76ers

Shake Milton keeps rolling, Tobias Harris and Al Horford step up for Sixers in win over Kings

Shake Milton keeps rolling, Tobias Harris and Al Horford step up for Sixers in win over Kings

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers didn’t forget how to win on the road.

They won their first game away from Wells Fargo Center since Jan. 20 on Thursday night, a 125-108 decision over the Kings.  

The victory improves the Sixers, who were still without Ben Simmons (nerve impingement in lower back), Joel Embiid (left shoulder sprain) and Josh Richardson (concussion protocol), to 38-25. 

On Saturday night, they’ll wrap up their West Coast trip against the Warriors. 

Here are observations on the win: 

Harris and Horford carry the load early  

We’ve scrutinized Tobias Harris and Al Horford more than usual recently. In the context of the Sixers’ injuries and the big contracts the two received this summer, their performances have merited plenty of criticism. 

Harris was strong in the first half, scoring 19 of his 28 points within the game’s opening 18 minutes.

Horford had 10 of his 18 points in the first period and also had eight rebounds and six assists. He was a ludicrous plus-41. 

Neither player was as good during the second half, when Sacramento made the Sixers uncomfortable after trailing by as many as 20, but they gave the Sixers what they needed in this one. 

Big edge from behind the arc 

The Sixers’ offensive philosophy without Simmons, Embiid and Richardson has been clear: Spread the floor and launch threes. 

They put up 37 threes Thursday, making 17. With the Kings converting 11 threes, the Sixers scored 18 more points than Sacramento from beyond the arc.

Coming into the game, the Sixers were allowing the fewest three-point makes (10.2) and attempts (28.9) per game in the NBA. Their three-point defense has been a strength throughout the season, though Buddy Hield caught fire in the second half on Thursday. 

When the Sixers are “hunting threes” to this extent and hitting them at such a high rate, they have a blueprint for winning in the absence of their two All-Stars. As a team, they’ve made over 40 percent of their threes in four straight games. Eight Sixers made at least one three Thursday. 

A hopeful lineup  

Brett Brown’s decision to use a lineup missing both Harris and Horford with 3:24 left in the first quarter backfired.

He must have been hoping that Alec Burks could create offense, Raul Neto could facilitate, Norvel Pelle could protect the rim and Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III could knock down threes. None of those players performed any of those tasks during an abysmal stretch. Burks was unsuccessful on a couple of drives to the rim, Korkmaz missed an open three, Neto committed a bad turnover that led to a Kent Bazemore layup on the other end and Sacramento quickly went on a 12-0 run to tie the game. That forced Brown to call a timeout and get Horford and Mike Scott into the game.

Brown is obviously in a difficult spot without three of his typical starters, but the idea that he could buy a few decent minutes with that lineup was … optimistic. 

The Shake Show keeps rolling 

Regardless of what happens Saturday against Golden State, it seems safe to say that Shake Milton will have been the best part of the road trip for the Sixers. 

Even when his jump shot inevitably stops falling at this absurd rate, he looks like a player who can help in other ways. Though he’s surely on opposing scouting reports at this point, he’s still making sensible, confident reads and getting to his preferred spots. The end of the second quarter Tuesday against the Lakers was the only stretch during the trip that he appeared rushed or rattled. 

“There’s a cocky side that’s emerging, which I love,” Brett Brown told reporters pregame. “I just think his attitude, his mindset is as important as anything.”

Milton had 20 points and three assists. Burks (17 points) and Neto (16 points) also did well as backup ball handlers, providing offense when Harris and Horford were quiet in the second half. 

Scott’s value

Mike Scott scored in double figures for the third straight game, recording 11 points on 5 for 10 shooting, seven rebounds and four assists. 

Outside of his scoring, the no-nonsense approach and hustle that originally made him endearing to Sixers fans have been valuable in these difficult circumstances. Those qualities have mostly been nice to have in theory this year, but not especially helpful. He’s struggled for long stretches and seemed lost on offense when his jumper hasn’t been falling.

Scott still might not ultimately be a regular piece of the Sixers’ playoff rotation, but he’s at least reminded Brown that, at his best, he brings versatility — the 31-year-old again saw time at backup center — along with three-point shooting and toughness. Again, he hasn’t been good for much of this season, but his play is another positive development from the West Coast trip.

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Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Updated: 8:42 p.m.

Ben Simmons is out for the Sixers’ seeding game Friday against the Orlando Magic with a left patella subluxation and there's not currently a timeline for his return as he considers treatment options. That news is clearly significant in the Sixers’ world, and it raises a range of questions. 

Let’s run through some of the bigger ones: 

What exactly is the injury? 

A simpler way to classify the injury is as a partial dislocation of the kneecap. 

How long will Simmons be out?

This is the largest question and still murky. Brett Brown on Thursday said “stuff is still being evaluated” and that he wasn’t in a position to offer a timeline. Presumably, factors such as the state of the ligaments around the knee could play a key role in determining how long Simmons is out. 

Outside of Simmons’ physical status, the team’s approach will be important. There’s no reason to put Simmons back on the court before he’s healthy. 

Shake Milton is hoping for a speedy return.

“It’s tough for us,” he said Thursday. “Ben is an incredible player, an incredible athlete. I don’t know, he’s like a freaking superhuman, so hopefully he’s able to heal super fast and get back on the court, because we definitely need him.”

How will the starting lineup change?

On March 11, the Sixers’ final pre-hiatus game, the team started Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. That’s one possibility. The Horford-Embiid pairing is still the Sixers’ worst regular duo in terms of net rating despite having a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World.

If Brown wants to prepare for a scenario in which Simmons is available and in the postseason starting five, he could keep Horford as the sixth man. He could instead turn to a wing such as Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz or Glenn Robinson III, all of whom have started games for the Sixers this year. Robinson, who has missed the Sixers' first three seeding games with a left hip pointer, is doubtful for Friday's game. 

