76ers

Joel Embiid struggles against Bucks as Sixers’ dreadful road trip finally ends

Joel Embiid struggles against Bucks as Sixers’ dreadful road trip finally ends

The good news about the Sixers’ road trip is that it’s over. 

The team lost to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night at Fiserv Forum, 112-101, and dropped all four games on the trip.

The defeat puts the Sixers at 31-21, with the Memphis Grizzlies up next on Friday night at Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Compared to their last two games, this was an improved effort. Granted, that was a low bar to clear after losses by 31 points Monday to the Heat and 21 points Saturday to the Celtics. 

Here are observations on the loss: 

Embiid's struggles 

Embiid talked Wednesday about feeling he’s had to “sacrifice a lot.” He said the Sixers don’t yet have an offensive identity and that, for him personally, it’s “hard to find that balance.”

That struggle was evident in the first half, when he shot 1 for 10. Some of those looks were contested, while some were open. He didn’t get the benefit of the doubt on a few possible foul calls, too. The bottom line, though, is Embiid had a poor half and has not been anywhere near his best since returning from a torn ligament in his left ring finger on Jan. 28. He hasn’t looked remotely comfortable, physically or otherwise, which is concerning.

Regardless of how one feels about the Sixers’ ideal offensive approach, it’s clear Embiid is a very important player. He entered Thursday’s game as the most efficient post-up player in the league (minimum two post-ups per game) and by the far the NBA’s leader in post-up volume. 

In the second half, Embiid kept firing on the open jumpers the Bucks were presenting him. He was 5 of 16 after halftime.

This team needs Embiid to be engaged, healthy and at or near his peak if they’re going to solve their road woes.

A nearly impossible challenge

The Sixers encouraged Giannis Antetokounmpo to shoot jumpers, far from a novel approach against the reigning MVP. Antetokounmpo air balled two first-quarter threes but was very successful inside. 

He’s basically impossible to stop when he gets forward momentum and there’s not a strong defender positioned in the paint, waiting to corral his drive. 

After holding Antetokounmpo on Christmas to a season-worst 8 of 27 shooting performance, Embiid, Al Horford and the Sixers allowed him to score 36 points (13 of 25 shooting) and grab 20 rebounds. The "Greek Freak" nickname is appropriate. 

What changes with the bench?

Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, acquired from the Warriors in a trade Thursday, will presumably slot into the Sixers’ rotation. (Neither player was available to play against the Bucks, with the trade becoming official about an hour before tip-off.)

Those additions, as well as the departures of James Ennis and Trey Burke, raise the question of how the team’s bench will change. 

One notable shift was that Shake Milton both started and served as the backup point guard. Josh Richardson missed his sixth straight game with a left hamstring strain, but a team spokesperson said Wednesday that he’s nearing a return.

Milton was solid in the time Raul Neto had recently been taking, totaling eight points, four rebounds and three assists.

Furkan Korkmaz had 12 points (4 of 12 shooting) and continued to run the two-man actions with Embiid that were originally a trademark of JJ Redick. Robinson, a 40 percent three-point shooter this season, is someone who might be well suited for that package of plays.  

Matisse Thybulle posted five points, two steals and two blocks in 24 minutes.

All three will be affected in one way or the other by the presence of Burks and Robinson.

Shayok debuts 

Marial Shayok, one of the Sixers’ two-way players, made his NBA debut. The 24-year-old entered in the second quarter, got an open look from the left wing and sunk a three on his first NBA shot.

He played seven minutes and missed two other three-point attempts.

It was surprising to see Brett Brown use Shayok against the league’s top team, preferring one of the top scorers in the G League over Zhaire Smith or Neto.

With how poorly the Sixers had played in their past three games, perhaps he figured it couldn’t hurt to give Shayok an opportunity, especially on a night when the team was shorthanded. 

As a two-way player, Shayok can spend a maximum of 45 days with the Sixers and is not eligible for the NBA playoffs. 

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Ranking the 10 most important members of the 1982-83 Sixers

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AP Images/Getty Images/USA Today Images

Ranking the 10 most important members of the 1982-83 Sixers

Thirty-seven years ago, the Sixers had a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals and were two wins in Los Angeles away from a championship. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia will be re-airing that series this weekend, showing Game 1 on Friday night, Game 2 Saturday and Games 3 and 4 Sunday. 

We’ll have stories to come on that team, which won 65 games in the regular season and came one game away from a perfect postseason. We begin today with a ranking of the 1982-83 Sixers’ 10 most important members. 

10. Earl Cureton 
Cureton didn’t play heavy minutes in 1982-83 as a backup to league MVP Moses Malone. In the playoffs, he played even less. But he did step up in a big spot when the Sixers needed him. With Malone in foul trouble in Game 2, Cureton was forced into action. Though it doesn’t look like much on a score sheet, he got the Sixers through 17 minutes without Malone that night in a 103-93 win.

9. Clemon Johnson 
The Sixers picked up Johnson in a February trade with the Pacers, and he was a solid backup big man. Malone had played a league-high 42 minutes per game the previous season with the Rockets, but he was able to average "only" 36.6 minutes after Johnson’s arrival and be sharp for the playoffs. 

8. Marc Iavaroni 
Bobby Jones may have been the Hall of Famer, but it was Iavoroni who actually started in 1982-83. The 26-year-old rookie had just finished four years playing overseas after his college career ended. On a team loaded with All-Stars, Iavoroni was a glue guy. He wasn’t afraid to get physical and do the little things his team needed. While the stats won’t wow you, make no mistake, Iavoroni was a big part of that championship run.

