Sixers observations

3 observations after Sixers fall in Phoenix to begin tough West Coast trip

Tyrese Maxey scored a season-low six points in the Sixers' loss Wednesday night.

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The Sixers are still in search of their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 12-22.

After two home wins in a row, they began a four-game West Coast road trip Wednesday night by falling to a 115-102 loss to the Suns.

Grayson Allen posted 32 points and shot 9 for 15 from three-point range for Phoenix, who improved to 40-29.

Kevin Durant tallied 22 points and passed Shaquille O’Neal for eighth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Devin Booker was one rebound short of an 18-point triple-double.

Kelly Oubre Jr. had 18 points, four assists, three blocks and three steals. Tyrese Maxey scored a season-low six points on 3-for-13 shooting.

The Sixers were without Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), Tobias Harris (right ankle sprain), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress), Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) and Kai Jones (right hamstring strain). 

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse told reporters in Phoenix that Embiid has been on the court “almost every day now … doing basketball things. All the check-ups have been positive and he’s kind of in the ramp-up phase now.” 

Embiid has said he plans to play again this season. The Sixers have not yet given a timeline for his return. 

Harris missed his third consecutive game after a run of 12 straight appearances immediately following the All-Star break. 

The 38-31 Sixers will head to Los Angeles and face the Lakers on Friday night. The Clippers and Kings are the final two opponents on their West Coast swing.

Here are observations on the team's trip-opening loss to Phoenix:

Suns weather cold start by owning the glass 

The Sixers started the night with Nicolas Batum guarding Durant, Oubre on Booker, and Kyle Lowry on Bradley Beal. 

The Suns made no field goals until the 7:53 mark of the first quarter, starting 0 for 9 from the floor. The Sixers benefited from some open Phoenix misses, but they were also pesky from the jump. Lowry dug down on Jusuf Nurkic in the post, leading to a Suns turnover and Oubre fast-break dunk. Oubre’s and-one leaner gave the Sixers a 9-1 edge. 

The Sixers’ main issue early on defense was simply securing rebounds. Phoenix racked up 11 offensive boards and nine second-chance points within nine minutes. Wayward jumpers were often not a bad thing for the Suns’ offense. 

Defensive rebounding has been a weakness all season long for the Sixers. According to Cleaning the Glass, they entered Wednesday 27th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage. That problem was especially pronounced in Phoenix, and it allowed the Suns to wipe out their deficit. 

Maxey comes back to earth 

Unlike Monday night, when he’d scored 17 first-quarter points in the Sixers’ victory over the Heat, almost nothing was falling for Maxey in Phoenix. 

Left alone at the top of the key late in the second quarter, his jumper came up short and he dropped to 2 for 10 from the floor. As a team, the Sixers shot 4 for 18 from three-point range in the first half. 

Maxey had scored 30 points in three straight games and averaged 39.5 minutes over that span. His off night wasn’t a shocker. The 23-year-old acknowledged last Tuesday that he was “pretty tired” in his return from a concussion against the Knicks, and Nurse hadn't exactly eased him back into action. 

Regardless of the fatigue factor, being an efficient No. 1 option game after game is awfully hard to pull off for a young guard who's still regularly frustrated that he doesn't get more foul calls. Maxey had zero free-throw attempts in a game Wednesday for the third time this season.

The Sixers at least mitigated some of Maxey’s struggles and Phoenix’s rebounding dominance by decisively winning the turnover battle, forcing 23 giveaways in the game.

Just as he’d been last week in Milwaukee, Cameron Payne was sharp as soon as he checked in against one of his former teams. Payne hit two three-pointers early in the second quarter and began 4 for 4 from the floor.

However, the Sixers couldn’t keep pace with the Suns from long range and conceded too many wide-open looks behind the arc. Phoenix’s lead grew to 17 points on a Durant three early in the third.

Fourth quarter about the deep bench players

The Sixers hinted at a comeback push in the third quarter. Maxey found Paul Reed for a pick-and-roll layup that brought the Suns' advantage down to 73-64 and a tight finish still seemed possible.

Phoenix then went on a 10-0 run, which swayed Nurse to sub in Ricky Council IV and Jeff Dowtin Jr. at the start of the fourth quarter.

Both players made the most of their 12 minutes. Council slammed in a powerful dunk and scored 10 points. Dowtin added 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting and five assists. The Sixers cut their deficit to 102-88 after a three by KJ Martin (11 points, 13 rebounds) over Durant. Oubre drilled a triple following a Suns timeout, too.

Still, Phoenix predictably managed to ice the win and avoid anything seriously uncomfortable down the stretch. The Suns were able to get fan favorite Isaiah Thomas in for his first NBA minutes since 2022.

For the Sixers, no one exceeded 30 minutes besides Oubre. They'll hope to play like a relatively fresh team for their upcoming weekend in Los Angeles.

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