Sixers Fall to Nets Team Missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant

The team missing two stars prevailed Thursday in Brooklyn as the Sixers fell to the Nets by a 122-109 score.

3 observations after Sixers fall to star-less Nets originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The team missing its two stars available triumphed in Thursday’s contest between the Sixers and Nets.

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Brooklyn, without Kevin Durant (quarantined after a COVID-19 exposure) and Kyrie Irving (out because of personal reasons) handed the Sixers their second loss of the season, a 122-109 decision at Barclays Center. 

The 7-2 Sixers, who play Saturday afternoon against the Nuggets, have now lost the back halves of their first two back-to-backs. 

Here are observations on their loss to Brooklyn: 

Stars start slow 

Like most NBA teams, the Sixers are dependent on their stars. When Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid combine to shoot 4 for 15 in a half, they’re usually going to be in a bad position.

Simmons missed a wide-open catch-and-shoot three-pointer in the second quarter that the Nets were happy to let him take, meaning he won’t preserve a 100 percent mark from long distance this season. Most of his decision-making was poor in the first half as he had four turnovers and rarely picked the right moments to attack the rim. He also simply missed on several good scoring opportunities near the hoop and shot 4 for 13 in the game.

Embiid helped the Sixers generate open looks early on by inviting double teams and kicking the ball out to shooters, but his teammates evidently cooled off a bit on the flight to Brooklyn. He picked up his third foul with 1:15 left in the second quarter, contesting Caris LeVert at the rim after Shake Milton fell behind on a pick-and-roll. 

Since Embiid was a late scratch for the Sixers’ loss to the Cavaliers, this was the first back-to-back of the season he’s completed.

“It depends on the night and where’s he at,” head coach Doc Rivers said pregame of Embiid playing in back-to-backs. “We’re on schedule, we’re in a good place, but we’re not going to make an announcement tonight. For us, it really depends on the night and where we are in games played. And not just Joel, it’s the whole team. We’ve got to manage everyone.”

The Sixers’ next back-to-back is coming soon, on Monday at Atlanta and Tuesday vs. the Heat. 

Adjusting the rotation 

Milton started in place of Seth Curry, who was sidelined by left ankle soreness, and the Sixers didn’t lose anything in terms of offensive production as he scored 24 points and dished out seven assists. 

He played through contact well and constantly looked to drive when surrounded by the four bench players in the Sixers’ rotation. Milton’s role is clear in those lineups, which may help to simplify his decision-making. 

With Furkan Korkmaz (left adductor strain), Mike Scott (left knee contusion) and Terrance Ferguson (personal reasons) all out, Dakota Mathias entered the Sixers’ rotation. The 25-year-old is one of the Sixers’ two-way players, along with Paul Reed. His best trait is his outside shooting, as illustrated by his 39.5 percent clip on 8.8 three-point attempts per game last season in the G League with the Texas Legends. Mathias couldn’t find much space to fire in this game, scoring three points in 13 minutes. Isaiah Joe, the 49th pick in this year’s draft, also got some time with the second unit in the third quarter, missing two three-point tries. 

Tyrese Maxey continued to appear like someone who should be a part of the team’s rotation when everyone’s healthy. Perhaps Rivers will prefer Korkmaz’s shooting or Scott’s toughness in certain spots, but Maxey has generally provided a spark. Among his best moments Thursday were a pull-up three in transition, a pair of floaters in the second period and a lob to Dwight Howard. He seems to have the ability to share the offensive creation responsibility with Milton in a way that Korkmaz does not. 

Another rotation-related item worth noting: When Howard fouled out early in the fourth quarter, Rivers used Simmons at center against DeAndre Jordan. That doesn’t seem like a good sign for Tony Bradley, whose only regular-season appearance was a difficult night against the Cavs.

Too many giveaways 

The Sixers’ turnovers were costly. Brooklyn scored 35 points off 20 giveaways, while the Sixers posted seven points off 13 Nets turnovers. 

That statistic is one indication — and a compelling one at that — of the apparent energy disparity between the teams. The star-less Nets were sharp and executed well coming off a blowout win Tuesday over the Jazz. 

Efforts to increase pace can sometimes coincide with increased turnovers, but there’s clearly a line the Sixers want to avoid. 

“There’s a number, obviously, that you don’t want to go over per game,” Rivers said on Dec. 14. “I think we’ll find out what our pace is, No. 1. And I’m going to keep saying, pace doesn’t mean race. Pace means find your pace, constant movement, constant playing. I don’t want this team to get stuck. I want them to keep playing through their errors. … You have to be patient a little bit, but if it’s the same turnovers by the same guys, then that would become a problem.”

Heading into Thursday’s game, the Sixers had a 16.7 turnover percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass, 27th in the NBA. That tells us this isn’t solely a pace-related problem. We’ll see if it improves as players develop familiarity with each other. 

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