If Jimmy Butler missed his last-second three-pointer last Sunday in Brooklyn, the vibe around the Sixers would be a lot different.
The Sixers would have lost two straight games to teams outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and the concerns about Butler's role and the team's porous defense would have escalated. Instead, Butler made his second game-winner with the Sixers, who have blown out the Knicks and Wizards the last two games.
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After their 3-0 week, the Sixers are 16-8, percentage points behind the 15-7 Bucks for second place in the East (see standings).
• Joel Embiid is no longer leading the NBA in minutes, which is very positive news for the Sixers. He played a season-low 22 minutes in Friday's win over the Wizards and still managed to post 16 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. He was a plus-30.
• Watching the Wizards in person helps put into context the Sixers' level of cohesiveness.
Unlike the Wizards, the Sixers enjoy playing with each other and take pride in their teammates doing well. As soon as the Sixers built a lead Friday night, there was no way Washington was going to fight as a team to make things competitive - none of Scott Brooks' timeouts were going to make a difference.
Outside of a brief stretch in the second quarter in which the Wizards strung together some defensive stops and John Wall broke free for a couple transition buckets, nobody in Washington's rotation looked like they wanted to be at Wells Fargo Center.
On some nights, you miss shots you normally make and the opposition is hitting everything. Over a long season, there are a few of those shrug your shoulders and tip your cap type of games. Yet, with few exceptions, the Sixers have given a respectable effort every night.
When they haven't, the Sixers' leaders have immediately called the team out for it - Ben Simmons said the team was "soft" and needed to "stop bulls----ing" after the 25-point defeat to Brooklyn on Nov. 4. Brett Brown said the Sixers had "no spirit" after last Friday's loss to the Cavs.
It's a lot easier to consistently play hard when you like the guys you're playing with.
• Landry Shamet, who had a career-high 16 points in Brooklyn, has made 44 three-point shots, second most among rookies. He's shooting 39.6 percent from long range, second best for rookies who have taken at least 50 threes.
His defensive limitations are obvious, and opponents are clearly targeting him on that end of the floor, especially in pick-and-rolls (see film review). Moving forward, you wonder if Shamet's offense would be enough to offset his defense in a playoff series against a team like the Bucks or Celtics.
That said, Shamet has given Brett Brown far, far more than he expected from a No. 26 pick.
• T.J. McConnell's dependable presence has indirectly benefited Shamet, since it's allowed him to stay in an off-ball, "mini JJ" Redick role. If the Sixers didn't have McConnell, Shamet would have stepped in with Markelle Fultz out. Though Shamet has point guard experience in high school and at Wichita State, it's best for both him and the Sixers that the team has a known commodity at point guard in McConnell.
• This week should be a decent challenge for the Sixers. They go from having three games against non-playoff teams to three games against teams with a combined record of 44-19 in the Grizzlies, Raptors and Pistons.
The blowouts were nice for the Sixers, and significant, too, given the team's previous inability to play a complete game. But the three matchups this week will be a better measuring stick.
Brown said on many occasions in the preseason that he expected there to be "growing pains" in the first third of the season, noting he uses that portion of the schedule to figure out his best rotations, tweak his schemes, and generally learn more about his team.
At the end of next week, the Sixers will have played 27 games, or almost a third of the season. It should be a good time to take stock of what we've learned.
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