76ers

Sixers take care of Jazz, and their unorthodox machine is starting to hum

Sixers take care of Jazz, and their unorthodox machine is starting to hum

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The Sixers were not built like most teams across the NBA. They’re “huge,” as Brett Brown has said time and time again, and there were legitimate questions heading into the season about whether their roster could contend for an NBA championship.

At the moment, their unorthodox machine is starting to hum.

With a 103-94 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, the Sixers are 15-6 and 10-0 at home. They’ve won eight of their last nine games overall.

The Sixers let the Jazz back into the game a bit in the fourth quarter but were in control for most of the night. 

Here are observations on their latest win: 

Horford’s value outside of the hot shooting 

The Sixers have run more post-ups than any team in the NBA by a wide margin. They entered Monday night with 14.9 post-up possessions per game, over five more than the Lakers, who sit at No. 2 in that category.

Brown said before the game that he’s focused on improving the nuances of his team’s post offense, from entry passes to spacing to off-ball cutting and screening.

Having Al Horford should help the Sixers’ development in those areas. Along with being an excellent passer from the post, Horford often has size advantages that the Sixers can target, as they did at times Monday against Utah’s Royce O’Neale. And, when his teammates have a mismatch, it’s not unusual to see Horford point to Ben Simmons as Simmons dribbles up the floor — “Get him the ball.”

He’s a player who’s seen it all and definitely not someone who’s phased by the frequency with which the Sixers post up.

For the Sixers, it also doesn’t hurt that Horford has been shooting the ball very well. Despite going 0 for 5 from the floor in the second half vs. the Jazz, he’s shot 62.7 percent over his last six games. 

Horford simply had a very strong night across the board, posting 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks, and is playing with a lot of confidence.

He even did his trademark flinch following a Rudy Gobert free throw miss in the third quarter, then implored fans to pick up the noise ahead of what could have been a Frosty-clinching brick. Gobert, however, made the second free throw.

Simmons and Thybulle shine on defense 

The Sixers made a smart adjustment in their defense early against Donovan Mitchell, hedging and recovering a few times on the pick-and-roll. Mitchell had started hot on Nov. 6 in Utah, when the Sixers had his defender try to go over the screen and dropped the big man. While the mid-range shot is a look the Sixers and most NBA teams will typically accept, they didn’t take the chance that Mitchell might make a bunch of open jumpers in the first quarter and get into a groove.

Simmons and Matisse Thybulle did an excellent job on Mitchell (18 points on 6 for 19 shooting), and defensively in general. Thybulle seemed to bother Mitchell with his constant activity and zealous “rearview contests” when he fell behind in his chase over a ball screen. 

Brown said pregame of the rookie that, “At times I should have a higher tolerance level for his wild decisions defensively.”

To begin the second half, Brown went with Thybulle over Furkan Korkmaz, who started his eighth game of the year and had seven points in 24 minutes. Korkmaz started again because Josh Richardson remains sidelined by right hamstring tightness.

Thybulle’s high-risk decisions tend to result in high rewards when he gets it right.

He had three steals, while Simmons added to his NBA lead with four. Simmons also nearly had a triple-double, with 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. 

Harris picks up the slack

For the first time since his zero-point effort against Marc Gasol and the Raptors, Joel Embiid faced a top post defender in Gobert, the Defensive Player of the Year the last two seasons. 

Though Embiid wasn’t completely silenced by Gobert, the Jazz center guarded him well, limiting Embiid to 16 points on 5 for 13 shooting from the floor.

On this night, though, the Sixers didn’t need Embiid to be at his most dominant offensively.

Tobias Harris (26 points on 10 of 23 shooting) helped to pick up the scoring slack. The Harris-Embiid pick-and-roll was featured heavily in the fourth quarter.

A unique celebration 

After sinking a three to put the Sixers up 57-31 (and getting fouled), James Ennis did a couple of celebration push-ups, much to the delight of the crowd at Wells Fargo Center. 

It was that kind of high-energy, free-flowing, joyful first half for the Sixers. 

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Sixers injury update: Joel Embiid (left ankle) out against Suns; Ben Simmons has surgery

Sixers injury update: Joel Embiid (left ankle) out against Suns; Ben Simmons has surgery

The Sixers’ injury update on Monday was a long one. 

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown wasn’t sure if Embiid would play Wednesday vs. the Raptors, but he expects the three-time All-Star to appear again before the postseason and indicated he doesn't view the injury as serious. The Sixers’ last seeding contest has been officially assigned for Friday at 9 p.m. against the Rockets. 

“I do expect him to,” Brown said. “That’s just one man’s opinion. Nobody’s doing cartwheels over, ‘It’s something severe,’ one. Two, I do believe it would be good for him to play before the playoffs begin.”

Josh Richardson, who scored 34 points against Portland, will rest Tuesday. Tobias Harris is questionable with right ankle soreness and Al Horford is questionable with left knee soreness. Harris hasn’t missed a game this season, while Horford said in July, “I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be” physically earlier in the season but felt “in a much better place” after being able to rest during the NBA’s hiatus. 

The length of the injury report is not surprising after Brown on Sunday seemed receptive when asked about possibly restricting minutes for key players in the team’s final three seeding games.

“I think it’s true ... where you want an honest sort of medical assessment of anything that equals a potential problem — you just want to avoid (it),” he said. “And landing the plane and entering the playoffs from this vision line of a bubble and time off and tiptoeing on pins and needles where you don’t want people to get injured, and then still find a rhythm, that’s a slippery slope. 

“You mentioned Jo. I think the question extends to people like Al Horford, as an example. Making sure Tobias is in a place where we can manage his minutes going forward and still find that balance of trying to compete and find a rhythm.”

Ben Simmons was the other player on Monday’s report. 

The 24-year-old had successful surgery to remove a loose body in his left knee, the team said, performed by Dr. Chris Dodson from Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. He’ll begin rehabilitation in Philadelphia immediately and will have a post-operative evaluation in approximately two weeks. 

Mike Scott, who missed the Sixers’ first three seeding games with right knee soreness, said he’s feeling well now. He saw time as a small-ball center against the Trail Blazers, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds, and will likely assume a key role on Tuesday.

“Just a little swelling,” he said of his knee. “Had to get it drained, so it was kind of holding me down a little bit, but it feels better now. Got it drained, so feeling a lot better.”

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Sixers Talk podcast: A lot more questions than answers right now

getty-joel-embiid-injury.jpg
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Sixers Talk podcast: A lot more questions than answers right now

On this edition of the Sixers Talk podcast, we discuss the health of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, whether the All-Star duo should stay together and much more.

(0:32) — Embiid suffers an injury and Lillard drops 51.
(9:16) — Don't expect a deep playoff run.
(14:30) — More pressure on Shake Milton or Josh Richardson going forward?
(21:41) — Will Brett Brown get a pass if the Sixers don't succeed?
(34:39) — Here we go with the trading Embiid or Simmons talk again.

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: 
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Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers