Game Recap: Kings 114, Sixers 110
The 76ers’ (8-45) final game before the NBA All-Star break followed a similar script to the contest that preceded it.
As was the case Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Sixers got off to a promising start against a more experienced foe. But, as was also the case in Monday’s six-point overtime defeat, the Sixers again found themselves unable to successfully reach the finish line. Instead of Los Angeles on Wednesday, it was Sacramento (22-31) that managed to battle back against the Sixers, posting a 114-110 victory.
The Sixers relied on the inside-out combination of Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington to build up a 15-point, 63-48, halftime lead. Okafor had delivered 18 of his 26 points by intermission, while Covington - one of the Sixers’ top outside threats - went into the break with 14 points of his own. The Sixers’ 63 points represented their second-highest first half total of the season.
The Sixers sustained their double-digit margin through the third period, carrying an 87-75 edge into the fourth quarter. In the final frame, Sacramento reserve guard Darren Collison helped kickstart a decisive late-game push. He netted twenty-one of his season-best 25 points over the last 12 minutes of regulation, as the Kings outscored the Sixers 39-23 during that stretch.
Throughout the evening, Okafor went toe-to-toe with DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento’s All-Star power forward / center. Both delivered impact performances. On top of his career-high tying scoring output, Okafor also contributed with 10 rebounds, giving him a double-double for the second time in three games. He has now tallied 11 such performances this year. Cousins generated a double-double as well, his 31st, with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
Covington established new career-highs with 29 points (9-16 fg) and seven three-pointers. Nik Stauskas enjoyed an effective showing versus the team that drafted him eighth overall in 2014. He drained four of his five three-point attempts, finishing with 16 points.
Brett Brown Said - On the role that the Sixers’ fourth quarter ball movement played in the team’s 114-110 loss to the Sacramento Kings:
“We talk about it all the time. We get in this frozen mode where we need more movement; we need it to go through hands more. At times, we did. I thought [Wednesday] we moved it better, but still was not to the level that we wanted.”
The big man battle between Jahlil Okafor and DeMarcus Cousins didn’t disappoint. Late in Wednesday’s second quarter, Okafor got the best of Cousins on one end of the floor, then beat the Kings again on the other side of the court.
In the fourth quarter, the Sixers were doing their best to keep the reinvigorated Kings at bay. Ball movement and aggressive rebounding helped the cause in the early stages of the final frame, as described by Tom McGinnis on the Sixers Radio Network (click to listen).
Notes and Quotes:
If you’re a loyal follower of the Sixers, you probably are familiar with Brett Brown’s philosophy on separating each season into three parts. The middle third, as Brown defines it, occurs from the Christmas holiday up until the NBA All-Star break. The Sixers’ final appearance before the league’s annual February hiatus was Wednesday night against the Kings, which gave Brown an opportunity to reflect on the state of his squad.
“None of us here could, I don’t think, look at our team, and not be so convinced we’re a lot different than we were in early December,” Brown said. “I think we’re a lot different than we were on December 26th, even with the first arrival of Ish [Smith].”
Since the Sixers acquired Smith on December 24th via a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, they’ve earned seven of their eight total victories. Brown, however, was quick to point out that in addition to Smith, several of his younger, less experienced players have made progress.
“You see Jerami Grant blossoming right before everybody’s eyes,” said Brown. “You see Nerlens [Noel] and Jahlil [Okafor] doing a little bit better playing together. That pairing I think is growing. I think Nik [Stauskas] and Robert [Covington] are starting to come of age with that two-way commitment. All over the place I feel like there’s certainly growth.”
In addition to individual skill development, Brown has been pleased with the Sixers’ collective strides.
“I think their attitude is ‘A-plus’,” Brown said. “ I think their teammate-ship is ‘A-plus.’ I think there’s a physical side and a toughness that is an ‘A.’ I think our defense is a ‘B,’ ‘B-plus’ that can move up even further. I think the things that we said we’re going to do, we’re starting to do. Defense, their body, team, sharing the ball, individual improvement, all over the place. I can’t see how we can’t step back and agree with some of the things I’ve just said.”
