Remember when Dwight Howard used to be the strongest player in the NBA? The 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard would just back defenders down and then jam it in their collective faces. With the quickness of Sixers center Joel Embiid, we sometimes forget his sheer power. That was shown consistently when backing Howard down in the post. Howard picked up his third foul with 2 minutes and 21 seconds left in the first quarter. An eight-time all-star and three-time defensive player of the year, Howard is still no weakling, but he just didn’t have the strength to contend with Embiid down low on that play or many others. In addition to having trouble with Embiid on the post, Howard couldn’t keep up with him in transition. Embiid got away from Howard a few times early in the third quarter for easy layups. Howard picked up his fifth foul with 2:40 left in the third quarter and four of the fouls were away from the basket, many from needless reaching in. When Willy Hernangomez was guarding Embiid he was no match either. Late in the third quarter Embiid backed Hernangomez down low for an easy basket, with the former Knick not able to offer the least resistance. Embiid finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds.
Hold your breath
With 55.9 second left in the third quarter there was a momentary hush. Embiid pump-faked the 6-11, 240-pound Hernangomez, who fell on the Sixers center. Immediately, Embiid grabbed his right hip, but stayed in the game and made both free throws. The next time down the court Embiid took Hernangomez off the dribble and scored on a short hesitation shot. The bottom line is that Charlotte had no way of handling Embiid one-on-one, which is no major revelation.
The Sixers treated point guard Kemba Walker like the two-time all-star he is, with multiple defenders on him. They started JJ Redick and he was no match for Walker. Even Robert Covington, a true stopper couldn’t keep up with the fleet Walker nor could T.J. McConnell yet another accomplished defender. Walker’s first step is explosive and enabled him to get by defenders at will. The Sixers understood this and tried to provide weakside help as much as possible for Walker. The fact is, that he was able to get his shot off against anybody. In crunch time, it was Covington on Walker, who did a solid job down the stretch. Walker ended with 31 points, 16 in the first half and 15 in the second.
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) March 3, 2018
Making Simmons work
It’s always interesting how teams attempt to defend Ben Simmons and the Hornets used local product Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as the main defender. At 6-foot-7 and 232 pounds, MKG is a plus defender, who moves his feet well. That said, he had trouble with some of Simmons quick moves but generally did a decent job holding his ground. Kidd-Gilchrist, who grew up in Somerdale, is known for his defense. As well as he did most of the night, Simmons ended with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and three turnovers. It’s getting to the point that holding Simmons to a line like that almost appears acceptable. While Kidd-Gilchrist was solid on defense, the same couldn’t be said about his team. The Sixers, especially in the fourth quarter, were able to get too many uncontested drives to the basket.
Ilyasova added needed offensive punch
Ersan Ilyasova will be a player looking to provide an offensive spark off the bench. At 6-10, he has the ability to score inside but also hit the three pointer. On a night when the Sixers were inconsistent on offense, he provided the scoring they needed with 18 points. Ilyasova also took a key charge on Kidd-Gilchrist with 1:24 left and the Sixers holding a 103-99 lead. Ilyasova shot 7 for 11 from the field and 2 of 4 from three-point range, while also contributing four rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes and 54 seconds.