Sixers observations

3 observations after Sixers' winning streak ends at six with narrow loss to Bulls

The Sixers lost to Chicago despite a 40-point Joel Embiid performance.

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The Sixers fell Monday night to their first loss since Dec. 1.

The Bulls beat them at Wells Fargo Center, taking a 108-104 game and moving to 11-17 on the season. With their six-game winning streak over, the Sixers sit at 18-8.

Joel Embiid's personal streaks remained intact. Embiid had 40 points and 14 rebounds Monday, meaning he's scored at least 30 points in 12 consecutive games and posted 30 and 10 in 11 straight contests.

Tyrese Maxey had 29 points and eight assists.

Coby White (24 points) and Nikola Vucevic (23 points) were Chicago's leading scorers.

Sixers forward Marcus Morris Sr. was sidelined by an illness. The Bulls were down Zach LaVine (right foot inflammation) and Torrey Craig (right heel soreness).

The Sixers will next face the Timberwolves on Wednesday in Philadelphia. Here are observations on their loss to Chicago:

Embiid and White the stars of the first 

Embiid played in a seventh straight game after having been listed as questionable with left hamstring tightness. 

Initially, he didn’t appear at his absolute best. Embiid missed a lefty layup on the Sixers’ opening play, came up short on a pull-up jumper, and was off on his first foul shot. 

The Sixers still were very good overall out of the gates. Chicago started 1 for 7 from the floor and the Sixers guarded well on the perimeter. They communicated effectively on switches, scrambled around to nullify potential problems and avoided any pointless gambles. 

Embiid’s two-way impact was inevitably immense once he found his rhythm. He drew a second foul on Vucevic with 8:19 left in the first quarter, drained a top-of-the-key three-pointer, and conducted much of the Sixers’ offense. Embiid scored 14 of the Sixers’ 24 first-quarter points. 

However, the Sixers lost some juice late in the first and White challenged the Sixers’ defense with impressive three-level scoring, testing the team in a way it hadn’t been recently against bottom-of-the-standings opposition. 

White keyed an 11-0 Bulls run and finished the first period with 13 points, all of which came in the quarter’s final five minutes. 

Uncharacteristic rough patches for Sixers’ offense 

The Sixers had their worst offensive first half in quite a while Monday night. 

No Sixer besides Embiid took a first-half free throw. The team shot 4 for 14 from three-point range and committed 10 turnovers. Starting forwards Tobias Harris and Nicolas Batum totaled three points before intermission on 1-for-3 shooting. 

While the Sixers had moments of misfortune — jumpers rattling around the hoop and out; normally routine layups sliding off the rim — they couldn’t chalk it all up to luck. Paul Reed was outplayed by former teammate Andre Drummond in the second quarter, missing a three that Drummond let him shoot and failing to convert a close-range hoop. Maxey was too peripheral during the Sixers’ first Embiid-less stint. Kelly Oubre Jr. took four shots early in the second period and couldn’t convert any.

“I thought we had a stretch there in the second where we didn’t run very good offense,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. “We took some quick shots. You get a string of three, four (possessions) with no pass, no execution. None of those go in, and then we take a fifth one on top of it.

“Just too much lack of execution in those things. And I think that is taking out-of-rhythm shots, which is probably not going to produce a lot of great stuff. ... There probably was another pass or another drive into the paint that needed to be made. I think you’ve got to let it come to you sometimes.”

Nurse maintained a 10-man rotation without Morris, using veteran wing Danuel House Jr. alongside Maxey during the second quarter. House, who’d been outside of the Sixers’ rotation this month until Monday, posted three points in seven minutes, making a corner jumper on his only field-goal attempt.

At halftime, Chicago held a 16-5 edge in bench scoring, Embiid had more points (23) than all of his teammates combined (21), and the Sixers needed a return to form offensively. 

Sixers fall despite second-unit surge

The Sixers did exactly what they required to begin the third quarter. The team went to the Maxey-Embiid empty-side pick-and-roll early and the pair were strong. Embiid nailed a wing three and threw down a dunk. Maxey drew his first free throws of the night and drained a long-range jumper that gave the Sixers a 61-59 lead. 

The Sixers also raised their defensive level early in the third quarter, partly because they decided to send Embiid as an additional defender on DeMar DeRozan whenever possible. DeRozan wasn’t hurting the Sixers much as a scorer, but that adjustment still seemed to bother Chicago a bit. 

The Bulls got back on track, though. The Sixers helped them out by settling for a few jumpers. Embiid remained the hub of their offense and role players like Oubre couldn’t hit open jumpers that perhaps would have halted Chicago’s momentum. A Jevon Carter three restored the Bulls’ advantage to 12 points going into the fourth quarter. 

With Embiid watching from the bench, Maxey and the Sixers' second unit were stellar, rattling off a big run to start the quarter. The group's hustle and defensive activity were excellent. Reed blocked DeRozan at the rim, Oubre slammed home a dunk on the other end, and the Bulls' lead was suddenly down to 81-78.

“I thought that second unit came in and fought much harder in the fourth quarter,” Nurse said. “They gave us a chance there and we just didn’t quite get it done.”

Reed was especially impressive for the Sixers. He competed for every potential rebound, defended hard and converted put-back hoops on two straight possessions. When Embiid subbed back in, Nurse even kept Reed on the floor for approximately another minute.

The Sixers trailed by just two points when Embiid returned. They squandered opportunities to be in a better spot, though. Robert Covington missed an easy layup, Oubre blew a dunk, and Chicago's offense eventually began to click again.

Batum was unavailable down the stretch because of a right hamstring issue.

“It’s sore,” Nurse said. “I think (the medical staff) doesn’t think it’s anything too major, but they just said it’s sore right now and they want to obviously take a look at it more in-depth tomorrow.”

Embiid picked up his fifth foul with 5:34 left, which limited him and the Sixers a bit defensively. Patrick Williams hit two timely threes. Vucevic came through with important buckets as well, including a post-up layup on Oubre and a triple that put the Bulls up 105-100.

The Sixers didn't see that shot as a dagger. Maxey made a clutch three with 32.6 seconds left, cutting the Sixers' deficit to 105-104. He fed a rolling Embiid in stride with under 10 seconds remaining, but the big man missed a floater try that would've tied the game.

“I thought we got to a good set,” Embiid said. “We got a pretty good shot out of it. The ball just slipped out of my hands. If I had to do it again, I would’ve probably just gone with my shot — stepped back and taken that short jumper, like I’ve always done.

“But I tried to go to the floater and the ball just slipped out. It happens. The spacing could’ve been better, too, but good execution and I just missed it.”

For the first time in a long time, Embiid brilliance wasn't sufficient for the Sixers to win.

After the Sixers went 6-1 during a light patch of their schedule, four of the team's next five games are against opponents currently above .500. The T-Wolves have a Western Conference-best 20-5 record following their comeback win Monday over the Heat.

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