The Philadelphia 76ers finally get to return back home and their flight back should feel pretty sweet. The team wrapped up its six-road road trip Thursday with a 114-94 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Sixers advance to 33-15 after a 4-2 trip.
Shake Milton scored a game-high 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting (five for seven from three-point range), while Dwight Howard had 18 points and 15 rebounds. Seth Curry had 19 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Ben Simmons posted only five points on two-for-11 shooting, though he had 13 rebounds, and five assists.
Curry and Love carry early
The Cavs made their first five field goals, three of them were via Kevin Love. This was only the fifth game of the season for Love, who’d been sidelined by right calf soreness. Fortunately for the Sixers, he cooled off, scoring 13 points on four-for-10 shooting in 21 minutes.
Curry was the Sixers’ best offensive player in the first quarter and ensured Love’s flurry didn’t put the team in a terrible position. He sunk three early three-pointers and also notched two assists, including one where he found Simmons for an and-one layup off of a side pick-and-roll. Another Curry-Simmons pick-and-roll led to a tic-tac-toe Sixers passing sequence and a layup for Mike Scott.
Though Curry didn’t stay in the zone all game, it was encouraging that he kept firing jumpers instead of pump faking, dipping inside of the arc and ultimately squandering opportunities to do what he does best.
Danny Green was the only other Sixers starter to make a three, hitting threes from long-range shots in the third quarter.
Here are three takeaways:
Green speaks on Simmons
It’s been clear that lineups with Simmons and Dwight Howard don’t typically go well. After Howard’s start Tuesday in Denver, head coach Doc Rivers turned back to Scott as a starter and minimized the time Howard and Simmons played together. Danny Green noted the challenges playing with Howard presents for Simmons in an analysis of Simmon’s offensive performance since the All-Star break.
“Him just figuring it out, picking his spots, especially with guys in and out of who he’s playing with,” Green said after shootaround Thursday. “When teams are double teaming and we have him and Dwight on the floor, him trying to figure out the spacing has been tough. Dwight’s in the (dunker spot). He’s usually used to going to the dunker, so he has to find space and cut from where he’s at to be able to be that outlet when they’re doubling Tobias (Harris). Also, I think just taking his time and not making too many fast, quick-speed decisions — learning how to shift gears.
“He’s very good at getting to the basket strong with his speed, but he’s got to let us have a chance to catch up with him, let the defense flatten out sometimes, and just taking his time. For the most part, the only thing is he’s got to be a little more patient with himself and with the offense and not turn the ball over — that’s the only thing. Other than that, he’s been great at attacking and getting to the rim and putting us in sets. Hopefully he keeps that up but just fixes taking his time, being patient and not turning the ball over.”
Simmons failed to convert good looks against Cleveland. His overall approach wasn’t terrible in the way his shooting numbers show, and the Sixers will likely see it as a fluky night.
Bench contributes big time
Tyrese Maxey stayed in the Sixers’ rotation posting six points on two-for-eight shooting. Furkan Korkmaz also shot two-for-eight from the floor. Neither player seems likely to feature for the Sixers in the playoffs unless injuries or foul trouble show. Korkmaz hasn’t helped his case during Embiid’s absence.
The good news for the Sixers is that Milton was efficient, while Howard piled up points and rebounds off the bench. A one-handed put-back slam off of an attempted Matisse Thybulle floater was the highlight of Howard’s night.
Milton’s minutes with George Hill will be worth watching once Hill is healthy. Maybe Hill can relieve some of the offensive load on Milton, increasing his opportunities to take open catch-and-shoot threes and allowing him to play more off the ball in general.
Milton certainly had no trouble leading the Sixers’ second unit in Cleveland, though. He’s appeared very comfortable all season creating and making mid-range shots in isolation and pick-and-roll situations. Before Thursday’s game, however, he was shooting 30.6% from three-point range after recording a 43% mark last season. The Sixers would love it if that percentage keeps creeping upwards.
Hill will join the Sixers in Philadelphia this weekend. There’s no timeline yet for his return from right thumb surgery.
Joel Embiid (left knee bone bruise) is expected to return this weekend. The Sixers, who have gone 7-3 since his injury, will host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday.