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Sixers struggle defensively against Hawks without Embiid

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The Sixers endure a defensive meltdown, lose big to Atlanta Hawks without defensive ace Joel Embiid.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Without Joel Embiid, due to his protocol of missing back-to-back games in the regular season, the Sixers (1-8) struggled defensively in a 117-96 loss Saturday to the Atlanta Hawks (7-2). While it appeared that Philadelphia would have to limit the impact of the Paul Millsap-Dwight Howard pairing down low, Atlanta’s horde of talent surprised.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (20 points), Kent Bazemore (17) and former Sixer Kyle Korver (14) paced the home team in scoring. For the Sixers, Jahlil Okafor finished with a season-high 18 points in 23 minutes, utilizing plenty of hook shots and attempts near the basket.

For how poorly the second-year center has played in recent games, providing a surge offensively without Embiid creates optimism. He looked more engaged on the defensive end tonight and the lack of interior defense tonight can’t be pinpointed on him. Atlanta shot 44-of-87 from the floor, slashing to the basket and scoring at will in the interior.

The Sixers tried to combat the scoring onslaught from Atlanta in the second half, draining 7-of-15 threes in the 24-minute span. Despite finishing 11-of-29 from deep, both Dario Saric and Sergio Rodriguez were consistent. Saric finished with 12 points (5-of-13 from the floor) and sank 2-of-4 threes. He’s keeping defenders honest with his floor spacing and being left open at times has tied into his accuracy.

Rodriguez went 3-of-4 from deep, finishing with 13 points and four assists in the loss. Defensively, he had difficulty containing dribble penetration, a theme for the majority of the perimeter defenders. Handling slashers could be necessary against James Harden and the Houston Rockets Monday.

Other Takeaways:

  • Giving up point-blank shots and open looks derailed any realistic chance Philadelphia had at a victory tonight. Atlanta consistently took the ball to the paint, exploiting the lack of containment by the Sixers guards.
  • Optimizing possessions could serve beneficial. In subsequent possessions, Rodriguez shoveled a backwards pass to Hollis for a contested, hurried three trailing in the first half. Contested looks in the paint resulted in possessions without points. For a team devoid of exceptional offensive talent when Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Ben Simmons are not on the floor, maximizing offensive opportunities is pertinent.
  • Brett Brown has yet to consistently run Saric as a floor general. Saric’s passing, instincts and vision are exceptional for a 6-foot-10 forward and he had a couple of looks tonight that accentuated his passing ability. He had three turnovers and just one assist, but it’s his decision-making, not ability, that’s limiting his passing prowess. The team has nothing to lose experimenting with Saric running the offense at points during the game.
  • There’s something to be said about Nik Stauskas and his development this season. With 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting tonight (2-of-4 from three), Sauce is becoming a competent option for the ball handlers to turn to in the half court. His acrobatic layup in the first half was a spectacle. Finishing at the basket will only boost Stauskas’ offensive proficiency throughout the season. His sizzling five-game stretch in November (57.7 percent shooting) has been exciting to watch, considering he dealt with confidence problems prior to the start of regular season.