Sixers observations

Joel Embiid puts up big numbers in return, Sixers' offense keeps clicking in win over Pistons

Joel Embiid puts up big numbers in return, Sixers' offense keeps clicking in win over Pistons

Updated, Thursday, 1:25 a.m.: The NBA announced Wednesday night that it is suspending the 2019-20 season after a Utah Jazz player, identied by multiple reports as Rudy Gobert, preliminarily tested positive for the coronavirus. 

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The context of the Sixers’ 124-106 win Wednesday night over the Pistons was unusual.

The team released a statement about two hours before the game detailing coronavirus protocols and indicating the game would go ahead as scheduled “consistent with the recommendation of the NBA.”

Later, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the league was expected to continue its season playing games without fans in attendance

Still, the win ultimately counts the same as any other for the Sixers, who improved to 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center, 39-26 overall.

Here are observations on the victory: 

Two starters return 

Joel Embiid was back after five games out with a left shoulder sprain, while Josh Richardson (concussion protocol) returned following a three-game absence.

Embiid, who had 30 points and 14 rebounds in 27 minutes, sure seemed to be having fun in the second quarter after a Mike Scott dunk, celebrating very emphatically.

The All-Star center also picked up a technical foul after a contentious third-quarter exchange with Brandon Knight. 

Process Era Sixer Christian Wood (career-high 32 points) has been a standout for Detroit since the trade deadline, and he got the better of Embiid a couple of times. On one sequence in the third, he blocked Embiid’s shot, then hit a three-pointer in his face on the ensuing possession. 

That said, Embiid was sharp overall and still very difficult to handle down low. His ability to draw fouls (10 of 12 from the foul line) is one of many tools the Sixers were missing. 

Richardson looked OK but wasn't an offensive focal point, only attempting six field goals in 30 minutes. 

Alec Burks served as the Sixers’ backup guard with Richardson back, while Raul Neto did not play. 

The Embiid-Horford pairing 

With Ben Simmons’ lower back injury set to be re-evaluated in three weeks, Brett Brown said Tuesday he’s still aiming to develop the Embiid-Al Horford pairing. 

“I feel going forward when we don't have Ben, my intention is to play him with Joel and try to grow that,” Brown said. “When Ben comes back in the mix, we'll re-evaluate, but I feel like that period of time that we're talking about is long enough for me, where I do want to invest in the Joel-Al pairing while we don't have Ben and see where that plays out.”

To be frank, it’s been a bad combination for the Sixers this season, the only two-man lineup with at least 400 minutes together to sport a negative net rating.

It appeared the high-low was a point of emphasis with Horford on Wednesday, and an effective one. 

Horford did well as a passer during Embiid’s absence, averaging 6.2 assists over the past five games, and the Sixers would clearly like to maximize his abilities as a high-post facilitator. 

He shot the ball well on Wednesday, too, hitting 8 of 11 field goals (4 for 6 from three) and recording 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. 

We all know the pairing isn’t a natural fit at this point, but with the playoffs in mind, Brown evidently doesn’t want to give up on it.

Wednesday was the first time this season Embiid and Horford have each scored 20 or more points in the same game. 

Offense keeps clicking 

Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Sixers had the No. 2 offensive rating in the league during the time Ben Simmons has missed with his lower back injury. 

Their offense continued to look strong, albeit against a 20-win Pistons team that’s now lost 12 of its past 13 games. 

The Sixers had no problems when Detroit went to a zone defense and stayed hot as a team from three-point range, shooting 42.4 percent from long distance. 

The defensive performance wasn’t as good, with a few of the basic KYP (know your personnel) mistakes that Brown has called out on occasion throughout the season. Still, this never felt like a game the Sixers were in remote danger of losing. 

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Shake Milton keeps rolling, Tobias Harris and Al Horford step up for Sixers in win over Kings

Shake Milton keeps rolling, Tobias Harris and Al Horford step up for Sixers in win over Kings

BOX SCORE 

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. 

