76ers

Sixers-Hornets 5 things: Relying on Jahlil Okafor vs. Charlotte's big men

Sixers-Hornets 5 things: Relying on Jahlil Okafor vs. Charlotte's big men

The Sixers (0-3) close out their first back-to-back set of the season with their road opener against the Charlotte Hornets (2-1) on Wednesday night (7 p.m./CSN).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. Closing up shop
One thing about consistently having a young team is consistently having to learn tough lessons. That's been the case each season for the Sixers under Brett Brown in regards to closing out games, and Tuesday was no different.

The Sixers managed only 14 points in the fourth quarter of a 103-101 loss to the Orlando Magic. That included zero field goals in the last 3:56 and two Joel Embiid turnovers in the final 36.6 seconds as they blew a once-18-point lead.

“It’s really tough,” Embiid said of the loss. "Next time we’ve got to come out of halftime, we’ve got to be ready. … Next time when we have a lead like that we’ve just got to be ready to play and compete.”

That's now two double-digit leads blown in the Sixers' three losses this season. Certainly not a trend they'd like to see continue.

2. Jahlil's turn
Brown opted to split up his centers for the back-to-back. That means Embiid will get the night off in Charlotte and Jahlil Okafor will take his place after sitting out against the Magic.

Okafor is still working his way back from a torn meniscus suffered last season. He's looked fluid in his movements on the court, averaging 8.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15.5 minutes a night. However, the big man's shot has been rusty (35.3 percent).

Even on a minutes restriction, Okafor will need to give the Sixers quality minutes down low against a big Hornets frontline that features healthy seven-footers Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller.

3. Keep an eye on Kemba
The battle of the bigs will definitely be an important factor to Wednesday's meeting, but let's be honest: The game will likely come down to how well the Sixers can contain Kemba Walker.

The point guard has gotten off to a strong start in his sixth season. He has averaged 23.3 points and 5.0 assists to open the 2016-17 campaign. Walker has also been wreaking havoc in the passing lanes on defense with 2.3 steals per contest.

Those numbers are just about on par with what Walker put up against the Sixers last season as the Hornets swept the four-game series.

The Sixers better hope Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell got a good night's rest.

4. Injuries
Embiid (rest) did not make the trip with the Sixers. Ben Simmons (foot), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are also out.

Former Sixer Christian Wood (illness) is a game-time decision. Roy Hibbert (knee) and Jeremy Lamb (hamstring) are out for the Hornets.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five straight games to the Hornets.

• The Sixers are shooting just 25.6 percent from three-point range to start the seas.

• The Hornets are first in the NBA in blocks per game with 8.3, while the Sixers are second with 7.7.

Sixers put bench under construction, but is second unit now any better?

Sixers put bench under construction, but is second unit now any better?

After a relatively quiet offseason, the Sixers’ roster has suddenly turned into musical chairs over the past few days.

In are Mike Muscala and Jonah Bolden. Out are Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Richaun Holmes.

Not exactly earth-shattering moves, but moves nonetheless.

Of course, all of those changes were directed at the Sixers’ bench. That’s because the team already has one of the best starting rotations in the entire NBA. The Sixers’ five-man combination of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid was plus-21.4 points per 100 possessions in 600 minutes of action together last season.

The reserves were a different story. The Sixers’ bench was among the league’s worst scoring-wise in 2017-18 before buyout veterans Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova pumped life into the group. With that duo on the squad, the Sixers posted a 20-3 record to close out the regular season and made quick work of the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

Those results changed against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Sixers’ bench was exposed defensively and smothered on offense in the five-game series.

“I’ve said on record, and I’ll say it again, I believe that anything that kind of matters, you’re probably going to bump into the Celtics,” Brett Brown said during the Sixers’ exit interviews. “So they’re always going to be sort of on our mind in relation to how do you compete with them?”

Competing with the Celtics and beating them are two very different things.

Did the Sixers’ tinkering with their bench put them any closer to knocking off their longtime rival? That’s a tough one to answer right now.

Despite shipping away Anderson, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Holmes, you can argue that the Sixers’ second unit will still be more athletic next season. A fully healthy Markelle Fultz will likely start out as the sixth man, and we know he’s got some incredible bounce to his game. Zhaire Smith already gave a glimpse of what type of athlete he is during summer league. And while 31 years old, Wilson Chandler can still rise up to throw it down.

Defensively is where that athleticism should really shine for the latter two. The rookie Smith has continually said defense is his best skill as he was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team during his lone season at Texas Tech. Chandler possesses the ability to defend both forward spots and takes pride on that end of the floor.

Meanwhile, Muscala and Bolden aren't anywhere near leapers of Holmes' caliber. However, they are still bigger bodies that have the ability to move their feet to keep up with their man. That’s in addition to known hustlers T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson putting forth their maximum effort guarding opponents.

But is that enough when a healthy Celtics team gets its projected roster back and rolls out a reserve lineup of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes?

If the Sixers are unable to contain Boston’s talented starters and deep reserve blend, they might really run into problems trying to keep pace with offense of their own now that they lack a serious three-point threat outside of Redick. Belinelli and Ilyasova, who both departed moments into free agency, gave the team a one-two punch off the bench that could drain shots from anywhere. Now the only serviceable shooter in a backup role is the 6-foot-11, 240-pound Muscala (a career 37.8 percent shooter from long range). Kyle Korver, anyone?

The bench reset was necessary if the Sixers planned on getting to the next level. Is it enough to put them on the same level as the Celtics or will they remain green with envy?

We’ll see.

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Sixers trade Richaun Holmes to Suns; Jonah Bolden inks 4-year contract, source confirms

Sixers trade Richaun Holmes to Suns; Jonah Bolden inks 4-year contract, source confirms

The Sixers are not quite done making moves this offseason.

The team on Friday sent big man Richaun Holmes to the Suns for cash considerations. The Sixers also signed 2017 second-round pick Jonah Bolden to a four-year deal, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark.

Yahoo! Sports' Shams Charania first reported the trade and Bolden's signing.

With these moves, the Sixers’ roster remains at 15 players, but that could change if the team finds a way to rid themselves of Jerryd Bayless’ contract — say, in a trade with Cleveland (see story).

The writing has been on the wall for Holmes. Now entering his fourth year, the 2015 second-round pick struggled to find a role in Brett Brown’s rotation last season with a healthy Joel Embiid and veteran Amir Johnson in the fold. While he offered energy, athleticism and weakside rim protection off the bench, Holmes lacked discipline defensively, something Brown hasn’t tolerated during his tenure.

Bolden will essentially take Holmes’ spot on the roster as a developmental big. With quicker feet defensively, Bolden has more versatility to guard fours. While his summer league performance was underwhelming offensively, Bolden did impress defensively, especially against No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton. It’s important to note that the third and fourth years of Bolden’s deal are not guaranteed, according to Derek Bodner of The Athletic.

Drafted by the Sixers out of Bowling Green State, Holmes flashed at times but was only able to get into 48 games this season, averaging 15.5 minutes a contest. He averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 156 career games with the Sixers.

A native Australian, Bolden attended UCLA for one year before heading overseas to play for FMP Beograd of the Adriatic League. As a draft and stash this past season, Bolden played for Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and tested his skills in the EuroLeague. He averaged 7.2 points and six rebounds in 20.8 minutes a game. He’s shown flashes of a jump shot but shot just 31 percent from three this season abroad and 24 percent in summer league action.

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