Sixers hold off Kings for third straight road win

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Sixers hold off Kings for third straight road win

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- When the Sixers set out on their six-game road trip on Dec. 21, they had not won away from home since Nov 1.

Now, they have four road wins to their name with the last three coming against Western Conference foes.

The latest came in a physical 113-104 win over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night to move their record to 11-21 on the season (see Instant Replay).

Despite the Sixers allowing the Kings to hit the century mark, their defensive improvement showed again. They held the Kings to 42.2 percent shooting from the field and 30.4 percent three-point range. The Sixers also forced the Kings into 23 turnovers, which they turned into 27 points.

“To see bits and pieces of being rewarded for areas that we have talked about publically and these guys have worked their tails off privately and in film sessions and trying to teach and talk about it, and you see carryover,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said proudly. “That is always a great thing from a coach’s standpoint. You try to help them get better but they are the ones doing it.”

“We are making a concerted effort on the defensive end and offensively we have been sharing the ball as well as we have all season long,” Spencer Hawes said. “Guys are buying in, sharing the ball and it is more fun playing that way.”

The Sixers led 61-51 at halftime. It was the second consecutive game in which they had a double-digit lead at the break.

The Kings had numerous second-half runs that tested the Sixers’ grit, but Brown’s young squad responded each time.

Evan Turner in particular rose to the offensive occasion when the Sixers’ offense seemed to stall. He finished the game with 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

“He had timely baskets,” Brown said. “Like you felt the game was in the balance and Jimmer [Fredette] got it going and we weren’t scoring. I felt like we got too stagnant. We were trying to call plays instead of running. It was that fine line of trying to not play afraid and hope the clock runs out and playing.

“Evan came up with some big baskets that kind of got us back on track where we could continue to score.”

Turner wasn’t without help. Thaddeus Young was strong again, scoring 28 points to go along with seven rebounds and six steals.

Kings center DeMarcus Cousins had game highs with 33 points and 14 rebounds. The Sixers needed every big man on their roster to try and slow Cousins down in a very physical affair, especially with Hawes and Lavoy Allen both fouling out.

“You try to be physical with him and wear him out, get him tired more so than anything,” Daniel Orton said of his former University of Kentucky teammate.

“DeMarcus is a great player and he is going to get his. There is nothing you can do except to wear him down and keep going at him. He does take off plays on defense, so I go at him then. But he is going to get his on offense for sure.”

Orton made his presence felt on the floor. He played 19 minutes, the most action he’s seen in over a month. Orton posted five points, four rebounds and three blocks, including a monster stuff on a Derrick Williams dunk attempt with under a minute to play.

The Sixers carried over the balance they started in their win over the Nuggets on Wednesday night. They had 23 assists against the Kings, 58 points in the paint and five players scored in double figures.

All of that equaled a third straight win with all three coming on the road, a feat that seemed nearly impossible when the Sixers set out on the Western Conference leg of this journey eight days ago.

“It is incredibly satisfying, especially for the group of guys that we have and the way that this year has been going,” Orton said. “To lose so many in a row and then come back and win three in a row on the road is huge.”

“It was just a team effort and those are always the sweetest,” Brown said. “Road victories and a true team effort enables a team to grow together and feel a little bit tighter as a group. It was a really good win for this young team.”

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

NEW YORK -- LeBron James scored 25 points, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also surpassed 20, and the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the New York Knicks 126-94 on Wednesday night.

James had nothing to say Wednesday morning about Knicks President Phil Jackson and not much more about his decision to not stay with the team in a Donald Trump-branded hotel, but he and the Cavs made a loud statement at Madison Square Garden.

It was their second straight win after a three-game skid, and they did it easily in handing the Knicks their worst loss of the season. Irving led Cleveland with 28 points and Love scored 21, 16 in the first quarter.

Brandon Jennings scored 16 points for the Knicks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped and lost for the just the third time in 10 games. He started for Derrick Rose, who missed his first game of the season with lower back pain.

Tristan Thompson grabbed 20 rebounds for the Cavs. They played without guard J.R. Smith, who returned to Cleveland for additional testing after hyperextending his left knee Monday in Toronto (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo drops triple-double in Bucks’ win
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo got his second triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks over the Portland Trail Blazers 115-107 on Wednesday night.

