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Hawks 126, Sixers 98: Death By Ball Movement

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Despite some positive signs from a burgeoning frontcourt duo, the Sixers got carved up by the Atlanta Hawks.

John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers have seen their fortunes altered by Ish Smith's arrival, but his impact on the team result was minimized tonight, with the boys from Philly falling to the Atlanta Hawks, 126-98.

Smith himself certainly wasn't at fault for the carnage -- he shot 60 percent from the field and replicated his usual "waterbug dancing through the trees" act -- but this is the worst the team has looked as a whole since he joined the team on Christmas Eve.

Where to begin? The backup guard play should probably carry the majority of the blame for this one. Isaiah Canaan and T.J. McConnell were brutal in different ways, but each symbolizes the lack of quality depth on the Sixers roster at the moment. McConnell's apathy toward shooting and Canaan's ineffectiveness when he's not hitting from three are equally damaging to the team's fortunes, and they both reared their head through dire stretches of tonight's contest.

Due to individual and defensive failings, the Hawks style of frenetic ball movement just ripped the Sixers to shreds. Atlanta is capable of torching stout defensive units, so a high-scoring game doesn't come as much of a surprise, but the pace at which they carved up the Sixers' rotations was jarring at times. They've shown they can hang around teams that play this style of offense -- see their nine-point loss to the Spurs in November -- but as with their 52-point beatdown against San Antonio in December, they were simply overpowered.

Following the Sixers necessitates searching for silver linings more than is typical for your typical professional sports franchise, and there were plenty tonight. Jahlil Okafor, despite some of his near-trademark lapses on defense, played effective overall, pouring in 21 on 9-16 shooting and staying (relatively*) engaged until he was removed from the contest in the fourth quarter. He and partner Nerlens Noel played some downright impressive basketball in spurts, teaming up for what may be their prettiest play of the season (h/t friend of the blog @JohnBarchard)

Harmony with Okafor and Noel has been few and far between this season, so it's always nice to see them sync, even if briefly. The duo was on the court during most of the last competitive stretch the team had in the third quarter, before Atlanta eventually bludgeoned them to death.

Considering the team's lack of NBA talent from top-to-bottom, nights like these are going to happen. They're certainly more palatable in the wake of several wins and a generally feisty stretch, as opposed to the string of beatdowns the team suffered prior to Smith's arrival. Provided they get back on track in the days and weeks that follow, it'll be easier to write this off as a blip, rather than part of a disturbing trend.

NOTES:

  • *I caught a lot of flak for tweeting this from the LB account in the first half, and rightfully so. Plus/minus is a noisy stat (particularly game to game) and Okafor was a prisoner of some poor play around him as the team submarined in the second quarter. However, I do think it's worth monitoring what the play and general comfort level around him looks like moving forward. Noel has the advantage of having played with a lot of these guys last season and building a group playstyle accordingly. Okafor's talent (and common sense) affords him the time to see if the bit players learn to play around him better, but at some point we need to have an earnest conversation about how much he contributes to stagnation when he's on the floor, just as we would with regards to Noel's hands and limited O game.
  • Robert Covington managed to knock down a couple consecutive shots with the game out of reach, which would be encouraging if not for how bad he looked outside of that. Head coach Brett Brown yanked him after just two minutes of action in the second quarter, and it was certainly deserved.
  • Brown's first comment post-game: "We played with no spirit tonight." Yikes.
  • Noel had 13 rebounds on the game, including 6 in the first quarter alone. Always good to see.