Without Joel Embiid, Sixers end 2019 with blowout loss to Pacers

Without Joel Embiid, Sixers end 2019 with blowout loss to Pacers


With their best player sidelined, the Sixers ended 2019 with a dismal loss Tuesday in Indiana, a 115-97 defeat to the Pacers. The Sixers trailed by 30 points entering the fourth quarter. 

Joel Embiid was out because of left knee soreness.

The loss extends the Sixers’ losing streak to three games and drops their record to 23-13, 7-11 on the road. The Sixers have a 3-4 mark this season without Embiid and finish the calendar year 10-13 in games their All-Star center missed. 

The team’s road trip concludes Friday night against the Houston Rockets (8 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations on the loss: 

Predictable problems without Embiid 

Kyle O’Quinn started in Embiid’s place, his first start since the Pacers’ regular-season finale last year. He hadn’t played in the Sixers’ last five games.

O’Quinn was solid in his first stint, playing firm defense on Domantas Sabonis and making a nice cross court pass that resulted in a Tobias Harris three.

However, he didn’t return until the third quarter. Brown played Norvel Pelle for 12 minutes (two points, one block, four fouls), while O’Quinn had four points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 26 minutes.

The Sixers’ backup centers didn’t come close to matching Embiid’s level defensively, which was unsurprising — Embiid is one of the top rim protectors in the NBA, and these type of games give you a greater appreciation of his immense defensive value. The Sixers’ perimeter defense also placed their big men in many unfavorable positions. And, to make matters worse, Indiana made 10 of its first 16 three-point shots.

In contrast, the Sixers had a rough shooting day, hitting 6 of 29 threes. 

Looking lost on offense 

The Sixers ran a lot of “12” early, the action that begins with a wing coming up from the baseline to either set a screen for Ben Simmons or receive a dribble handoff. Because defenses usually play off Simmons with the knowledge that he’s not a willing shooter, it’s a look that can at least get him into the paint and driving downhill with momentum.

It was a staple for the Sixers late in games when they had JJ Redick, who commanded respect from opposing defenses and was effective at using a variety of secondary options on the strong side wing that centered around his two-man game with Embiid. 

Though Josh Richardson, Furkan Korkmaz and the Sixers’ other wings haven’t been nearly as dangerous in “12” as Redick, perhaps Brett Brown will use it more to put Simmons in a comfortable spot and encourage him to drive. If Simmons isn’t going to shoot jumpers, the Sixers need to figure out ways to use the open space teams present to him. That might require creativity at times, but it also might mean finding something that works and sticking with it. 

The half-court offense was brutal in the second quarter, when the Sixers were outscored 38-16. It’s tied with their fourth period in Denver on Nov. 8 for the most they’ve been outscored in a quarter this season.

Al Horford shot 2 for 12, Simmons had six turnovers, and the offense often looked aimless without Embiid in the post. And, because of how much success the Pacers were having offensively, Simmons was rarely able to push the ball. The Sixers were limited to eight points on the fast break.

It’s not just effort, but that’s part of it 

After their losses this season, the Sixers have often identified effort, not being “locked in” or various other qualities outside of basketball strategy and execution as factors.

Those causes have generally been valid, and they were certainly prevalent Tuesday. The Sixers didn’t show much defensive energy and played like they knew that, in the absence of Embiid, their chances weren’t great after Indiana made its run in the second quarter. 

Brown turned to a 1-3-1 zone at one stage in the second quarter, and his team played solid defense for the entirety of the shot clock. But, on a play that summed up the afternoon, former Sixer and notorious hustler T.J. McConnell (11 points, 10 assists) beat everyone for the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Justin Holiday for a corner three. In the third quarter, Simmons took the inbounds pass after two made Jeremy Lamb free throws, couldn’t find an available teammate, and Lamb stole the ball and knocked down a three. 

Those were two of many sequences that reflected badly on the Sixers in Indiana. 

With all of that said, effort clearly isn’t the only thing the Sixers need to fix. Horford’s offensive fit and overall ineffectiveness recently, bench scoring, and quality perimeter shot creation are issues they have not attributable to effort, and which tend to be magnified when Embiid is out. 


