Dallas Mavericks

Sixers limit Luka Doncic but slide to loss in worst shooting performance of season

Sixers limit Luka Doncic but slide to loss in worst shooting performance of season

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers held Mavericks star Luka Doncic to 19 points on 4 for 15 shooting and took 19 more shots than their opponents Saturday night in Dallas — those are the major positives.

The glaring negative is that they also had their worst shooting performance of the season, hitting only 37.8 percent of their field goals in a 109-91 loss. From three-point range, the Sixers shot 24.3 percent. 

The loss drops the Sixers to 25-15 overall and is their fifth defeat in a row on the road. They’re now 4-5 this season without Joel Embiid, who had successful surgery Friday on a torn ligament in his left hand.

Lasered in on Luka 

The Sixers were both aggressive and intelligent early in their coverages against Doncic, blitzing and hedging against him several times in the pick-and-roll. Their scheme was smart, but the best part of their defense was simply Ben Simmons. He had four first-quarter steals as the Sixers forced eight turnovers in the opening period against a Mavs team that entered Saturday averaging only 12.9 turnovers, the fewest in the NBA. 

Simmons scored six of the Sixers’ first nine points and leaked out for two dunks, including an uncontested one after Doncic considered resistance, then thought better of the idea when Simmons started to accelerate.

When Simmons left with three fouls in the middle of the second quarter, others picked up the slack defensively for the rest of the half. Josh Richardson guarded Doncic full court at times, James Ennis frustrated him with dogged defense on the Mavs’ final possession of the first half and Al Horford was solid in protecting the rim. There was a team-wide diligence and high effort in rotating and scrambling when Doncic did manage to penetrate, too. 

A woeful third quarter 

Following a half in which they grabbed the game’s first 10 offensive rebounds, had eight fewer turnovers than Dallas and missed a bunch of open shots, the Sixers could easily have led by more than nine points. They’ll regret not building a double-digit lead. 

Along with continuing to struggle shooting in the third quarter, their level dropped across the board in other areas, and they understandably appeared frustrated. The Mavs won the third period, 32-16.

Simmons (11 points, 11 assists) was stymied in the second half, producing little in half-court offense and going scoreless. 

Horford heats up too late

Horford’s began 1 of 10 from the floor but didn’t stop shooting. He hit his next five attempts and finished 6 of 16 for 16 points.

There wasn’t a discernible difference in the quality of Horford’s looks, just an improved rhythm and confidence once his jumpers started to fall. 

Especially with Embiid out, much of the Sixers’ offensive success will fall on how frequently Horford converts the open outside shots that teams give him. 

Mike Scott, the fifth starter for a second consecutive game in Embiid’s absence, had nine points (3 of 9). 

Pelle is the backup center, for now 

Norvel Pelle’s skill set isn’t all flashy dunks and blocks. The two-way player carves out space for his teammates as a screener and seems to understand timing and body positioning well. 

The Sixers’ offense early in the second quarter featured Richardson-Pelle and Simmons-Pelle spread pick-and-rolls.

Pelle again received the backup center minutes over eighth-year veteran Kyle O’Quinn, which was unsurprising after his strong performance Thursday vs. the Celtics. 

A former Sixers backup big, Boban Marjanovic, hurt his former team with an efficient offensive night, scoring 12 points on 5 for 6 shooting. 

As for Pelle, he finished with four points, six rebounds, five fouls and a block in 15 minutes. The NBA days remaining on his current two-way deal are dwindling (see story). 

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

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

The Joel Embiid-less Sixers (25-14) are in Dallas to take on Luka Doncic and the Mavericks (23-15) Friday night.

Embiid, who had successful surgery Friday to repair a torn radial collateral ligament of the fourth metacarpal on his left hand, will miss his second straight game. He'll be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks, according to the team. The Mavs will be without Kristaps Porzingis (right knee soreness).

Here are the essentials:

When: 8:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 8 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Ben vs. Luka

This game loses a bit of luster with Embiid and Porzingis out and with Dallas coming off a beatdown from the Lakers Friday night, but this matchup should be fun.

Doncic has been one of the top players in the league and could get serious MVP consideration at just 20 years old. He’s third in the NBA in both scoring (29.4 points) and assists (8.9). He’s also grabbing 9.7 rebounds a game and leads the NBA with 11 triple-doubles.

Ben Simmons has played at a ridiculous level defensively this season. He leads the league in steals, is first in defensive loose balls recovered per game, fifth in defensive win shares and fifth in deflections per game. The players Simmons has guarded most by minutes this season are Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, Pascal Siakam and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They’ve shot a combined 15 of 59 when guarded by Simmons. He also held James Harden to 3 of 9 on a night when the former MVP went for 44 points.

Doncic missed the Mavericks’ win in Philadelphia so we were deprived of this matchup. Let's hope we see a lot of it tonight.

In the zone?

Remember when the Sixers were dealing with issues with the zone and it was all anyone talked about? Welp, get ready for more zone tonight!

With Embiid out, maybe head coach Rick Carlisle won’t be as quick to deploy it, but he’s one of the few head coaches that will use the zone on occasion. The Sixers did improve against zone the more they saw of it, but their 117-98 loss to the Mavs was an ugly one. If Dallas goes to it, Brett Brown could go to a lineup with Simmons as a small-ball five surrounded by shooters — especially since Carlisle doesn't really use a true center outside of former Sixer Boban Marjanovic, who's averaging just 9.5 minutes a game.

