76ers

Taking stock of injury-plagued Sixers after road trip ends with letdown

Taking stock of injury-plagued Sixers after road trip ends with letdown

The best part of the Sixers’ recently concluded road trip was Shake Milton. There are other contenders, but the 23-year-old who tied an NBA record with 13 consecutive made threes, averaged 21.3 points and 4.3 assists over the Sixers’ four West Coast games and had opposing fans searching for information on the former second-round selection with the composed game and 7-foot wingspan seems like a sensible pick. 

The worst part of the trip was Saturday night’s 118-114 loss to a Warriors team without Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Golden State shot 55 percent from the floor and scored 36 fourth-quarter points to win its 15th game of the season.

“There are some good things that came out of [the road trip],” Brett Brown told reporters. “Losing tonight, you can’t camouflage the disappointment.”

It doesn’t make Saturday’s loss excusable, but the absences of Joel Embiid (left shoulder sprain), Ben Simmons (nerve impingement in lower back) and Josh Richardson (concussion protocol) were highly impactful. Richardson exited in the first quarter of the Sixers’ defeat last Sunday to the Clippers, while Embiid and Simmons missed the entirety of the trip. 

The Sixers had a 123.6 defensive rating on the West Coast, worst in the NBA during that span. They allowed Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell to all score at least 24 points, conceded 37 to Anthony Davis and gave up a combined 47 to rookie Eric Paschall and Damion Lee.

Having Simmons, Embiid and Richardson would have helped patch up perimeter lapses, protect the paint, defend opposing stars and lessen the burden on weaker defenders. Even having one of the three would have made a major difference. 

“That’s obvious, but that’s not even close to where I’m going,” Brown said. “Where I’m going is with the group that we have. We needed to play better defense and close out a game on the road, and we didn’t do it. We can point at different things, but to me, that’s the bottom line — trying to keep guys in front of you. We just couldn’t do it, and we need to.” 

At 38-26, the Sixers are sixth in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the Pacers and 2.5 behind the fourth-place Heat. Eleven of their remaining 18 games are at home and they have the third-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA. 

None of that matters much when compared to the health of the Sixers' two All-Stars, and none of it is very encouraging after a loss to a team with the league’s worst record. 

“I mean, at this point of the season, when you see that there's fewer and fewer games, you have to handle business,” Al Horford said. “And the most frustrating about this one was that we were in control most of the game.

"It's dangerous when you just kind of let a team keep hanging and hanging, and we were never able to quite pull away. We kept on trading baskets with them. It wasn't good enough tonight.”

There are positives to be gleaned from the trip, including Horford’s play in the final two games. After struggling with Davis and Harrell and shooting 6 of 19 overall in Los Angeles, he was very good in Sacramento and scored 22 points against Golden State, his most since Nov. 4. 

As a team, the Sixers also had success spreading the floor and embracing the three-point shot, taking 38.5 threes per game and hitting 43.5 percent. When Embiid returns — he’s set to be re-evaluated Monday, a team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia, and is reportedly hopeful to play Wednesday vs. the Pistons — the offense should change. Still, the outside shooting of Mike Scott, Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks and Milton was a bright spot. 

Tobias Harris led the Sixers with 23.8 points per game. He was not pleased with the end product. 

"1-3 ... that's pretty bad, in my opinion,” he said. “Not terrible, but it's not what we expect as a group. Most teams want to split the road. We look to go undefeated on the road or three out of four like that, but we haven't been successful on the road. Tonight is a game we'll look back on and say, ‘We should have got that one.’ But we’ve just got to push forward.”

Though he’s never been a player who draws many foul shots, Harris’ lack of free points was especially noticeable on this trip. Over 145 minutes, he attempted eight free throws (making five) and 84 field goals. It’s a weak spot that’s magnified without Simmons and Embiid. 

The Sixers now have four straight games at Wells Fargo Center, where they have an NBA-best 28-2 mark.

“I think this is a missed opportunity,” Brown said. “I think that you’re on the cusp of coming back feeling like we deserved — and should feel — like it’s been a pretty good trip.

"This is certainly a dampener, for me, on the trip — I’m sure [it is] for our guys. Nobody’s going to punt it around and not treat it as a way to find ways to admit stuff and get better. But it would’ve been great to win and then go home.”

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Sixers Talk podcast: Latest on an NBA return; remembering 1983 Finals

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Sixers Talk podcast: Latest on an NBA return; remembering 1983 Finals

On this edition of the Sixers Talk podcast, we discuss many reported scenarios for a return to play for the NBA and remember the 1982-83 Sixers. 

