Shorthanded Sixers Blown Out by Hawks in Another Game All About Who Wasn't There

The Sixers were blown out by the Hawks on Monday, 112-94, in another game all about who wasn't there.

3 observations after Sixers blown out in another game all about absences originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Unlike Saturday, there wasn’t much suspense leading into the Sixers’ game Monday night against the Hawks as to whether the team would have a sufficient number of healthy players.

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Still, the Sixers bore little resemblance to the team that began this season, suiting up nine players in a 112-94 loss to Atlanta at State Farm Arena. 

Mike Scott and Joel Embiid were able to play after missing the Nuggets game. Scott, who’d been recovering from a left knee contusion, played 22 minutes and made 1 of 7 field goals. Embiid, who missed Saturday's game with back tightness, was the Sixers’ best player with 24 points and 11 rebounds.  

The 7-4 Sixers have a mini-series scheduled against the Heat at Wells Fargo on Tuesday and Thursday. Eight Miami players are listed as out because of health and safety protocols.

Here are observations on the Sixers’ loss Monday to the Hawks: 

Embiid’s one-man show 

Embiid started very strong, scoring 11 of the Sixers’ first 13 points. He drew a foul inside on Clint Capela, faced up and slid past him for a layup, navigated through the  defense for an easy transition hoop and generally overwhelmed the Hawks.  

Aggressive Atlanta double teams bothered Embiid a bit in the second quarter, and at one point he made the mistake of throwing a pass out of bounds, to no Sixer in particular. He’s mostly avoided those kinds of miscues this season, appearing sure of his outlets and where the ball should go.  

In a throwback to last season’s duo of Embiid and Al Horford, head coach Doc Rivers had Dwight Howard come off the bench and join Embiid in the frontcourt. Minutes with Embiid were not part of Howard’s job description when he signed with the Sixers, but these are clearly unusual times that lend themselves to unusual lineups.  

Embiid had 24 of the Sixers’ 50 points and 10 of their 23 rebounds in the first half, and the team still trailed by 15 points. For the time being, he simply doesn’t have a lot of support. 

Rivers hopes Ben Simmons (left knee swelling) will be available to play Tuesday, and he thought it was possible Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Vincent Poirier would be able to return after the Miami mini-series concludes. Those four players have been sidelined because of health and safety protocols. Seth Curry, who the Sixers learned on Thursday tested positive for COVID-19, is “doing great” after having “one bad day,” according to Rivers.

Lessons on both ends for Maxey 

Tyrese Maxey looked like a player making his second NBA start during a hectic sequence at the end of the first quarter during which he turned the ball over twice, including once in the backcourt. These extra minutes are opportunities for him to acclimate to heavy ball pressure and late-quarter situations as a professional lead guard.

As was the case Saturday, Danny Green played a few possessions at point guard when Maxey sat, an atypical role for the 33-year-old — and not a very natural one. Green’s jumper wasn’t falling for a second consecutive game as he went 0 for 9 from the floor. The Sixers were just 8 for 36 from three-point range as a team.

Maxey’s shiftiness and ability to accelerate out of the pick-and-roll remain impressive. He’s shown he can reject and “snake” screens effectively, catch defenders on their heels with changes in pace and score with plentiful variety once he reaches the paint.

Drawing fouls regularly is not yet part of Maxey’s NBA repertoire, and that’s putting it mildly. The rookie has taken only two NBA free throws, compared to 108 field goals. 

Defensively, Maxey had a stiff challenge against Trae Young. Though Young managed 26 points and eight assists, Maxey had some nice moments against the All-Star guard. He seemed to understand his pick-and-roll responsibilities despite being caught on a few screens, and the rookie even blocked a three-point attempt and a driving layup by Young in the second period. Maxey obviously isn’t the player the Sixers would prefer to guard the opponent’s top perimeter threat, but he should learn both from what works and what doesn’t against stars like Young.

This can’t be sustainable 

The NBA on Monday announced the postponement of scheduled Mavericks-Pelicans and Celtics-Bulls games because of COVID-19 protocols. The league also said the NBA and NBPA would meet to discuss modifying health and safety protocols.

It seems the NBA is hoping to avoid large COVID-19 outbreaks, push through this difficult period and eventually distribute the vaccine to its personnel. Perhaps the league will improve and adapt existing protocols, identifying those with COVID-19 or exposed to it well enough to keep playing games. 

From a competitive balance standpoint, though, these matchups with severely shorthanded, rookie-filled rotations aren’t tenable in the long term. More importantly, the league can’t bank too much on luck in protecting its workers. As Rivers has compellingly argued, that means considering both issues of COVID-19 safety and the burden of massive minutes for players on undermanned teams. 

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