76ers

Sixers' home mystique wears off in latest test

Sixers' home mystique wears off in latest test

BOX SCORE

There were playoff implications on the line between the Sixers and Pacers — and it showed.

The Sixers (36-30) lost, 101-98, to the Pacers (40-28) in one of their more intense matchups of the season. Tensions ran high as technical fouls were called, whistles were contested, and one player left the court injured. 

The Sixers entered the night only two games behind the Pacers in the standings. If the playoffs had begun Tuesday, the Sixers and Pacers would have been matched up in a 3-6 series. The Sixers could have closed the gap with a win that could have impacted the fight for home-court advantage. 

• The Pacers snapped the Sixers' impressive 13-game win streak at the Wells Fargo Center. They had not lost in Philadelphia since Dec. 21, 2017, against the Raptors. The arena was quiet as fans filed out. 

• Joel Embiid worked on his highlight reel, throwing down monster dunks. He led all players with a 29-point, 12-rebound double-double. He attempted (and missed) a game-tying three with six seconds left. 

• The Sixers didn’t do themselves any favors with 12 first-half turnovers. They committed a total of 21 in the game, giving up 29 points. Embiid accounted for eight of the errors. The Pacers, meanwhile, only committed 10 as a team. 

• The Sixers were prepared for Lance Stephenson (11 points, four rebounds, three assists) to be a spark plug for the second unit. 

“Lance coming off a bench is lightning in a bottle possibly,” Brett Brown said. 

They should have expected him to be feisty, too. That’s been his M.O. his entire career. Stephenson wasn’t shy to mix things up with the Sixers, including drawing a tech on Embiid. 

• The Pacers pulled off the win in spite of an off night from All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. He shot 4 for 21 from the field and scored only 11 points. 

• Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis suffered a left ankle sprain when Embiid was pushed by Trevor Booker under the basket and then landed on his ankle. Sabonis was helped off the court by his teammates, who were visibly bothered by how the injury occurred. 

• Brent Celek, Brian Westbrook and Freddie Mitchell were at the game sitting courtside near actor Michael B. Jordan. 

If they face Celtics again in playoffs, how can Sixers beat Boston?

If they face Celtics again in playoffs, how can Sixers beat Boston?

The Sixers have 24 games left, and each one of them matters with playoff seeding at stake. But their March 20 matchup vs. the Celtics might matter a little more than the others as the Sixers will aim to avoid a season sweep against Boston.

Today, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick discuss how the Sixers can beat the Celtics if the two teams meet again in the playoffs.

Monday, they looked at who should be part of the Sixers' playoff rotation (see story).

Wednesday, they'll review their expectations for the rest of the season.

Hudrick 

While the new-look Sixers will likely be a better team the next time they see the Celtics, there’s plenty to take from the previous matchups.

Some teams are a tough matchup for Joel Embiid and others for Ben Simmons. Boston is the rare team that gives both All-Stars problems. Al Horford is the rarest of players that can guard both. 

Most NBA fives are susceptible to Embiid’s pump fakes or they can’t keep up with his footwork, often leading to fouls. That’s not the case with Horford, who has the discipline, strength and quickness to hang with Embiid. It’s a matter of Embiid making better and quicker decisions — especially against double teams.

With Simmons, it’s just about valuing the basketball and picking his spots to be aggressive. Boston is excellent at getting back in transition, where Simmons normally excels. Simmons is often better when he’s attacking, but against the Celtics he may be better off letting the game come to him, like he did last Tuesday.

The other thought, knowing how much Embiid and Simmons have struggled vs. Boston, is to run the offense more around Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. 

Butler was the best player on the floor against the Celtics last week. We’ve briefly seen the Butler experiment at point guard. I’d be interested in seeing it more against Boston. It could allow Butler to be in control of the offense and allow Simmons to play a traditional four spot.

Harris struggled in the loss last week, but had good looks. He’s been with the team for less than two weeks, so Brown and his teammates are still figuring Harris out and how he fits in the offense. They have 24 games to find the best way to get Harris more involved. Doing so could come in handy if they face the Celtics again in the playoffs.

Levick 

I think there are three keys to the Sixers beating the Celtics: 

1. Make Joel Embiid’s life easier
We know Al Horford defends Embiid very well. Embiid just can’t draw fouls or score inside with ease against Horford the same way he does against other big men. That’s fine.

The Sixers can help Embiid by spacing the floor properly when he gets the ball, making the occasional, smart split cut off him, and recognizing that he’s not always going to be their best offensive option. Sometimes Tobias Harris or Jimmy Butler are going to be the right player to turn to down the stretch.

2. Play to Ben Simmons’ strengths
The current reality is Simmons, without a reliable jump shot, likely won’t be as effective offensively vs. the Celtics as he is against others teams. Boston does a great job neutralizing the athletic advantage Simmons usually possesses. Again, that doesn’t have to kill the Sixers.

I’ve mentioned it a bunch in the past, but it bears repeating — Simmons has gone from a poor post player (21 for 70, or 30 percent last season) to one of the better post-up players in the NBA this season (50 for 99, or 50.5 percent).

It would make sense for the Sixers to use Simmons more at the power forward spot than normal vs. Boston in lineups with Jimmy Butler or T.J. McConnell at the point. 

3. Prioritize defense
As we saw last season, Boston is masterful at exposing defensive liabilities. Players like Furkan Korkmaz can’t see the floor against the Celtics. JJ Redick’s minutes might need to go down. McConnell, though he’s been very good recently against the Celtics, will probably only be playable if he’s asked to defend smaller guards like Terry Rozier. 

In all likelihood, Brett Brown will need to ride his best defensive players — Butler, Embiid, Simmons and Harris. The Sixers have the talent to beat Boston, but Brown has a challenging task navigating the matchup troubles which the Celtics present. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers' new starting 5 is on Sports Illustrated cover

Sixers' new starting 5 is on Sports Illustrated cover

If you're a Sixers fan, you better hope the Sports Illustrated cover jinx is not a real thing.

The Sixers' new, formidable starting five is on this week's cover of SI, posing around the words "Process This." You'd imagine Sam Hinkie is reading with pride. 

Interesting to note how all five guys have a hint of a smile besides Joel Embiid. His competitive side sometimes gets overshadowed, but Embiid definitely looks like he means business on the cover with that cold stare into the camera.

Tobias Harris wishes his teammates had gone all-in on the smile.

In the issue, The Crossover staff at SI re-previews the highly competitive Eastern Conference, taking stock of where the Sixers, Celtics, Bucks and Raptors stand after an eventful trade deadline.

So did Philly just build the most talented team in the East — or a very expensive runner-up? Whatever the answer, the experiment seems an appropriate extension of the Process," Andrew Sharp writes. "You don’t have to love every move, but you can’t help but admire the ambition.

Fair enough. 

Eleven years ago, Elton Brand was on the cover.

The question then was, "How far can Elton Brand take the Sixers?" It's still a relevant question, although at this point, the Sixers' fate falls largely on the team Brand has helped assemble. But there's no doubt Brand is again a big part of the Sixers' return to the national spotlight.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers