Wednesday's fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks had a discernible feel in its development. Philadelphia let Atlanta take low-efficient looks in the midst of failing to find their own offense. Ben Simmons went through a short stretch of growing pains while his supporting cast failed to contribute. Most trips ended in one-and-dones for both teams until about the 6:10 mark in the fourth - when the Sixers started to make their push past the flightless Hawks. Joel Embiid's hustle, compliments of T.J. McConnell's interior dish to the big man, led to an easy shot at the rim. From there, Embiid and Simmons made or assisted on the final eight baskets.
Both exhibited important qualities that hopefully manifest during tonight's home matchup against the 5-3 Indiana Pacers. Embiid's sound decisions Wednesday, utilizing his teammates to feed him in opportune situations he created for himself and avoiding his erratic one-on-one tendencies, speak to his maturation as a 23-year-old wunderkind. Embiid's faith in his teammates initiating some offense, whether it'd be Simmons, Bayless or Redick, play into his role of assuming less offensive responsibility.
Simmons looked the part of a high-profile complement to Embiid, using a live ball to attack and finish at the rim or setting up his gigantic teammate for a dunk and layup attempts. Simmons and Embiid were the two best players on the floor during that matchup and took advantage late of a Hawks team that couldn't contain the duo. Tonight, they could capitalize on a Pacers team that might be without gifted center Myles Turner.
Turner's recovering from a concussion, previously diagnosed as a sore neck, and is a game-time decision tonight. Former Oklahoma City Thunder BIG, Domantas Sabonis, has filled in quite admirably at the five in Turner's absence. Over the Pacers' last three games, all wins, the second-year center's averaging 16.3 PPG, 13.3 RPG, and 5.5 APG. Chalk it up to stats available in Turner's void or simply thriving in a heightened role, but Sabonis is a quality replacement if Turner's unavailable tonight.
However, Turner's far more mobile and provides space. Sabonis' crafty finishes don't completely compensate for his non-existent perimeter game, but consistently provides efficiency for Indiana. Embiid's foot speed could overwhelm Sabonis on drives from the perimeter, forcing Indiana's BIG to honor his shot, or in the post with spins and power dribbles. On the topic, Sabonis' lack of strength could open some opportunities for Embiid on the glass and fighting for position. Embiid improved carving out space on the block against Atlanta, a mess leading up to Wednesday's game, and will have varying success depending on his matchup. Segueing into additional frontcourt topic of conversation, Richaun Holmes is back!
When Richaun Holmes suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left wrist prior to the regular season, it was fair to slap the panic button more than a few times. Holmes missed a collective 11 preseason and regular season games, but earned a green light to make his awaited 2017-18 debut tonight. Presuming Holmes immediately slides into Amir Johnson's vital backup slot to Embiid would be jumping the gun, however.
According to Philly.com's Keith Pompey, Holmes' minutes against Indiana hinge on Johnson's production. Johnson hasn't brought over his floor spacing ability he contributed for Boston last season and doesn't get the lift you'd hope from an NBA center, but he's quietly been a source of production off the Sixers' bench lately. Over Philadelphia's three-game winning streak, Johnson's had an easier time finishing at the basket and is a ruthless board cleaner, fighting in scrums to providing extra possessions. His recent surge (10.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 66.7% FG in 19 MPG) might've prompted Brett Brown to award Johnson with the opportunity to seize a backup role.
Another noticeable trend in the Sixers' winning streak is the shoddy point-of-attack defense. With explosive Victor Oladipo (23.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 48.5% FG in 33.2 MPG) gaining confidence in a significant role for head coach Nate McMillan, the Sixers' guards containment is crucial. And sagging on the guard isn't a worthwhile plan, either, as Oladipo's small sample size of 50.0 percent from deep creates some concern. Whether it's having Oladipo cover J.J. Redick (12.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.2 APG), Jerryd Bayless (11.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.0 APG) or even Simmons (18.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 7.9 APG), making him run on the defensive end could sap his offensive energy and proclivity for slashing.
Robert Covington's handling of former Sixer Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdonavic will be something to monitor, as both Pacers talents have contrasting offensive styles that need to be approached differently.
The 4-4 Sixers could ascend the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 13 of 2013 when James Anderson went for 36 points. Ah, good times. Now, the wins have more meaning.
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