(0:27) — Introducing the newest member of the Sixers Talk podcast, Ben Berry.
(2:45) — We are close to having NBA basketball returning.
(19:34) — Remembering Game 1 of the 1983 NBA Finals and how the league has changed since.

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How high-flying 1983 Sixers beat Lakers at their own game in NBA Finals

How high-flying 1983 Sixers beat Lakers at their own game in NBA Finals

It’s no great revelation to say that the NBA was much different the last time the Sixers won a championship. The shorts were shorter and the three-point shot was more of a novelty than an emphasis.

We watched Game 1 of the 1983 NBA Finals, a 113-107 Sixers win over the Lakers, to get a better sense of both what’s changed about the sport and the characters on that championship team. Game 2 will air Saturday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia, while Games 3 and 4 will air Sunday.

The Sixers managed to sweep the Lakers despite attempting two three-pointers all series and making none. In the 2019 NBA Finals, the Raptors made 72 threes. 

We’ll start off by looking at a Moses Malone post-up that is almost nothing like a Joel Embiid post-up. 

The first noticeable difference is there are no players outside of the three-point arc. And instead of cutting away from the action after making the entry pass, as a player usually would in the modern NBA, Clint Richardson sprints right through the middle of the lane. That invites an all-out double team, something Malone saw plenty of in this game. In this era of more stringent illegal defense rules, teams had to send double teams decisively because shading help in the direction of the man posting up often wasn’t legal. With the paint full of bodies and no teammates open, Malone simply powers through Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper. 

This next play features Andrew Toney running the point after Maurice Cheeks encountered early foul trouble. He curls around a pin down screen from Clemon Johnson and scores.

In 2020, Toney would probably be running a long loop around Johnson’s screen and catching the ball behind the arc. While such an action would obviously give Toney the chance to add an extra point, it’s interesting to see how the tighter spacing allows for these kind of sharp shifts in direction to be more effective.

Against a scorer of Toney’s caliber, Norm Nixon has no room for error in how he guards the pin down. When he falls behind the play and has to chase Toney, “The Boston Strangler” can create an easy jumper with a quick fake and dribble toward the baseline. 

While the ’82-83 Sixers could score at a high rate working around Malone in the half court, they were very successful this game in the open floor. Malone was the NBA’s leading rebounder and always ready to start a fast break, and Julius Erving required attention from opposing defenses. They beat the “Showtime” Lakers at their own game.

There were a few stretches of lax defense in Game 1, but the Sixers’ ability to guard the paint jumped out. The concept of a single “rim protector” is fashionable today, but this Sixers team had a handful of players who deterred and blocked shots. Malone picks up two blocks here after the Sixers make a mistake in covering the Nixon-Mark Landsberger pick-and-roll on the right wing, but Erving and Bobby Jones are also ready to joust at the rim. They were overeager on this sequence, leaping in the air on pump fakes, but you can see how many weapons the Sixers had with their interior defense. 

Erving was especially excellent as a shot blocker in this series. He rejected five shots in Game 1 and 11 across the four games, the most of any player. With ease and grace, he chewed up ground — Magic Johnson thought he had an open layup here.

In contrast, Kurt Rambis seemed aware that Erving was around, but Dr. J gobbled up his attempt anyway.  

As is often the case in a playoff series between two rivals, the Lakers frequently appeared to know the Sixers’ plan on offense. The Sixers’ fluid improvisations in response were impressive. 

In the first clip below, Erving slides back door when Johnson fronts him. On the next play, the initial action of Richardson coming up from the left block to the elbow to screen for Malone is rebuffed. The Sixers stay patient, find a good passing angle and let the MVP seal off Landsberger. 

We’ll end with a play that’s a ton of fun to watch, however many times you rewind it.

On first viewing, it’s a high-flying dunk by Erving. Watch it again, though, and you’ll appreciate Cheeks bringing the ball forward with a purpose, constantly looking for a free teammate. You’ll see Abdul-Jabbar lumber out toward Erving, clearly hopeless as the Hall of Fame forward accelerates toward the rim and glides into his dunk over Johnson. And as the referee puts his hands out in a gesture of “Nothing wrong with that,” you’ll notice Erving drop down to the floor from Johnson’s grasp and give the Lakers point guard a quiet pat before running back down the floor. He didn’t need to say anything. 

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube



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