The Sixers didn’t forget how to win on the road.
They won their first game away from Wells Fargo Center since Jan. 20 on Thursday night, a 125-108 decision over the Kings.
The victory improves the Sixers, who were still without Ben Simmons (nerve impingement in lower back), Joel Embiid (left shoulder sprain) and Josh Richardson (concussion protocol), to 38-25.
On Saturday night, they’ll wrap up their West Coast trip against the Warriors.
Here are observations on the win:
Harris and Horford carry the load early
We’ve scrutinized Tobias Harris and Al Horford more than usual recently. In the context of the Sixers’ injuries and the big contracts the two received this summer, their performances have merited plenty of criticism.
Harris was strong in the first half, scoring 19 of his 28 points within the game’s opening 18 minutes.
Horford had 10 of his 18 points in the first period and also had eight rebounds and six assists. He was a ludicrous plus-41.
Neither player was as good during the second half, when Sacramento made the Sixers uncomfortable after trailing by as many as 20, but they gave the Sixers what they needed in this one.
Big edge from behind the arc
The Sixers’ offensive philosophy without Simmons, Embiid and Richardson has been clear: Spread the floor and launch threes.
They put up 37 threes Thursday, making 17. With the Kings converting 11 threes, the Sixers scored 18 more points than Sacramento from beyond the arc.
Coming into the game, the Sixers were allowing the fewest three-point makes (10.2) and attempts (28.9) per game in the NBA. Their three-point defense has been a strength throughout the season, though Buddy Hield caught fire in the second half on Thursday.
When the Sixers are “hunting threes” to this extent and hitting them at such a high rate, they have a blueprint for winning in the absence of their two All-Stars. As a team, they’ve made over 40 percent of their threes in four straight games. Eight Sixers made at least one three Thursday.
A hopeful lineup
Brett Brown’s decision to use a lineup missing both Harris and Horford with 3:24 left in the first quarter backfired.
He must have been hoping that Alec Burks could create offense, Raul Neto could facilitate, Norvel Pelle could protect the rim and Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III could knock down threes. None of those players performed any of those tasks during an abysmal stretch. Burks was unsuccessful on a couple of drives to the rim, Korkmaz missed an open three, Neto committed a bad turnover that led to a Kent Bazemore layup on the other end and Sacramento quickly went on a 12-0 run to tie the game. That forced Brown to call a timeout and get Horford and Mike Scott into the game.
Brown is obviously in a difficult spot without three of his typical starters, but the idea that he could buy a few decent minutes with that lineup was … optimistic.
The Shake Show keeps rolling
Regardless of what happens Saturday against Golden State, it seems safe to say that Shake Milton will have been the best part of the road trip for the Sixers.
Even when his jump shot inevitably stops falling at this absurd rate, he looks like a player who can help in other ways. Though he’s surely on opposing scouting reports at this point, he’s still making sensible, confident reads and getting to his preferred spots. The end of the second quarter Tuesday against the Lakers was the only stretch during the trip that he appeared rushed or rattled.
“There’s a cocky side that’s emerging, which I love,” Brett Brown told reporters pregame. “I just think his attitude, his mindset is as important as anything.”
Milton had 20 points and three assists. Burks (17 points) and Neto (16 points) also did well as backup ball handlers, providing offense when Harris and Horford were quiet in the second half.
Mike Scott scored in double figures for the third straight game, recording 11 points on 5 for 10 shooting, seven rebounds and four assists.
Outside of his scoring, the no-nonsense approach and hustle that originally made him endearing to Sixers fans have been valuable in these difficult circumstances. Those qualities have mostly been nice to have in theory this year, but not especially helpful. He’s struggled for long stretches and seemed lost on offense when his jumper hasn’t been falling.
Scott still might not ultimately be a regular piece of the Sixers’ playoff rotation, but he’s at least reminded Brown that, at his best, he brings versatility — the 31-year-old again saw time at backup center — along with three-point shooting and toughness. Again, he hasn’t been good for much of this season, but his play is another positive development from the West Coast trip.
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