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    Sixers lay egg in Portland, drop to 0-3 on road trip

    Kyle Neubeck Avatar
    January 30, 2024
    Nick Nurse suffering a humiliating loss in Portland.

    The Sixers got beat up and humiliated by a bad Portland Trailblazers team on Monday, falling 130-104 in a game that wasn’t close for most of the second half.

    Here’s what I saw.

    The Good

    — My favorite play of Mo Bamba’s season took place in the second quarter of Monday’s game. On a run out for the Blazers in transition, Jerami Grant found himself on the left wing with a catch-and-shoot opportunity. Flying into his face was Bamba, who ran hard enough to produce a good contest and force a Grant miss.

    Bamba’s activity, as Nick Nurse alluded to a few weeks back, is the difference between a guy with a bunch of tools and a player who can actually make an impact on games. After a short layoff, Bamba returned to the rotation with excellent spirit on both ends, turning away multiple Portland drivers at the rim while embracing chances to step out of his comfort zone.

    Good job, Mo.

    — For the first few weeks of this season, a different option at backup point felt like a necessity for this team. Patrick Beverley’s play in the time since then has put that conversation to rest, at least for me. He was one of the standouts of their first half, otherwise known as the only watchable half of the game.

    Look at this, a dunk in his mid-30s!

    That’s about all the positivity I can muster.

    The Bad

    — It would be unfair to crush Tobias Harris for stinking it up in his first game coming off of an illness, so we won’t do that. He had a rough night shooting the basketball, even as the Sixers tried their best to force-feed him touches and shots with designed plays. Harris just didn’t have it, and so it goes.

    Here’s where I’d go instead. Even a compromised version of your third-best player on a hopeful contender should be able to materially change the flow of the game. Harris has had some decent games creating for others this season, but even an A-version of Harris is going to give you 70-80 percent of his value via hunting his own shot. With Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey on the shelf, this should be a showcase of everything Harris can do. Instead, it mostly seemed like a reminder of why he has struggled to be an adequate third option in important games.

    The pendulum has gone back and forth this season depending on whether Joel Embiid is available, but in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe this team can settle for just role players, even high-level role players if they really want to go for it this season. Joel Embiid’s health and playoff history combined with Maxey’s inexperience as the lead perimeter guy are real question marks, which would feel less weighty if they had someone I trusted to take the burden off of them.

    Is that player you trust available on the trade market right now? Probably not, no. So Philadelphia is between a rock and a hard place. But while I don’t really care about results in Embiid-less games — they’re going nowhere without him — I have seen enough of the depth this season to feel they need a needle-moving deal in the next 10 days.

    — As it turns out, having your best volume three-point shooters unavailable to play is bad. This is the hard-hitting analysis you come to me for, I know.

    The Sixers’ three-point volume has not been where it should be for a lot of this season, but you could chalk much of that up to Joel Embiid’s midrange-heavy game, which is certainly justified by his shooting splits. Without the big guy available to soak up touches and score, however, the team becomes much more reliant on spot-up shooting. Self-creation skills are in short supply, so Philly basically has to live or die by the three.

    Despite doing most things right — the Sixers played and ran hard, attacked the glass, and got contributions from their bench — Philly found themselves down at halftime in Portland due to one stat. 3/18 from downtown is as rough to look at in the box score as it was to watch play out.

    You can’t pinpoint the issue to one player or type of shot. Kelly Oubre took a couple of ill-advised jumpers with hands in his face, basically gifting the Blazers defensive rebounds, so those ranked among the more frustrating misses. But the Sixers got a ton of quality looks for the likes of Beverley, Batum, and Harris, failing to capitalize on the vast majority of them. On one possession late in the first half, the Sixers missed three threes on a single possession, with all of their hard work on the offensive glass washed away by crappy touch.

    — Paul Reed had some issues fighting teammates for rebounds in the past, most notably when Georges Niang blew up at him after a second occurrence of it last season. However, Kelly Oubre is giving him a run for his money as a clueless rebounder, and the two men combined for a howler early in the third quarter, punctuating a Blazers run with a blown rebound that Portland turned into two points.

    On the surface, it seems silly to kill Oubre for his contributions to this game, as he was one of their only sources of offense all night. And he deserves his praise for that piece of the game because his self-creation and driving were the only things propping them up for stretches of this one. But it’s hard to shake the pure volume of head-scratchers he has had in recent weeks, constant reminders of why he was a minimum contract signing in the first place.

    A perfect summary of the Kelly Oubre experience — in the 2-for-1 situation at the end of the third quarter, Oubre’s crappy pull-up three attempt clanged off of the rim with exactly 24 seconds left in the quarter, giving Portland the ability to run the quarter clock down and hold for the final possession. Awe-inspiring shit.

    — KJ Martin has yet to meet a silly foul he can’t commit. If his man gets thrown the ball inside the arc, a bad reach-in, grab, or push is coming.

    While we’re on the subject, the Sixers have too many low basketball IQ players on this team in general. Nic Batum had a bad game once again on Monday, but he stands out from the pack for at least bringing coherent thought to the floor every night.

    — DeAndre Ayton must have scored on 4-5 cuts for lobs in this game, with no one close to him on all of those finishes. You would think the first three easy dunks would have set off some alarm bells. Nope!

    The Ugly

    — The second half of this game was so bad that Scoot Henderson basically handed Danuel House Jr. a turnover and he dropped it out of bounds immediately. Can’t even make that stuff up.

    — I appreciate the selections of Portland’s in-arena DJ. Don’t hear Scarface or EPMD too often during games.

    — I am happy I do not have to watch Matisse Thybulle anymore and argue with people who believe he’s more than what he is.

    — Bang up job by NBC to completely lose the feed during the third quarter, and then have audio issues plaguing the broadcast until the end. Kate and Alaa went back and forth between sounding like digitized aliens to two weatherpeople broadcasting near landfall for a hurricane.

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