Before the Sixers played the San Antonio Spurs Friday night, Brett Brown was asked whether he was worried about his team's collective thinking drifting to a juicy matchup Saturday (7:30 p.m./NBCSP) vs. former Sixer Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat.
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"I could be naive with my answer - zero," he said. "Zero. I don't."
His response was ultimately a perceptive one. Though they were not flawless, the Sixers (10-5) took their matchup against the struggling Spurs seriously and beat San Antonio, 115-104. The Spurs have now lost eight straight games.
Josh Richardson missed his second straight game with right hip flexor tightness. Tobias Harris led the Sixers in scoring with 26 points on 10 for 16 shooting, while Ben Simmons had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, his first triple-double of the year.
Here are observations from the win:
The Sixers' first two possessions ended in Joel Embiid turnovers, but the offense was humming for much of the first half. They shot 51.7 percent from the floor for the game and spread the scoring load. There were, however, a couple of moments when Al Horford looked like he was thinking about where he should place himself or nearly bumped into a teammate. One of them actually resulted in a basket as Horford had the savvy to hand James Ennis the ball behind his back and screen off Ennis' defender, Bryn Forbes.
Spacing is an area Horford and the Sixers are in the early stages of figuring out, but we saw positive developments Friday. The intuitive understanding of when to post up Harris against a smaller defender, when to hit Embiid on a deep seal and when to just allow Ben Simmons to run ahead of the pack seems like it's moving in the right direction overall, even if the progress isn't always linear.
The Sixers are still most fluid when turning defense into offense. Harris had a strong night on both ends of the floor.
Simmons, after making the first regular-season three-pointer of his career vs. the Knicks, did not attempt any Friday. The question of what him becoming a three-point threat would do for the Sixers' offense remains a hypothetical.
Embiid can't miss
Embiid made the first eight field goals he took. He didn't miss until the Sixers' final possession of the third quarter, and he quickly grabbed that offensive rebound and put it in. Embiid's night wasn't full of highlights, he just did the basics well. He worked hard for good position in the post, took the right shots and was in a groove with his mid-range jumper.
In Game 1 of what the Sixers expect to be Embiid's first back-to-back of the year, he played 27 minutes and posted 21 points and 14 rebounds. He enters Saturday's game against his friend Butler in a nice rhythm.
Brown left his starters on the floor for a longer stint than usual to begin in the game, then briefly turned to a lineup with Embiid as the only starter, flanked by Trey Burke, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Mike Scott.
With the typical starters having only played 70 minutes together in 15 regular-season games, Brown has experimented with a wide variety of combinations. Some of that is by necessity, but part of the tinkering is simply a desire to find what works and what doesn't. Brown said Wednesday his preference as a coach is to use a nine-man rotation. Against the Spurs, the Sixers played 11.
Brown has insisted early in the year that he wants to "start with the end in mind."
For the time being, that means unusual lineups and opportunities for players like Burke, Milton and Thybulle.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had his team intentionally foul Simmons three times in the fourth quarter.
Simmons, who entered the game shooting 57.9 percent from the foul line, missed three of his first four free throws in the final quarter.
The edgy crowd at Wells Fargo Center gave Simmons loud cheers when he sunk his next pair of free throws.
A return to form for Korkmaz
Furkan Korkmaz had a poor outing Wednesday, shooting 1 for 5 in 16 minutes and doing little to help the Sixers' cause defensively against the Knicks.
His performance Friday night was, across the board, much improved. He scored 17 points on 6 for 12 shooting, including two fourth-quarter threes. Korkmaz was left in the dust a few times defensively, but he was good enough to play 34 minutes.
A big win on the glass
The Sixers, who entered with an NBA-best 53.0 rebounding percentage, had a 51-32 advantage on the glass.
Their rebounding is going to gloss over a lot of their flaws this season.
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