Scott’s value

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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More Furkan Korkmaz magic helps Sixers beat Bulls

More Furkan Korkmaz magic helps Sixers beat Bulls

Everything Furkan Korkmaz touched in the last two games turned to gold. 

The Turkish wing scored 65 points and shot 25 of 34 this weekend. His 31 points Sunday night lifted the Sixers to a 118-111 win over the Bulls, which moves them to 24-2 at home, 33-21 overall.

Here are observations on the win: 

More Korkmaz magic 

Korkmaz picked up exactly where he left off Friday night.

He drained a three from the right wing on his first touch, then converted an and-one on his second after running a nice give-and-go with Ben Simmons. The 22-year-old kept rolling with an alley-oop to Simmons, followed by another jumper from long range that was open thanks to an excellent pump fake. 

Korkmaz, who ended the first quarter with 16 points on 6 for 7 shooting, appears to be in an incredible zone where every decision he makes is working just through the force of limitless self-confidence — he even crashed the offensive glass and tipped in a Simmons miss in the second quarter. 

He sunk a three and then drove in for a dunk in the fourth quarter, helping the Sixers pull away.

There will now be greater competition for bench wing minutes with the additions of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III. Though it wouldn’t make sense to read into how Brett Brown divvied up the minutes Sunday given that Burks and Robinson haven’t even practiced yet, it would be surprising if Korkmaz’s role was significantly lessened in the near future with how well he’s done recently. 

Welcome back, Glenn Robinson III 

Robinson checked in late in the first period for his first minutes as a Sixer since 2015.

The 2017 Slam Dunk Content champion’s opening basket was … a dunk.

While Robinson will have to learn the Sixers’ schemes and terminology, he’s not a player who needs a ton of touches and is having a strong year as a three-point shooter (40 percent overall, 40.5 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts), which might ease the transition. He made a couple of smart, instinctive cuts into open space and finished with 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting in 12 minutes. 

Burks was available to play but did not debut, though one would presume he’ll have opportunities moving forward. Brown said pregame he was looking forward to the prospect of adding another capable live dribble and pick-and-roll player in Burks, who averaged a career-high 16.1 points per game and shot 37.5 percent from three-point range for the Warriors. 

Josh Richardson and Shake Milton are the two other Sixers besides Burks who fit that live dribble guard description. Milton’s ability to run the pick-and-roll with Simmons is a big part of why he’s started the past eight games.


Richardson ramping up 

Milton maintained his dual role as starter/backup guard, while Richardson played 19 minutes off the bench and had three points and two assists.

Richardson is clearly emerging as a vocal leader both on off the floor. Late in the third quarter, he called his teammates around him for an impromptu huddle during a stoppage before a free throw. 

A team spokesperson said before the game that Richardson’s minutes will be gradually ramped up as he comes back from the left hamstring strain that sidelined him for six games.

Embiid uses his muscle 

Joel Embiid had a major strength advantage over Luke Kornet, which he exploited early. He scored the Sixers’ first points on a deep post catch and short jump hook, and he had eight of the team’s opening 12. 

However, Embiid misfired on a handful of open jumpers in the first half — not the only time that’s happened since his return from a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand.

The All-Star big man had 28 points (8 of 17 shooting) and 12 rebounds after missing the second half of Friday’s win over the Grizzlies with neck tightness. He now has at least one offensive rebound in 50 consecutive regular-season games played. 

Poor defense for long stretches  

Despite four steals by Simmons and four blocks by Embiid, the Sixers’ defensive effort wasn’t good for long stretches, prompting a few boos from the Wells Fargo Center crowd

That said, Zach LaVine hit several long, tightly contested threes that no defense could have done much to stop on his way to 32 points.  

Simmons only shot 6 for 13, but he was especially valuable on a night when many of his teammates were a level or two below their best on defense. He also made 7 of 10 foul shots and had a triple-double with 10 rebounds and 10 assists, though he did turn it over seven times.



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