The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The season is tentatively set to return on July 31 and NBA.com's writers are taking an updated look at each of the league's 30 teams.
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Record: 39-26, No. 6 in Eastern Conference
Season summary: At the time the season went on hiatus, the Philadelphia 76ers were not in a good spot. They were in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, having lost five of their 10 games since the All-Star break. Joel Embiid had just returned from a five-game absence, but Ben Simmons had missed all but five minutes of those 10 post-break games with a back injury, and it was not clear when (or if) he'd return. It was beginning to feel like a lost season in Philly, the first step backward since "The Process" began to bear fruit. Al Horford has had a disappointing first 60 games after signing a four-year contract, and the Sixers have been a bad road team, going 10-24 and getting outscored by 5.4 points per 100 possessions away from the Wells Fargo Center. The ceiling remains high and the Sixers can contend for a championship. But it's also one that might be looking at a first-round playoff exit.
Breakout player: Third-year wing Furkan Korkmaz played just 36 minutes in the 2019 playoffs, but at the start of this season, Brett Brown expressed hope that he could "grow a bomber" out of Korkmaz. "Somebody's got to emerge where they're lightning in a bottle," Brown said, "they can come in and go bam, bam, bam, and make a 3. Why not Furk?" Korkmaz has had his ups and downs and is the poster boy for the Sixers' home-road discrepancy; The difference between his effective field goal percentage at home (62.9%) and on the road (49.3%) is the fourth biggest among 209 players with at least 150 field goal attempts both at home and on the road.
But overall, Korkmaz has shot 43.4% on catch-and-shoot 3s, the eighth-best mark among 67 players who have attempted at least 200. He's had some big performances, including 16 points in the Sixers' Christmas Day win over Milwaukee and the two highest scoring nights of his career (34 and 31 points) in consecutive wins in early February. He also hit a game-winning 3 in Portland on Nov. 2.
Statement win: The Sixers' Christmas Day win over the Bucks was a little bit fluky in that Philly tied a franchise record with 21 3-pointers. On Jan. 25 -- and playing without Joel Embiid -- the Sixers got a less-fluky win over the Lakers. The Sixers took control with a 23-5 run in the first quarter and built a 22-point lead with a 15-2 start to the third. The Lakers got back to within five with a little more than five minutes left in the fourth, but scored just once on their final eight possessions and Al Horford put the game away with three straight jumpers.
The Lakers finished with just 91 points on 101 possessions, their worst offensive performance of the season. LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 60 points on 55% shooting, but the eight other Lakers who played combined for just 31 points, shooting 13-for-36, including 3-for-20 from 3-point range. Tobias Harris led the Sixers with 29 points, while Simmons added 28 points (on 12-for-15 shooting), 10 rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Against the other 12 teams that went into the hiatus with winning records, the Sixers are 11-2 at home and 1-16 on the road.
Most exciting game: The Pacers and Sixers went into the season hiatus tied at 39-26, with the Pacers holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. All three games the teams played were won by the home team and the teams were set to play in Philly three days after 2019-20 went on hiatus. The first meeting (the one in Philly on Nov. 30) was the best of the three. The Pacers erased a 15-point, second-quarter deficit, led by one, and had the ball with less than 30 seconds to go. T.J. Warren isolated on Tobias Harris and drove into the paint.
Simmons helped off Malcolm Brogdon, and when Warren kicked the ball out to Brogdon, Simmons retreated and intercepted the pass. He went the other way and found a trailing Harris for a dunk that put the Sixers up one with 9.9 seconds left. The Pacers called timeout, the Sixers switched everything, and Simmons got his hands on Jeremy Lamb's inbounds pass to Myles Turner, and saved the ball. After the Sixers went up three, Simmons picked up his third steal in less than 15 seconds, intercepting the Pacers' long inbounds pass with two seconds left to seal the win.
Memorable moments: The Sixers' first home loss almost came at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who they trailed by five points late in the fourth quarter on Nov. 12. On one end of the floor, the Sixers held the Cavs scoreless on their final five possessions. On the other end, Harris followed up a Josh Richardson miss and drained a jumper to put the Sixers within one with less than two minutes left. Two possessions later, Ben Simmons won a jump ball, the Sixers called timeout, and then executed a drawn up play to perfection, with Embiid setting a ball screen for Richardson and a pin-down for Harris, and then sealing Larry Nance Jr. Harris then fed Embiid for the game-winning dunk. ... Playing without Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers seemingly had no chance on the road against the Clippers on March 1. But then Shake Milton shot 10-for-11 in the first half, scoring inside and out, and with a ridiculous fast-break finish over Patrick Beverley. Trailing by two at the half, the Clippers took control with a 38-24 third quarter. But Milton and the Sixers got back to within four with less than three minutes to go. LA escaped with a win, but in in just his 48th career game, Milton finished with 39 points, shooting 7-for-9 from 3-point range. It was a coming out party that, maybe, had raised the Sixers' ceiling.
Early in a game at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 20, the Knicks went to a zone when the Sixers were inbounding the ball on the sideline. Philly got the ball to Korkmaz at the top of the arc, with Simmons spaced in the right corner, with nobody near him. Horford set a ball screen for Korkmaz, but a second defender was right there, so Korkmaz threw a bounce pass to a wide-open Simmons. He didn't hesitate, and drained a right-corner three over Mitchell Robinson. It was the first made 3 of Simmons' career, but it wasn't exactly the opening of the floodgates. He's made just one other this season, and his only 3-point attempt in his last 31 games was a runner to beat the buzzer at the end of a quarter.
Team MVP: It's often the flaw in Simmons' game that gets the most attention. But everything else he does far outweighs his inability (and/or unwillingness) to shoot from the outside. Simmons is one of four players averaging at least 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game. He's only made two 3-pointers himself, but with the pressure he's put on opposing defenses, with his vision, and with his passing skills, Simmons leads the league with 221 assists on 3s (49% of the 3-pointers that his teammates have made while he's been on the floor.
On the other end, Simmons leads the league with 2.1 steals per game and ranks third with 4.0 deflections per game. As we saw in the win over Indiana noted above, Simmons has found ways to make an impact down the stretch of close games. Embiid has been the bigger difference maker for the Sixers and is the player that raises the Sixers' ceiling to that of a title contender. But Simmons raises the floor and has played 600 more minutes than his fellow All-Star.
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