Sacramento Kings

Friday gave another glimpse of how special Sixers' starters can be

Friday gave another glimpse of how special Sixers' starters can be

Six games.

That’s how many games the Sixers’ new starting five has played together. 

That’s it.

First-year GM Elton Brand didn’t waste his time getting his feet wet, acquiring two star-caliber players in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. With that, Brett Brown has a difficult task in getting all the team’s stars to align with just 13 games remaining.

Yet, as Friday night’s win over the Kings at the Wells Fargo Center demonstrated (see observations), this has the makings of something special.

The starting five of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Butler and Harris has played a total of 97 minutes. Among current NBA starting fives that have played at least 90 minutes — a small sample size, to be sure — the Sixers’ unit has the highest net rating at 22.8.

The Sixers saw a more aggressive Butler Friday (see story), but overall, this was by far the most balanced effort they got from their new starters. When there’s this much offensive firepower on the floor, it’s just matter of getting everyone involved.

“I like it when we play with some level of pace and the ball moves and things are a little bit unpredictable,” Brown said. “To just walk it up and call a play, I don’t feel that that’s how you really win. I think we had 28 assists, you know 10 turnovers, that’s not too bad … 

“When you look down and you see Jimmy with 14 shots, Tobias 16, Joel with 19, JJ with 12, Ben with 12, that’s pretty good distribution.”

Out of the five starters, Harris is the only one that was “off” on Friday. He was 7 of 16 and just 1 of 5 from three. But the newest member of the Sixers’ starting lineup has arguably been its most consistent since his arrival.

Harris has scored in double figures in every game he’s been a Sixer and has played less than 32 minutes only once — a blowout win over the Lakers.

But even on a night when his shot wasn’t falling, he found other ways to score. He was 2 for 10 from the field in the first half, but was more aggressive getting to the basket in the second, making 5 of 6 shots and going 4 of 4 from the line after halftime.

A perfect complement to Embiid and Simmons, the 26-year-old has fit in seamlessly.

“I would just say coach’s system and the talent level that’s around me has made the game easier for me to get the looks that I know I can make,” Harris said. “Even [Friday], I thought in the first half I had a bunch of good looks that normally fall, didn’t fall. I would just say the talent level has been the biggest thing that’s helped me and helped my game. I play in the flow of the game. I play off other guys and that’s a lot easier to do with the group that we have.”

Harris helped fuel the Sixers’ reserves as Friday night also gave us a sneak peek at what might be Brown’s playoff rotation.

Brand also overhauled the team’s bench, making it more postseason-ready with veterans like Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic. He also added James Ennis III, who has shined recently, from the Rockets for a second-round pick swap.

While Friday was a positive sign, the Sixers can’t afford to pat themselves on the back with a tilt looming Sunday against the Bucks, the only 50-win team in the NBA. While they have little chance to catch Milwaukee, it certainly provides a litmus test for this new-look team.

“I can’t wait because I think what it is, is it’s a reality check,” Brown said. “It really is an opportunity for us to see where we’re at. That’s why I like those types of games. You want to play Toronto or Boston or Milwaukee, Indiana, you can really get a gauge on where you really are at.”

The Sixers’ starting five looks incredible on paper. On Sunday, we’ll see how it looks on the floor against the NBA’s elite.

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Aggressive Jimmy Butler shines in Sixers' win over Kings

Aggressive Jimmy Butler shines in Sixers' win over Kings

For those who wanted to see Jimmy Butler be more assertive on offense, Friday was your night.

Butler was aggressive early and often, scoring a game-high 22 points in a 123-114 Sixers’ win over the Kings at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Butler had a pretty simple explanation for why he played so well.

“It was 75 degrees outside today,” Butler said. “I just feel good. Like for real, that weather, that 75 degrees, my body felt good, we were rolling. I think everyone was comfortable. We realize how important each and every one of these games is down the stretch so it’s time to take it up a notch or two.”

Of course it wasn’t just about the weather. Butler warmed to the task inside the arena.

The 22 points were nice, but what stood out more was Butler looking to get his. The four-time All-Star took 14 shots from the field and also hit 6 of 7 from the line. He also has enjoyed and flourished in his role as facilitator, especially with the team’s second unit.

It was a different Butler than we’ve seen at times, one the Sixers are hoping shows up in the postseason.

“We will not — I’ll say not even close — we will not be as good as we can be without him playing like he plays and like he played tonight,” Brett Brown said. “I’m the coach and I got to figure out the best way to do this. Some of [it’s] with substitutions and rotations. Some of it’s his teammates recognizing. Some of it’s on him. Somewhere in the middle, if we could all meet … 

“He’s just incredibly gifted. He really is so athletic that he can make plays through that physical presence and skill package. We need him. We need him. That’s the bottom line.”

There’s been a lot of talk about Butler’s role and the number of shots he takes. Here’s the thing about Butler: he’s never been a volume shooter. Even when he was “the man” in Chicago, the highest amount of shots he averaged in a season is 16.5.

