There’s rarely a boring week with the Sixers.
My teammate Paul Hudrick will touch on all the drama with Markelle Fultz tomorrow in his weekly Fultz stock watch, but the Sixers kept things interesting on the court as well.
The team stands at 13-8 after beating the Suns Monday, the Pelicans Wednesday, and falling to the Cavs Friday night, their first loss at Wells Fargo Center this season.
• The Sixers got off to slow starts against two of the NBA’s worst teams, the Suns and Cavs. While that hasn’t been a season-long trend (the Sixers have still outscored their opponents by 2.5 points per game in the first quarter), the team’s inability to piece together a complete game is notable. They almost did it against the Pelicans, then came an Anthony Davis missed free throw away from squandering a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.
It’s great that the Sixers have been able to pull off a bunch of tight wins, in large part thanks to using their dangerous crunch-time weapons like JJ Redick and Embiid effectively (see film review). The team is 5-1 in games decided by three or fewer points.
Come playoff time, though, the Sixers can’t afford the sort of quarter-to-quarter inconsistency we’ve seen at the start of the season.
• Realistically, the Sixers are never going to be a low-turnover team in the near future. Unless the Sixers rebound at a high rate, the opposition is going to have more possessions.
After grabbing an NBA-best 52 percent of rebounds last season, the Sixers are 10th this season at 50.9 percent. That number is moving in the wrong direction after the past two games, in which the Sixers were outrebounded by a combined 18 boards.
• The Cavs double teamed Joel Embiid more than any team since the Hawks on Oct. 29, and once again, it was an effective strategy.
Cleveland didn’t throw kamikaze doubles at Embiid whenever he touched the ball; they were smart about only sending help once he had established post position. Though Embiid managed 24 points and 12 rebounds, he only had three shots in the paint.
Brett Brown acknowledged the scheme threw Embiid off early. Embiid had two points on one field goal attempt in the first quarter.
“I think he struggled initially,” Brown said. “Then I think he sort of settled down. Initially, I think the double teams produced three turnovers. I think we can help Joel with maybe quicker, better spacing. I give Cleveland credit in causing some confusion with the double teams with Joel.”
It remains surprising that more teams haven’t at least tried doubling Embiid. Defending him conventionally doesn’t usually work very well — he’s averaging 27.9 points and an NBA-leading 10.6 free throw attempts.
And given how little Embiid has been regularly doubled, you’d expect some of the confusion Brown noted vs. the Cavs to be present, at least for the time being.
Embiid has improved his decision-making out of the post, increasing his assist to turnover ratio from 0.85 last season to 1.09, but he still looks susceptible to turnovers when double teamed. At the very least, double teaming in the post pushes Embiid out to the perimeter. You’d imagine every Sixers’ opponent would prefer Embiid shooting jumpers to him camping out on the low block and drawing foul after foul.
• Early returns are positive on the new starting lineup. Ben Simmons, Embiid, Jimmy Butler, Wilson Chandler and Redick have a plus-8.0 net rating in 68 minutes together.
• We haven’t seen Butler fully unleashed quite yet.
In the minuscule sample size of six games with the Sixers, Butler’s 12.8 field goal attempts per game and 20.4 percent usage rate would both be the lowest for him since the 2013-14 season.
Butler sprained his left ankle Friday night. X-rays were negative, and he didn’t rule out playing against the Nets.
If Butler is able to play, look for Brown to call more isolation and pick-and-rolls sets for Butler this week to encourage him to take a more prominent role in the offense.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.