In the midst of a tough 12-game stretch against teams who have a winning record, the Philadelphia 76ers embarked on a mini four-game west coast trip that saw them take on the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors along with the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.
These four games, in particular, would be tough for the Sixers as they were without Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler at the beginning of the road trip in Denver. Despite losing to the Nuggets by 16, there was a couple of bright spots, including Corey Brewer, who scored 20 points and could be signed for the rest of the season.
However, after that loss, the Sixers won two-straight games in dominating fashion over the Lakers and Warriors. Second-year point guard Ben Simmons and Embiid played huge roles in both games, helping the team on both ends of the floor.
Finally, the Sixers ended the road trip with a 115-108 loss to the upstart Kings on Saturday night. Even though they split the four-game road trip (2-2), there was a lot to takeaways that Philly can use as a learning lesson to finish up their tough 12-game stretch before the All-Star break.
Here are just a few of those listed below:
1. Simmons proves why he was named an All-star
After an impressive rookie campaign, the 6-foot-10 point guard from Australia has kept up his tremendous play this season, leading to him being named an all-star.
In 52 games this season, Simmons is averaging almost a triple-double with 16.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 8.1 assists in 33.7 minutes per game. Along with his offense, Simmons’ defense has stayed up to par as he is sporting a DRtg (defensive rating) of 107.
Against the Warriors on Thursday night, Simmons did an excellent job on both sides of the floor, showing why he was named to the all-star team. The second-year point guard was able to get the basket with ease and played with unfathomable aggression.
However, when he wasn’t scoring in the points, Simmons was still dishing out assists, but also sticking to Warriors’ superstar point guard Stephen Curry like glue.
In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, the 22-year-old point guard came up with a huge block on Curry, after the former two-time MVP got away from him for a split second.
2. Improved bench play
One of the Sixers’ biggest issues this season has been their inconsistent bench play. Some games their bench shows up, while other times they can barely squeeze any points out of them.
Thankfully, for the first three games of their road trip, the bench stepped up when the starters needed a rest. As I previously mentioned Brewer had a good game against the Nuggets but has quietly tailed off just a little bit on the offensive end.
However, Landry Shamet, Jonah Bolden, Mike Muscala and Shake Milton to an extent have provided a spark in spurts. Going back to Thursday night’s game against Golden State, the Sixers’ bench outscored the Warriors’ bench, 31-16.
In addition to the offensive outburst, the bench also played good defense with Bolden leading the way with a DRtg of 87 and an insane defensive rebounding percentage of 32.2.
A couple of days earlier against the Lakers, the Sixers’ bench could not keep with Los Angeles’ second unit, getting outscored, 41-32.
But Muscala showed up with a solid performance consisting of 17 points (6-13 FG, 3-6 3pt) and seven rebounds. If the Sixers do not make any huge moves at the trade deadline, they will need Muscala and others to continue to step up.
3. Is Butler getting his groove back?
Even though he missed the first game of this road trip and did not have the best of games against the Warriors, Butler still did the little things to help his team out.
The star two-way guard struggled to score points against Golden State but did not quit on defense, contesting every shot Kevin Durant threw up.
Then on Saturday night against the Kings, Butler found his groove again, scoring 29 points (11-18 FG, 4-8 3 pt), while contributing seven assists, four rebounds, and two steals.
It was great to see the veteran guard round into shape because over the last few weeks, some fans have grown weary of him and are beginning to wonder if the Sixers made the right decision to acquire him. Head coach Brett Brown is trying to figure out what works not only for the team but Butler as well.
Therefore, we should expect to see Butler continue to play some minutes at point guard, which will allow him to create opportunities for himself and ultimately get others involved.