Cold-shooting Sixers have win streak snapped by Bobcats

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Cold-shooting Sixers have win streak snapped by Bobcats

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CHARLOTTE -- The Sixers kept thinking that eventually the shots would fall.

One by one their attempts rattled off the rim on Wednesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, but they still believed at some point the ball would go through the net enough times.

Not enough times to keep their momentum going, as the Sixers were handed an 88-83 loss by the Bobcats (see Instant Replay). The defeat snapped the Sixers’ three-game win streak and dropped their record to 30-44.

The Sixers shot just 35.1 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range for the game. Jrue Holiday was the biggest culprit on the night, shooting an abysmal 2 of 24 for a meager five points.

“I think it was just an off night,” Holiday said. “They had really good defense around the basket, but a lot of my shots were in and out. I just never got in a rhythm.”

Holiday kept firing away because recent history suggested he would shake out of his slump.

In last Saturday’s home win over the Bobcats, Holiday went just 1 of 9 through the first three quarters before draining 5 of 8 attempts in the fourth to finish with 14 points.

“Coach is a guy who as a player was a shooter and a lot of the shots I took, especially in the fourth, rimmed in and out,” Holiday said. “I thought those were going in, but there is nothing I can really do about that. In the fourth quarter I know I want to make that play, but unfortunately tonight I didn’t make it.”

Despite the Sixers’ offensive struggles, they still found themselves in the hunt for a win late in the game.

Holiday was able to corral one of his many misses and put in a layup with 1:15 remaining on the clock to tie the game at 82. Dorell Wright followed that up with a steal before Damien Wilkins was fouled on a shot attempt. Wilkins made the first of his two free throws to give the Sixers a one-point lead.

The Sixers tried to clamp down on defense, but former Episcopal Academy standout Gerald Henderson was able to shake free to drain a jumper to put the Bobcats back on top.

On the ensuing possession, Evan Turner had his inbounds pass stolen by Henderson, who soared in for a dunk to give him a game-high 24 points and the Bobcats a cushion to secure the win.

“You have to use a fake. You can’t just put the ball over your head,” Sixers head coach Doug Collins said of Turner’s crucial turnover. “You have to fake a guy out. We also had a timeout.

“These are all situations where we are learning and have to do a better job at, but that is why I am still teaching and telling this group the importance of finishing these games off. Even though this is a game where we probably are not going to make the playoffs, you have to learn to make the right plays whether you are playing Charlotte or Game 6 against Chicago in the playoffs.”

That wasn’t the only pass the Sixers weren’t able to execute. The team showed an uncharacteristic lack of ball movement against the Bobcats, evidenced by their 16 assists on 33 made shots.

“We stopped moving the ball,” Collins said. “All you have to look is at 16 assists. That is the barometer for our team. We got off to a great start. We were up 16 and then scored 10 points the last 10 minutes of the quarter. We tried to do too much on our own and when we don’t move the ball we get against the clock.”

Once the Sixers found themselves pressed up against the clock on possession after possession, they were forced to make one-on-one plays and take tough shots. That led to them being outscored by 10 in fastbreak points and 14 turnovers on the night. All an equation that played right into the Bobcats’ hands.

“We know the way they want to play. They want to push the ball, throw it ahead to the guards and attack, get to the free throw line and get to the rim,” Collins said. “We were in a good rhythm, but once we got out of rhythm we never got back in and yet we had a chance to seal the game.”

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor’s second season in the NBA has been one of learning, marked by injuries, trade talks and DNPs. Throughout these shifting uncertainties, he's had a constant foundation: his fellow Duke players.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Okafor said. “We’re all friends, we’re all a family.”

From those who burst onto the scene to those who struggled to veterans who have seen it all, Okafor has a network of players who already have been through the ups and downs of the league. Even though Okafor competed for only one year at the college level, he got to know many of them while he was coming up the ranks in high school. He formed a stronger bond once he got to the pros.

“He always knows I’m one phone call away no matter what,” Kyrie Irving said. 

Okafor began his second year dealing with a knee injury that held him out most of preseason action. When he got back into the mix, the Sixers looked to determine his place in a logjammed frontcourt.

Minutes were more available at the five-spot when Nerlens Noel was sidelined for the first 23 games of the season. Once all four centers (including Richaun Holmes) were healthy, it was Noel who found himself the odd man out of the rotation. Then the Sixers tried experimenting with a “twin towers” starting lineup of Embiid and Okafor. That pairing didn’t pan out and roles changed.

The Sixers narrowed their roster to a 10-man rotation with Noel as the defensive leader in the second unit. Okafor, for the most part, got the start when Embiid did not play because of back-to-backs or injuries, and was a DNP otherwise.

