Raul Neto

Don't look now, but the Sixers may actually have depth

Don't look now, but the Sixers may actually have depth

Before the 2018-19 season, the bench was a big concern for the Sixers. The trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris hurt their depth even more.

Fast-forward to now and Brett Brown almost has an embarrassment of riches. For the second straight game, 10 players contributed for the Sixers. On Sunday, it was in a much-needed 114-106 win over the Hornets in the team’s return to the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

The roster has so many viable basketball players that rookie Matisse Thybulle, who was such a huge part in the team getting out to a 5-0 start, was a DNP-CD Friday night in Denver and got only garbage time minutes against Charlotte.

And that’s with Ben Simmons missing the last two contests with a Grade 1 sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. With that, point guard Raul Neto and Trey Burke have seen a bump in their minutes and both have risen to the challenge.

Some of that has come at the expense of Thybulle.

“So, the flexibility that I have to play different people based on the injury to Ben Simmons as an example,” Brown said, “or with Denver, where we dealt with some flyers, I felt more comfortable going with the point guards doing that. It is the second game [Thybulle didn’t play]. I think like I said in the pregame press, it's just part of his life — it's the evolution of being an NBA rookie on a really good team. I'm mindful of keeping his spirit up and his confidence up and communicating with him on some of the things that I just said."

Neto has gotten the starting nod the last two games, but Burke has seen his first action of the season. While they were in clear competition during training camp and the preseason, neither player won the backup point guard role as Josh Richardson assumed those duties.

Both veteran players kept their head down and awaited their opportunity. With Simmons out, both have relished their chance to play.

Burke signed for the chance to win a championship and play for the team his idol Allen Iverson starred for during his Hall of Fame career.

But he also thinks he’s capable of delivering on the court.

“I'm a competitor, man,” Burke said. “I feel like I can help this out team with my skill set. I'm going to continue to work hard, continue to get better each and every day. But it felt great to get out there, second game. Still trying to get in a rhythm, be on the same page with guys. This win does a lot for our confidence coming off three straight losses."

The emergence of Furkan Korkmaz as Brown’s “bomber” off the bench has also complicated things for Thybulle.

Since hitting the game-winning three and salvaging the only win of the Sixers’ four-game West Coast swing in Portland, Korkmaz has looked like a totally different player. 

But really the turnaround started on Oct. 30 in a win over the Timberwolves. In the first three games of the season, Korkmaz just hit 1 of his 6 attempts from three and lost minutes to Shake Milton. Since then, he’s hit 18 of 36, a ridiculous 50 percent over his last six games.

More than that, there’s a confidence the 22-year-old Turkish wing is playing with that we hadn’t seen in his first two seasons here. His 17-point performance Sunday was needed.

“We were joking with him after Portland, saying he's a new man, but he is starting to play like it, too,” Tobias Harris said. “It's always good, a game like tonight for him to come off the bench and make three threes, score 17 points — that's a big lift for us."

All of this and we haven’t even mentioned James Ennis and Mike Scott, the only two feasible options off the bench during last season’s playoff run, or Kyle O’Quinn who has been so effective that he’s forced Brown to find minutes for him.

"That's a huge boost for us,” Harris said. “Obviously last year it was something we were trying to figure out. This year, even with guys that have been out and injured in games — Ben's out, so we get the backup play from Raul and Trey. Both of them have played really well. 

“There's a lot of great pieces. Matisse is a young player on our team who's going to continue to find his way throughout an NBA season. James has come out and played well. [We have] Mike off the bench. Our bench has given us a great spark, especially when they're called upon, too, each and every game. We've got a lot of depth. We've got a lot of guys who can play and help our team win."

Don’t look now, but the Sixers may actually have a bench.

 

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Sixers' road trip ends in a collapse as big lead slips away in Denver and Nikola Jokic makes game-winner

Sixers' road trip ends in a collapse as big lead slips away in Denver and Nikola Jokic makes game-winner

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ four-game West Coast road trip ended Friday night in a collapse.

They blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter in Denver and fell to their third straight loss, 100-97, to the Nuggets.

Nikola Jokic won it for Denver after a broken, chaotic play that ended with him knocking down a long jumper from the left elbow extended. 

The Sixers, now 5-3 on the year, tried inbounding it to Joel Embiid on their final possession, but he was called for a push off.

Ben Simmons was out for the Sixers with a Grade 1 AC joint sprain in right shoulder. He’ll be re-evaluated before the Sixers play the Hornets Sunday (6 p.m./NBCSP+).

Offense falls apart late 

The Sixers only managed 13 points in the fourth period. They had problems with the basics, like throwing good entry passes to Embiid and making open shots in the paint, and just about everything was a struggle. It was not hard to tell they were playing the last game of a long trip — Al Horford’s air ball of an open three from the top of the key before Jokic's game-winner summed up their efforts in the fourth. 

Jokic wins this duel 

Embiid admitted after Wednesday’s loss in Utah that the altitude affected him, and he again appeared lethargic for much of the game in the Mile High City.

He was the last man down the floor time after time and was slow in his decision making. 

