Game Preview | Covington's Strong Showing Carries Individual, Collective Value

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

For several reasons, it was nice to see Robert Covington breakout in Charlotte.

A vital component of the 76ers’ core, the fifth-year swingman with a proven track record for solid shooting was overdue for a game the likes of which he had Tuesday.

Covington connected on 7 of 11 field goal attempts, and went 5 for 9 from 3-point land, en route to a 22-point night. It was his first 20-point game, and largest scoring output overall, since a 25-point showing December 2nd versus the Detroit Pistons. 

While Covington’s numbers looked great on paper in the aftermath of Tuesday’s win, his approach on the court was just as encouraging. He acted decisively, and seemed confident.

When quality opportunities opened up behind the arc, Covington fired away with a quick, fluid, and sure release. Other times, in match-ups with the smaller Kemba Walker, he wasn’t afraid to put the ball on the floor, and use his size to drive to the hoop.

At the end of the evening, Covington earned the honor of post-game bell-ringer, a nod the Sixers typically bestow to the player who, in a win, has the greatest impact on the team, whether through tangible contributions, spirit, or a combination of both. 

Tuesday, Covington stood out on each front. Even more, his defense on Walker, the Hornets’ potent, two-time All-Star point guard, was superb.  

“I was just prepared,” said Covington. “My teammates just found me open spots, and I was able to knock down open shots.”

That Covington’s productive outing Tuesday carried positive implications on an individual level was obvious. Brett Brown, however, chose to analyze the performance in the collective sense.

What stood out most to Brown wasn’t necessarily the volume of points that Covington scored. It was that, with a sharp shooting display, Covington enabled the Sixers to balance the floor even better than they usually do, a critical dynamic with a weapon like Joel Embiid lurking inside.

“When Cov is scoring, it does sure help,” Brown said Tuesday, “but what really helps is when you’re able to punish the double teams on Joel with a lethal 3-point line. It stings, it’s deflating. When [we] play kick-out 3-ball, it gets a little deflating, I hope, if [opposing teams] give Joel that type of attention.”

With Covington dialed in from deep Tuesday, the Sixers’ 3-point attack became that much harder to contain. Not only was there Covington to account for, but the always dangerous JJ Redick, increasingly lights out Dario Saric, and typically steady Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova as well.

Forced to extend its defense, Charlotte subsequently left itself exposed to other threats, such, as for instance, the creation of wider driving lanes. As the Sixers have demonstrated throughout the season, and again on Tuesday, they boast a particularly punishing rookie who thrives in space.

“It opens the floor a whole lot,” Covington said Tuesday, when asked about the influence of his 3-point shooting. “It gives JoJo a lot more room to play, and Ben [Simmons] to slash. Dario gets a lot of open looks, so teams will play me differently. It actually opens up more shots for us as a unit.”

Tuesday’s convincing 128-114 victory over Charlotte, as Covington put it, offered a “prime example.” The Sixers cranked out their second-highest point total of the season, and manufactured their highest shooting percentage in a game, 57.5 percent, in over eight years.

“We were moving the ball really well,” said Covington. “That trickled into how we played, and it ramped us up on defense as well.”

Through it all, there was Covington, with form recaptured, stirring the drink. It was a promising, welcomed sight.

Uber Keys to the Game:

The Sixers and Miami Heat (34-31) will take the floor Tuesday (7:30 PM EST; NBCSP, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network) separated by 2.0 games in the standings. The Sixers are holding down sixth-place in the Eastern Conference, while Miami is tied for seventh. The Sixers have claimed two of the three prior meetings between the clubs, and, with a victory the finale of the season series, could secure an important tiebreaker for playoff seeding.

Buck the Trend: So far, the home team has prevailed in each of this season’s three clashes between the Sixers and Miami. The Sixers earned victories of 103-97 and 104-102 at The Center on February 2nd and February 14th, respectively. The Heat, on the other hand, edged the Sixers 102-101 just a week ago, on February 27th.

Don’t Let Flash Loose: The lasting impression from last Tuesday’s hard-fought battle at American Airlines Arena? Dwyane Wade jumping in the Wayback Machine, and taking over the fourth quarter. He posted 15 of his season-best 27 points in the frame, and sunk the game-winner with 5.9 seconds to go. 

Battle of the Bigs: Joel Embiid has admitted to not being thrilled with his level of play as of late, but in two head-to-head confrontations with Miami 7-footer Hassan Whiteside, he’s had success. Embiid has averaged 23.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.8 blocks against Whiteside. Whiteside has posted 14.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, and 1.7 blocks versus Embiid.  

Follow Along:

Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports Philadelphia app

Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network