76ers

Sixers weekly observations: Welcome to Philly, Jimmy Butler

Sixers weekly observations: Welcome to Philly, Jimmy Butler

Last week, we speculated about how the Sixers would integrate Jimmy Butler into the team. 

This week, it’s fair to say Butler looks like he belongs. 

The Sixers went 3-1 over the past seven days to move to 11-7 overall, winning in Miami, losing in Orlando, and beating Utah and Charlotte.

Butler was fantastic all night in his home debut Friday vs. the Jazz, and he was great when it mattered Saturday against the Hornets, making a huge block in overtime on Kemba Walker, then nailing the game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.

• One of Butler’s best qualities is how simple he can make the game. His knowledge of the playbook and his teammates is obviously limited, but he’s not the kind of player who needs to know the nuances of every set to win his team games. At the end of Saturday night’s game, all Brett Brown had to do was get the ball in Butler’s hands and clear out the floor. It’s been a while since the Sixers had a player like that.

• It doesn’t spoil a very positive week, but the Sixers keep blowing big lead after big lead. In each of the last three games, they gave up leads of 16 or more points. Not good.

• Joel Embiid actually hasn’t shot the ball well since Butler arrived (34.9 percent), but he’s still averaging 25 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 blocks in the past three games. Because of his ability to draw fouls, he doesn't need to have a great shooting night to be dominant offensively. 

• Saturday was Ben Simmons’ best performance of the season. While the stat line of 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists was impressive, his balance between patient point guard play and aggression in transition was most striking. He went 9 for 11 from the foul line, season highs for both attempts and makes.

• Markelle Fultz’s body language might not exude hustle, but he deserves credit for making winning plays through sheer effort. 

Friday night, he tracked down his missed free throw and found Butler for a pivotal and-one layup at the end of the third quarter. Saturday, he soared in to steal a rebound from Miles Bridges and dished it to Mike Muscala for a dunk.

Fultz’s unusual free throws have gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so. His pump-fake free throw Monday in Miami, which Fultz claimed slipped out of hand, was alarming to watch. And his juggling free throw routine Friday night was also rather bizarre, though it did appear effective at removing most of the hitch from Fultz’s shot.

Through all the concern over his shot and conjecture about what the Butler trade means for his future with the Sixers, Fultz has continued to play hard.  

• Even after acquiring Butler, general manager Elton Brand said Tuesday at his new star’s introductory press conference that “the championship talk is a little premature for me.” 

One way he plans to get the Sixers closer to title contention is through filling the open roster spot. He acknowledged the team “needs shooting.”

Over the past week, their lack of quality options at the backup power forward and center spots has been easy to see as well. Amir Johnson has not had a very good start to the season — his minus-9.0 net rating is second-worst on the team. His 19.3 turnover percentage is the highest of any Sixer. 

Brown seems to recognize that Johnson is usually a liability; he’s only playing him 10.2 minutes per game, which would be a career low for Johnson. The ripple effect of that has been 23.9 minutes per game for Mike Muscala, which would be a career high.

With Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup, leaning so heavily on Muscala and trying to steal 10 solid minutes from Johnson each night does not look like a viable plan. In the short term, it might make sense to give Jonah Bolden a chance.

• The Sixers have played 18 games, most in the NBA, and five back-to-backs. The schedule finally eases up a little starting this week, with a three-game homestand Monday vs. the 3-12 Suns, Wednesday vs. the 9-7 Pelicans and Friday vs. the 2-12 Cavaliers. With their 8-0 record at Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers are the last team in the NBA without a loss at home.

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Sixers 106, Heat 102: Boban Marjanovic, Tobias Harris lead way in win

Sixers 106, Heat 102: Boban Marjanovic, Tobias Harris lead way in win

BOX SCORE

The Tobi and Bobi show has officially launched in Philadelphia.

The duo led the Joel Embiid-less Sixers to a 106-102 win over the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.

The victory puts the Sixers at 24-7 at home and 38-21 overall.

Here are observations from the win.

• With Embiid out, Boban Marjanovic got the start and the Sixers didn’t miss a beat early. Marjanovic was a perfect 4 of 4 from the field for a game-high 11 points in the first quarter.

Aside from being a massive human, Marjanovic is actually pretty damn skilled. He has excellent touch around the basket and even a little extended.

His passing is also impressive. He’s excellent at finding cutters. He’s also an exceptional screener and roller.

