76ers

Sixers weekly observations: Ben Simmons striking the right balance, Joel Embiid's wide-ranging influence, more

Sixers weekly observations: Ben Simmons striking the right balance, Joel Embiid's wide-ranging influence, more

This week, all the speculation stopped. Well, most of it did anyway, at least the valid questions about what the Sixers would look like when Joel Embiid returned.

The Sixers (44-25) were far from perfect, but they still pulled off a 3-0 homestand with wins Sunday over the Pacers in Embiid's first game back, Tuesday vs. the Cavs in an uncomfortably close matchup, and Friday against the Kings.

Here are a few observations on the week:

• We all know and understand, on an intuitive level, how large an impact Embiid has. This week helped put the abstract truism that Embiid matters into perspective.

There were issues with double teams, instances when his wires crossed with JJ Redick’s, sluggish stretches. But for the most part, Embiid was excellent for the Sixers this week. Not many players can return from an eight-game absence and average 23.7 points, 16.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.

His versatility and low-post dominance expanded the possibilities for an offense that looked, at times, lethargic and limited without him. His late-game defense gave his teammates plenty of margin for error. His presence re-introduced a familiar spark to the Wells Fargo Center.

When Embiid is off the court this season, the Sixers have a minus-3.2 net rating, which would put them 26th in the NBA. When Embiid is on the floor, the team has a plus-8.3 rating. That would be second in the NBA, behind only the Bucks. 

Embiid is a massively influential player, a special talent, an original personality, and a very compelling reason to watch Sixers basketball. Everyone associated with the team is grateful to have him back.

• Ben Simmons turned the ball over just three times this week. While there are bigger challenges in front of him Sunday against the Bucks and Wednesday vs. Boston, you have to be encouraged by the way Simmons conducted the offense. Brett Brown has mentioned Simmons’ open-court speed sometimes leads him to outrun the offense. These past three games, he initiated half-court sets when appropriate but also blew by the defense on the fast break when the opportunity presented itself.

He’ll need to keep doing a good job hitting that middle ground between full speed ahead and walking it up if he continues to play as much with Embiid as he did Friday. The duo played almost 36 minutes together vs. Sacramento, which is a significant bump up from the norm. Since Jimmy Butler’s first game as a Sixer on Nov. 14, Embiid and Simmons have shared the court for 22.9 minutes per game, which is just seventh highest of the team’s two-man pairings. With two potential playoffs opponents on deck over the next four days, it’ll be worth tracking how often Embiid and Simmons play together.

• It’s a relatively small thing, but I liked the call to rest Butler vs. the Cavs. 

There’s this difficult, tenuous line Brown and the Sixers are trying to walk between pushing to win every game left and trying to put the team in the best shape possible for the playoffs. Do you experiment with new rotations? How much should you introduce new plays or concepts, and how much should you focus on fine-tuning what you already have?

The Butler decision was a situation in which the Sixers could focus on both priorities at once. Resting Butler didn’t seriously jeopardize the Sixers' chances against the 17-win Cavs, and Butler looked rejuvenated Friday night vs. the Kings in a stellar two-way performance

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Sixers suffer 2 losses in Toronto as Josh Richardson exits with injury against Raptors

Sixers suffer 2 losses in Toronto as Josh Richardson exits with injury against Raptors

The Sixers’ modest road winning streak has come to an end.

They fell Wednesday night to the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena, 107-95, snapping a run of two straight away wins and four straight victories overall.

The defeat drops them to 29-17 this season, 5-3 since Joel Embiid has been sidelined because of a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. The Sixers, who next play the Lakers on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center, haven’t won a regular-season game in Toronto since Nov. 10, 2012. 

Here are observations on the loss: 

Another starter suffers an injury 

With 8:08 to go in the first quarter, Brett Brown called a timeout as Josh Richardson grabbed at his left hamstring. The Sixers’ guard left the game with a left hamstring strain and did not return. 

Richardson came into Wednesday’s game averaging 15.4 points, 3.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds. His perimeter defense, shot creation and pick-and-roll ability have been valuable skills. 

The 26-year-old missed six games in a row from Nov. 29 to Dec. 8 because of right hamstring tightness. 

Richardson’s replacements 

Shake Milton entered when Richardson left, his 13th NBA appearance this season. The second-year player started brightly, sinking a three-pointer from the right wing on his first shot. 

However, Milton only made 2 of his next 9 shots and was outmuscled on a couple of plays. He was passable overall in a tough spot. 

Furkan Korkmaz chipped in 17 points (6 of 13 shooting) off the bench, his fifth straight game in double figures. This was one of Korkmaz’s better defensive efforts, too. 

The Sixers also looked to Tobias Harris to fill the scoring void without Richardson. Harris had a team-high 22 points on 18 shots.

Al Horford faded after hitting a couple of early jumpers and shot 3 for 11.

Turnover problems for Simmons

After his 34-point triple-double Monday night in Brooklyn, Ben Simmons could not meet that same extremely high level again.

Though Simmons was aggressive on the offensive boards and had 10 assists, he also turned it over six times in the first half, which enabled the Raptors to get back into the game after they trailed by 14 points in the first quarter. The turnovers were a combination of the Raptors simply doing a good job of walling Simmons off in the open floor and Simmons either being slow to make a decision when encountering a set defender or choosing the wrong pass. To Simmons’ credit, he’d only averaged 2.1 turnovers over his previous nine games.

The other main reasons the Sixers’ lead evaporated in the second were that they missed a lot of the open three-point looks they’d made in the first period and didn’t get to the foul line enough. They shot 2 of 9 from three and scored 15 second-quarter points, while Harris was the only Sixer besides Simmons to attempt a free throw in the first half. 

A first loss with Thybulle starting 

Matisse Thybulle started for his fifth straight game but left after just three minutes when he picked up his second foul on a Kyle Lowry pump fake, leaving his feet and making the sort of mistake he’s talked about learning to avoid.

Thybulle is usually a peripheral offensive player and has struggled with his shot since returning from his right knee injury — although he did knock down two fourth-quarter threes. Still, he’s shown a consistent ability to start and finish fast breaks, like he did early in the third quarter when he stole the ball and blazed past the lumbering Marc Gasol for a dunk. 

The duo of Thybulle and Simmons seemed to get their hands on every other pass the Raptors tried during a stretch early in the third.

The Sixers are now 7-1 when Thybulle starts.

Pelle’s final day — for now 

Norvel Pelle played in Wednesday’s game, meaning he’s used up every one of the 45 NBA days he’s allotted under his two-way contract. He had one point, four rebounds and two blocks in 12 minutes.  

Though the Sixers opted against converting Pelle to a NBA deal because of their desire to maximize flexibility ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline, he could still get an NBA spot with the Sixers if a roster slot ultimately becomes open.

For now, the energetic, rim-protecting rookie is in an odd limbo and must stay with the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ G-League affiliate. 

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Josh Richardson forced to leave game vs. Raptors with hamstring injury

Josh Richardson forced to leave game vs. Raptors with hamstring injury

The Sixers are now down two starters.

Josh Richardson was forced to leave Wednesday night's game vs. the Raptors with a left hamstring strain. He played just four minutes and will not return.

Richardson missed six games earlier this season with a right hamstring tightness.

The team is already missing Joel Embiid, who missed his eighth straight game Wednesday after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger.

With Richardson out, Brett Brown turned to little-used guard Shake Milton. This is the second-year pro's first meaningful game action since late November.

We'll have more information as it becomes available.

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