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December 19, 2018

Instant observations: Sixers stars shine, defense comes through in easy win over Knicks

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1219_Jimmy_Butler_USAT Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Jimmy Butler helped fuel a suffocating defense Wednesday night.

The Sixers needed an easy win. After losing three of their last four, the Knicks coming to town was exactly what the doctor ordered. In a 131-109 win that didn't leave much doubt, the Sixers' stars took over and gave fans something to be excited about before a very very intimidating stretch arrives.

With the east-leading Raptors coming to Philly this weekend, the Sixers embark on their Christmas adventure in Boston before a west coast trip that swings through Utah, Portland and L.A. (to face the Clippers) before a favorable finale in Phoenix.

Fans and players alike left the Wells Fargo Center feeling good Wednesday night. Here's what I saw in their most recent 'W':

The Good

• Yeah yeah we know, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler wore headbands. And they won. The legend grows.

• The Sixers' defense has a ton of upside, and that was pretty easy to see Wednesday with Butler jamming passing lanes, Simmons closing out on jump shots and a pretty impressive hustle all around.

They take possessions off, and also give up a lot of open jump shots when they help a little too much — but if they focus and have their heads in the game they can defense almost as good as any team in the NBA.

• Today's proof Joel Embiid really wishes he was small enough to be a guard:

Embiid went on to have a typical All-NBA-type game, netting 24 points, and 10 rebounds in just 26 minutes of game time (he was pulled when the team was up big in the fourth).

• In that vein, Butler had a typical Butler game as well, notching 20 points.

• And yes, Simmons too, played like Simmons, achieving his 16th career triple double and fourth of the season (13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists).

• The Sixers shot 57.4 percent from the field in the first half and scored 69 points. They came back to earth as the game went on, but defensively they shot more efficiently by more than 10 percentage points. Hard to lose when you do that.

• This has nothing to do with Wednesday's game, but heading into action the Sixers actually led the entire NBA in attendance with 20,340 fans per game and 345,773 through 17 home games. Not to shabby. Last year they were third behind the Bulls and the Cavs and the years before that — well, you know what happened. 

The Bad

• You know how during an election, in order for the Democratic Party to win they need to run up the score in the big cities to make up for the Republican advantage in rural areas? The Sixers' line up is kind of like that right now. The team's five starters need to do all the damage, as their bench is underperforming and thin. Philly's bench averages 34.1 points per game, in the bottom 10 in the league. 

Wednesday, the bench came through for 52 points (though most of them came with the 12th man line up closing things out through much of the fourth), with Brett Brown going just four deep for most of the game. Of those 52 points, Landry Shamet had 17. With all 12 players on the roster getting playing time, they all scored, which is a pretty cool stat.

• When the Sixers settle for jump shots they're at their worst. Sure, they have J.J. Redick and Shamet, and guys who can hit shots but this team is build to slash, grind and drive. During stretches of Wednesday's game when the team went to the basket and found a dunk, hook shot, lay up or drew a foul things were rolling offensively. During the periods where they were one-and-done with mid range jumpers or threes, the team that lost decisively to the Spurs earlier this week shone through.

Of course, no team can get to the rim every possession and jump shooting is required of any team to succeed, but another third quarter slump had the Knicks within three after leading by double digits at the half.

A pair of big slam dunks from Embiid and Simmons helped them build the lead back up double digits again. They'd build it to more than 20 before long as they breezed to victory.

• Also, congratulations to J.J. Redick, who eclipsed the 10,000 career point milestone.

The Ugly

• The National Anthem was... not good. I don't know what else to say about this:

• Ben Simmons and Kendall Jenner make me uncomfortable as a thing.


Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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