You could make the argument he was the Sixers' best player, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Like Embiid, he does have his issues with ball security. He had five turnovers. The team also certainly missed Embiid's presence on defense.

• The Jimmy Butler at point guard experiment is still intriguing. There are times when Butler just sort of blends in offensively because of the firepower the Sixers now have. Playing the one allows Butler to get the ball in his hands early in the possession.

He’s also an underrated playmaker that takes care of the basketball. When the playoffs arrive, we should see more of Butler at the point — maybe with Ben Simmons playing a more traditional four.

Simmons will still have the ability to grab the ball off the rim and do his thing in transition, like on this play to Butler.

Butler was clearly the focal point of the offense, posting 18 points (5 of 14), six assists and six rebounds.

• Good thing Elton Brand got this Tobias Harris guy. Harris showed off his versatile offensive game once again. He was just 4 of 11 from the field and 1 of 5 from three for 12 points through three quarters. He then made an effort to attack more off the dribble and look for shots around the rim. That led to a 4 of 4, 11-point fourth quarter. Shooters shoot and Harris continued to do so even when he struggled early. He finished with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds.

• The substitutions were interesting Thursday and they’ll likely continue to be as Brett Brown figures out his playoff rotation.

Simmons was again out with the first wave of subs along with JJ Redick. That means Brown wanted to take a look at the Simmons-Redick pairing, which didn’t work out too well offensively with Jonah Bolden, Jonathon Simmons and Mike Scott rounding out the five on the floor.

Brown went with a Simmons-Harris pairing in the second half, which seemed to fare slightly better, but not much.

Simmons in general struggled in the first half (2 of 6, seven points), but looked much better in the second, getting more post touches against some of the Heat's smaller defenders. He recorded 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists. 

When Miami went small with Kelly Olynyk at the five, it allowed Brown to use Simmons as a five and have T.J. McConnell run the point with Marjanovic on the bench. That lineup is the one that got the Sixers back in front in the fourth quarter for good.

• The bench as a whole didn’t produce a ton, combining for just 12 points, but two guys stood out.

McConnell provided his typical energy and mid-range shooting. He made a very T.J. McConnell play, fronting Dwyane Wade and forcing an errant pass. As the ball was about to go out of bounds, McConnell saved it and it led to a Harris layup. As long as Brown picks his matchups with McConnell wisely, he can provide plenty.

The other reserve that stood out was Jonathon Simmons. Simmons is a legitimate NBA perimeter defender. He hasn't been a very good shooter throughout his NBA career, but he does have a little game off the dribble. He had a nice baseline drive and dunk late in the first half.

• Thursday was Dwyane Wade’s final regular season game in Philadelphia. They played a video featuring Sixers legend Allen Iverson honoring him. The Wells Fargo Center crowd cheered after the video ... but booed when he actually checked into the game. Never change, Philly.

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Sixers vs. Heat: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Heat: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Fresh off the All-Star break, the Sixers (37-21) look to build on their 23-7 home record Thursday at Wells Fargo Center (23-7) against the Miami Heat (26-30).

Here are the essentials:

• When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

No Jo Jo

On Wednesday, we found out that Joel Embiid has been dealing with left knee soreness for a few weeks now. Despite an MRI revealing no structural damage, the plan, for precautionary reasons, is to sit him out for approximately one week, at which point he will be re-evaluated. Brett Brown says that Boban Marjanovic will start in Embiid's place, and Jonah Bolden will likely regain some of the minutes that he’s lost since the Tobias Harris trade. Though Marjanovic is certainly capable of sliding into Embiid’s starting spot, look out for Miami to run quick-hitting pick and rolls to take advantage of Marjanovic’s slower foot speed.  

Who will step up?

Even without Embiid in the lineup, the Sixers have four guys in their starting lineup averaging at least 16.0 points per game. No other team has more than three players averaging 16-plus. That means business as usual in terms of normal play and flow, and taking advantage of the amount of dribble-out players they now have. But, if it comes down to crunch time, without Embiid, who steps up? Brown says he thinks it will be Jimmy Butler. Look out for that Harris-Butler two-man game.

Butler and Dwyane Wade

Speaking of Butler, he’ll have the chance to go up against one of his good friends tonight in Dwyane Wade, who also happens to be averaging 14.0 points and 4.3 assists off the bench in his 15th season.  Butler and Wade (both Marquette guys) played together in Chicago, where Butler says they trained and vacationed together. They also like to give each other a hard time, so watch out for when they’re both on the floor together.

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