In possibly the most explosive game since the trade deadline last Thursday, the new look Philadelphia 76ers absolutely imposed their will upon the Lakers (boy does that feel good to say). Despite Kyle Kuzma’s 39 points, the Sixers won 143-120.
The Lakers, who are often touted as a strong defensive team, gave up 34 points in the 4th Quarter, and 33 minimum for each quarter.
Life with Tobias Harris has gone great thus far, he posted 22 points including 3 3-balls and on 9-14 from the field.
Embiid was the man of the night, with 37 points, 14 rebounds, and a steal. He posted his career high in points last season against the Lakers. The Lakers situation is dire at best, as Javale McGee still plays well within his limited minutes, and Tyson Chandler is lacking offensively when he takes over for McGee. As such, it’s not surprising that Embiid was able to beast on this Lakers squad.
One underrated aspect of this game was how well the Sixers shared and moved the ball. Butler had a good game with 15 points, as well as doing some great on ball defense on players like Brandon Ingram, who it seemed to be easy for Butler to force into errors or poor shot selection. Ingram had 19 points but was a -8 on BP/M.
JJ Redick had 15 points on only 3 3-point makes, which was that absolutely insane and-1 shot from nearly behind the backboard in the corner.
Ben Simmons struggled tonight, which isn’t all that surprising: he seemed a little bit passive and unsure immediately after the Butler trade, but found his rhythm again just before the Harris trade. However, Simmons was operating on no shortage of aggression this time. He took his very first pull up 3-pointer, which was an unlucky rattle away from going in. He also took many more shots from outside of the paint, and was intent on hitting turn-around jumpers out of the post. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t surprise me if Simmons looks a little uncertain in the near future, as this team clearly still has to figure out effective ways to share the ball with as many high-usage threats in their starting 5.
Simmons was a +6 on BP/M, despite having no double digits on the stat-line. He did, however, play some fantastic defense, including one impressive block down-low against LeBron James.
While wins over a strong Denver team and a LeBron led clown-fest feels good, the Sixers’ true test post-deadline comes Tuesday at home against Boston. They lost the first game of the season against Boston, and lost a close OT game against Boston Christmas Day, both of which were away. The Sixers are great at home, but Boston has historically been a bane for Philly. Although it’s important to note, this is not the same Philadelphia squad as was seen in either the first nor second meeting between the two. Boston is also in a shaky place culturally, after their crazy comeback lost to the Sixers-er, I mean the Clippers’ own Landry Shamet. Man, that will never stop hurting to say.
Yesterday had an unprecedented amount of noteworthy things occur, in a variety of ways. LeBron came back somewhat unexpectedly, the Sixers man-handled the Warriors on the low, and of course, the Knicks dealt the best player they’ve drafted in a generation for a low-tier point guard and cap space. Without any more introduction, here is each of those stories in more depth.
A King’s Return
LeBron James returned from the longest absence of his career in last night’s game against the Clippers, an overtime game in which James played 40 minutes for 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists. One question, though: How irresponsible can the Lakers be? LeBron is coming off the most significant injury of his long career, at a point in his life where he’s up against Father Time now more than ever. LeBron is 34, and there’s more reason for precaution now than there has been so far.
Look around. Dwyane Wade is on his final year, and is a shell of himself. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t even good enough for the Bulls to keep him. LeBron can’t be looking at the people around him from his own draft class and think that it’s no big deal. Nick Collison is having his jersey retired. Chris Paul, who was drafted two years later but is only a year younger, can barely stay on the court for more than a month at a time, and was injured for the most important game in his career. Sure, LeBron is superhuman, but he is human. For a team that has aspirations to trade for Anthony Davis, they can’t mess around like this.
What happens if they trade all of the young players for AD and LeBron pulls a hammy? All you’ve got left Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, Javale McGee, and Lance Stephenson. That’s your supporting cast for Anthony Davis.
Maybe LeBron was further along in his recovery than previously thought, but even so, if you have to lose one game against the Clippers to ease him back in, then so be it. While the Lakers won this game, they could have probably still done it if LeBron played just over 30. And even if they did lose, what’s the matter with that? The Clippers are a fine loss compared to some of the teams the Lakers lost to while LeBron was out. Maybe they needed to stop the bleeding, ASAP, but LeBron is going to need to be healthy for the playoffs, and 40 minutes a night on his first game back from the most severe injury he’s ever had, at age 34, is simply not worth it. This ended up pretty preachy, but who the hell cares. The Lakers are a very poorly run team at the moment and they need to wise up or risk being mediocre again with an injured LeBron, AD, and a gang of nobodies around them.
Mr. Brown’s Wild Ride
In the Sixers’ 113-104 win against the Golden State Warriors, Ben Simmons played what HC Brett Brown referred to as his best game in the NBA thus far. While he had a game that was undoubtedly fantastic, it was a pretty uncharacteristic stat line. We tend to imagine good Simmons games as 20+/10+/10+ since he’s so proficient at the various responsibilities he has, but Simmons had a fantastic scoring game, himself, while still initiating for others as he went for 26/8/6. Simmons and Embiid had 26 points each, and Curry and Durant combined for 66.
One extremely noticeable aspect of this game was Jimmy Butler’s struggle offensively. Nevertheless, he had a huge impact on the game down the stretch, making strong defensive plays and exploiting the gravity he creates on the court to dime up others.
Another very palpable facet of this game, as an individual observer and Sixers fan/writer, was how hard Brett Brown out-coached Steve Kerr. The lineups, as well as the elevated play of the whole bench, made life consistently difficult for nearly everyone on the court besides Steph Curry, and even he struggled in the 4th quarter.
