Just when we feared the midseason turbulence may be too much for this fan base to handle, the Sixers made it through a break in the clouds and popped out into clear skies just in time for the NBA All-Star break.
Following a four-game losing streak (all road games), the Sixers came home for the final three games before the break and swept the homestand (two wins against current standings playoff teams). This season, the Sixers are an astonishing 25-2 at home (Best in the NBA) and an abysmal 9-19 away.
It’s truly an incredible feat and quite honestly, shocking. With all the “Sky is falling” talk going on before the break, the Sixers immediately flipped a switch and changed the narrative. Now, the Sixers have until February 20th when they return to action against Brooklyn and later travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks two days later.
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Here’s a look at how it played out this week:
76ers vs Grizzlies Feb 7
The Sixers took a little over a quarter to figure things out, but once they decided to just pass the ball to Furkan and let him shoot, they shot the lights out and put the game away in the third quarter, leading by 31 going into the fourth. Adding to the narrative that the Sixers may be better without Embiid, Joel Embiid left the game in the second quarter and never returned.
The Sixers were +7 with Embiid on the floor and +23 with Simmons. Embiid had been playing well prior to his exit, notching ten points and ten rebounds in his 16 minutes on the floor. The issue was still spacing at the time. Once Embiid left, the lanes opened for Simmons to drive and for Korkmaz to find himself open beyond the arc. I know plus/minus is an overrated stat, but the chemistry does seem like more of an issue with both on the floor at the same time. Furkan Korkmaz played the best game of his NBA career, going for 34 points on 13-17 shooting and 7-9 from deep.
Everything was going right for the Sixers but if there was one criticism, it was them turning the ball over 20 times. Other than that, they were +10 on the glass and shot 53% from the field and 56% from three. It seems one key for the Sixers going forward may be getting Korkmaz more acclimated to the JJ Reddick role from the past few years.
Since the Sixers have been settling for so many threes this season, maybe getting a higher-percentage shooter more looks from deep will inevitably help their percentages (just a guess). At this point, the key to stopping the Sixers has been letting them beat themselves with turnovers and shoot themselves out of games with their middle-of-the-road three-point shooting.
76ers vs Bulls Feb 9
Using the same formula from the night before, the Sixers decided to get Korkmaz involved again and surprisingly, it cleared enough space for Simmons and Embiid to both stay on the floor. Furkan Korkmaz went for 31 points in 32 minutes on 12-17 from the floor and 6-11 from three.
Though the Sixers were just +2 on the boards and +1 on turnovers, Embiid and Simmons were still a bit out of sorts, as the pair combined for 11 turnovers. Al Horford had zero points in 30 minutes of play, as his slide down the relevancy ladder continues.
It was the Sixers bench playing sound defense that helped the Sixers preserve their lead. Despite the solid numbers of Embiid, Simmons, and Korkmaz, the combination of Luke Kornet and Zach LaVine kept the Bulls close throughout. The duo went 21-35 from the field and 9-18 from three, combining for 57 points. The victory was nice, but the Sixers had only a day off to prepare for a home meeting with the Clippers as the final test before the All-Star break.
76ers vs Clippers Feb 11
The Clippers really showed up for this game and two key Clippers did not. Ben Simmons and Kawhi Leonard going back and forth at each other was incredible television, but the key here was rebounding and turnovers.
The Sixers were +8 on the glass and +3 in turnovers, committing only six the entire game. Paul George and Lou Williams combined to go just 8-30 from the field while the Sixers were aided by Josh Richardson and his +24 he posted on the plus/minus (21 points). The six turnovers was the biggest surprise here as both teams seemed to match up quite well against each other. The slower pace of this game definitely benefitted the Sixers more as they were able to pull off some incredible switches and dishes and the off-ball movement in the paint was especially critical to the Sixers and their success.
Going into the break, this was the perfect game for the Sixers to pick up momentum and silence the rumblings about the Simmons/Embiid controversy. When the season resumes, the Sixers should continue to focus on their two-front strategy of working off screens on offense around the paint and playing the hot hand with Korkmaz when the lane gets too crowded.
SugarHouse and BetRivers futures bet of the week: NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest
The Slam Dunk Contest had long been considered the coveted jewel of NBA All-Star weekend. Since Vince Carter, the contest has seen some revivals (Blake Griffin, Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine). 2020’s All-Star game is looking like we may see a little magic. Let’s take a look at the two favorites and their odds.
Aaron Gordon +150
In 2015, Aaron Gordon was robbed of a Dunk champion award in this very same contest against Zach LaVine. It may be one of the greatest dunking finals of any NBA Slam Dunk contest we’ve ever seen. With that being said, Gordon is now five years older and despite his thirst to win the title, I have questions as to his level of athleticism now. Gordon is 6’10, so he should still be able to dunk with little issue, but hangtime matters. He’s likely going to be the prohibitive favorite due to pedigree on the contest, but you have to believe his creativity and experience should help him greatly.
Derrick Jones Jr +160
Derrick Jones Jr. is a young, up-and-coming player with the Miami Heat. Many casual NBA fans have probably seen a few of his highlight dunks, but few of us know his true potential for this contest. He had an early exit in the 2017 contest but his emphatic dunks and 48-inch vertical give him a little added juice. It will be interesting to see how Jones has expanded upon his dunking game, as his regular season has shown he appears to be even more poised and ready to take home the title this year.