It’s something worth keeping an eye on.

Struggles on the road

The Sixers are coming off a big win without Embiid against the Celtics Thursday, pushing their record at the Wells Fargo Center to 18-2. Now, they need to find a way to bring that same effort on the road where they’re just 7-12.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks have had nearly opposite splits, boasting a 12-5 record on the road and going just 11-10 at home.

Something will have to give Saturday night.

Like Boston was Thursday, Dallas is in the second game of a back-to-back. If the Mavs are hot early like the Celtics were, it’ll be important for the Sixers to weather the storm and chip away.

“We knew coming in [the Celtics] played [the night before],” Tobias Harris said, “so we knew a lot of the shots they were taking in the first half and making, it was going to come to a point where they were going to go through a little stretch where they missed a few of those. That’s when we really said we have to be able to get out in transition and run, and be efficient when we were in transition.”

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Outside of big numbers from Joel Embiid, not much to like about Sixers' performance in loss to Mavericks

Outside of big numbers from Joel Embiid, not much to like about Sixers' performance in loss to Mavericks

BOX SCORE 

Wells Fargo Center no longer seems to be such a fortress for the Sixers.

They fell to their second straight home loss Friday after beginning the year with 14 straight wins here, a 117-98 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks. Joel Embiid had a game-high 33 points and 17 rebounds.

Difficulties vs. a zone and lackluster defense were issues for the second straight game.

By the final few minutes, the crowd was chanting, “E-A-G-L-E-S.” They’ll hope the Birds fare better on Sunday against the Dallas football team. 

The 20-10 Sixers will look to snap their three-game losing streak Saturday night vs. the Wizards (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss: 

We knew it was coming … 

After the Sixers’ struggles Wednesday against the Heat’s zone defense, Brett Brown said pregame that he anticipated the Sixers would see more zone from the Mavs. 

Josh Richardson drained a three on the Sixers’ second possession vs. the zone, a positive early sign.

However, the Sixers’ offense went downhill from there. Like vs. Miami, the primary issues were labored ball movement and inability to make open threes. The Sixers started 2 of 11 from long range. 

Turnovers were also problematic. The Sixers had seven in the first quarter, and most of them fell into the careless category — ill-advised passes in transition, attempts to make exceptional passes when ordinary ones would have done the job and botched basic exchanges.

Time for Trey 

With the Sixers struggling to score and no perimeter bench player he tried offering much in the way of busting the zone, Brown inserted Trey Burke into the game late in the third quarter, Burke’s first action since Dec. 7 outside of a garbage-time stint in Brooklyn.

Brown has said he doesn’t like to “let players rot,” but Burke was nearing that point. Burke managed seven points in 12 minutes.

We'll see if this appearance was a one-off or an indication that he's back in the mix.

Something had to give 

Dallas entered Friday’s game with the top offensive rating in the NBA, and the second-most three-point attempts and three-point makes. The Sixers had allowed the fewest three-point attempts and makes.

Though the Sixers took an early 13-5 lead, Tim Hardaway Jr. helped the Mavs establish control in first quarter. He followed up a 4-for-17 performance Wednesday against the Celtics by scoring 19 first-quarter points on 7 for 8 shooting. 

Even without star guard Luka Doncic (right ankle sprain), Hardaway’s flurry, 22 points from Kristaps Porzingis and important contributions off the bench were enough for Dallas. The Mavs’ NBA-best bench outscored the Sixers', 37-27. 

The Mavs shot 14 for 33 from three-point range and 51.8 percent from the floor. For the second straight game, the Sixers’ defensive lapses and lack of energy in the first half were costly. 

Embiid keeps it close 

The Sixers ended the first half on a 9-2 run, thanks in large part to Embiid. He hit two threes from the top of the key, took a charge on Porzingis and enabled the Sixers to trail by just six points despite a poor first-half effort. 

Embiid had 20 points and 11 of the Sixers’ 19 rebounds in the first half. He channelled clear frustration into offensive aggression instead of disengaging. On an otherwise bleak night, that mindset was encouraging. 

Not enough support

Outside of Embiid, the Sixers’ other starters simply didn’t provide sufficient scoring.

Richardson wasn’t remotely assertive until the fourth quarter and only attempted eight field goals.

Tobias Harris had his lowest scoring output of the season, with seven points on 3 for 11 shooting. 

Al Horford didn’t look explosive and missed a couple of open looks.

Simmons was often relegated to the “dunker spot” in the half court vs. Dallas’ zone, where his ability to impact the game was limited. 

Things would obviously be much easier for the Sixers if Simmons was attempting jump shots on a somewhat regular basis, at least to the extent that he could be stationed in the corners off the ball instead of frequently forcing his teammates to abandon post-up or cutting opportunities to accommodate him taking the dunker spot. 

Boban makes an appearance

The Mavs sent Boban Marjanovic into the game late in the first quarter after Maxi Kleber picked up his second foul. It was the former Sixers’ 12th appearance of the season. 

Marjanovic, the tallest player in the NBA not named Tacko Fall, received a nice cheer from Sixers fans who remembered his jovial personality and no-jump dunks. 

He was scoreless in five minutes. The big man posted up against his good friend Harris and drew a foul early in the second, but he missed both free throws. 

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