Ben Simmons

Sixers stumble without Joel Embiid, turn in a clunker against Nets

Sixers stumble without Joel Embiid, turn in a clunker against Nets

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers were due for a clunker.

With Joel Embiid out because of an upper respiratory infection, they lost Sunday night in Brooklyn to the Nets, 109-89, ending a five-game winning streak and stretch of 13 wins over the past 15 games. The 20-point loss is the Sixers' worst margin of defeat this season.

Al Horford returned from a two-game absence with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness but did not have his finest performance, posting 10 points on 5 for 15 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists.

As a team, the Sixers shot just 5 of 26 from three-point range. They’re 3-3 this season without Embiid. 

Now 20-8, the Sixers will return home for the next three games, beginning Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. vs. the Heat. 

The rust factor 

Both Horford and Josh Richardson struggled with their shots. Horford couldn’t hit the open jumpers the Nets presented him, missing his first five three-pointers, and Richardson started 0 for 4. 

Richardson in particular looked a step behind offensively, playing his fourth game after sitting out the previous six because of a right hamstring injury. He made a handful of belated decisions and didn’t seem to trust his instincts. The absence of his regular pick-and-roll partner in Embiid also played a factor as he didn’t look as comfortable with Horford or Norvel Pelle.

Richardson likes to cross back on the pick-and-roll, changing directions after his initial drive, which can cause problems for big men who aren’t accustomed to playing with him. He was forced to leave after picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter on an off-ball whistle that Richardson and Brett Brown couldn’t believe. 

To his credit, Richardson played hard when he returned and began to have a bit more offensive success. 

The Sixers felt several aspects of Embiid’s absence. They took hits with their rim protection, post scoring and ability to create offense when possessions stagnated. Horford is obviously a strong replacement, but Embiid is central to the Sixers in so many ways. 

Spencer Dinwiddie (24 points) and Brooklyn’s guards attacked Horford time and time again in the middle pick-and-roll. The Sixers’ perimeter players consistently failed to work over the screen, leaving Horford in a vulnerable position against quicker guards who had momentum. He didn’t fare well in those situations. 

Mixed results for Simmons vs. Nets' sagging defense

This was a game where it would not have been difficult for Ben Simmons to fulfill Brown’s request for a minimum of one-three-point attempt per game as the Nets sagged well off him. The Sixers countered by having Simmons use the open space with drives and dribble handoffs to his teammates, and by looking to get Simmons the ball in the post. 

That approach, a familiar one for the Sixers, had mixed results. Simmons finished with a team-high 20 points, five rebounds and three assists but was rarely able to break free in transition. The Sixers had just eight fast break points. 

Turnover issues resurface 

In the first half, the Sixers turned it over 10 times. 

With no Embiid and Horford and Richardson’s shooting woes, they couldn’t afford those lost possessions.

Tobias Harris had 17 points on 8 for 17 shooting, but he gave it away a team-high four times and couldn’t sustain any offensive rhythm after scoring six of the Sixers’ first eight points.

A tough night for the bench 

Matisse Thybulle had a poor opening stint. He wasn’t as sharp as usual defensively and was indecisive on the other end, passing up open shots and committing a bad turnover that led to a Theo Pinson and-one which capped a 17-4 Nets run that put Brooklyn up 26-16.

The rookie was ruled out early in the fourth quarter because on an upset stomach.

It was a tough night for the Sixers’ second unit overall, with Brooklyn’s bench outscoring the Sixers’ 40-23. Much of that output for the Sixers came late in the fourth quarter.

The Norvel Pelle Experience 

Norvel Pelle might have the highest rate of attempted “poster” dunks against in the NBA. DeAndre Jordan added one in the second quarter Sunday in Pelle’s fourth NBA regular-season game, taking off with a head of steam on a fast break. Pelle went up with Jordan and the ball clanked off the back rim.

Jordan tried again late in the third quarter, and Pelle met him well above the cylinder. 

The two-way player was the Sixers’ backup center for the second straight game and posted two points, four rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes. 

He generally needs to make an impact defensively because he doesn’t have many offensive attributes outside of screening and rolling, lob catching and offensive rebounding. A First Team All-Defensive selection last season in the G League, Pelle definitely has a track record of doing that at lower levels.

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Sixers at Nets: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Nets: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 5:02 p.m.

The 20-7 Sixers, winners of five in a row and 13 of their last 15, will be shorthanded for Sunday night's game against the 13-12 Nets.

Below are the essentials:

When: 6 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 5:45 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

As 1 big returns, another is out

Joel Embiid is out because of an upper respiratory illness, while Al Horford will play. The veteran big has been dealing with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness that’s caused him to miss the past two games.

