On the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, and without Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a few good excuses. That said, Wednesday night's 108-107 loss to the Bulls is difficult to accept.
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Mike Scott and Jimmy Butler blew their coverage of a dribble handoff between Robin Lopez and Zach LaVine on the Bulls' final offensive possession, with both players taking Lopez and leaving LaVine free for an and-one layup with 1.6 seconds remaining. It was an inexplicable mistake, especially given LaVine had a game-high 39 points.
The game had a bizarre ending, as the officials determined the clock started early on the Sixers' final play with 0.5 seconds to go, allowing the Sixers another attempt to win. The Sixers didn't manage to get a shot off on either play.
The loss drops the Sixers to 41-24 and 4-3 since the All-Star break without Embiid.
• Up 10 in the fourth, the Sixers let the Bulls get right back into the game with a 10-0 run. The team's sloppy late execution was disappointing. This was a game the Sixers had so many chances to win, and their carelessness with the ball late in the fourth quarter is one of the biggest reasons why they were unable to capitalize on any of those opportunities.
• Back on his old stomping grounds, Butler (22 points) didn't wait until the fourth quarter to turn it on against the Bulls. He shot 3 for 3 in the first three minutes, lifting the Sixers to a 12-4 lead with a pretty backdoor cut and dunk off a feed from Ben Simmons.
Well, well, well look who's back around town.
Jimmy Butler getting things off to a flashy start around his former team with this pretty little flush, compliments of Ben Simmons. pic.twitter.com/GZQgThYNMo— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 7, 2019
With Butler at the point, the Sixers had T.J. McConnell screen for Butler on several occasions to force the defense to switch and get Butler an advantageous matchup against a smaller defender - in this case, Ryan Arcidiacono. It's a tactic the Sixers have started using with greater frequency, and a simple, effective look they can go to moving forward when Butler is at the one.
• For the second straight night, Amir Johnson got the start. Even with Jonah Bolden back after missing Tuesday's game with sinusitis, the decision to keep Johnson in the starting five made sense. He earned it with his performance against the Magic, posting a season-high 13 points, and Lopez is about as close as you can get to an ideal matchup for Johnson.
Johnson had nine points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes.
Though Bolden was impressively agile as usual when switched onto perimeter players, he struggled with Lopez's strength inside and picked up his fifth foul less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Lopez had 19 points, 13 in the first quarter.
• One action Simmons (18 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) and the Sixers have gone to more recently is the quick dribble handoff in semi-transition. While it's obviously most dangerous when JJ Redick is involved, Simmons himself puts so much pressure on the defense with how fast he gets the ball up the floor, forcing the defense to have sharp communication.
His fake dribble handoff to McConnell on this play in the second quarter was masterful.
• Well, Tobias Harris was due for a clunker, and after a two-point first half, he seemed to be having one.
But Harris picked it up in the third quarter, scoring nine points in the period. He just has too polished and balanced an offensive game to be held down forever.
In the final quarter, Harris was a non-factor. He finished with 13 points on the night as his streak of 20-plus point games ended at seven.
• Following two straight games on the bench, James Ennis played over Jonathon Simmons. Ennis blended into the background for most of his first stint … and then he did this.
Ennis had his best game as a Sixer, posting 11 points on 5 for 7 shooting and seven rebounds. The "quiet tournament" Brett Brown is holding for minutes between Ennis and Simmons is nowhere near decided.
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