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Sixers’ struggles against zone continue in loss to Mavs

The Sixers were totally inept against Dallas’ zone and Luka Doncic picked them apart on the other end.

Philadelphia 76ers v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

What a weird, bad night.

The Sixers failed to execute yet again vs. zone defense and Luka Doncic picked them apart on the other end in a 108-98 loss Friday night at American Airlines Center. The loss, their second straight, drops the Sixers to 31-21.

Shake Milton (lower back contusion) and Furkan Korkmaz (left knee soreness) remained out. Ben Simmons (personal reasons) continues to sit out, but could his saga end soon?

Dallas was without Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Here are a few observations from Friday’s game.

First quarter

  • Simmons traditionally tormented Luka Doncic. It looked like it was Matisse Thybulle’s turn early Friday. The All-Star was just 3 of 8 from the field and didn’t look particularly comfortable. Thybulle didn’t have any steals or blocks, but he affected every shot Doncic attempted.
  • Joel Embiid got off to another strong start with Dwight Powell and Marquese Chriss struggling with his physicality. It feels like Embiid is on pace to have his most dunks in a season. He’s in such great shape and is playing so free and easy. He was also integral in keeping Doncic in check in the pick-and-roll.
  • Tobias Harris had a tough game against the Wizards the other night, but got off to a strong start Friday. He hit all four of his attempts from the field for nine points. The Sixers have a size and strength advantage over the Mavericks and they took advantage of it early.
  • An issue with a crooked rim led to nearly an hour-long delay. Outside of Boban Marjanovic trying to fix the rim, the delay sucked. Once they fixed the rim, they realized the backboard was crooked. Then, they brought out the backup basket ... and the rim was too low. Just brutal for a game that started at 10 p.m. EST.
  • Dallas went 1 of 11 to close the quarter after the delay. I think the Sixers’ defense had a lot more to do with it than the rims. Embiid and Harris had nine apiece to pace the Sixers, who were up 33-24 after one.

Second quarter

  • Andre Drummond off to an active start. He had six points, five rebounds and two assists in his first stint. Again, the Mavericks just really struggled with the strength of the Sixers. In fact Drummond got called for a pretty soft offensive foul, likely because he was just so much stronger than Powell.
  • It was good to see Doc Rivers listen to pleas and stagger Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. Maxey had a strong stint with the second unit. He’s looking more and more like point guard every night.
  • Tough stint for Isaiah Joe. He picked up four quick fouls and missed two threes.
  • Dallas went zone and the Sixers did a great job blowing it up. It might’ve been the best they’ve handled a zone in the Embiid era (famous last words, apparently). They had Harris flashing middle which led to a pair of easy baskets and forced the Mavericks to go back to man to man.
  • Doncic came alive a bit in the second, cutting the deficit to 51-44. Still some excellent defensive possessions from Thybulle.
  • Embiid is just chewing up and spitting out every Mavs big man. They even brought in Marjanovic, who hadn’t played since Dec. 27. Embiid immediately hit a step-back three in his eye and then blew by Boban on a drive, drawing a foul on the next possession.

There was a play where he trapped Doncic and tipped the ball down the other end of the court. He then dove for the loose ball to preserve the possession. On the replay, you could see the determination on his face as he was charging up the court. MVP stuff.

  • Strong first half from the Sixers on both ends. Embiid with 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists heading into the locker room. The scoring was balanced otherwise with Harris (11), Curry (9), Maxey (8), and Niang (8) all pitching in. A 63-53 halftime lead for the good guys.

Third quarter

  • Dallas came out in zone to start the second half and the Sixers apparently forgot what they did in the first half. Lots of ugly offense early in the third.
  • Doncic started getting his, but give Thybulle credit for making him work.
  • On top of the Sixers’ offense imploding, Maxey’s inability to contain Jalen Brunson hurt the Sixers on the other end. Both Brunson (17 points) and Doncic (19 points, nine assists) started to get to the paint with regularity, cutting the lead to 76-73 with just over four minutes left in the third.
  • Danny Green just getting scorched by Luka. This looks like it could get ugly.
  • What a disastrous quarter. The Sixers, who held a double-digit lead going into the half, found themselves down 85-78 going into the fourth. Dallas won the third 32-15. Just horrible execution against the zone gave Dallas life. The Sixers made six shots from the field and had six turnovers. Ugly.

Fourth quarter

  • Maxey draws a foul on a drive and then finishes another one over Powell. A nice little spurt to start the fourth makes it a one-point game and forces a Mavericks timeout.
  • A nice night for Georges Niang. He hit his third triple to put the Sixers back in front. He’s up to 13 points.
  • Not sure why Doc didn’t match Thybulle with Luka’s minutes. I get Thybulle is tough to play against a zone, but Doncic is just doing whatever the hell he wants against Green. Doncic up to 30 points and the Mavs are back up.
  • The Sixers look dead, even with Embiid back in. Just zero life. They’re getting picked apart by Doncic while continuing to look totally inept against the zone. Rivers does go back to Thybulle.
  • The Sixers scored 35 points in the second half. That’s it. The ineptitude against the zone was painful to watch. The Mavericks are an improved defensive team, but this felt like it had way more to do with the offensive execution by the Sixers. It’s possible the only thing that can thwart Embiid’s MVP campaign is the his team’s inability to handle a freaking zone. Brutal night.