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when Butler should be a little more selfish. But if anything, it should be encouraging given how unceremonious his departure from Minnesota was. He recognizes the talent that’s around him and is fitting in with it.

“He was particularly aggressive tonight,” JJ Redick said. “I thought every time that he felt like he had a matchup that he just went at that person’s neck basically. He made plays. He ended up with [seven assists] so it wasn’t just scoring the ball, it was driving, creating havoc. Just a level of aggression he’s shown that at times for us and we’d love to see that every night for sure.”

While much has been made about his offensive output, there have been a few troubling moments on defense. Butler came to the Sixers with a reputation of being one of the best two-way wings in the game, but there’s been a few occasions where he’s failed to keep the game in front of him.

Friday was not one of those nights. In fact, this may have been the best overall performance Butler has had as a Sixer.

“I just go out there and do what I’m asked to do for the most part, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “Play with a little bit of energy, guard, gamble a lot, and mess up on those gambles the majority of the time, but I just think it’s fun. It’s definitely fun to win, but it’s fun when everybody’s playing like that.”

When the Sixers are rolling, they’re playing fast and they’re moving the ball. When Butler is rolling, it’s normally in pick-and-roll and iso situations. But that certainly isn’t a bad thing. Come playoff time, they’ll need to be able to play both ways.

By the way, the playoffs start in mid-April, which means the weather should be decent.

That’s good news for Butler and the Sixers.

“Snow gone. We good,” Butler said. “I’ll be ready to rock.”

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Sixers 123, Kings 114: Sixers look more focused in win over playoff-hungry Kings

Sixers 123, Kings 114: Sixers look more focused in win over playoff-hungry Kings

BOX SCORE

After taking the lowly Cavs a little lightly on Tuesday, the Sixers looked like a more focused team against the hungry Kings.

It was a tight affair, but the Sixers managed to hang on for a 123-114 win over Sacramento Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The victory brings the Sixers to 44-25 on the season, same as the Pacers — a team they've already won the season series against — and two games ahead of the Celtics for the Eastern Conference's third seed.

Here are observations from the win:

• Joel Embiid has had plenty of dominant halves this season, but the first half of this one had to be right up there among his best. He had 14 points (7 of 10 shooting), nine rebounds and two blocks before the break.

He looked spry as he crossed over Willie Cauley-Stein for a mid-range jumper and also had a pull-up jumper from the top of the key.

Harry Giles is a good-looking young center, but he was no match for Embiid on the block.

Perhaps proof that he hasn't quite rounded into shape from his eight-game absence, Embiid finished with just 21 points. He did hit a huge jumper over Cauley-Stein with the Kings threatening with under two minutes in the game. He also grabbed 17 boards and blocked four shots overall.

It’s amazing how much of a difference Embiid makes on defense. Beyond covering the Sixers' mistakes — which he does a ton of — it just seems like the team communicates and helps at such a higher level with him on the floor.

• Early on, Ben Simmons exposed the size advantage he had on the Kings’ guards. He bullied De'Aaron Fox on multiple plays and imposed his will in driving to the basket. He put a lot of pressure on Sacramento overall, pushing the basketball and causing the Kings to scramble.

After struggling against Marvin Bagley III in the first half, Simmons was able to use his quickness and craftiness to elude the rookie. He finished with 18 points (8 of 12 shooting) and was also 2 of 2 from the line. Most impressively, he continues to do a better job taking care of the basketball, with five assists and zero turnovers.

• It appeared that Brett Brown wanted to get a look at a Simmons-Embiid pairing in the first half. Unfortunately, the duo was a combined minus-one at the half and finished minus-six. 

It was odd that Brown staggered his bench to have Mike Scott close out the first half instead of Tobias Harris. The starting unit started the game by taking a 19-13 lead and didn’t get another run together before halftime.

• There’s no way you could argue that Jimmy Butler wasn’t assertive on Friday night. He had several physical drives to the basket and really looked to take over when running with the team’s second unit.

Much to the crowd’s delight, Butler abused (former Sixer?) Nemanja Bjelica for this crazy and-one.

Butler also hit a mid-range jumper with under a minute left which proved to be the dagger. He wound up with 22 points (8 of 14) with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Defensively, this was one of the better games I’ve seen from Butler. He was his usual active self looking for steals and deflections, but he was also better on the ball, keeping the game in front of him for most of the night.

• Tobias Harris is in a mini-slump from deep. He’s shot just 33 percent from three over his last six games, which isn’t bad for most players, but for a guy shooting over 42 percent from the season, it’s a bit of a dry spell. He had a rough night shooting-wise Friday, going 1 of 5 from three and 7 of 16 overall for 19 points.

To Harris’ credit, he played though it. You do continue to see the pick-and-roll chemistry between Harris and Boban Marjanovic. Especially when the Sixers’ offense was sluggish to start the second half, that pairing got the team going.

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