3 observations after Sixers run out of steam, fall to .500 again


The Sixers simply didn’t have enough gas left in the tank Wednesday night in Charlotte. 

On the second night of a back-to-back, the team fell to 9-9 this season with a 107-101 loss to the Hornets. Their collective exhaustion was obvious in the second half. 

Shake Milton posted 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Hornets guard Terry Rozier scored a team-high 22.

Again, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Jaden Springer were sidelined by injuries. Matisse Thybulle also sat with left ankle tenosynovitis. 

Charlotte was down LaMelo Ball (left ankle sprain) and Cody Martin (left knee procedure). Dennis Smith Jr. exited in the second quarter after suffering a left ankle sprain. 

The Sixers will next face the Magic in a road mini-series on Friday and Sunday. Here are observations on their loss to the Hornets: 

Sixers start hot, attack in pick-and-roll 

Montrezl Harrell started a second straight game and scored the Sixers’ first hoop, rolling to the rim and throwing down a dunk.

On the Sixers’ second possession, a De'Anthony Melton-Harrell pick-and-roll resulted in two Harrell free throws. Tobias Harris also did a nice job recognizing that Harrell’s ball screens could help him get downhill, shield off defenders with his body, and score in the paint. Milton was on the same page, seeing the opportunities often available with veteran center Mason Plumlee in deep drop coverage. A Milton runner grew the Sixers’ lead to 12-4 and the team’s advantage got as high as 13 points. 

Melton was excellent early, building on another strong performance Tuesday in the Sixers’ win over the Nets with 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first quarter. The 24-year-old did commit one costly turnover when he declined an open three-pointer, tossed an uncertain pass, and fueled a Hornets fast break. Still, an occasional mistake created by unselfish motivations is fine. 

However, the Sixers as a team had too many giveaways in bunches. The Hornets scored 23 points off their 19 turnovers. 

Fouls a significant factor 

Harrell (16 points, seven rebounds) and Paul Reed (six points, eight rebounds, three blocks, two steals) each picked up two fouls in the first quarter. Georges Niang was called for his third early in the second, and Milton even got a technical foul. 

The Sixers actually managed to convert more free throws than Charlotte (16-13), but the foul trouble was impactful. Though no one reached six, the Sixers had to change their rotations and tweak their style of play. Head coach Doc Rivers used zone defense throughout the night. He also had the Sixers blitz Rozier in the fourth quarter, although he still hurt them with a few key self-created shots down the stretch. 

As has become the deeply unfortunate norm, the Sixers on Wednesday again had an injury scare when Reed stayed down on the floor after he grabbed an offensive rebound and crashed to the hardwood. He remained in the game. Milton was slow to rise after falling hard on a fourth-quarter drive. 

P.J. Tucker went 34 minutes and finally broke a very long scoreless streak when he made a corner three in the fourth. Heading into the night, he’d posted zero points on 0-for-8 shooting over the Sixers’ last four games. 

The bottom line is the Sixers are still short on depth across the board because of their terrible injury luck. Saben Lee officially became a Sixer on Wednesday, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the 23-year-old guard received minutes in Orlando. 

Fatigue makes its mark 

As his stat line would suggest, Milton did a lot well. 

He was especially impressive with his left hand as both a passer and scorer. As the 26-year-old gets more and more reps, that skill is starting to shine. While Milton has a variety of lefty finishes in his game, he’s good at staying aware of available lefty passes. He’s able to find open shooters when the defense collapses and on Wednesday, he even made a driving, mid-air bounce pass to Harrell for a dunk. In the third quarter, Milton pulled down an offensive rebound and then assisted Harris with a flashy, underhanded dime. 

Ultimately, the Sixers needed a better showing from three-point range to beat the Hornets; they shot just 9 for 38 (23.1 percent) beyond the arc. It made perfect sense that a large number of those misses were short given the circumstances — players continuing to get more minutes than normal the evening after a high-exertion home win. 

This was not a case of the Sixers letting an early lead slip solely because of effort and focus problems. The players who looked wiped out had every reason to be, and the team’s turnovers just exacerbated that reality. 

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