That situation changed again when the Sixers sat Okafor recently for two games as he was involved in trade discussions. Okafor did not travel with the Sixers for their Feb. 13 contest in Charlotte and rejoined them in Boston for their Feb. 15 game when a deal did not transpire. 

Okafor has a long list of players he can ask about these trying scenarios.

“I get help from all those guys,” Okafor said. “I can look to any one of [them] for advice.”

Former Blue Devil Austin Rivers has been in Okafor’s situation when it comes to decreased playing time. The 2012 10th overall pick had troubles carving out a role early on with the Pelicans. He dealt with injuries and was hit with DNPs when the team added more guards to the mix. Now in his fifth season, he has established a spot on the Clippers. 

“It’s a good thing,” Rivers said of the challenges. “If you’re truly a good player and a competitor, it’ll breed maturity and a level of respect and hard work. It’s a humbling experience. It’s the best thing for you; it’s the best thing that happened to me. I went through struggles to come back a better player and person. I think it’s the same thing he’s doing now. He’ll appreciate it.”

Irving, formerly the first overall pick, didn’t struggle with his role with the Cavaliers. He was a focal point from the start and had become a three-time All-Star and NBA champion by the end of his fifth season. Because of this, Okafor looks to Irving for his knowledge of managing the spotlight.

“Guys have to go through what they go through just to build character, build whatever they need, that armor, to deal with what this NBA life entails. It comes with a lot,” Irving said. “It’s just patience. Despite what's going on in the outside world, you’ve got to remain calm and give everything you have to this game of basketball.”

Last season, Okafor established a mentor relationship with Elton Brand when the 17-year veteran signed with the Sixers in January of Okafor’s rookie year. Okafor still speaks with Brand, who became a player development consultant for the Sixers, on a weekly basis for guidance.

This season, he has another veteran Duke player in the locker room. Gerald Henderson got to know Okafor before they played together on the Sixers. Henderson was on campus completing his degree when Okafor was there ahead of his freshman season. The two spent time together then, and Henderson continues to look out for him now as a teammate.

“I was around him a lot, working out with the team, seeing how good of a kid he was,” Henderson said, also adding, “It’s a man’s league. It’s not like you’ve got to hold somebody’s hand through something. Jah’s a man in himself. But at the same time, I’m always checking on him, seeing how he’s doing, make sure he’s not down, make sure he’s still getting his work in and focusing on the right things.”

The trade deadline is two days away.

Whether Okafor remains in a Sixers jersey or puts on a new uniform, the one he wore in college always will be a part of his journey through the NBA.

“It’s bigger than basketball,” Okafor said. 

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Another team has emerged in Jahlil Okafor trade talks: the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers are pursuing Okafor in an attempt to add help for Paul George, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Jeff Goodman and Chris Haynes.

Indiana would make some sense for Okafor because of their style of play. The Pacers rank 25th in the NBA in fastbreak points per game. They're 25th in speed/distance traveled on offense. (The Sixers are first.) 

And Indiana is also in the top-third of the league in post touches and paint touches per game. 

Al Jefferson, a plodding post player Okafor is often compared to, averages 8.5 points for the Pacers this season and has played in every game.

What might the Pacers be willing to part with?

Thaddeus Young would be a solid return, but it's hard to see the Pacers doing that because it wouldn't make them a better team.

C.J. Miles? Probably not. The guy's an elite three-point shooter.

Forget about Myles Turner, one of the best young bigs in the NBA. 

A trade that might make sense for both teams would be Monta Ellis and a 2017 first-round pick for Okafor. (Before you continue reading, just know I'm not advocating for such a deal, just bringing up the possibility.)

Ellis has fallen out of favor in Indiana, playing six fewer minutes per game than he did the last two years. And as a 31-year-old, undersized two-guard who's long struggled from three-point range, he's not the most efficient player. He's also owed $23 million the next two seasons.

The Sixers could use additional scoring, but could do better than Ellis in free agency. This theoretical trade would really be about the first-round pick.

If the season ended today, the Pacers (29-28) would get the 18th overall pick. In that regard, the pick coming back wouldn't be much different than what they could have received from New Orleans before the DeMarcus Cousins trade.

The Sixers seemed unwilling to take on the contracts of Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca in a trade with New Orleans because, even though they have salary cap flexibility, they don't want to limit their payroll for multiple future seasons. The same would likely be true with Ellis, even though he'd fill more of a need.

Okafor for Miles would be a good trade for the Sixers. So would Okafor for Young. But again, neither deal would make Indiana better in the short term, so it's probably a pipe dream.

The trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m.