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    Sixers get smoked in fourth quarter, fall to Mavericks

    Kyle Neubeck Avatar
    February 5, 2024

    The Sixers hung around for most of three quarters and then got bulldozed to open the fourth quarter, losing 118-102 to the Mavericks on Monday night.

    Here’s what I saw.

    The Good

    — At least once per appearance, I find myself thinking, “I wish Jaden Springer had any offensive utility.” Because when you look at his ability to completely smother guys on the other end, he could be a game-changing player with just one go-to skill on offense. Springer is a reliable catch-and-shoot jumper away from being one of the most important players on the team.

    Last week, we saw him put Jordan Clarkson in jail for the better part of a half in Utah, and he had a much tougher task on his hands against Dallas. Tasked with checking MVP candidate Luka Doncic, Springer came in and immediately gave his assignment the business, flustering Doncic as he tried to play his slo-mo style on the way to the rim.

    There are few, if any players around the league who can bother Doncic at all, because he has masterful control of his body, slithering through the paint and changing speeds to force you into silly fouls. Springer was able to find the holy grail that all defensive players search for, playing aggressive, turnover-forcing defense without exposing himself to foul trouble. For almost nine consecutive minutes to close out the first half, Springer blanketed Doncic, busting him up as a dribbler and forcing some uncertain passes from teammates toward Dallas’ offensive hub.

    He had a flash or two on offense, though he still doesn’t know what he doesn’t know there. Springer is prone to dribbling himself into trouble and doesn’t quite trust the outside shot enough, so it’s going to be a work in progress until that changes. But he absolutely must get regular minutes right now.

    — I would genuinely like to see Terquavion Smith at least get a chance to play a few real rotation minutes. Not for the memes, not because he makes shots in extended garbage time, but because they are so devoid of shooting that they owe it to themselves to try anything.

    Also, shout out Ricky Council IV, who plays hard as hell whenever he gets on the floor. Keep going, young man.

    The Bad

    — Tyrese Maxey looked like he was on his way to a banger in the opening minutes of this game, with No. 0 taking full advantage of Dallas’ lack of rim protection. The Mavericks came up empty on a few early trips, allowing Maxey to get downhill before the Mavs could get set. Add in a beautiful pull-up three, and he was up to a quick seven points before you could blink.

    You can’t blame “foul trouble” for derailing his night, because Nick Nurse allowed him to play extensive minutes even after Maxey picked up his third foul with over five minutes left in the first. Credit to the coach on that one — Doc Rivers likely would have pulled Maxey on the second early foul, and if he had three, you probably wouldn’t have seen him for the rest of the half.

    But when Maxey’s preferred options dried up, he did not show the ability to problem solve and take what the defense was giving him. Dallas did their best to show multiple bodies and wall him off from the paint, and Maxey kept trying to play route one basketball anyway. Maxey settled for far too many of the same exact shot — driving to his right, tightly contested, off of the glass as he faded out of bounds. You didn’t see him initiating contact as much as he should, and the end results were about what you’d expect, hitting the right side of the rim before Mavericks players vacuumed up the rebound.

    One thing that has struck me this season is Maxey’s inability to get cooking from the midrange. It seems strange when you consider his touch elsewhere, and more specifically because his runner and floater bag is deep. But the mechanics are a lot sloppier when he gets run off of the line and doesn’t get to the rim, with Maxey often fading away from the basket as he lets a midrange jumper go. That’s a project for another offseason, frankly, but it’s something to watch for as he sets up for a role as the No. 2 on a playoff team.

    In any case, it’s going to be hard for this group to win if he doesn’t have A-level stuff, and this wasn’t even a C-level game for Maxey.

    — Let’s be honest about what we’re watching — the Sixers do not have enough good shooters or enough good passers to be a good offensive team. For all the concern trolling that exists about Joel Embiid’s gargantuan usage, the roster is not set up to succeed in another way.

    Things should get better as the Sixers (presumably) get healthier, though even then, they have to work around some real problems. This is not a fast-thinking, fast-reacting team, so they struggle with some basic offensive principles, like how to beat a trap, what to do once the ball gets out of the initial ballhandler’s hands, or the value of a three-point shot vs. a two-point shot.

    Speaking of, if there’s one thing I hold Nick Nurse responsible for, it’s the team’s shot profile. Yes, it’s harder to generate threes without Embiid in the middle to draw doubles and swing it, but the discrepancy between their attempts vs. the opponent’s attempts gets ugly from night to night. They are not going to out-talent teams without Embiid, so they’re going to have to at least pretend to care about the math battle.

    — With Philadelphia in desperate need of shot creation, Tobias Harris can singlehandedly swing the effectiveness of the team for stretches at a time. With him, they can hunt weaknesses in the opponent and stave off runs. Without him, Tyrese Maxey has too much responsibility to carry on his own.

    This Dallas team is the perfect opponent for Harris to go to work against, filled with targets he can exploit with size or speed (and occasionally both). Philadelphia didn’t exactly dress up their plans, frequently looking for him in the mid-post or at the elbows, Harris waiting to receive the ball with a smaller man on his hip. And he was hyper-efficient to open this one up, starting 5/7 from the field in the first half on what felt like the same shot every time down. Get to your spot, shoot over the defender, repeat. If that had been all he did, the Sixers probably would have taken it, given the state of their roster at the moment.

    But the Mavericks didn’t want to let Harris attack Kyrie Irving all night, for obvious reasons, so they started shading extra help in his direction to stop Harris from getting to more favorable spots. Harris didn’t make any especially advanced reads or passes, but having a guy who can get to a spot, invite pressure, and hit the easy, open pass is still quite valuable.

    All of that being said…there is no way you can have one three in a basketball game in 2024 as a top-scoring option. Just should not be possible. Paul Reed shot the same amount of threes as Harris!

    — 19 points on 17 shots, the Kelly Oubre experience.

    The Ugly

    — I watch Patrick Beverley attack rebounds and just get mad at how rare his approach is. He is often the shortest guy on the floor, competing with guys with better hops and wingspan, and he goes and takes it away anyway. The Sixers have the personnel to be a better rebounding team if they all went after the ball the way Beverley does. And honestly, I’m not even sure why I’m mad about rebounding after this game, because the Sixers did a pretty good job of attacking the offensive glass, at least.

    Even still, rebounding ranks at or near the top of the list of Embiid-less lineup concerns for me. The big men who are left over to replace him certainly aren’t helping — Mo Bamba would end up pulling down double-digit rebounds, but I came away thinking far more about the money he left on the table. Maybe that’s harsh, but he spends so many possessions with his feet rooted in the ground and his hands just sort of suspended in the air, hoping the ball will get there without any additional effort. If I’m harsh on him, it’s because he’s capable of much more.

    (To be fair to Bamba, Paul Reed has a whole host of problems too. I continue to think Nurse needs to look at how his role as structured and reel him in, because it was one of the most productive things Doc Rivers did for him. When he is locked in on screening and rolling, he can be a positive. Right now, he’s freelancing and jump-shooting way too much, and he’s getting the results you’d probably expect.)

    Perhaps the effort-related miscues jump out because of how thin the margin for error is with this current group.

    — There are way too many KYP errors with this group. Doubling off of Kyrie Irving to try to double Maxi Kleber ranks as one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen someone do this year, and one of their defensively-focused vets committed that attrocity.

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