Well-Balanced Sixers Cruise Past Hornets Again

The Sixers spread the scoring load and were comfortably better than the Hornets again Monday night in a 118-101 win.

3 observations after well-balanced Sixers cruise past Hornets again originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Fresh off being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Tobias Harris rang the Sixers’ ceremonial liberty bell Monday night before the team's game against the Hornets, then played just as he had to earn that award. 

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Harris scored a game-high 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting in the Sixers’ 118-101 win. Seven players scored in double figures for the 6-1 Sixers, who were comfortably better than Charlotte on both ends of the court for a second consecutive game.

The team’s next game is Wednesday vs. the Wizards. Here are observations on their victory Monday:

Simmons’ game in the paint 

As is often the case, Ben Simmons (12 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) was attack-minded to open the game, attempting seven field goals in the first period and trying to take advantage whenever he sensed the defense was on its heels. The Sixers will expect him to eventually have better luck on the runners and floaters he’s struggled to hit early this season. Simmons entered the game having made only 4 of 20 short mid-range attempts (four to 14 feet), according to Cleaning the Glass

Based on his history, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll become more efficient on those plays where he stops short of the rim. That said, it would be significant for the Sixers if Simmons developed a dependable shot or two in that part of the floor, whether that means incorporating a two-footed jump stop and controlled jumper or refining his righty floater. 

What’s positive for the Sixers is that Simmons has usually been taking those shots instead of stopping in no man’s land or firing leaping, ill-advised passes from the paint. He had two of the Sixers’ 10 turnovers as the team valued the ball well after turning it over 22 times Saturday.  The Sixers were organized and prepared for Charlotte’s pressure in the second half. 

Embiid’s instant impact

Even though Embiid missed all three of his first-quarter field goal attempts, the Sixers’ half-court offense was noticeably worse when he left the floor. There appeared to be less certainty as to who should initiate the action and how players should space the floor, and the Hornets did well to limit the Sixers’ transition opportunities early on.

Shake Milton had a tough go of it in particular, seeming aware that the Sixers need him to create shots when Embiid is out and pressing a bit too much to fulfill that responsibility. Head coach Doc Rivers wants Milton to “Be Shake,” and that’s a message worth reinforcing for the 24-year-old; it’s not necessary to deviate from his game, even as he acclimates to a new role. He should trust some of the open jumpers he’s been missing will start to drop. Perhaps a stretch early in the fourth quarter when he converted a three-point play and hit a long-range jumper will help him get on track.

Speaking of this game’s extended garbage time, Tyrese Maxey’s boundless energy and open-floor exploits were a highlight.

The Sixers went on a 27-7 run after Embiid returned for his second stint. Whether or not the Hornets' lone traditional center, Bismack Biyombo was on the floor, they were obligated to double team Embiid. He managed nine points in the second quarter anyway, gaining post position early in the shot clock several times, and remained sensible, composed and effective as a passer. On one early third-quarter play, Embiid identified that Simmons had an advantageous switch against Devonte’ Graham, lobbing the ball over the much shorter defender so Simmons could lay it in.

The shooters around Embiid continued doing their jobs. Harris, Danny Green and Seth Curry all made multiple three-pointers. It appears all three of those players have figured out rather quickly when and where they’ll typically have good looks. Stiffer tests are likely coming in the Sixers’ upcoming stretch of eight games in 12 days, which includes matchups against the Nets and Nuggets and a back-to-back against the Heat. 

Embiid played 25 minutes Monday, a figure that Rivers (and every Sixers fan) shouldn’t mind at all. 

“Yeah, that’s fine with me,” he said pregame when asked about Embiid playing a team-high 33.4 minutes per game over his first five contests. “He can handle it. I think he played the other night almost 37. I didn’t like that, but that’s going to happen. You go through the year and it evens out. That 34, 33, I don’t really have a minute barometer, I just know where I’d like to keep him.”

‘It’s a team defense’ 

The Hornets missed their first seven shots and didn’t score until over four minutes into the game when Simmons was whistled for contesting a Terry Rozier pull-up jumper too tightly as he navigated around a ball screen. Charlotte found a rhythm eventually, though the Sixers limited Rozier to 12 points on 3-for-8 shooting following his 35-point effort Saturday. Along with the sharper execution when Charlotte pressed, the Sixers’ diligent defense on Rozier was a nice improvement to see between Game 1 and Game 2 of their first mini-series. 

Their defense is still making occasional mistakes, as one would expect, but an early good sign is that one man being caught up on a ball screen or another succumbing to a pump fake doesn’t seem to doom the possession. The subsequent scrambling has generally been impressive, both in terms of effort and cohesiveness.

“We’re helping a lot more — helping each other, helping weak side, helping on pick-and-rolls,” Matisse Thybulle said Monday after the Sixers’ shootaround. “It’s a team defense and I think the more we’re bought in and the more we’re able to read each other and play off of each other, the more success we’re going to have and the more havoc we’re going to be able to wreak on that end.

"It’s exciting to see us growing. For us, it’s not where we want to be yet. To see the success we’ve had so far at the place we’re at right now, it’s exciting for the future.”

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