Sixers-Hornets 5 things: Sixers go for 5th win in 6 games

Sixers-Hornets 5 things: Sixers go for 5th win in 6 games

The Sixers (11-25) open up a back-to-back set against the Charlotte Hornets (20-19) at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Rolling into a tough stretch
When is the last time you could realistically say the Sixers were on a roll?

Yeah, it's been quite a while. However, that's exactly what is going on with the young team right now.

T.J. McConnell hit the jump shot heard 'round the world at the buzzer on Wednesday to give the Sixers a 98-97 win over the New York Knicks. It marked the squad's 11th victory to surpass last season's total and its fourth in the last five games.

That's more than enough reason for the Sixers to celebrate after the historic struggles they have gone through over the past few years. But with four straight games against Eastern Conference foes with records above .500 on tap, they are trying to remain even keel.

“You wake up and you’re like, ‘Damn, that was a great win last night,’” Nerlens Noel said (see story). “But obviously there’s a lot more work to do. It’s a long season. This is a great stretch for us, but you want to stay away from the bad ones.”

2. Watch out for the swarm
Oh, the bad ones. Like shooting 39.5 percent from the field and committing 19 turnovers during a 16-point loss?

That's what happened the first time the Sixers faced the Hornets this season way back on Nov. 2. The Sixers allowed Charlotte to score 39 points in the third quarter and six players to reach double-digit points in that loss, their fourth straight to open the season.

The two teams couldn't have been on more different tracks at that time. For the Sixers, Joel Embiid was sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest as they were still figuring out their rotation. Meanwhile, Charlotte was building off last season's success on its way to a 6-1 mark to open the 2016-17 campaign.

Now, it's the Sixers on the upswing and going for a third straight win for the first time since 2014, while the Hornets are losers of five of six.

3. Keep an eye on Kemba
No matter how improved the Sixers are, they still can't afford to let Kemba Walker get going.

The guard is 16th in the NBA in scoring with 23.1 points per night and can catch fire in the blink of an eye.

Walker had 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the season's first matchup.

McConnell may be riding the wave of his big shot on offense a couple of nights ago, but it will be his defense on Walker that likely determines the outcome on Friday.

4. Injuries
Embiid (ankle) is probable. Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Jeremy Lamb (foot) is out for the Hornets.

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

• The Hornets have the lowest turnover rate in the NBA with 11.9 per game.

• Richaun Holmes was assigned to the Delaware 87ers and is expected to be in uniform for their game tonight against the Greensboro Swarm.

• Ersan Ilyasova's first game with the Sixers was against the Hornets earlier this season. He tied a team-high with 14 points to go along with three rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes off the bench.

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.

More on the Sixers

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.

More on the Sixers