5 observations from Sixers-Rockets

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5 observations from Sixers-Rockets

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Back and forth, up and down and do it all over again.

In yet another wildly entertaining game, the Sixers rallied for a thrilling 123-117 overtime victory over the high-scoring Houston Rockets (see Instant Replay). The Sixers trailed by 10 points with nine minutes left in the game, but forced overtime when James Anderson hit a wild three-pointer from above the key with 6.6 seconds left in regulation.

In overtime, the Sixers forced a late turnover to grab a lead and hung on.

Here are a few elements from Wednesday’s game that stood out:

1. Anderson finds his rhythm
Outside shooting was one of the areas the Sixers were expected to struggle this season, and headed into Wednesday’s game against the Rockets they haven’t been good. On the proverbial midrange shot between 15 and 24 feet, the Sixers are shooting 37.2 percent (48 for 129) and on standard three-pointers, they were shooting 33.6 percent (46 for 137).

Anderson has been the team’s floor spacer, however, he had connected on 9 of 27 three-pointers and was hitting on 36.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers going into the game against the Rockets.

During the first half, though, Anderson found his stroke, hitting three straight catch-and-shoot threes. He also made his first six shots, scored 15 points in the first on his way to a career-high 36 on 12 for 16 shooting, including six three-pointers.

If Anderson can consistently knock down jump shots, the Sixers will find a lot more looks in the paint.

2. Defending Howard
It’s no secret where Dwight Howard wants to get the ball. The trick for defenses is to keep the big fella from catching the ball on the low block.

Easier said than done, of course. Of the 122 shots Howard has taken this year, 113 have been in the paint. That’s pretty much how it went on Wednesday, too. Excluding the last-second three-pointer Howard took to end the first half, the longest shot the Rockets’ center took was a nine-footer.

The trick was forcing Howard to give up the ball, which also is easier said than done. However, Lavoy Allen did a solid job of pushing Howard away from the low block while the team’s defense packed it in the paint.

Allen gives up a few inches to Howard, but he is, as they say, “country strong.” As a result, Howard went 9 for 20 and had to earn his 23 points.

3. No Harden, no problem
With leading scorer James Harden and his nearly 25 points per game on the bench, the Rockets got a bit of a dose on Lin-sanity. Getting the start at two-guard, Jeremy Lin hit a career-high nine three-pointers and dished out 12 assists.

They weren’t easy threes for Lin, either. Though the Sixers give up a lot of three-pointers, Lin hit a couple with men hanging on him and converted a four-point play when Evan Turner was whistled for a foul on a three-pointer.

Always prone to turnovers, Lin had eight of them against the Sixers.

4. Triple double-double
Six players accounted for all the Rockets’ points on a stat sheet that is littered with tons of numbers. For instance, three different Rockets -- Terrence Jones, Howard and Lin -- had double-doubles and a fourth, Patrick Beverley, fell a rebound short.

5. No MCW, no problem?
Meanwhile, Tony Wroten filled in for the injured Michael Carter-Williams and turned in a career night, notching his first triple-double.

Wroten scored 18 points with 11 assists and 10 rebounds. His 11th assist was on a crazy, over-the-top pass from the corner that Anderson caught in traffic, squared up and buried a 25-footer to force OT.

Wild.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

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Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.