Antetokounmpo had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his seventh career triple-double -- second-most in franchise history -- and is the only NBA player averaging at least 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals this season.

Jabari Parker added 27 points for Milwaukee, which rebounded from a one-point home loss to San Antonio on Monday to win for the fifth time in six games.

The Bucks entered holding opponents to a NBA-best .311 shooting percentage from 3-point range, but Portland drill a season-high 17 of them.

Damian Lillard made five of them and scored a team-high 30 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists.

C.J. McCollum added 23 points, including four 3-pointers, as the Blazers continued a nine-game stretch of playing eight times on the road (see full recap).

Streaking Rockets roll over Lakers
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon made a career-high eight 3-points and scored 26 points to help the Houston Rockets cruise to a 134-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

James Harden added 25 points in three quarters for the Rockets. They scored a season high and extended their winning streak to a season-best four games.

The Rockets were up by 12 in the third quarter, then had a 22-6 run to make it 96-68 and put the game out of reach with about 3 minutes left in the quarter. Houston made four 3-pointers and got a nifty one-handed dunk from Clint Capela in that run to pad the lead.

Gordon already had four 3-pointers seven minutes into the first quarter after making each of his first four attempts. It was his seventh straight game with at least four 3-pointers, which is a franchise record.

Houston's winning streak is its longest since taking five straight in January.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 24 points. They have lost four in a row, their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Brett Brown wants Sixers to focus on turnovers, transition defense in next 10 games

Brett Brown wants Sixers to focus on turnovers, transition defense in next 10 games

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers take a pause after each set of 10 games over the course of the 82-game season to identify areas they want to improve in the next increment.
 
They are now 22 games into the season and two into the current grouping. Brett Brown has targeted two aspects, one on each end of the floor, to hone in on: turnovers and transition defense.
 
“Our turnovers continue to haunt us and we can’t let it go,” Brown said earlier this week. 
 
Turnover problems are nothing new to the Sixers. As a young team, they struggled heavily last season and ranked 29th with 16.4 per game. This season the number is higher. The Sixers currently are at the bottom of the NBA with 17.3 turnovers per game.*
 
They are running into problems late in games. The Sixers average 3.6 turnovers in the first quarter (tied for 22nd with the Clippers) compared to 5.0 in the fourth (also 30th in the NBA for that quarter). 
 
Brown frequently highlights points allowed off turnovers when assessing a loss. The Sixers are tied with the Timberwolves for 25th with 18.2 points in that category.

Rather than just looking at turnovers as a whole, Brown is delving into the who’s and why’s of the problem. Joel Embiid leads the team with 3.7 turnovers per game. The Sixers look to him as the focal point of the offense. As a rookie, he is adjusting to NBA defenses, especially double teams, while being the go-to at the basket. 

Sergio Rodriguez is behind Embiid with 2.7, not counting Jerryd Bayless (3.0) who only has played three games. Rodriguez has said he “takes risks” at the point but is trying to be more secure with the ball in his hand (see story)

“We’ve got repetitive examples of people either too much in a crowd,” Brown said. “Examples of people not handling pick and rolls when they come out and hedge. Post players dribbling too much and not reacting to double teams and to pass outs.”
 
On the opposite end of the court, the Sixers are last in the league with 18.5 fast break points scored by opponents. Their defense fluctuates when Embiid is on the sideline, based on his 28-minute restriction. However Brown does not want the rest of the team to lapse without their big man. Brown has been emphasizing the need for pace and has been stressing all season the importance of career-best fitness to get up and down the floor.

“We still don’t get back the way I want to in transition defense,” Brown said. “We do see differences in our defense dramatically when Joel is in the game or not. But it still doesn’t camouflage the fact that we have to get back on defense.”

The Sixers will have to tackle these issues in a 10-game period in which they are shorthanded with a slew of injuries and illnesses. 

"The good thing is, we’ve selected two things that have hurt us and we need to claim them again," Brown said. 

*All stats according to NBA.com