For the first time in what feels like a very long time, the next game the Sixers play will impact the standings.
They wrapped up scrimmage play Tuesday night with a 118-115 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks as the end of the bench couldn’t hold a lead for the second straight outing. Tobias Harris led the team with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Joel Embiid (right calf tightness), Raul Neto (lower back tightness) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) sat out the scrimmage and are considered day-to-day.
The Sixers’ first seeding game is Saturday night against the Pacers (see schedule).
Here are observations on their final scrimmage:
An early lid on the basket
The opening to this scrimmage was not one the Sixers would have envisioned for their offense. It was unsightly, in fact. They missed 19 of their first 22 shots as Dallas grabbed a 22-8 lead.
While the Mavs defended well, Harris missed a few jumpers with nobody in his vicinity, and he obviously wasn’t the only player struggling with his shot. Ben Simmons was ineffective near the basket and shot 2 for 10 overall. The Sixers managed zero fast-break points, little dribble penetration and no free throw attempts in the first period. Their 13 first-quarter points equaled the team’s lowest total in a period during the regular season.
Give Harris and the Sixers credit for not resigning themselves to a bad night after falling behind by as many as 15 points in the second quarter. Harris’ aggression against favorable matchups and determination to get to the rim following his initial shooting woes was encouraging to see. Al Horford (14 points on 6 of 15 shooting) picked it up in the third quarter, too.
Still, the first-half offensive troubles were far from ideal and reminded us of the Sixers’ dependence on Embiid’s post-ups and Simmons’ transition brilliance. In a situation where Embiid is out (or ineffective) and Simmons isn’t at his best offensively, the Sixers need to keep moving the ball and hope players like Josh Richardson and Horford make open looks at a good rate. There’s a dearth of players on the team who can consistently create their own shot against high-level defense, which we’ve known for a while.
Shake Milton (five points on 2 of 5 shooting, three assists, no turnovers) was mostly a peripheral player as it didn’t seem the Sixers called many actions to spark offense between the team’s new starting point guard and Simmons.
Defending the 3
The Sixers were well aware of Dallas’ penchant for long-distance shooting entering this scrimmage.
“The three-point shot for me tonight is the thing that stands out most,” Brett Brown said pregame of the Mavs, who are second in both three-point attempts and three-point makes, “because it completely carries over to a playoff mentality.”
Three-point defense has been a strength for the Sixers this season – they’ve conceded the fewest made threes in the NBA – and they were decent in that respect here. Though there were several open Dallas threes that appeared to frustrate Brown on the sidelines, the Mavs finished 12 of 41 (29.3 percent) from long range.
If the Sixers are going to make a deep playoff run, three-point defense may very well be one of the foundations.
Who has an edge?
Heading into the scrimmages, one of the storylines we were tracking was the competition between Alec Burks, Robinson, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle for bench minutes. So, did anyone gain an advantage?
Thybulle had a strong stretch early in the second quarter where he knocked down an open three and also coasted in for a dunk after stealing a pass intended for former Sixer Trey Burke. He remains an exceptional defender and surely someone worth giving opportunities in the playoffs. The rookie had 14 rebounds, four rebounds and three steals and started the second half in place of Simmons, who sat after 19 first-half minutes. He slammed home a lob on the first play after halftime and the Sixers soon surged into the lead, although the 23-year-old did have a difficult time handling Mavs star Luka Doncic in the third.
Burks played exclusively as a backup point guard and had 15 points and seven assists. He looks capable of filling a role as an offensive initiator, though he does have a reputation as a streaky player.
Korkmaz followed up a 1-for-8 shooting performance in Sunday’s scrimmage with a 3-for-12 effort. As we’ve noted before, the question of whether he’s a positive value player often is as simple as whether he’s making shots at a high rate. He’s not right now, which may put pressure on him to perform well in the first few seeding games.
Robinson had impressed Brown during practices and the team’s first two scrimmages. It seems he should, as long as he’s healthy, be in a pretty good spot.
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