Luka Doncic

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

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

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

After suffering their first home loss of the season Wednesday night to the Heat, the 20-9 Sixers host the 18-9 Mavericks on Friday night.

Star guard Luka Doncic is sidelined for Dallas with a right ankle sprain.

Here are the essentials:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Reliant on rebounding

The Sixers, who have the top rebounding percentage in the NBA (53 percent), have been outrebounded in only six of 29 games this season.

They’ve lost five of those games, including the last two.

While the extreme nature of those numbers is due, in part, to random chance — there are games the Sixers have won with a one-rebound advantage and games they’ve lost with a one-rebound disadvantage — it does indicate how much they depend on their rebounding.

When they’ve held a rebounding edge, the Sixers have usually been able to overcome a high-turnover night or a poor performance from three-point range. When they haven’t, those issues have tended to be costly. 

Beware of the Mavs’ bench 

The magnificent Doncic isn’t the only reason the Mavs are 18-9. Dallas’ bench is outscoring opponents by five points per game, the best margin in the league.

Villanova product Jalen Brunson, who’s replaced Doncic in the starting lineup, is having a solid sophomore season, averaging 8.1 points, 3.4 assists and 1.1 turnovers per game. As a team, the Mavs are best in the NBA at taking care of the ball (12.6 turnovers per game) and have the No. 2 assist to turnover ratio (1.95)  

Boban is back 

The most beloved 7-foot-4 athlete in Philadelphia history is back in town.

“I really enjoy being one of the fans’ favorites,” Boban Marjanovic said in May at his exit interview. “When I hear [the fans], your blood gets warmer and you’re in the game and ready to go.”

Marjanovic might not play tonight — he’s only appeared in 11 of Dallas’ first 27 games after leaving the Sixers to sign a two-year, $7 million deal with the Mavs this summer — but the jovial giant should still be a fan favorite, at least as much as an opposing player can be in Philadelphia. 

Even after moving to Dallas, Marjanovic has maintained his unique relationship with Tobias Harris, as ESPN’s Tim Bontemps detailed.

Marjanovic has his pregame playlist ready to go. 

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