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December 14, 2015

Raptors 96, Sixers 76: Trying to find some silver linings

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They say defense travels, but apparently turnovers make it through customs as well. While Philly was basking in a pretty darn important Eagles win, the Sixers were throwing the ball all over the place in Canada.

The Sixers left Air Canada Center Centre with 18 assists, 22 turnovers, and a 96-76 loss to a good Toronto Raptors (16-9) team that wasn’t unexpected. Their record drops down to 1-24 on the season.

“This ten-game clump that we’re on right now, we hoped to turn it over 16 times [per game],” a hoarse Brett Brown told reporters after the game. “We’ve been talking about it a lot. That’s an average number by most teams. For us, 22 is far too many.”

The Sixers’ record is really poor, and everybody knows that it’s not misleading. Instead of pointing out the many obvious deficiencies with this current roster, I figured that we could change things up and spend one night highlighting a few positives from this game. Beating Shady McCoy’s team can change anybody’s mood.

For instance, Robert Covington only shot the ball OK (5-14, 15 points), but he made a few fantastic defensive plays in the first half and finished with three blocks on the night. Covington leads the NBA in both steals per game (2.6) and steal percentage (4.3), proving to be particularly adept at making clean split-second reach-ins.

Jahlil Okafor took 25 shots and three free throws to get his 23 points, but there were a lot of instances that decent drives to the hoop simply happened to roll out on him.  He also should have shot more free throws, but Okafor weirdly had a ton of trouble getting calls. More importantly, his effort level defensively and on the boards (14 total rebounds) was solid.

Okafor is also shooting 70 percent from the line for the season, and while his approach is as methodical than Steve Trachsel’s with runners on base, his stroke looks fantastic from the stripe. In what has been a difficult transition to the NBA for Okafor, that area has stuck out as a major positive.

I also liked what I saw from Kendall Marshall (2 points, 5 assists, 3 turnovers) in his limited run. He looks expectedly slow defensively, but Marshall can really pass. There were a few times where his teammates weren’t expecting the delivery he eventually made. On one occasion, a nice pick-and-roll with Marshall and Okafor resulted in an easy two points.

You can tell that Brown likes Marshall. He was supposed to be limited to 16 minutes, but Brown played him for 20.

“Don’t tell the medical staff,” Brown told reporters. “He fights for it all and you’re trying to figure out how to play him, when to use your money. And two times I used him because I thought the game was just leaving us.”

Watching these Sixers is not something for the faint of heart, but there are some smaller positives hidden in these losses if you look hard enough (and sometimes, you have to look hard). Here are some other observations:

•    Luis Scola finished with 22 points on 10-14 shooting. After destroying them last month in Philly, he has officially ascended to the throne of random Sixer-killers (aka the Donyell Marshall All-Stars), compiled here by Antony Capelli: 

Overall, Scola was +16 in 27 minutes. The Sixers weren’t able to make the 35-year-old pay on the other end of the floor, whether they went big (Nerlens Noel at the 4) or small (Covington at the 4).

•    Little too much Philly from Kyle Lowry here? Notice how the Cardinal Dougherty (RIP) product automatically goes, “Are you alright, man?” after liberally throwing his elbow in the direction of Noel’s face. Coming from a major fan of Lowry and his brand of toughness, this was simply not a clean play:

I gave an update on Noel’s situation here.

•    Hollis Thompson is struggling, shooting 21 percent from the field in the last few games. After Thompson committed a turnover at one point, he and Isaiah Canaan got into a decent argument.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann