76ers

No collapse this time vs. Nuggets as Sixers win a defensive battle

No collapse this time vs. Nuggets as Sixers win a defensive battle

BOX SCORE 

The first time the Sixers played the Nuggets this season, they were outscored by 22 points in the fourth quarter, falling apart late in Denver on Nov 8. 

They entered the fourth quarter with the lead Tuesday night and this time, they closed the deal with a 97-92 win at Wells Fargo Center. It wasn’t because of their offense, though — the Sixers scored just 14 points in the fourth, while the Nuggets had 16.

With the victory, the Sixers are 13-0 at home, 18-7 overall.

Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 22 points, while Tobias Harris had 20.

Here are observations from the win: 

The crowd loves the kid 

Matisse Thybulle has sharply contrasting home-road shooting splits — 66.7 percent from three-point range at home, 20.8 percent from three away from Wells Fargo Center. 

A week ago, he wasn’t sure why there was such a disparity.

“I guess I’m comfortable [at home]? … It’s all new, it’s all different, so just trying to adjust to that,” he said. “We started off the season on the road for a while, so that was tough. I definitely like playing at home a little bit better.” 

Elite athletes typically aren’t too affected by noise, but for a rookie like Thybulle, the adoration he receives at home surely has an impact. 

He helped wake the crowd up after a somewhat odd first quarter in which Will Barton scored Denver’s first 13 points, dunking on Mason Plumlee and then knocking down a three on the Sixers’ next trip. 

Thybulle had 13 points and five rebounds, and he found a nice balance between being solid and disruptive defensively. 

“I like the way that he is trending,” Brett Brown said of Thybulle after his career-high 20 points Sunday vs. the Raptors. 

The bar was high after that performance, but Thybulle certainly didn’t take a step back against the Nuggets.

A restricted Richardson 

Josh Richardson couldn’t help but smile at his locker before the game when asked how it felt to be back in the lineup after a six-game absence because of right hamstring tightness. 

“It feels good,” he said. “I’ve been itching to go back out there for a while, but sometimes you’ve just gotta be smart. Just tried to take my time getting back and hopefully today goes well.”

Richardson was on a minutes restrictions Tuesday, which he expects to be the case for “the first couple games back.” He ended up playing just 19 minutes. 

The Richardson-Embiid pairing is one the Sixers will look to resume developing. Those two were flanked by Raul Neto, Furkan Korkmaz and Mike Scott to begin the second and fourth quarters. 

Richardson was fine on defense but was far from his normal self offensively. He scored his first points on a three with 8:55 left in the game after missing his first seven attempts, then looked around as if to say, “Finally.”

Embiid wins this round over Jokic

Embiid started well, making one jumper from the left baseline and another from the right elbow extended for the Sixers’ first four points.

The Nuggets didn’t double him very aggressively at first but Embiid generally made the right read when they did. He showed strong awareness during a sequence in the first quarter when he waited for the help defender to arrive and then hit the open man, Mike Scott, for a three at the top of the key. 

Embiid faded a bit for a long stretch offensively, though he hit a circus shot at the end of the third as he flipped the ball in behind his head while drawing a foul. He then raised his arms in celebration and posed for the fans. While his focus is on arriving in the postseason healthy and at his best, he’s still obviously enjoying himself.

Jokic was focused on distributing the ball in the first half and didn’t score until a little over four minutes left in the second quarter. The “point center” had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

The turnovers come in bunches again 

In the first half, Al Horford passed his season-high for turnovers, giving it away four times.

As a team, the Sixers’ turnovers were a problem in the second quarter. They had seven in the period, allowing Denver to get back into the game late in the first half after the Sixers had taken a 14-point lead. 

A late flurry of turnovers Sunday vs. the Raptors contributed to an ugly finish, albeit a winning one. After turning the ball over 15 times Tuesday, the Sixers are averaging 16.4 on the season. 

Not the best version of the Nuggets 

Jamal Murray, Denver’s leading scorer, exited with a trunk contusion in the first quarter. 

This was the final game of the Nuggets’ four-game road trip, and they’ve now lost six of their last seven. 

It’s still a good win for the Sixers against a Denver team who entered the game with the second-best defensive rating in the NBA (102.9), but Thursday night at the 17-5 Celtics is a more difficult matchup, at least on paper. 

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NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

“The Latvian Laser” might not be for sale.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the Wizards haven’t been listening to offers for sharpshooter Davis Bertans. 

“Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal,” Mannix reports. “Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline."

NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and Mannix have all reported that the Sixers have interest in Bertans, who’s shot 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game. That’s the best percentage in the league among players who have attempted at least eight threes per contest. 

Hughes reported on Jan. 6 that the Wizards were “fielding calls” for Bertans despite general manager Tommy Sheppard saying the team had “every intention of retaining” the forward in free agency. The Celtics, Lakers, Hawks and Nuggets are also suitors for Bertans, according to Hughes.

Bertans is making $7 million this season but looks set to earn substantially more when he becomes a free agent. The Wizards hold Bertans’ Bird Rights after landing him in a trade this summer, which means they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him.

The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 6, so it’s certainly possible that the Wizards will be open for business when it really matters. It seems that it would make sense to at least consider offers. 

Regardless, Bertans is an attractive player for the Sixers, and for contending teams in general who want an elite shooter. 

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Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

Sixers recall Zhaire Smith, plan for life without Josh Richardson

CAMDEN, N.J. — Shake Milton hasn’t spent much of his second professional season playing competitive basketball. As a result of a left knee injury he sustained on Oct. 28 and an inability to find consistent playing time when he returned, Milton has only played in 19 games this year — 13 in the NBA, six in the G League. 

Suddenly, it sounds like he’s going to assume a prominent role.

Milton played a season-high 22:31 Wednesday night after Josh Richardson strained his hamstring early in the first quarter, posting nine points on 3 of 10 shooting (3 of 6 from three-point range), four rebounds and two assists. With Richardson set to be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, Brett Brown now sees a significant job for Milton to fill.

It’s always on my mind to try to find a pick-and-roll partner for Ben [Simmons],” Brown said Friday. “Then it’s on your mind, ‘Well, what do you do with the other players?’ Namely your center. Do you play Ben at a five? And so Shake comes in, he actually can run a pick-and-roll, he can shoot, and so that interests me. 

“We’ve seen [Furkan Korkmaz] in that environment. When you take out J-Rich, you’re wondering what’s it look like if I want to pursue and continue to grow that part of Ben’s game and our understanding of how do we take the group and maximize it. Shake, I think, has a chance to come in and play a role in that. So, my intention is to continue to look at that.

Milton’s background suggests he might profile well for what Brown desires. A major focus of his rookie season, when he was under a two-way contract, was developing as a ball handler and decision-maker. He averaged 24.9 points per game in the G League last year and worked on areas like learning how and when to attack the rim, drawing fouls and, of course, running the pick-and-roll (see story)

“Just get to my spots and knock down shots,” Milton told reporters Wednesday in Toronto. “Just play with confidence and once you get up the floor a couple times you get in your groove and it’s just like playing basketball again, so it felt good.”

Al Horford highlighted defensive communication as the biggest emphasis with Milton and without Richardson. The Sixers have often asked Richardson to guard top opposing scorers this season. 

“It's hard to replace Josh, first of all, and obviously we hope that he gets healthy and gets back to us, but with Shake, just making sure that we're helping him, on the defensive end especially, getting familiar,” Horford said. 

“Offensively, I'm not worried about him. He can really, really shoot the ball and he'll have his looks, his opportunities and I'm confident in him. And defensively, just helping him, talking to him, making sure that he's in the right places and doing the things he needs to do, because that's something that Josh is great at.”

Brown was straightforward in saying that another way he'll respond to Richardson's injury is by looking to give rookie Matisse Thybulle more minutes. 

He was less clear in describing what the future might hold for Zhaire Smith. The team recalled Smith Friday from the G League, and the 20-year-old will be available Saturday night vs. the Lakers. 

Smith, acquired by the Sixers in a 2018 draft-night trade, had his rookie season derailed by a broken foot and severe complications from an allergic reaction. He’s been “hunting threes” with the Delaware Blue Coats and shooting the ball well recently (see story).

Brown said he’s been following Smith’s progress and is encouraged by what he’s seen and heard. 

“[Blue Coats head coach] Connor Johnson and I talk, we follow his statistical progress, namely how does he do at shooting threes in the corner. We get he plays hard, we get that he’s an athlete, and so now what? How can we maximize or tap into a little bit offensively what he’s been growing? 

“I think that there is an upward trend, a growth that we’ve seen for two reasons: First, him — he’s embraced the fact that he’s with the G League. Some people treat that as you’ve been scolded, and he’s handled it maturely. And two, there’s a symmetry with the programs that I think enables him to feel like there’s a progressive path in the next step when he comes up here — same words, same language, same system. And I think for those two reasons we’re looking at him a little bit more seriously, especially without J-Rich.”



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