But, after starting 1 for 9 from the floor and taking a seat five minutes into the third quarter, Embiid woke up a bit when he checked back into the game, hitting four straight shots and helping the Sixers build their lead back up— for the time being — after a Denver run. Embiid finished with 19 points on 6 of 17 shooting, 15 rebounds and eight turnovers.

His block of Paul Millsap’s emphatic dunk attempt was one of the plays of the night. 

Jokic wasn’t quite himself either for most of the night before elevating his play in the second half. He picked up a technical in the first quarter for arguing what he thought was a foul by Mike Scott under the rim and his body language was somewhere between exasperated and infuriated in the first half, but give him credit for turning it around. He tallied 26 points (16 in the fourth quarter), 11 rebounds and six assists. 

A strong night for the bench 

The Sixers’ bench put them in a good position to win this game, outscoring the Nuggets’ 37-12.

Furkan Korkmaz looks like he believes everything he puts up is going in. He’s using his pump fake well to both create open jumpers and to draw fouls, shooting the ball with balance and hunting opportunities to score.

He had 12 points on 4 for 6 shooting and was 3 for 3 from three-point range. The Sixers had their best night as a team from long range, converting 13 of 26 attempts. 

Trey Burke had to wait seven games, but he finally made his regular-season debut as a Sixer in Denver.

He showed his best skill on his first basket — the ability to use a ball screen or stare down his defender in isolation and create a shot — sinking a jumper from the left elbow with 0.2 seconds left in the first quarter off a screen from Embiid. 

We saw the best and worst of James Ennis, who was beaten twice on back doors in the first half and once by Will Barton. He also converted a difficult layup after a steal that required elaborate body contortion and slammed in a dunk off a Burke miss. 

Kyle O’Quinn (11 points on 5 for 6 shooting) gave Brett Brown quality minutes in the second quarter before taking a seat in the second half.

Neto steps into the lineup  

For the second time in the last three-plus seasons, Raul Neto started an NBA game.

He played very well, with the exception of a couple of occasions late in the shot clock when he dished the hot potato off to a teammate after being unable to generate anything himself.

Neto held Gary Harris, his primary assignment, to five points on 2 for 9 shooting, and also posted 13 points and six assists himself. He’s about nine inches shorter than Simmons and substantially less athletic than the All-Star, but Neto was a decent temporary replacement. 

Thybulle sits 

Rookie Matisse Thybulle stayed on the bench Friday. He’s struggled with his shot early in his NBA career (24.2 percent from the field) and hadn’t recorded a steal or a block in the Sixers’ last two games.

Thybulle had an incredible first few games in the NBA defensively, but he’s often seemed a step behind the game on offense, and missing open threes certainly hasn’t helped as far as his level of comfort or confidence.  

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Sixers at Nuggets: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Sixers at Nuggets: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Ben Simmons will miss his fourth regular-season game in the last three seasons Friday night when the Sixers play the Nuggets in Denver.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game between two 5-2 teams:

When: 9 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Pepsi Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Replacing Simmons

Simmons is out tonight with a Grade 1 AC joint sprain and will be re-evaluated before the Sixers’ game Sunday vs. the Charlotte Hornets. He sustained the injury in the first quarter Wednesday against the Jazz. 

When Simmons left vs. Utah, Furkan Korkmaz started the second half. Raul Neto also stepped into a prominent role and played 30 minutes. He’d only played more in a game once over the past three seasons, but Neto did well overall. He had 11 points on 5 for 11 shooting, four assists, three steals and four turnovers, and he also played solid defense against Donovan Mitchell. 

If Brett Brown intends to continue giving Neto major minutes without Simmons, he might also consider giving Trey Burke his first action of the regular season to spell the Brazilian point guard. 

Embiid vs. Jokic 

Nikola Jokic beat Joel Embiid out for the All-NBA First Team center spot last season. 

The Nuggets’ big man hasn’t started this year as well, though. His “general demeanor” has been concerning, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post, and Jokic acknowledged to reporters Thursday he needs to improve his one-on-one defense. Jokic’s offensive production is down, too, as he’s averaging 14.9 points on 46 percent shooting, 9.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

Embiid had 27 points and 16 rebounds in his return from a two-game suspension for a fight with Karl-Anthony Towns, but he wasn’t at his peak, shooting 5 of 16 from the floor and appearing to fatigue at times — he told reporters postgame that the high elevation in Utah was a factor. 

Perhaps Embiid and Jokic will bring the best out of each other Friday. 

The end of the road 

Friday’s game marks the end of the Sixers’ four-game West Coast trip, and the schedule looks much easier once this trip concludes.

The Sixers’ next six games are against the Hornets, Cavs, Magic, Thunder, Cavs (again) and Knicks. None of those five teams are currently above .500, and their combined record is 12-27. 

While the Sixers would prefer to head home on a winning note, it’s not as if a three-game losing streak would eliminate their hopes of earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Simmons’ health and larger questions about topics like the structure of the offense and pick-and-roll defense are of greater importance than the result in Denver. 



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