The Charlotte Hornets were perhaps the ideal matchup for a Sixers team that had struggled of late. Returning home from a west coast road trip where they finished with a 1-3 record, the Sixers met a young Hornets team on the second night of a back-to-back. Charlotte is younger, smaller, and less experienced than the 76ers.
The normal expectation is that a team on the second night of a back-to-back will start out hot only to fade down the stretch. The Sixers have banked on a bully ball style that is intended to wear opponents down. Add the extra motivation of a team with championship aspirations having lost three straight, and you have to expect some pent up frustration. On the surface, and by all accounts, this should have been an easy night for Philadelphia.
But as the first half closed, the Hornets were riding 17 points by Cody Zeller to a 58-53 lead. Not the easy night you would hope.
Packed house full of fans who actually show up on time. Raul Neto will replace injured Ben Simmons in the starting lineup. pic.twitter.com/JFmDJr8siv— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) November 10, 2019
Ben Simmons remained sidelined with a grade 1 AC Sprain. The Hornets do have some talent at the guard position, and Trey Burke, buried on the bench for the early part of the season, was called on to play first quarter minutes. Raul Neto got the start for a Sixers team that had entered the season with a plan A that did not factor either player to play a significant role.
Neto was solid in early action. He and the Sixers were able to reliably feed Embiid in the deep post in his first shift. Burke, however, struggled to recognize opportunities for timely feeds inside. In the second quarter, though, the Sixers began to get out in transition and Burke ran the break effectively, feeding James Ennis for fast break dunks on back-to-back possessions.
Squad Goals: Hornets
Hornets head coach James Borrego spoke prior to the game about limiting the 76ers’ rebounds and free throws. Staying out of foul trouble while keeping the Sixers off the board were both indicative of the challenge a smaller team faces against the massive Sixers. For much of the first half, rebounds were lopsided with the Sixers dominating on the glass.
During training camp, Furkan Korkmaz consistently worked with player development coaches after each practice. He worked daily on one thing of note, playing through contact. Coaches would bump him, push him, and generally force him to fight to get to his spots. The physicality of the NBA is an adjustment for many young players, but Korkmaz especially has struggled early in his career.
But thus far in 2019/20, the results have been much improved. Korkmaz is enjoying career highs in three point shooting (47%) and true shooting (64%), while playing an improved defense. “I am growing a bomber,” Brett Brown said about Korkmaz, who has played well enough defensively to gain the trust of his coach. This has resulted in an uptick in playing time to 20 minutes per game. This all puts him squarely in the team’s rotation. On Sunday evening, Korkmaz did something that showed his progress, finishing a layup through contact in transition. This is something you simply wouldn’t have seen earlier in his career.
An Unlikely Return
Korkmaz was very close to not returning to the Sixers this offseason, and he had effectively asked for a trade last winter due to lack of playing time. With the Sixers struggling mightily to stretch the floor given their smash-mouth offensive attack, Korkmaz’ emergence has come not a moment too soon.
After a solid performance at FIBA World Cup, Korkmaz signed a two-year contract at the veteran’s minimum. This contract has a team option for year two and suddenly looks like a fantastic decision by the Sixers’ front office.
“he’s playing with confidence, you know we talked about trying to grow a bomber. he makes a shot in Portland. I think his confidence is at an all time high, and it should be. And I think, as I said earlier, is his defense is the thing that I’m most happy with. he’s actually sitting in a stance.” – SIXERS Head Coach Brett Brown
As if on cue, the Hornets showed signs of fatigue in the second half. After exploding for 34 points in the second quarter to take a halftime lead, they were outscored 35-23 in the third quarter. This is primarily due to a rebounding deficit that had fluctuated wildly all game.
It's almost as simple as this, when the Sixers dominate the glass, they take big leads.— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) November 11, 2019
Rebounding margin had shrunk to just +7 at the half.
Late in the third they have opened up a 36-22 rebounding advantage.
Borrego pointed to this as a key prior to the game.
And as the game entered its closing chapter, the Hornets chances predictably faded. The shots began to fall short. The turnovers mounted. The Sixers were relentless and began to outmuscle and out-hustle the younger team. The Sixers led by as many as 19 before a late rally in garbage time settled the teams to a final score of 114-106. Scoring was balanced with six players in double figures but none over 20 points. The final rebounding differential was +18. The Sixers advance to 6-3 on the season and will face Cleveland on Tuesday 11/12.