Sixers secure moral victory against Cavs, lose actual victory in double OT

Sixers secure moral victory against Cavs, lose actual victory in double OT

With any other Sixers team, this game would be an easy season-long front-runner for craziest game of the year. This season, though, it's about par for the course. Double-OT, a thirty-point scorer, highlight moves, insane comebacks and insaner game-tiers and go-ahead buckets--this game had it all. And we're pretty sure the Sixers will one-up it against the Spurs a couple nights from now.

First and foremost--the Sixers lost this game at least three times before they lost it for real. In regulation, Kyrie Irving finally got over his career-long mental block while playing the Sixers and took over in the fourth quarter, seemingly putting the game out of reach with some big buckets and fine creating for teammates. But then the Sixers came back to tie the game and force OT, where the Cavs got up six with about two minutes to go. The Sixers again somehow managed to scrap to a draw, forcing a second OT, where the Cavs hit some free throws to go up three with under 20 seconds to go--a deficit Michael Carter-Williams erased with a ridiculously low-percentage contested stepback look from three. That kinda game, you see.

Then the Sixers took a team vote and decided to let the Cavs just win the damn game already. Well maybe, maybe not on that being the exact course of events, but it would go a long way to explaining the relative lack of defensive resistance on Kyrie Irving's buzzer-beating drive attempt--his third of the game, natch--and then MCW's bizarre in-bounds toss to the rim that Wilt Chamberlain on stitls couldn't have thrown down, and which no Sixer even really made an attempt at anyway.

In any event, it's a fine loss for these Sixers. 5-2 would've been uncomfortably good for this squad, and here they were able to get to all sorts of fun stat achievements--a career-high for Evan Turner (31 points), with double-doubles for Evan (31/10), Spencer Hawes (13/11) and Carter-Williams (21 and 13, with seven boards, two steals, two blocks and three threes--if you drafted MCW in your fantasy league this year, kudos)--without worrying about further offsetting their initial tanking mission.

Still though, games like tonight--you have to kind of wonder if this team is maybe a little too good to tank outright. Yeah, yeah, it's early, and we have no idea when Spence and Evan are gonna play themselves off the island with the big-ass numbers they're putting up, and MCW crash-landing back to earth is now officially way overdue. But man, they showed some serious fight tonight to withstand that Kyrie onslaught, and the fact that it even took a superlative offensive effort at home from one of the NBA's best young guards to fend off the Sixers from winning both ends of their back-to-back with Cleveland...it's getting hard to keep acting like this team is really all that bad.

Upcoming home games against the Spurs and Rockets might help to clarify things some. Those are two good teams, and if they can kinda suck the life out of this Sixers squad a little, maybe the season will fold in on itself from there. But is that even what we want at this point? Isn't this season too much fun to give up on in the names of draft prospects? It's getting very confusing, and this season was supposed to be the absolute crystal clear-est Sixer season ever. This is all Doug Collins' fault somehow.

Anyway, fun game, good loss. Enjoy the 31-spot, Evan--once you break the 30 ceiling, you can never truly go back to mediocrity again. We hope.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak. 

Sixers-Raptors 5 things: Challenge awaits with DeRozan, Lowry

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Sixers-Raptors 5 things: Challenge awaits with DeRozan, Lowry

Sixers vs. Raptors
7 p.m. - CSN/CSNPhilly.com/streaming live on the NBCSports App

The Sixers (13-26) go for their second straight win and sixth in eight games as the Toronto Raptors (28-13) visit the Wells Fargo Center for the third of four meetings between the teams this season.

Here's what to look for in the Wednesday night duel:

1. Rollin' in the New Year
What a difference a year makes.

After an abysmal 2016, the Sixers look like a whole different team in 2017, winning five of their last seven games. While that run includes a win over the hapless Nets, it also features wins over a few playoff contenders, including the Hornets and the latest win over the Bucks.

Part of the Sixers' roll has been, of course, because of Joel Embiid. The center's highlight-laden January has seen an increase in his production. In six games this month, he averages 22.5 points and 9.2 rebounds to go with 2.3 assists, 2.5 blocks and one steal per game. In his last two games, the aforementioned wins over the Hornets and Bucks, he has dominated by getting to the free throw line 32 times, making 25 of his attempts.

