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Sixers-Hawks Recap: Despite loss, Philadelphia shows valiant effort

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With an eight-man rotation and on the second game of a back-to-back, Brett Brown’s team showed ample energy.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Suiting up for the second time in two nights and fielding just eight players, the Philadelphia 76ers looked rudderless offensively against the Atlanta Hawks. Despite the 99-92 loss to playoff-contending Atlanta, there wasn’t lacking drive and energy from Brett Brown’s group. Whether it was Shawn Long, who was completely outmatched against the imposing Dwight Howard, jousting for position on the block or Dario Saric feverishly finding a way to score over the trees, Atlanta eventually took notice.

Cutting the Atlanta lead to as low as four points in the fourth quarter, the Hawks, noticeably, increased their pace and didn’t let Philadelphia attempt the ball twice in possessions. The Hawks won the rebounding battle 47-40, but Dwight Howard’s sheer physicality made it seem like a larger disparity.

Dwight Howard grabbed two rebounds within the first minute, and it turned out to be a preview of his board cleaning throughout. Snatching eight offensive boards, Atlanta failed to capitalize regularly on the center awarding his team extra possessions. It was an eventual group effort to neutralize him in the fourth quarter, but his 20 rebounds were essential in the win. Howard regularly bullied his way to close-range attempts and pressured Philly’s two bigs to contain him on offense. Finishing with 22 points, the Richaun Holmes-Shawn Long tandem tried with fervor to keep him away from the cylinder.

Holmes started early by being available near the basket and an outlet for inside dishes. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and T.J. McConnell used dribble penetration to set up Holmes for thunderous dunks. As the game progressed, Holmes became a source of offense in the paint. En route to a career-high 25 points, Holmes took advantage of Atlanta’s void of rim protectors. He’s progressively shedding the raw label offensively, and his constant energy is evident on that end.

Long seems to despise the back-to-basket offensive approach, stepping out from deep and relying on his jumper to contribute. Going 4-of-5 from the floor and 2-for-2 from deep, the offensively-centric Long pieced together a resume-building week. Howard used power to overwhelm Long, but the rookie didn’t let the mismatch affect his game offensively.

While the center matchup entertained, the Dario Saric-Ersan Ilyasova battle underwhelmed. Developing a mentor-apprentice type of relationship in Philadelphia, Ilyasova was the more efficient power forward tonight, scoring 12 first-half points and finishing with 14 points, three assists, and a plus-10 box plus-minus. Saric looked flummoxed offensively, and the two-game, 24-hour slate might’ve played into his struggles tonight.

The rookie, just 2-of-8 from deep and 5-of-18 from the floor, tried to force plays and he isn’t synonymous with clanking multiple threes. Playing in all 75 games and utilized heavily throughout March, Saric might be due for a break.

Fatigue appeared to be an early theme, affecting starters’ shots and leading to an early Sixers deficit. While hitting the front of the cylinder led to missed attempts, a couple of second-quarter jumpers took a friendly bounce for the home team. However, this wasn’t an offensive spectacle. Missing relatively open jumpers and no touch tonight from Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, going 11-of-39 from deep doomed the depleted Sixers.

The Sixers connected on just 39.5 percent of their looks in the first half, a product of egregiously missed jumpers. Holmes and McConnell utilized the paint for efficient looks, but the constant, deafening sound of missed jump shots diluted the easy baskets.

Dennis Schroder came into tonight as Atlanta’s offensive catalyst with Paul Millsap injured, but didn’t have the same impact as his peers. The budding talent’s been stricken with the turnover bug this season, and it was highlighted tonight (nine TOs).

Justin Anderson filled in for a resting Robert Covington and looked competent offensively (10 points, 4-of-9 shooting). The jumper remains an uncertainty, but slashing will always be an effective option for him. However, he got beat off of the dribble at times. With Covington in a sharp suit as an onlooker, containment on the perimeter was essential tonight.

Gerald Henderson (five points, 2-of-10 shooting) returned after missing Tuesday’s game with hip soreness, and failed to spell Anderson and the Sixers’ wings effectively. He cannot effectively attack and create space off the dribble, and the Sixers don’t lack wings who are somewhat viable from deep. He’s struggled throughout March, but has Friday to salvage a forgettable month.

Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined for 38 points and were tough containments. Nik Stauskas, struggled with the duo, but he channeled his inner point guard with exceptional finds in the half court and transition.

The Sixers (28-47) look to finish March with a W Friday against the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers.