Valiant as their efforts have been, the Sixers look like they’re finally feeling the effects of a parade of injuries. The Cleveland Cavaliers jumped out to a first half lead and never looked back, earning a comfortable 122-105 victory against the 76ers on Friday night.
Brett Brown has been able to get the most out of this squad despite constant instability in the lineup, but there’s a limit to what you can do with elbow grease and effort. Heart can’t erase the fatigue in Dario Saric’s legs, or account for the loss of the team’s most impactful defenders in the paint and on the wing.
In the midst of one of the worst team stretches of LeBron James’ career, Cleveland took advantage of the Sixers’ frail state. The Cavs played like a team in desperate need of a win, suffocating the Sixers from the second quarter on. 34-9-6 for James without really breaking a sweat, ho hum.
The Sixers are back to a state you may recognize from previous years — overextended — and that’s okay. The 2016-17 season is just six games from completion, and they proved they’re more than just a cute story. They have elite prospects, several role players with high-end potential, and a coach who kept the team together no matter what.
It wasn’t all bad for Philadelphia. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot led the team with a career-high 19 points, scoring mostly through acrobatics in the painted area. Even as the season slips away we’re still seeing development from young players, and that is a testament to the program and the culture Brown has fostered amongst his team.
The Sixers are back at it on Sunday, when they’ll close out their season series against the Toronto Raptors.
TLC: 50-cent moves, five-cent finishes
The rookie Frenchman has been uneven in his first campaign stateside, and that was expected. He’s a young kid playing against the best competition he’s ever faced, and he’s taken on an even bigger role in 2017 with the team out of the playoff hunt.
Luwawu-Cabarrot’s extra minutes have highlighted his need to bulk up and refine his skills over the summer. He often finds himself in the right places, whether cutting toward the rim or flashing around a pick for an open three, but his finishing/shooting comes and goes. He relies a little too much on contorting his body around defenders rather than seeking contact to earn trips to the line. The flashy makes are great, but adding strength and balancing his style would allow him to be more efficient when he barrels toward the basket.
That he’s able to create separation with both awareness and athleticism lends hope for his development; it’s much better than having a problem with creating opportunities to finish at all. I’m looking forward to seeing what he looks like after a summer in the weight room, and some added bulk up top and in his legs should help his percentages.
Justin Anderson’s Jekyll and Hyde act
On one defensive possession, Justin Anderson emphatically blocked LeBron James’ shot and woofed in the face of the league’s best player.
A couple plays later he stood flat-footed as his defensive assignment went backdoor for an easy dunk, seemingly unaware of who or what his assignment was.
This is Justin Anderson as we have come to know him. He certainly doesn’t lack in the competitiveness department, and he drew an early flagrant foul from Kyrie Irving of all people after frustrating Cleveland with his physical play. But sometimes it appears as though he’s amped up to the point of overload, and it ends up coming back to bite him.
If the Sixers can get him to channel that energy and edge (and the jumpshot improves a lot), he’ll find a role on this team one way or another. Anderson had one of his better all-around games against Cleveland, contributing a few dimes on top of 12 points and 10 rebounds. But erratic players tend to get lost in the shuffle eventually, so that maturation process is critical to his future success.
That LeBron James guy is pretty good
The Sixers weren’t exactly fielding their best team tonight, but it’s pretty baffling how good LeBron continues to be this deep into his career.
There was a sequence midway through the third-quarter where Shawn Long dunked in James’ vicinity, prompting a primal scream from the Sixers’ big man. LeBron didn’t appear to appreciate it very much, and he flew toward the rim on several consecutive possessions, depositing easy layups and putting an even greater distance between the Cavs and 76ers.
It was a friendly reminder of what this guy still has left in the reserves when he chooses to amp it up. The Sixers have a shortage of impact players available right now, but hopefully they’ll have a couple ready to go when next season starts.