One issue for the Sixers winning ways is Embiid's workload. The team plays four sets of back-to-backs in its next 10 games, meaning Embiid will likely sit at least four times in the next few weeks. 

Beyond Embiid, the Sixers' bench has been rolling thanks to some continuity. Nerlens Noel, who missed the win in Milwaukee with a sprained ankle, has nine points and 5.8 rebounds a game during the run. Dario Saric has averaged 11.1 points and has made 12 threes in the last five games.

The Raptors are the Sixers' biggest test since at least the Celtics game on Jan. 6, if not since the last Sixers-Raptors clash in mid-December. The Raptors have won both meetings this season by a combined 36 points. Toronto also comes in just as hot as the Sixers, having won four straight -- although Wednesday will be the second part of a back-to-back.

2. An All-Star worthy backcourt
The reason why the Raptors are such tough matchup for the Sixers begins with their vaunted backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, both of whom will likely make their third All-Star appearance in February.

DeRozan has cooled off a bit since his torrid league-leading scoring start, but the two-guard is putting up one of the best offensive seasons in Raptors history. With 36 points (not to mention 11 rebounds and six assists) on Tuesday night, DeRozan became the second player in Raptors history with 20 30-point games in one season. 

The high-volume shooter makes over 21 field goal attempts a game, almost all of which are inside the three-point arc. He averages 28.1 points, tied for fifth-best in the NBA, by burying a steady stream of mid-range jumpers and by getting to the free-throw line, where he shoots 84.5 percent.

Lowry, who didn't play on Tuesday in order to rest, is the yin to DeRozan's yang. The former Villanova point guard has been electric this year from three, shooting a career-best 44.4 percent. He also takes a lot of shots (14.7 per game) but also dishes the ball out well, averaging 7.2 assists. Some of the Raptors' best units have been Lowry with Toronto's bench players as the veteran point guard facilitates the offense and shows off the defense that made him a key part of Team USA's gold medal in 2016.

Lowry not playing on Tuesday likely had to do with the large load that he shoulders for the Raptors. He averages a career-high 37.2 minutes per game and has played at least 40 minutes 12 times this year, including four times this month. The Raptors hope to compete for the No. 1 overall seed (they're 1.5 games behind the Cavaliers), so Lowry may not get the chance to rest that often in the second half of the year.

3. Getting defensive
The challenge for the Sixers' defense goes well beyond DeRozan and Lowry. The Raptors' full offense is not fun for any team to oppose. In fact, according to advanced statistics, Toronto -- not the high-flying Golden State Warriors -- are No. 1 in offensive efficiency.

As one could guess with a team led by DeRozan, its No. 1 ranking isn't because of three-point shooting. Like their leading scorer, the Raptors are one of the best teams in the league of getting to the free-throw line. That could be bad news for Embiid if he plays because he's been averaging north of four fouls a game in his last 10.

While the Raptors are solid at getting to the free-throw line and inside the arc, they do have some deficiencies. A big one is rebounding. They have a relatively high offensive rebounding rate, but they're near the bottom in the league in allowing opponents to pick up offensive rebounds. 

If the Sixers to make tonight's game competitive, they'll need a collective team effort on the glass against a front-line devoid of two potential starters, Jared Sullinger and Patrick Patterson.

Beyond their big two, the Raptors have a few other scoring options. Cory Joseph scored 33 in place of Lowry last night in Brooklyn while Terrence Ross averages over 10 points a game off the bench. Small forward DeMarre Carroll is finally healthy and bring a solid three-point shot along with his trademark defense.

4. Injuries
T.J. McConnell (right wrist) and Embiid (flu) are questionable for the game (see story). Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Sullinger (foot), Patterson (knee) and Delon Wright (shoulder) are out for the Raptors.

5. This and that
• The Raptors have won 14 straight against the Sixers. Their last loss to Philly came on Jan. 18, 2013, exactly four years ago. 

• With McConnell questionable, Chasson Randle may see more of an opportunity (see full story) while nearing the end of his 10-day contract signed on Jan. 10. Randle impressed in 16 minutes off the bench vs. the Bucks, scoring 10 points while draining two threes. He also committed five fouls in the process.

• The matchup with the Raptors begins a four-game stretch against teams that made the playoffs last season, culminating in a game against the Clippers next Tuesday. Luckily for the Sixers, only one of the games (Atlanta on Saturday) is on the road and the Clippers are missing two of their top players with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out.