Playing through your center is hard late in the game, and Brown’s recognition of the mismatches down low and playing Klay Thompson’s absence allowed Embiid plenty more room to work than he normally is allowed. He was fed the ball, allowed to take Cousins to work, and continued to get fouled which helped the Sixers keep the Warriors at arms length.
As I said, the role players really stepped up tonight, but Brett Brown’s ability to put out lineups that gave Embiid and Simmons rest (keeping them fresh in the final 5 minutes), without sacrificing defense or scoring, was an integral part of this win for the Sixers. Brown got to ring the bell after the game, as even the players recognized the impact his decisions had last night.
The Knicks Fucked Up
I really don’t have a clever title for this one. The Knicks fucked up, plain and simple. They gave up the best player they’ve had since Patrick Ewing who was still young and capable of improving for Dennis Smith Jr., a mid-tier point guard even within his own draft class, and salary matching contracts who they don’t even intend on keeping. All of this in hopes of establishing enough cap room to potentially sign two max free agents this summer. There’s only one problem, and that’s the fact that no free agents probably want to touch that shit-show of an organization with a 10-foot pole.
Sure, maybe the Knicks draft Zion, and sure Kyrie Irving could change his mind about staying in Boston, and sure if Golden State somehow doesn’t win the title this year KD might leave, but I’m saying right now: none of that is worth it. First of all, the Knicks might not get the no.1 overall pick. Second of all, Kyrie isn’t good attractive enough to attract other FAs to follow him if he goes. Third, GSW is most likely going to win the title, meaning KD is most likely staying the fuck in place.
Think about the kind of stuff that has to happen for the Knicks to have justified this trade. Golden State has to lose in the post-season (LOL), Kyrie has to decide he wants to leave a franchise that gave him so much free reign, AND the Knicks have to win the lottery. And even if KD does decide to leave (again, extremely unlikely if GSW wins) what makes NY think that KD would be interested in playing there? They’re such a mismanaged team it’s unbelievable. He wants to go somewhere he can keep contending for titles, and while the East is weaker, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Kyrie, KD, and a bunch of goons is any more prepared to win a title than Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, or Philly.
Long story short, the Knicks need to get rid of that entire front office if this doesn’t work out. If your name isn’t Zion Williamson, David Fizdale, or whatever free agent ends up going there (if any) you should be on the chopping block. There is absolutely no reason for this team to keep the daydream of cap space alive just because they’re New York. Brooklyn is a team that can capitalize off of a big market. The Knicks are so shitty that being in New York basically doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just think about that.
Anyways, this became a longer, more rant-y piece than I originally intended. But hey, when a lot of stupid teams do stupid things while the Sixers are turning up, I guess I have a lot to talk about.
In a late game surge that involved two 4-point plays, multiple defensive stops, and clutch time management, the Sixers slid in a W against San Antonio tonight.
Embiid posted a 33 point and 19 rebound double-double, and Simmons put up 21 with 10 rebounds and 15 assists for the triple-double. Notable was the team’s strong shooting tonight, making a collective 17 3-point shots from 7 different players, including 10-day player Corey Brewer, who started for Butler who sat tonight. Simmons made a couple cute turnaround jumpers and hooks, which helped him tack points on from further out.
The team as a whole, but specifically Embiid and Simmons, came up strong defensively late in the game against one of the most efficient shooting teams in the league, and kept turnovers to an absolute minimum for the night.
The Sixers are now 3-1 in their hell stretch against teams with winning records, now winning 2 in a row at home before they take on a 4-game West Coast swing.
Coming out with a win tonight was huge, as the Spurs are one of the most well-coached teams in the league, and they play a very unique type of basketball in the current NBA. For all of their flaws on defense, one of the Sixers’ strengths in that regard is their ability to force their opponents into taking mid-range shots. The only problem is, the Spurs make those shots. Up and down the entire roster are players who not only survive but thrive in the mid-range, specifically Aldridge and DeRozan, with some deadeye 3-point shooters like Bryn Forbes, to boot.
Additionally, leaving with a win despite not having star forward Jimmy Butler in the rotations was big for the team. Not only were they short a man, as they almost always are, but they were simultaneously working Corey Brewer into the lineup and into a starting spot during a 10-day contract. Thankfully, Brewer and the rest of the bench have stepped up so far, which has made the occasional night off or bad day for the Big 3 easier to work through.
In the Sixers’ away game against the Indiana Pacers Thursday night, there were reasons for optimism up and down the roster, but not the least of which was Jimmy Butler exploding for 27 points and 5 rebounds.
Impossible to ignore was Embiid’s limited but crucial presence, as he played 35 minutes with frequent breaks due to lower back soreness and stiffness. It sure felt like he only played 25 minutes or so, but he took plenty of short breaks to the bench to be worked on by the training staff.
Every single one of Indiana’s starters posted a negative +/-, even Thad Young who had 27 points. All of the Sixers’ starters, even including Chandler, somehow, had a positive +/-.
This game comes as a huge morale boost as the Sixers begin a truly hellish stretch of games over the next few weeks. Plenty of away games against Western Conference teams, and every team until they play the Knicks in February have winning records.
This game was against a well-coached, fantastic shooting and strong defensive team, and the Sixers came to play tonight. This was especially significant as the Pacers are among the echelon of teams that the Sixers would play in either the first round of the playoffs (4/5 seed game) or the second round. Of course, on any given night Oladipo would probably have a better game, and Muscala isn’t going to be knocking down corner 3’s in a 7-game series.
Speaking of 3-balls, Redick went 6-9 from beyond the arc, including some contested shots off the dribble and plenty of Dribble-Hand-Off action with Embiid.
The Sixers are back in action against the Thunder Saturday, in another early game in the gauntlet.