What about the rotation?

Robinson’s health is a relevant issue with the rotation, which Brown shrunk to nine players when the Sixers played the Wizards. Raul Neto didn’t play against Washington after seeing time in the first two seeding games.

It’s interesting to note that Neto started in Simmons’ place on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10 when the Australian was out with a shoulder injury. The circumstances were very different, however, as Milton was sidelined by a bone bruise and left knee sprain, leaving Neto and Trey Burke as the two main ball handlers on the roster. Trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks now appears ahead of Neto in the backup point guard pecking order, and Simmons’ injury should increase Burks' value a touch. 

As of Wednesday, Brown said his plan was still to have a nine-player rotation for the playoffs. 

What’s the intangible impact? 

When Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back on Feb. 22, Brown recalled him vomiting because of pain. He’s lauded Simmons often for the diligent rehabilitation he did to recover from that injury and be ready to go when play resumed amid a pandemic.

Injuries aren’t anything new to Brown, but he admitted it hurt some to learn about this one after witnessing the process of Simmons’ back rehabilitation. 

“It’s the life that we've lived since I have been in Philadelphia,” he said. “I’m sure every coach has some level of a similar story. This one stings, for sure. We all felt with the pandemic and are we going to play again, it obviously bought time for Ben — had the season kept going, it’s anybody’s best guess. In relation to being incredibly down about it, I’m not. When I think too long about it, probably I can go there.

“But I feel numb to it. I feel conditioned, that we’ve gone through this type of thing before. There is a level of faith that I have in the rest of the team that we can hold the fort until we hopefully get him back. But snakebitten, woe is me, I don’t go there.”

In addition to dealing with the disappointment of a star going down, the Sixers will have to tinker with ingredients like leadership that aren’t necessarily evident to an outsider.

“It’s going to be kind of everyone has to step up by committee,” Richardson said. “I think we have a few guys that can step up as leaders, who can step up and have big games for us. We don’t really like to put too much pressure on one or a few guys. Everybody’s going to step up in his absence.”

Can the Sixers manage without Simmons? 

Again, the lack of a timeline looms large here. We can say without question that the Sixers are 6-5 this season without Simmons and don’t have direct replacements for his elite defense, transition talents, creative passing and more.

It’s also logical that the Sixers will rely on Embiid defensively and feed him frequently in the post. His 34.4 percent usage rate so far in Florida may very well rise. 

“Offensively, he needs to get as many touches as we can get him,” Brown said. “And I think that one of the areas of most noticeable growth … is what he’s been doing passing out of the post. It’s maybe the single thing that stands out most to me offensively when you look at whether it’s Jo, or just us as a team — I like our post spacing.

“I like Jo’s unselfishness quarterbacking the gym. His ability to read where the double teams are coming from I think has been shown.”

Thybulle, Richardson, and perhaps Robinson when healthy could assume challenging defensive assignments that otherwise would have been Simmons’. Players like Harris and Korkmaz will miss Simmons’ ability to drive and set up three-pointers. 

Initially, the Sixers are coming to terms with the situation and hoping the injury doesn’t dent their playoff hopes.

“There’s a lot of moving parts right now and really we're all coming to grips with the news that we’ve received,” Brown said. 

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons has subluxation in left patella

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons has subluxation in left patella

Updated: 8:37 p.m.

The injury Ben Simmons sustained in the Sixers' win Wednesday night over the Wizards is a subluxation of the left patella. He's out for the team's game Friday night against the Magic and treatment options are being considered.

Simmons exited Wednesday's game in the third quarter after throwing a pass for Al Horford. He immediately flexed his left knee and headed to the locker room.

Brett Brown was not prepared to give a timeline for how long Simmons will be sidelined.

"Some of the information is fluid, it’s still moving," he said Thursday. "In relation to saying any type of deadline, timeline, playoff, whatever, I’m not in a position to offer anything. Not because we don’t want to, but stuff is still being evaluated. What I do know — it’s boring, but we play Orlando tomorrow and we don’t have him. That’s kind of all I know at this point.”

The 24-year-old Simmons made his second All-Star team this season and has averaged 16.4 points, 8.0 assists and 7.8 rebounds. The Sixers shifted him to power forward in their new starting lineup, and he was open to the change.

"You've just gotta work with different things,” he said on July 14. “You’ve gotta try different things out, see if they work. We’re not at a stage where we can be comfortable yet. I’m still trying to figure it out myself ... what feels comfortable, what’s right for this team and how we’re gonna win. 

“If it’s this way, then I’m all for it. I’ve been having fun in that position — whatever you guys say, the four — whatever it is. But at the end of the day, when you see me I’m on the floor, I’m making plays."

He'd missed the Sixers' final eight games before the NBA's hiatus with a nerve impingement in his lower back but recovered from that injury and said he felt explosive heading into the restart. 

Without Simmons, Brown will have a few options to replace Simmons in the starting lineup, including original starting power forward Al Horford and wings Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz.

Brown said he spoke with Simmons and Sixers medical director Scott Epsley on Wednesday night during a team dinner.

"There is clearly disappointment," Brown said, "because I don’t know if anybody really understood what he did to get ready to play basketball again. He really invested time, he really was diligent during the whole pandemic about recovery and rehab and strength and conditioning. ... And so I feel like there is certainly some disappointment, I think (there’s) the uncertainty of what really is it right now, is obviously there.

"But he’s a great teammate and his teammates care about him, and I think more will unfold, I suspect, in the next 24 hours where we can maybe provide more information.”

In other injury news, Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is questionable for Friday's game and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful. Both participate in the Sixers' practice Thursday after missing the team's first three seeding games. 

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