On the heels of two defeats that both came by single-digits, though, Brown acknowledged that he would like to see the Sixers deliver better results in high-pressure, late-game situations.
If judging strictly by the following measurables, Jahlil Okafor and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins have a lot in common. Both are listed at 6’11,” and weigh between 270 and 275 pounds. When it comes to on-court characteristics, Kings head coach George Karl, who’s been involved with nearly 2,000 regular season NBA games, believes the two big men possess similar qualities as well.
“I think that’s a good comparison,” said Karl, fifth on the league’s all-time wins list, following his club’s shootaround Wednesday morning. “I think Okafor has very good footwork, has, for [lack of] a better phrase, small man skills in a big man’s body, and obviously he’s having statistically a very strong season. I think every week or every 10 games it seems like he’s becoming more influential and more responsible.”
One of the main disparities between Okafor and Cousins is reflected by their birth certificates. Okafor is 20 years old, and is in his rookie season. Cousins, meanwhile, is 25, and is in his sixth professional campaign. Brett Brown feels that the difference in age, and - subsequently - experience, as shown in Okafor, due to no fault of his own.
“The volume of games, the speed of the game, the pace that his coach demands,” said Brown about the areas in which Cousins currently has a leg up on Okafor. “I think DeMarcus would have a better handle of what that really means over 82 games.”
Brown continued, “I think dealing with referees, and the rules of how they let you play offense and defense. I could just go on just from where DeMarcus is from an experience standpoint and Jahlil is now. I think most of them are getting used to the NBA.”
Okafor, the third overall selection in last June’s NBA Draft, has long admired the career of Cousins, who was the fifth choice in the 2010 draft.
“He’s gotten so much better,” Okafor said. “Even when I was in high school, I always thought he was the most skilled big man in the NBA, and I think he is the best big man in the NBA right now. Obviously, that’s a comparison you like to have, but I have a long way to go before I can compare myself to him.”
Okafor, however, isn’t off to a bad start. He entered Wednesday averaging a rate of 20.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. Cousins, by comparison, accounted for 17.8 points and 10.9 rebounds on a per-36 minute basis in his first year.
The Sixers made Nerlens Noel a late scratch on Wednesday, deciding to hold him out as a result of patellar tendinitis in his right knee. The absence was his seventh this season.
Following the Sixers’ setback to the Kings, Brett Brown was unable to offer details about the injury, other than to say he didn’t think it would be likely that Noel will be cleared for Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge, which will help launch NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto.
Jahlil Okafor is still slated to participate in the exhibition. Brown thinks the experience will have a big payoff for the first-year center.
“I think any time you can go into a gym and sort of just see the mannerisms and demeanor and how other elite players and NBA All-Stars, how they interact with fans, carry themselves, I think there’s a disposition that those great players present with,” Brown said Wednesday. “I think they carry themselves by and large with an element of class. I think for him to get up there...is a good thing. I think he should enjoy the weekend and take it all in from that perspective as much as playing.”
Noel is expected to join Okafor north of the border, even though he might not play.
When the Sixers return from the 2016 NBA All-Star Game break, they’ll do so by setting out on a two-game road trip. First, they’ll visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, February 19th, before heading on to face the Dallas Mavericks in Texas two days later. Entering this season, a Western Conference storyline to watch was whether New Orleans would be capable of building off of last year’s breakthrough campaign. Winning 18 of their final 28 games, the Pelicans pushed their way into the NBA Playoffs for the first time in four seasons, but were promptly swept by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors. Two weeks after being ousted by Golden State, New Orleans decided to replace then-head coach Monty Williams with Alvin Gentry, who was, at the time, a Warriors’ assistant. So far the move has not resulted in tangible improvement. The Pelicans dropped their first six games of the season, and 11 of their initial 12 outings overall. They’ve since recovered a bit, but remain 13 games under .500, and sit 6.5 games back of the West’s eighth and final playoff qualifying spot. All-Star Anthony Davis is averaging 23.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.