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April 09, 2023

Quick Six: Sixers backups blow out Nets to end regular season

The Sixers played perhaps the most meaningless game in NBA regular season history on Sunday, but a group of Philadelphia backups took the opportunity seriously and pounded Brooklyn 134-105. Philadelphia finishes with 54 wins, the most for the franchise since the 2000-01 season.

Let's wrap things up one last time before we go into full playoff mode.

It becomes hard to separate fact from fiction and meme from man when it comes to Paul Reed sometimes. He is occasionally hilarious, dedicated to his craft, and still pretty wild on the floor. Does that all add up to an impactful rotation guy? It sort of depends on the night, as his season-long on/off splits would tell you.

But any fair assessment of Reed's season should highlight what he has gotten right. Reed has fashioned himself into a good finisher around the basket, figuring out how to slide into the right spots to receive passes and score while operating as a roller. Despite having a slight figure at his size, Reed has improved at leveraging his strength down by the rim, leaning into a defender to create separation before rising up for a layup attempt. 

His most important role in the playoffs will likely be as a switch defender — the only game when I thought he struggled at that task was in a recent loss to Chicago, one where he was asked to sub in during double overtime and check DeMar DeRozan after sitting for quite a while. In Brooklyn on Sunday (and across the board otherwise), he has done a great job of corralling smaller players and staying down on pump fakes, forcing tough shots by sticking those long arms in the air.

When he was on the floor, all of that was on display on Sunday. We'll see what he has to offer in the playoffs.

Sixers two-way player Louis King got a chance to play big minutes on Sunday afternoon, and you can see exactly why a team might want to hold onto him as a lottery ticket. Shooting/tough shotmaking from a guy with that frame is tough to find, so much so that you'll live with some warts to get it.

King flashed good versatility on the offensive end, hitting catch-and-shoot threes and short pull-up jumpers while looking completely unbothered by Nets contesting his shot. That's the advantage of being a big shooter — as long as you don't have a long windup, it's tough for opposing players to do much to mess with your release.

The warts are there, though, at least if you care about defense. King's off-ball apathy on that end was showed up a few times in a game with low stakes for all parties involved, and you'd like to see him take advantage of his size and athleticism to make more plays there. He's certainly not a lost cause, and replacement-level defense would be good enough.

(Elsewhere in the two-way department, a very good game for dunk contest champion Mac McClung. 20 points off of the bench with great activity on both ends is nothing to sneeze at.)

Dewayne Dedmon and Montrezl Harrell played together in the frontcourt for long stretches of this game. That should tell you everything about how serious of an exercise it was.

Harrell honestly didn't look that bad as a four on offense, where I thought he did a nice job as a passer even if no one cared about guarding him to shoot. When Rivers pulled Dedmon in favor of a Reed/Harrell frontcourt late, Harrell almost personally put the game out of reach with his activity.

Even still, I hope we never see these combinations again. 

Can't really figure out why Jaden Springer was pulled from this game so early. There was no real sign of injury, and it doesn't seem like he reaches the threshold of a player who is getting pulled in order to protect him for the playoffs. After all, guys like Shake Milton, Paul Reed, and Danuel House Jr. all played big roles in Sunday's game, and those guys are bigger factors in the playoff picture than Springer.

When I reached out to the Sixers, a team official said the Sixers were just managing Springer's minutes at the end of a long week. It does seem a bit strange to pull that card if you were only going to play him for two minutes, but Springer was hanging out on the bench the whole game and ostensibly could have checked back in.

We shall see if there's any word on him following the game, but it was a bummer to see him sit so early on a day when he could have starred once again. Oh well.

I understand Cam Thomas is a black hole and nothing special as a defender (to say the least), but it seems crazy to me that he is often completely out of the rotation or close to it in Brooklyn. The kid is an absolutely relentless scorer. 

At the end of a long and winding road for the Sixers, one with plenty of drama, injuries, and changes to the nightly rotation, Philadelphia finishes with 54 wins and 28 losses. It's the most victories they've had in a single season since Allen Iverson led the team to a 56-26 record in 2001. This team has plenty of playoff baggage to discard when the real games begin, but this has been a great year for them, no qualifiers necessary.

The main people to credit are obvious. There's Joel Embiid, the hopeful MVP of the league who has taken his game to a higher level yet again this season. There's James Harden, whose return to the lineup in early December coincided with their ascent toward the top of the league. And yes, there is Doc Rivers, who has been a steady force during a year filled with uncertainty.

Doubts for that trio in the postseason are warranted, particularly with Rivers, whose own shortcomings have loomed large during Sixers postseason runs in the recent past. But when you look at how the Sixers have shown up even when the chips are down, collecting wins with various players out or compromised or out of rhythm, the coach deserves some credit for the Sixers just chugging along.

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