76ers

Undermanned Sixers brace for challenging West Coast road trip

Undermanned Sixers brace for challenging West Coast road trip

CAMDEN, N.J. -- The Sixers will head to the West Coast on an overloaded schedule with an undermanned lineup. The team will play four games in six days, including back-to-backs in Los Angeles and a matchup against the Warriors in Oakland. 

The trip, though, is just the start of a jam-packed schedule in which the Sixers are going up against playoff- and championship-caliber teams. 

"I look at it very clearly in my eyes," Brett Brown said before practice on Monday. "The first thing that I'll tell everybody is bunker down -- fans, media, players. We've done this for four years. We completely understand what's around the corner.

"You've got 11 games out of 13 (actually 11 of 14) that are on the road. Eight of those 13 are playoff teams. Two of those are last year's finalists that played in the championship. We have a team that isn't like the team we had in January. We've navigated post-All-Star breaks with trades and injuries many times. We are experienced dealing with this environment."

It still remains to be seen who be will available for the upcoming trip. Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness) is listed as questionable for Thursday against the Trail Blazers. He did not practice on Tuesday and received treatment. Brown expects to have Okafor back at some point out West after missing the last two games.

"My gut feel is that we will see him be on a court on this road trip," Brown said.

Starting-center-of-the-moment Richaun Holmes (hamstring) and Gerald Henderson (hip) are listed as probable for Thursday. Joel Embiid (out for the season, knee) is slated to join the team in Los Angeles. 

And so the Sixers will hit the road with a pared-down roster of reserves-turned-starters and recently acquired D-League call-ups. 

"This is challenging," Brown said. "You could use other words, but let's stick with that one. This is challenging. It's my job as the head coach to take these guys and to help them get better, to keep a locker room together, to play with a style that doesn't deviate with how we want to grow the program."

Brown sees the obstacles of this season as different than those of years past. He points to the impending returns of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the development of those like Robert Covington and Dario Saric, as well as the upcoming draft and salary cap space for free agency. 

He is eyeing the growth of each player for the remainder of the season. Brown has asked each player to identify areas they want to improve upon before the 82nd game concludes. 

"We will compete," Brown said. "We will stay together. I'm not going to lose my mind. I will keep this thing whole. I will keep it together. It'll retain a realness to it, but it's that. With that, becomes a real sort of clear reality of where we are, with the schedule, with the team, with what's around the corner with drafts and summer, with the maintenance of our injured players. All those things are on my mind as we go through what's about to happen until April the 12th." 

At the start of Tuesday's practice, Simmons went through non-contact drills as he has done before this season. Watch him here:

Jerryd Bayless is in New York City on Tuesday to have the cast on his left wrist removed. He suffered a ligament injury during training camp and underwent season-ending surgery in December.

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

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.

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Sixers' putrid fourth quarter dooms them in loss to Magic

Sixers' putrid fourth quarter dooms them in loss to Magic

BOX SCORE

In a game between two of the best defensive teams in the NBA, the Sixers weren't able to get enough offense to win.

The Magic used a 32-15 fourth quarter Wednesday night to down the Sixers, 112-97, at Amway Center.

With Joel Embiid out (injury management/left knee soreness), Ben Simmons shined on both ends of the floor, but Tobias Harris' struggles continued. The Sixers move to 7-4 as they fly to Oklahoma City for a date with the Thunder Friday night (8 p.m., NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss.

Getting defensive

Coming into tonight’s action, these were two of the top six teams in the NBA in terms of defensive rating. It didn’t look like that from the jump as both teams got off to hot starts from the field. The Sixers’ transition and pick-and-roll defense weren’t great in the first quarter but tightened up in the second. They appeared to turn up the heat a little bit, pressuring at full court a couple times and also trapping more. But the Magic appeared to get whatever they wanted in the fourth.

The biggest surprise was Orlando’s three-point shooting early. The Magic came into the contest as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA — yes, much worse than the Sixers. But they shot a torrid 42.9 percent (6 of 14) in the first half. Those percentages evened out as the game went on. Orlando hit just 2 of 11 in the third quarter. It was the Magic's defense that clogged the paint as the Sixers were unable to capitalize on their open looks from the outside. A night after hitting just 8 of 38 from three, they hit 8 of 30.

Simmons shines

This was arguably the most attacking and aggressive Simmons we’ve seen since opening night. He had a strong performance — especially on the defensive end — which went for naught. He was engaged and put an awful lot of pressure on Orlando’s ball handlers. It led to a couple fast breaks and easy transition baskets for Simmons.

This lob from Shake Milton was mighty impressive.

He finished with 18 points (9 of 12), eight rebounds and five assists.

Simmons was also called for a technical foul in the second quarter. 

There was a huge free throw disparity in the first half. The Magic got to the line 17 times while the Sixers got there once. In defense of the officials, Orlando did do a nice job packing the paint.

Mixed results with no Jo

With Embiid sitting, Al Horford got the start and Kyle O’Quinn saw a jump in minutes. O'Quinn was more effective than Horford in this one.

Horford, who sat Tuesday night for load management purposes, looked spry but perhaps a little rusty early. As he got into the flow of the game, he was strong in pick-and-roll defense, but his shot just wasn’t falling (5 of 18).

This drive and dunk was done by a man with fresh legs.

O’Quinn continues to impress with his passing prowess. He dished out four assists in the first half and hit yet another three. Just a 22.4 percent shooter from three for his career, he’s now 6 of 12 this season. Snagging O’Quinn as basically a third-string center was one of the shrewdest moves of GM Elton Brand’s offseason.

A bounce-back game for J-Rich

Josh Richardson didn’t have a stellar shooting performance Tuesday (1 of 8 from three) but looked good against the Magic. A new wrinkle Brown seems to like is using Richardson as a ball handler and Simmons as a screener and roller in the half court. With Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot, but strength as a roller, it’s an action that makes sense for both players.

Richardson also navigates the pick-and-roll well as a ball handler and did so a bunch with Horford in the second half. Richardson had 19 points (7 of 14, 2 of 4 from three), six rebounds and five assists.

More struggles for Harris

Harris made his first shot after dipping in and swishing an elbow jumper. Unfortunately, that was really the last highlight of the night. Following his 0-for-11 performance from three-point range Tuesday night against the Cavs, it appeared Harris was trying to be aggressive and get to the rim. Too many times he looked indecisive — getting caught in between whether he should pull up or try to finish at the basket. He also had a couple brutal turnovers in the fourth quarter on back-to-back possessions.

He went just 4 of 13 for eight points. These issues sure look mental. This is a guy that shot the ball at an elite level from three over a large sample size. I’m not sure what you do if you’re Brown, but you have to do something. 

Not quite the Markelle Fultz revenge game

Fultz looked a lot like the player he was early last season for the Sixers. He’ll make some tremendous plays off the dribble and flash some defensive potential, but while he is willing to shoot again, the form just doesn’t look right. He missed a three late in the first half that just barely grazed the rim and missed another badly in the second half. He still just looked like he’s pushing the ball from his chest. It was D.J. Augustin running the point off the bench that led Orlando's late run.

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