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NBA Rumors: Buddy Hield's comments should have Sixers fans intrigued

NBA Rumors: Buddy Hield's comments should have Sixers fans intrigued

The Sixers haven't even started the playoffs, but a potential offseason storyline is already bubbling up.

Kings guard Buddy Hield has been long tied to the Sixers as a potential trade target, from insider chatter to fan speculation, to his accidental (?) fueling of those rumors when he liked an Instagram post earlier this year with a hypothetical trade moving him to Philly.

So when the Kings' season ended Thursday, and Hield was asked if he's comfortable with his role off the bench in Sacramento heading into next season, his answer raised some eyebrows.

Including, I'd imagine, some in Philadelphia.

Here's what Hield had to say:

[Hield] provided a series of short answers during a Zoom session with reporters and offered a cryptic response when asked if he could be content with his role going into next season.

"Y'all know me," Hield said. "Y'all know how I talk. Y'all know how I feel. Y'all can read me well, so I'll let y'all answer that yourselves."

Pretty spicy. That doesn't sound like someone who wants to stay where he is!

Hield signed a four-year extension with Sacramento last October, but the Kings regressed in their first year under head coach Luke Walton, and The Athletic reported in February that Hield, unhappy with his role, might be eyeing a move elsewhere.

It doesn't sound like Hield's concerns about his role have changed much since then. If he's unhappy, he could theoretically ask for a trade - or Sacramento could pre-emptively try to get something for the still-young shooter.

I examined the potential fit back in April, including the hypothetical Hield-for-Horford deal from that fateful Instagram post:

In terms of contract length and salary hit, the Hield and Horford deals are strikingly similar, and Hield's game would be an instant improvement for the Sixers' offensive spacing: he's a two-guard who shoots a career 41.1 percent from deep, and can create his own shot. Plus, he's substantially younger than Horford.

Will the move happen? If the Kings deem their relationship with Hield unfixable, it's possible. Horford hasn't fit well in Philly, but he's still a savvy veteran with a good track record. And Hield would certainly check the boxes for the Sixers' front office.

Hield shot 39% from deep this year on 9.5 (!) three-point attempts per game, is a career 41% three-point shooter over 315 games, and would be a perfect match for the Sixers. 

We'll see.

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2020 NBA playoffs: Schedule for Sixers-Celtics series is set

2020 NBA playoffs: Schedule for Sixers-Celtics series is set

The Sixers’ second playoff series against the Celtics in three seasons is on the horizon, and we now know exactly when it will begin.

The series will kick off Monday at 6:30 p.m., the Sixers’ first postseason game since Kawhi Leonard’s indelible buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the second round on May 12, 2019. 

Below is the full schedule, with all times Eastern Standard Time:

Game 1: Monday, Aug. 17 — Sixers at Celtics, 6:30 p.m. 
Game 2: Wednesday, Aug. 19 — Sixers at Celtics, 6:30 p.m. 
Game 3: Friday, Aug. 21 — Sixers vs. Celtics, 6:30 p.m. 
Game 4: Sunday, Aug. 23 — Sixers vs. Celtics, 1 p.m. 
Game 5: Tuesday, Aug. 25 — Sixers at Celtics, TBD
Game 6: Thursday, Aug. 27 — Sixers vs. Celtics, TBD 
Game 7: Saturday, Aug. 29 — Sixers at Celtics, TBD

Of course, Games 5 through 7 will only be played if necessary, and there’s no such thing as a true home game when the teams are playing at Disney World during a pandemic. The Sixers do have PA announcer Matt Cord virtually handling starting lineup introductions, plus the Wendy’s Frosty Freeze-out and other trademarks of a usual home game. They were 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center this season before the NBA’s hiatus, the best home mark in the league. 

Led by All-Stars Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, Boston should be favored in this series against a Sixers team missing Ben Simmons. The 24-year-old had surgery Monday to remove a loose body from his left knee, leaving the Sixers reliant on Joel Embiid and complementary pieces like Josh Richardson and Al Horford. Tobias Harris, who has averaged 22.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in the Sixers’ seeding games, will also likely need to elevate his game. 

Embiid is listed as questionable because of left ankle soreness for the team’s final seeding game Friday night at 9 p.m. against the Rockets. He had a short night Wednesday vs. the Raptors after being hit on the right wrist and had negative X-rays on his hand.

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