerryd Bayless (left wrist contusion) and Markelle Fultz (right shoulder soreness/scapular muscle imbalance) were sidelined for the Sixers. Vince Carter (illness) and Harry Giles (rehab for both knees) were the only players out for the Kings.

• The Sixers’ road trip continues in California on Saturday night with a matchup against the champion Golden State Warriors (8:30 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia).

Sixers vs. Heat: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Heat: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Fresh off the All-Star break, the Sixers (37-21) look to build on their 23-7 home record Thursday at Wells Fargo Center (23-7) against the Miami Heat (26-30).

Here are the essentials:

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

And here are three storylines to watch:

No Jo Jo

On Wednesday, we found out that Joel Embiid has been dealing with left knee soreness for a few weeks now. Despite an MRI revealing no structural damage, the plan, for precautionary reasons, is to sit him out for approximately one week, at which point he will be re-evaluated. Brett Brown says that Boban Marjanovic will start in Embiid's place, and Jonah Bolden will likely regain some of the minutes that he’s lost since the Tobias Harris trade. Though Marjanovic is certainly capable of sliding into Embiid’s starting spot, look out for Miami to run quick-hitting pick and rolls to take advantage of Marjanovic’s slower foot speed.  

Who will step up?

Even without Embiid in the lineup, the Sixers have four guys in their starting lineup averaging at least 16.0 points per game. No other team has more than three players averaging 16-plus. That means business as usual in terms of normal play and flow, and taking advantage of the amount of dribble-out players they now have. But, if it comes down to crunch time, without Embiid, who steps up? Brown says he thinks it will be Jimmy Butler. Look out for that Harris-Butler two-man game.

Butler and Dwyane Wade

Speaking of Butler, he’ll have the chance to go up against one of his good friends tonight in Dwyane Wade, who also happens to be averaging 14.0 points and 4.3 assists off the bench in his 15th season.  Butler and Wade (both Marquette guys) played together in Chicago, where Butler says they trained and vacationed together. They also like to give each other a hard time, so watch out for when they’re both on the floor together.

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Exploring Sixers' 'Ear tug world,' a fundamental part of team's offense

Exploring Sixers' 'Ear tug world,' a fundamental part of team's offense

If you’ve ever noticed Brett Brown tugging on his ear on the sideline, chances are he’s calling an action out of the Sixers’ “Ear tug world.” 

It’s a series that begins with what many teams call a “Horns” alignment — two men at the elbows and two in the corners. The Sixers’ Ear tug world is one of the fundamental parts of the team’s offense, and assistant coach Monty Williams has played a key role in shaping it (see story). 

With the Sixers taking a break from competitive basketball for the past week, we decided to explore the team’s Ear tug world in more detail.

The lob 

The lob is the most basic Ear tug action. When the primary option is the lob — often after timeouts — the Sixers sometimes call this play “Elbow rub,” per Mike O’Connor of The Athletic.

The man at one elbow curls around a screen from the man at the other elbow at “the nail” (middle of the foul line). He’s open a surprising amount of the time. 

Some of the Sixers’ Ear tug actions start with a flare around the first screen instead of a curl directly to the rim. After flaring off Boban Marjanovic’s screen, Jimmy Butler read Jamal Murray’s overplay well and made a sharp back cut. An alley-oop was again the end result.

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Spicing it up 

On the play below, Joel Embiid sets a screen at the nail for Wilson Chandler. However, you can tell the play isn’t designed for a lob to Chandler by his rather casual trot in the direction of the hoop. Instead, Ben Simmons gives the ball to Embiid, who dribbles into an inverted pick-and-roll with JJ Redick. 

You’ll notice this a lot with Redick and Embiid — because Redick is guarded so closely, as a screener he’s often able to basically wedge his man into Embiid’s defender.

The Sixers also sometimes have Redick run around screens in their Ear tug world.

As usual, this play starts off with a screen at the nail. And again, you can tell the Sixers aren’t looking for a lob initially — Murray plays physical defense on Tobias Harris, who doesn’t seem too concerned with getting all the way to the rim.

The Sixers instead have Simmons dish it to Embiid at the top of the key, and the big man hands it to Jimmy Butler. Off the ball, Redick brushes around down screens from Harris and Embiid and dips in for a jumper. 

Embiid post-ups are a frequent Ear tug objective. The goal isn’t for Embiid to curl around a screen for a lob, but for him to establish position on the block. 

Below is a simple example, with Landry Shamet and Embiid the two men at the elbows. Shamet flashes across Embid to the wing, Embiid goes down low, and the Sixers clear out the left side of the floor to give him maximum space to work.

Brown introduced a clever action to get Simmons a post-up on Jan. 19 vs. the Thunder. The play started with Redick darting across Chandler’s screen at the elbow. Redick is essentially in Shamet’s spot on the play above, with Chandler in Embiid’s place. But instead of Chandler stationing himself in the post once Redick receives the pass from Simmons at the wing, he stays at the elbow.

There, he sets a back screen for Simmons, and the point guard makes a UCLA cut to the left block. When Simmons drives baseline, Jonah Bolden frees up Jimmy Butler with a back screen on the weak side of the floor.

A similar action got Simmons an easy dunk on Jan. 8 against Washington, though it wasn’t technically part of the Sixers’ Ear tug world.

Simmons tosses the ball to Embiid at the top of the key, then accelerates to the hoop off Chandler’s back screen at the elbow. 

These sort of basic actions are a lot more effective than you might think they’d be, looking at them on paper. And because the Sixers get so many successful lobs out of their Ear tug world, teams now have to be wary of that option. 

That makes the creative layers Brown and Williams have added to the Sixers’ Ear tug world a greater threat. 

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