Sixers observations

3 observations after Sixers pull away to beat Suns, win fourth in a row

The Sixers' 112-100 victory was their fourth straight.

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The Sixers again played solid defense, sunk timely shots and earned a well-balanced win Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center.

A 112-100 victory over the Suns was the Sixers' fourth straight. They'll look to move to 5-1 on the season Monday night vs. the Wizards.

Joel Embiid scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Kelly Oubre Jr. recorded 25 points on 10-for-18 shooting.

Tyrese Maxey had 22 points and 10 assists. Tobias Harris posted 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Suns star Kevin Durant had 31 points.

Phoenix was down Bradley Beal (lower back spasms), Devin Booker (left ankle sprain) and Damion Lee (right meniscus surgery). Nicolas Batum (personal reasons) was the one Sixer not available Saturday.

Here are observations on the Sixers' fourth consecutive win:

Durant, Oubre still scoring

Oubre started for a second straight game following his 23-point night Thursday in the Sixers’ win over the Raptors. He picked up where he left off, drilling a wing three-pointer for the Sixers’ first points.

When Harris was called for two early fouls, Oubre found himself guarding Durant. He didn’t last long either; the 27-year-old wing also got whistled for a second foul in his efforts to defend Durant.

The Sixers’ defensive aggression has typically been an early-season positive, but there will be situations when they need to be slightly less physical and adapt to how the game’s being officiated. Of course, guarding Durant tends to be very challenging — he's an all-time great scorer who was effortlessly brilliant yet again Saturday — and defensive scrappiness is required.

Patrick Beverley provided that in abundance on the few possessions he spent against Durant. Beverley’s work to fight for leverage, deny catches and jostle the 13-time All-Star was both effective and entertaining. The Sixers also threw more bodies at Durant beginning in the second quarter, which included Embiid double teaming on his drives. Sixers head coach Nick Nurse sprinkled in zone, too. 

Meanwhile, Oubre kept demonstrating that he can pile up points quickly. The Sixers fell into a somewhat self-destructive mini-funk in the second quarter — Harris was assessed a technical foul for disputing a no-call; Embiid picked up a Flagrant 1 for “unnecessary contact” to Jusuf Nurkic’s face on a drive. Oubre helped break them out of it by converting a corner three and a driving layup with 0.3 seconds left. His season scoring average is still over 20.

Needless to say, that's unusual for a player who signed a minimum-salary contract late this offseason.

“I’m just trying to take it day by day, man," Oubre said of his transition to the Sixers. “I know that I’m very hungry to prove myself in this league. Obviously this summer was very stressful for me, so I had a lot of pent-up energy for this season really built up. But I think that transitioning to a new situation couldn’t have been more seamless because of Coach, because of the supporting cast members, and also just my work ethic.”

Covington's second stint starts in earnest

Furkan Korkmaz was again among the Sixers’ first subs after his strong outing against Toronto. He entered the game with Robert Covington, who’d only played in garbage time Thursday. 

Nurse had said pregame that the Sixers’ rotation would “probably” remain the same Saturday as the team’s trade acquisitions get up to speed. However, the early fouls for Oubre and Harris made the Covington rotation minutes logical. The 32-year-old is a low-maintenance, veteran player accustomed to playing next to stars (and next to Embiid specifically). 

Covington had a few nice plays in his first stint, including an offensive board and an interception of a cross-court Durant pass. His game should be conducive to Nurse’s preferred turnover-forcing, transition-heavy style. 

“The first couple of things are do you have the ability and do you want to do it? And I think he’s got that," Nures said of Covington's defense. “He’s got some ability athletically — size, strength — and pretty good off-the-ball stuff. And then he’s trying really hard. That goes a long way at that end of the floor, so that’s good to see.”

Offensively, it does stand out that Covington’s options with the ball in his hands are relatively limited. Compared to the role players he shared the floor with Saturday like Korkmaz, Beverley and De’Anthony Melton, Covington’s a more one-dimensional player when curling up for dribble handoffs with Embiid (and initiating offense in general). He got stripped of the ball on a drive late in the first quarter. 

Covington played 18 minutes vs. Phoenix and had two points, four rebounds, two steals and a block.

Non-Embiid Sixers step up in fourth

After taking that second-quarter elbow to the face, Nurkic began the second half in the locker room. He ultimately returned, but Drew Eubanks started the third quarter on Embiid.

The reigning MVP liked that matchup. He countered a Phoenix double team at the elbow sharply, hitting Melton for a layup. The Suns decided against helping the next time, so Embiid exploded past Eubanks and slammed in an and-one dunk that built the Sixers’ lead to 70-56. 

The Sixers couldn’t pull away in the third, though, in part because Melton (3 for 10 from the field) and Maxey each had subpar shooting starts.

Josh Okogie played sturdy, smart defense against Maxey for much of the game, shading him regularly to his left hand and blocking a jumper.

Nurse wasn't satisfied with a 22-point, 10-assist Maxey performance.

“It’s not enough," he said. “He’s too good to have a quiet first half. He’s got to get into those modes where he’s being more aggressive. I’m not criticizing him, I’m just trying to keep imploring that he needs to be more aggressive. He’s too good beating people off the dribble, he’s too good a shooter to not take more chances — his own chances. So we’re going to keep working on that a little bit, but I’m glad that he bounced back (in the second half).”

The shotmaking struggles continued for Melton, who entered the game shooting only 28.1 percent from the floor and 26.7 percent from three-point range. During a stretch in the third quarter, he missed two free throws, a layup and two open threes. 

The Sixers’ lack of bench scoring was an issue, too. With no Oubre on the second unit, the Sixers had an 18-0 disadvantage in bench points through three quarters.

Jaden Springer has looked significantly more tentative on offense than during his fantastic preseason. His decision-making as a driver has been shaky at times, and Springer hasn’t seemed eager to fire up jumpers. The third-year guard’s defense has still made him worthy of minutes, though, and every 21-year-old player will have ups and downs in the NBA. 

Korkmaz broke the Sixers' bench scoring ice with a driving layup early in the fourth. He made an important three a couple of minutes later as well, and Harris nailed a tough turnaround jumper.

Maxey also played a central role in cementing the win. He sunk a three, assisted a Paul Reed layup, and drained an especially long triple to put the Sixers up 104-86 and ensure Embiid could watch the entire fourth quarter.

Not a bad 23rd birthday for Maxey.

“The fourth quarter came, Joel asked me if I could finish the game, and so I tried to go out there and do it,” Maxey said, “whether that was making the right read and getting the assist, getting us into an action, or scoring the ball.”

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