Lance Stephenson

Sixers a physical object on Pacers' playoff radar

Sixers a physical object on Pacers' playoff radar


If the Sixers face the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, get ready for a physical battle. The Pacers will be doing just that.

Tuesday’s meeting in mid-March was a potential postseason preview with the Pacers (40-28) and Sixers (36-30) ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. 

The Pacers made a statement with their 101-98 win (see observations)

“We try to set examples early,” Lance Stephenson said. “We ain't no jokes. We're coming after you.” 

The Pacers have been keeping an eye on the Sixers as they fight to rise in the standings. The Sixers are chasing a coveted top-four seed to secure home-court advantage. The Pacers, who are 23-12 at home compared to 16-17 on the road, are in the same battle. 

“Most definitely, you've got to have your hard hat on when you play against these boys, especially here at home, because they're a physical team,” Al Jefferson said. “I know if we do get a chance to play them in the first [round], it's going to be a physical series.”

Both teams have turned heads this season. The Pacers looked more like a lottery team than a playoff contender after trading Paul George to the Thunder. That is, before Victor Oladipo kicked off his breakout season and the Pacers clicked far beyond expectations. 

The Sixers had the potential to make the playoffs, but battling for home court, that’s playing at a different level of basketball. 

“They're a young team that plays hard,” Myles Turner said. “I feel like they've used a lot of fuel over the past couple of years as not being like a relevant team to kind of fuel their play this year.”

The Pacers won the regular-season series, 2-1. The Sixers triumphed in their first meeting Nov. 3 in Philadelphia thanks to 31 points from JJ Redick and a triple-double from Ben Simmons. The Pacers spoiled Joel Embiid’s first career back-to-back set with a balanced team effort Feb. 3 in Indianapolis. Tuesday’s game came down to the wire as 21 turnovers stifled the Sixers in a chippy matchup (see story)

The Pacers have had enough of a sample size to know what to anticipate in a postseason series. Jefferson noted the balance of rising young talent and experienced veterans. Former Sixer Thaddeus Young pointed out specifically the impact of Simmons’ size mismatch and passing abilities as well as Embiid’s versatility and floor spacing. 

“They're just a resilient team. They fight each and every game and they continue to play hard,” Young said. “That's what makes them tough. They've done a very, very good job of putting the team together. Brett Brown is a damn good coach.”

With only four games separating the third seed from the eighth in the Eastern Conference, it is far too soon to tell where the Sixers will end up in the standings. The Pacers are using Tuesday's win as a learning experience in case they are matched up.

"They always play physical," Stephenson said. "You've just got to stay poised and play your game. But they're a great team. I like how they play together. So we just pulled it out tonight." 

The good, bad and ugly from Joel Embiid vs. Pacers

The good, bad and ugly from Joel Embiid vs. Pacers

Joel Embiid had himself a night in Tuesday’s 101-98 loss to the Pacers (see observations). There was plenty of good, plenty of bad, and yes, plenty of ugly.

Embiid had 29 points, including 22 in the second half. He also had 12 rebounds, four assists, eight turnovers (tying his career high) and a technical foul for shoving Lance Stephenson with 44 seconds left in the third quarter.

Embiid's three-pointer from the top of the key on the Sixers’ final possession would have tied the game, but it fell short.

After the game, Brett Brown said he didn’t think the technical distracted Embiid.

“I don’t think it takes him out of his game,” Brown said. “There are some times that I think it almost gets him going … I’m sure if we had that again, perhaps that’s not the way he’d want to handle it. But in general, I don’t think it does make him have a meltdown and lose focus. He’s pretty good like that, I think he likes to get excited.”

Embiid certainly played with an aggressive mindset following the technical. He had three emphatic dunks in the fourth quarter, and scored 12 points after his shove on the Pacers’ pesky guard. He also looked much more for his own offense, as evidenced by his 15 second-half field goal attempts and zero second-half assists.

One of the keys for the Sixers heading into the postseason will be Embiid finding the right balance between attacking out of the post and finding his teammates when faced with double teams. He probably erred on the conservative side in the first half, shooting just 2 for 7 and dishing out four assists.

While Brown is generally pleased with Embiid’s development as a decision-maker, he knows the Sixers can’t afford for Embiid to turn the ball over as often as he does. While Tuesday’s eight turnovers are an outlier, Embiid does turn the ball over 3.8 times per game on the season.

“He’s improving as a passer out of the post,” Brown said. “He’s improving as a willing passer, and I think some of his reads are sophisticated reads. I feel like we’re getting better on the floor spots we need to be in so he knows where his outlets are, and there are times where people are pecking at the ball and it squirts out; we have to get stronger at times with the ball.

“It might be the most important offense we have if we’re lucky enough to get in the playoffs, is, ‘What do you do around Joel?’”

It’s not ideal for the player the Sixers will likely lean on for the majority of possessions in the playoffs to have an assist-to-turnover ratio under one (0.84). That said, the Sixers know they have a dominant low-post scorer and defensive anchor in Embiid. Turnovers and technical fouls are great ways to shoot yourself in the foot in the postseason, but even with those flaws, Embiid is talented enough to scare elite teams.

Sixers' home mystique wears off in latest test

Sixers' home mystique wears off in latest test


There were playoff implications on the line between the Sixers and Pacers — and it showed.

The Sixers (36-30) lost, 101-98, to the Pacers (40-28) in one of their more intense matchups of the season. Tensions ran high as technical fouls were called, whistles were contested, and one player left the court injured. 

The Sixers entered the night only two games behind the Pacers in the standings. If the playoffs had begun Tuesday, the Sixers and Pacers would have been matched up in a 3-6 series. The Sixers could have closed the gap with a win that could have impacted the fight for home-court advantage. 

• The Pacers snapped the Sixers' impressive 13-game win streak at the Wells Fargo Center. They had not lost in Philadelphia since Dec. 21, 2017, against the Raptors. The arena was quiet as fans filed out. 

• Joel Embiid worked on his highlight reel, throwing down monster dunks. He led all players with a 29-point, 12-rebound double-double. He attempted (and missed) a game-tying three with six seconds left. 

• The Sixers didn’t do themselves any favors with 12 first-half turnovers. They committed a total of 21 in the game, giving up 29 points. Embiid accounted for eight of the errors. The Pacers, meanwhile, only committed 10 as a team. 

• The Sixers were prepared for Lance Stephenson (11 points, four rebounds, three assists) to be a spark plug for the second unit. 

“Lance coming off a bench is lightning in a bottle possibly,” Brett Brown said. 

They should have expected him to be feisty, too. That’s been his M.O. his entire career. Stephenson wasn’t shy to mix things up with the Sixers, including drawing a tech on Embiid. 

• The Pacers pulled off the win in spite of an off night from All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. He shot 4 for 21 from the field and scored only 11 points. 

• Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis suffered a left ankle sprain when Embiid was pushed by Trevor Booker under the basket and then landed on his ankle. Sabonis was helped off the court by his teammates, who were visibly bothered by how the injury occurred. 

• Brent Celek, Brian Westbrook and Freddie Mitchell were at the game sitting courtside near actor Michael B. Jordan.