The Sixers (46-30) hosted the Charlotte Hornets (40-37) on Saturday afternoon. Philadelphia planned to break a 3-game losing streak. Charlotte intended to build on a victory over the Knicks on Wednesday. The Sixers hit 21 threes to bludgeon the Hornets, 144-114.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Hornets were without the services of James Bouknight, who is on assignment with Charlotte’s G-League affiliate.
Kai Jones and Two-Way contractors Arnoldas Kulboka, Scottie Lewis, and JT Thor were also on assignments with Charlotte’s G-League affiliate and were unavailable.
James Borrego started LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, and Mason Plumlee.
The Sixers were without Charles Bassey, Jaden Springer, and Two-Way contractors Charlie Brown Jr. and Myles Powell, all of whom were on G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats.
Doc Rivers started James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.
After the offense slowed to a dead halt in the hideous loss to Detroit on Thursday, the Sixers approached Charlotte much differently. The James Harden isolations were totally cut out of the picture. Instead, Philly hunted the interior quite well. Harden and Joel Embiid pick-and-rolled their way into size mismatches or free throws for Embiid. And when there was nothing going in that regard, both players pressured Charlotte’s perimeter with long passes to the weak side of the floor.
The Sixers got excellent looks at three-point shots out of those swing passes. Tobias Harris hit three triples off swing passes. Danny Green knocked one in to stretch Charlotte’s defense in the first quarter.
Speaking of Tobias Harris, Philadelphia’s offense is going to hurt you if the version of him that has showed up recently is there come playoff time. He’s starting to show consistent confidence from beyond the arc. Harris is letting it fly off the catch or utilizing jab-steps to create space before firing.
He’s starting to make his money from the corners, punching defenses in the gut when they pinch the lane from the weak side of the floor. Harris is also growing as a shooter above the break early in plays. He likes to engage that trigger in transition or off the first or second pass when the defense is in rotation in the half-court.
He’s also begun to re-discover himself as a key cog after much time relegated to specialist duties. With Harden and Embiid on the bench, Harris was comfortable catching high and lowering himself into the post by backing his defender down. He hit a pair of contested faders going towards the baseline and the middle of the lane out of the post to help stabilize Philadelphia in those minutes without their two featured guys.
The Sixers blew the doors open early in the third quarter on the backs of Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. The latter gave the Hornets headaches with his level of activity. Thybulle made defensive plays falling out of bounds to save or create possessions for the Sixers. And when he wasn’t doing that, he got his arms involved in congested lanes to poke the ball away from Charlotte and create run-outs. That was where his partner in crime took over. Maxey either vacuumed up the loose ball himself and was off to the races or leaked ahead for a teammate, who quarterbacked the ball up the court for a Maxey touchdown. Philadelphia bludgeoned Charlotte, 45-27, in the third period.
Philadelphia put the game away with three-point shooting. The Sixers were clearing multiple passes before firing away on their half-court possessions. Swing-swing plays forced Charlotte into rotation. The Sixers were getting target practice on skip passes. One of the small things this team does well, as a whole, is firing off accurate passes from below the basket to the weak-side corner. From guards to bigs, they all can do it.
The Sixers did a very poor job of tracking Terry Rozier’s off-ball movements in the first quarter. There was a miscommunication on a flare screen that caused some panic for Matisse Thybulle. He fouled Rozier on a three-point attempt trying to recover on the close-out. Just a possession later, the Sixers lost Rozier on a swing-swing play in which Charlotte got strong dribble penetration and then rifled a pass to the weak-side corner for a wide-open look that Scary Terry missed.
Fouling a three-point shooter and forfeiting a wide-open look isn’t a macro-level problem, in a vacuum. But, the way in which Charlotte got Rozier open is problematic. The slightest deviation from standard screening actions breeds miscommunication for Philadelphia’s defense. More problematic than some communicatory issues that can be patched up in practice, the Sixers don’t have athletes capable of keeping the ball in front on dribble penetration. That’s something that cannot be fixed this season. And the only thing you can do for now is hope your strengths outweigh that weakness.
DeAndre Jordan’s decision-making and positioning at the rim hurt the Sixers in the first half of this game. He misstepped the line between ball-handler and roller out of a pick-and-roll and gave up the lob. He also left the paint early in one possession. That empowered Charlotte to cut backdoor for a finish at the basket. His teammate is equally liable in that latter instance, given that he has to square himself to prevent the backdoor cut.
But, the troubling instance is that he misstepped the line in pick-and-roll coverage. Obviously, you forfeit the lob. But, you also force a smaller teammate to rotate in help at the last second to cover your tracks. And when a smaller defender makes late contact on a bigger dunker, it’s usually a foul. Jordan’s hands seem to slowly be getting better on lobs. But, that didn’t stop him from losing control of passes in the dunker spot or contested rebounds.
In fact, live-ball turnovers on poke-aways killed the Sixers in the first half. The only reason they weren’t laughing to the bank by halftime was sloppiness in the open court. Charlotte deserves credit for getting its youthful size to buy into heavy gambling on defense. But, the Sixers just did not take care of the ball in the first half. Whether it was Harden’s long passes getting intercepted or passing lane activity, the Sixers allowed the Hornets to get out on the run. And that’s always a disaster for this team.
Philadelphia committed 12 turnovers in the first half. They average a little over 11 per game on the season. The turnovers aren’t a major concern given that they’ve been near the top of the league at taking care of the ball this season. But, do yourselves a favor and limit the live-ball turnovers because you ain’t outrunning anyone.
The Sixers (47-30) will visit the Cleveland Cavaliers (42-35) on Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 PM, Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.