Embiid played 31 minutes Friday vs. the Pelicans, right around his season average, and has missed five of the Sixers’ first 27 games because of injuries, load management and a two-game suspension for an Oct. 30 fight with the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns. The Sixers have a 3-2 record without Embiid. 

Norvel Pelle would seem well positioned to again receive meaningful minutes. The 26-year-old was Embiid’s main backup Friday and had a real impact in his 12 minutes (see story). 

‘Honestly, I liked that they fouled’ 

The final few minutes of the Sixers’ win over the Pelicans were laborious, and one reason why is that New Orleans had early success with intentionally fouling Ben Simmons. The Australian missed three of his first four attempts after the Pelicans turned to the “Hack-a-Simmons” strategy.

“My belief is he's going to have to go through some of that to get where we want to deliver him,” Brett Brown said. 

Simmons, who’s shooting 58.3 percent on free throws this year, made his final four foul shots vs. New Orleans. When the Sixers hold a lead late in the game, it’s an approach they very well may continue to see.

“Honestly, I liked that they fouled,” Tobias Harris said. "I think it’s good in these type of situations for him to get used to that, because come playoff time if a team decides to do that, we can’t afford to take him out of the game. ... If teams decide to do that he’ll be confident enough to be able to knock those shots down and we’ll need that, especially when we’re talking long term, down the road.” 

Not satisfied 

Though the Sixers are now the only NBA team that’s undefeated at home, they were far from thrilled after beating the Pelicans. 

Harris said he thought there was “a little bit of contentment.”

Embiid acknowledged the team wasn’t as engaged as it had been Thursday in Boston.

“I think we should bring the same intensity every game,” he said. “We didn’t do that tonight. Last night you could tell we were more focused than tonight. It happens — back-to-back, guys are tired. But you’ve still gotta take care of business, and we got that win.”

The Sixers’ lapses in effort and defensive execution didn’t cost them, in part because they only turned it over nine times. It also helped that Simmons, Harris and Embiid all scored 20 or more points as teammates in the same game for the first time

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Before facing Sixers, JJ Redick gives insight on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Before facing Sixers, JJ Redick gives insight on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

JJ Redick watched Joel Embiid’s 38-point, 13-rebound performance Thursday night in the Sixers’ win over the Celtics at TD Garden. He just didn’t have the sound on, and claims he only had a vague awareness of the criticism Embiid had received from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal the night before.

“Saw a headline on ESPN and heard a little bit of dialogue last night,” Redick said Friday at Wells Fargo Center after a shootaround with his new team, the New Orleans Pelicans. “I had the game on mute because [Chris] Webber was doing it. I didn’t hear a lot of that.”

However, Redick said he wasn’t surprised by Embiid’s response. The 35-year-old sharpshooter departed the Sixers this summer in free agency after two seasons with the team to sign a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Pelicans. Before leaving for New Orleans, he said he spoke with Embiid following the pain of the Sixers’ last-second Game 7 loss to the Raptors in the second round of the playoffs.

I think Joel has matured a lot. As a young player, you have to go through some struggles. You saw the emotion last year with the loss to Toronto. Him and I spoke at length this summer prior to me going to the Pelicans. But in sort of late May, early June, we had a discussion. And I know that it hurts, I know that it matters to him, I know that he cares. I know that he wants to be great. 

The Sixers’ offense has changed significantly with the subtractions of Redick and Jimmy Butler, and the additions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford. They’ve gone from having the most handoff possessions in the NBA last year to the seventh-most this year. “Bully ball” is now the team’s core identity — after having the second-most post-ups in the league in 2018-19, the Sixers already have 128 more than the Lakers, who are No. 2 in post-up possessions. 

Redick was his usual self as he prepared to face his old team and answered questions about them — insightful and, on occasion, slightly snarky. 

“Yeah, I think your offensive strategy should be based on your personnel and maximizing the talents of your best players. So, if you have Joel Embiid on your team, you should post the ball — for sure,” he said with a bit of a smirk.

He acknowledged that tonight’s game “means a little more to him,” and said he’s been following the Sixers’ 19-7 start. 

“I’m enjoying seeing what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s weird to say this, but I’m enjoying their success — I really am. I will always pull for any Brett Brown-coached team and obviously love Joel and Ben and Tobias and all those other guys that I was with for the last few years.”

One thing that Redick has especially enjoyed is watching Ben Simmons make the first two regular-season threes of his NBA career. Redick is 18th in NBA history with 1,782 made threes and pushed for Simmons to expand his game. 

“I think he’s become better defensively — he’s a problem on that end of the floor,” Redick said. “When he’s really engaged, he’s as good as there is defensively. He’s shooting the ball a little more comfortably now. I’ve been advocating for him to shoot the ball for a couple years, but it’s good to see him take those shots in a game and knock them down.” 

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