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January 20, 2024

Instant observations: Sixers extend win streak to five with win over Hornets

It wasn't always pretty, but the Sixers handled business and swept their road back-to-back.

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Embiid 1.20.24 Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid, who shot (and made) eight free throws in the first half alone, was his typical dominant self against the undermanned and undersized Charlotte Hornets.

Looking for their second win in as many nights — and their fifth straight in all — the Sixers headed to Charlotte for a matchup against the young and struggling Hornets Saturday night. The Sixers were able to notch the win, defeating the Hornets by a score of 97-89 in an ugly defensive struggle. Here is what jumped out from the victory:

Scouting potential trade targets

With the trade deadline nearing and the Hornets being in rebuilding mode, the Sixers and Charlotte could be a match in trade conversations down the line. If they are, the most likely player who could find his way to Philadelphia would be someone who missed this matchup: Gordon Hayward. Hayward would help fill multiple holes for the Sixers — he would give them considerably more impressive wing depth, while also becoming their second-best ball-handler by a significant margin. He is no longer the player he was before breaking his leg, but he still offers multiple utilities that the Sixers could use in their rotation. 

Another player who could be an option is Cody Martin, who started on the wing for the Hornets in this one. Martin won't blow you away with anything, but he is a solid wing defender. His poor three-point shooter may make him a suboptimal fit in Philadelphia, though Embiid is able to make just about anybody playable. 

Point Furk

Patrick Beverley, whose play has been absolutely excellent of late, was unavailable for this game due to an illness. With De'Anthony Melton and Jaden Springer also out, Sixers head coach Nick Nurse had almost no choice but to give the backup point guard job to Furkan Korkmaz — his only other option was rookie two-way player Terquavion Smith, who scored his first basket(s) on Friday night in Orlando.

We are entering yet another trade deadline in which it is easily plausible that Korkmaz could be traded. His expiring $5 million salary could help the Sixers facilitate a trade for a rotation upgrade.

Scary Joel

Hornets guard Terry Rozier goes by "Scary Terry," but the player on the floor causing fear in this one was Joel Embiid. Embiid was his typical dominant self on offense, but it was on the defensive end of the floor where he really incited panic among Hornets players. He has always been a tremendous stalwart in the interior as a rim protector, even though his effort on that end of the floor is often not as high in regular season games as it is in the playoffs. But there are certain games in the regular season in which his defensive impact really stands out.

There is one archetype of defensive possession for the Sixers that proves Embiid is at his best on the defensive end of the floor: when would-be drivers take a few steps towards the rim, see Embiid looming, and instantly retreat via the dribble or the pass. After Embiid emphatically blocked the layup of Hornets high-flyer Miles Bridges, the rest of the Hornets seemed to make a collective decision to not test Embiid's strength as a rim protector. 

Nic Batum shines on the offensive glass

Batum is known for doing all of the little things, particularly things that do not show up in the box score. But one trait of his that can be quantified is his penchant for reviving possessions. He is not just a good offensive rebounder because of his strength and positioning — he also has a knack for instantly sending the ball in the direction of one of his teammates. It is an offensive rebound and a pass all in one.

Batum also freed himself up for opportunistic baskets on cuts in this one, which is not normally part of his game. He set yet another example of how to have a genuinely strong impact on the game without taking many shots.

Sixers' lack of scoring depth exposed

As the trade deadline nears, one could make a very strong argument that the Sixers' biggest need is perimeter scoring. Even with Beverley playing extremely well, shot creation is not something he is doing very well on a consistent basis. The Sixers adding someone else to their roster who can create shots for themselves and others should be a priority.

Embiid and Tyrese Maxey's positions within the offense have been cemented. Right now, Tobias Harris is the third guy, with pieces like Beverley, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Marcus Morris Sr. chipping in when they can. But if the Sixers found a more reliable third option — or even just a better fourth option — it would knock down everyone's responsibilities by a bit, which would do everyone involved a lot of good. Even though they escaped with a win, this effort caused more concerns than it did reasons for confidence.

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