7. Clint Richardson 
Richardson was valuable as the team’s primary guard off the bench. He stepped up in the Sixers’ Game 1 Finals win when Maurice Cheeks got into foul trouble, playing 31 minutes and recording 15 points, four steals and three assists. 

6. Billy Cunningham 
You have to show some love for the man running the show. Though 1982-83 was Cunningham’s only title with the team, he’s easily the best coach in Sixers history. He coached and won more games and has the highest winning percentage and most playoff wins of any coach in franchise history. Cunningham was also a Hall of Fame player for the Sixers, helping capture a title in 1966-67.

5. Bobby Jones 
“The Secretary of Defense” earned the NBA’s inaugural Sixth Man of the Year award in 1983 after starting 73 games in 1981-82. As always, he was one of the league’s better defenders and finished the season third in defensive box plus-minus. Jones had 13 points on 6 for 7 shooting, four steals and two blocks in the Finals clincher. 

4. Andrew Toney 
While Toney is often looked at as a “what if” story, the healthy version of the guard was a crucial part of the 1982-83 team. He made the first of his two All-Star teams that season, averaging 19.7 points and 4.5 assists a game. He was just as critical in the playoffs, averaging 22.1 points in the Eastern Conference and NBA Finals. “The Boston Strangler” appeared to be destined for the Hall of Fame before serious foot issues derailed his career.

3. Maurice Cheeks 
Cheeks made his first of four career All-Star Games in 1982-1983, and it was a well-deserved selection. He was a reliable presence, starting 79 regular-season games and all 13 playoff contests, and an excellent defender and distributor. Cheeks posted 12.5 points, 6.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Most importantly, he got the stars the ball when and where they needed it and conducted the team with ample poise and intelligence. 

2. Julius Erving 
For most of his Sixers career, Dr. J would probably be No. 1 on a list like this. Though he wasn’t quite at the peak of his powers at age 32, Erving was still an unreal athlete and an All-Star. He averaged 21.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals in the regular season. While his scoring numbers were down slightly during the playoff run, his defense was on another level. He averaged 2.1 blocks a game that postseason, including 11 in four NBA Finals games. Erving needed a boost from Malone to get him over the top, but it was still a 1 and 1A type of situation with the pair of Hall of Famers.

1. Moses Malone 
It’s difficult to exaggerate how good Malone was in his prime. After being traded from Houston to Philadelphia, he won a second consecutive MVP award, led the league in rebounding for a third straight season and helped the Sixers finally overcome the Lakers. He also was a clear choice for Finals MVP, averaging 25.8 points and 18 rebounds in the series. Even if the Sixers didn't pull it off, fans will always remember his bold "fo', fo' fo'" prediction and how he nearly backed it up with his play. GM Pat Williams' deal to add Malone is one of the best trades in Sixers history, and the 1986 trade that sent him to the Bullets is one of the worst

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2020 NBA draft profile: Kira Lewis Jr. has the whole package offensively

2020 NBA draft profile: Kira Lewis Jr. has the whole package offensively

Kira Lewis Jr.

Position: PG
Height: 6-3
Weight: 165
School: Alabama

One of the top scoring point guards in the 2020 NBA Draft, Lewis filled up the box score as a sophomore at Alabama, averaging 18.5 points, 5.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. He was the only player in college basketball to reach all those averages this season. 

He posted solid shooting numbers across the board — 45.9 percent from the field, 36.6 percent from three-point range and 80.2 percent from the free throw line.

Lewis just turned 19 years old in April and is younger than Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey, who both declared for the draft after their freshman seasons.

Strengths

Lewis is an impressive offensive creator in the half court and an absolute blur in the open floor. He’s one of those guys who can race down the floor for a transition layup before the defense can get set. He reminds me of a skinnier Coby White, who put up big-time scoring numbers in the second half of his rookie season with the Bulls.

Lewis can take his man off the dribble in pick-and-roll situations and is a good enough three-point shooter to keep defenses honest. He has elite quickness and is going to make some big men look silly when they get switched onto him. 

Alabama often gave Lewis the ball and let him take his man off the dribble while the other four players spread the floor. That game plan makes sense when you watch Lewis work. He has the whole offensive package: hesitation dribbles, crossovers, step-back threes and blow-by layups. He also has a nice knack for driving all the way to the baseline and finding open three-point shooters in the corners.

Weaknesses

Lewis has some adjustments to make at the NBA level. He’s very skinny, which could lead to difficulties holding his position defensively and finishing in traffic against bigger, stronger defenders.

He also averaged 3.5 turnovers to go with his 5.2 assists this season, but again, he had the ball in his hands a lot. 

As an NBA rookie, Lewis needs to figure out how to keep the turnovers down while also adjusting to a more complementary offensive role. 

Fit

Lewis checks a bunch of potential boxes for the Sixers.

Offensive creator off the bench? Check.

Backup point guard who could run the show and make threes when Ben Simmons posts up? Check.

Upside potential to be a starter down the road? Check.

The problem is that skill set will also appeal to a bunch of other teams who pick ahead of the Sixers. I’m not sure he’ll make it to them on draft night, but stranger things have happened.

The combination of Simmons and Lewis leading fast breaks for 48 minutes would make the Sixers one of the most fun transition teams in the league. 

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