Sixers hang in second pre-season game, lose to Thunder despite hot shooting

Sixers hang in second pre-season game, lose to Thunder despite hot shooting

The Philadelphia 76ers can only hope that in three or four years they're anywhere close to where the Oklahoma City Thunder are as a team and a franchise, but as they say, on any given pre-season Tuesday night in Manchester (at a building called the Phones 4u Arena??). Anyway, the Sixers held tough against the Thunder in their second pre-season outing, weathering a torrential Kevin Durant downpour in the third quarter and getting it back close late, until bad free-throw shooting and some other stuff did them in. Final score: OKC 103, PHI 99.

Much different game than the Sixers' turnover-soaked pre-season debut--this time, the Sixers only intercepted the ball a mere nine times and gave it away a more manageable 20 times (still unthinkable by Doug Collins standards, but to hell with those). The headliner for this game instead was the team's surprisingly hot outside shooting, which was thought (for good reason) to be a huge liability for this Sixers squad going into the season.

Nearly everyone who sucks from three-point range (and yes, that's just about everyone you've heard of on this team) was lighting it up tonight. Michael Carter-Williams went 3-5 from deep. Tony Wroten went 4-8. Even Thaddeus Young, who made a grand total of one three-pointer each of the last two seasons, went 2-2 from behind the arc. It's good to know that these guys aren't totally incapable of throwing it in from 20-plus, though you'd have to be optimistic bordering on delusional to believe it's in any way sustainable.

In any event, a good effort from the Sixers against an obviously superior team--even with Russell Westbrook out and Durant sitting the fourth. I'll spare you guys the sonnets about each individual Sixer this time out, but a couple notes worth making:

Evan Turner gets the game ball again, his second very strong game in a row. 19 points on 7-16 shooting, seven boards and four dimes, with only one turnover this time. He looked in control for most of the game, making smart decisions in the half-court, converting on a couple tough layups, hitting jumpers he should be able to make, and kicking it out to open men when the situation called for it. Do kinda wish he had a floater in his arsenal--he was 0-2 by my count when he got some space in the lane and tried to push one over the second line of defense, with both misses looking a little awkward--but maybe he can be part of Michael Carter-Williams' study group for that when the time comes.

Best thing about ET's performance (again) was the free-throw shooting. Well, not the shooting, necessarily, since he missed five of his ten attempts, but hey, ten attempts!! That's 22 now over the course of two games. Evan went nearly all of March this year before racking up 22 FTAs. Two of them even came on a jumper where Turner raised as if to shoot, getting OKC defender Perry Jones III in the air--known in some parts of the world as a "pump fake"--and waited until he was coming back down to jump into Jones and draw the obvious whistle. It's the world's easiest way to earn two free throws, and I'm not sure I saw a single Sixer consciously do that in the entirety of last season.

Encouraging stuff, Evan. Might be just two pre-season games, but the pre-season has not exactly been Evan's time to shine in the past few years, so even him performing as solidly as a fourth-year player of his pedigree should be by now is a huge step in the right direction.

The final line for Spencer Hawes isn't terrible--11 points on 5-11 shooting, nine boards--but he was outclassed in just about every way by OKC's top two pivots, 20-year-old rookie Steven Adams and vet Nick Collison. Six years into his pro career, the remaining lack of fundamentals in Spence's game is really pretty frustrating. He doesn't box out, he doesn't get a hand up on shooters, he's slow to rotate over on help defense, and he's forever trying to thread passes into open spaces on the post that simply don't exist. This will undoubtedly be a recurring complaint throughout the season, so I probably shouldn't waste too much of my breath here, but when you make Steven Adams look like Dwight Howard, you probably deserve at least a little bitching.

He did make a nice sweeping hook shot across the line in the third quarter, though. Good job on that one Spence.

The most interesting Sixer on the night was probably Tony Wroten, who looks to be the natural successor to Lou Williams in terms of open-court and playmaking talent and just absolutely mortifying decision-making. At one point after hitting four threes, Wroten jacked a step-back 28-footer--a contested one, no less--which even calling a "heat check" would be giving too much credit. He also hoisted an easily-blocked three in transition at the end of the first half (even though there were five seconds left on the clock) and squandered a three-on-two opportunity by going full-throttle into both defenders.

Wroten's excellence in pushing the ball on the break and playing physically near the basket are obvious, and his line on the night was quite good--a team-high 20 points on 5-13 shooting (6-6 from the line), four rebounds and three assists. But giving him any amount of control with this team does worry me a little, since not only is his ability to make snap judgments on the court highly suspect, but there seems to be a little selfishness and immaturity to his game that could disrupt what seems to be an otherwise fairly good ball-sharing team. Minor concerns on a young lottery team, and it's great (and far more important) to see that the potential is there with T-Wrote, but I don't think he should be pushing MCW (who had another solid game today) for the starting PG role anytime soon, certainly.

And holy hell, a couple words about Kevin Durant, who nearly racked a triple-double while barely breaking a sweat in 33 minutes of game action--21 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. He seemed to be taking it easy for the first quarter, but he had a couple shots in the third quarter that forced the Sixers to start doubling, and then it was just over--KD's getting LeBron-like in his whip-passing out of the double team, finding the open man for an uncontested three or drive to the basket. He's really getting to that level where double-teaming him is even more dangerous than leaving Evan Turner against him in isolation, and the entire Western Conference should be petrified by this development.

Sixers come back to the States now for a Friday game against the Celtics at their D-League affiliate 87ers' new stadium in lovely Newark, Delaware. No idea yet how good this team is going to be this year within the gamut of regularly bad to historically bad, but I expect I will enjoy watching them. #TeamWHOP

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

BOX SCORE

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.