Skeleton squad Sixers fall short to Hawks

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Atlanta 99, Philadelphia 92 – Box Score

One night after gutting out a close win with just 9 players against Brooklyn, the Sixers ratcheted up the difficulty meter even more in their return home. Hosting a playoff-bound Hawks team, Philadelphia had just 8 players available. Gerald Henderson returned to the court, but Robert Covington sat out with minor knee soreness after a fall against the Nets, and Tiago Splitter was unavailable on a back-to-back after not playing for 14 months.

The result against an Atlanta squad that’s pretty decent even without All-Star Paul Millsap (who?) was…not bad. The Sixers were clearly dog tired, as their 11-39 (28.2%) shooting performance from three would indicate. And they had no answer for Dwight Howard, who went off for 22 points and 20 rebounds (8 coming on the offensive glass), somehow also knocking down 6-7 from the free throw line. It’s a shame the Sixers don’t have a defensive-minded center on the roster to help neutralize opposing big men; someone like that young kid in Dallas would really help.

Still, the Sixers fought, headlined by Richaun Holmes, who scored a career-high 25 points to go along with 8 rebounds (5 offensive). As usual, Holmes was a never-ending whirl of energy whenever he was on the court. He clearly didn’t have the size (or veteran bag of tricks) to deal with Howard down low, but it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Remember prior to the trade deadline when teams were inquiring about Holmes, hoping to steal a useful player who was shelved on the back of the roster? Well, there’s no thought of stealing him now.

Shawn Long hit both of his three-point attempts, scoring 10 points in 16 minutes. I think he’s miscast as a 5, but has been pressed into the role given the current lack of depth on the team for healthy big men (imagine that?). He may eventually find his way into a role somewhere in the league as a outside-shooting power forward, a la Ersan Ilyasova, who started for Millsap in his “revenge game” against the Sixers, scoring an efficient 14 points.

I mentioned against Brooklyn how Nik Stauskas was being sloppy at times with the ball, but given the fact that these games are meaningless, there’s absolutely no reason not to give him these reps as a point guard. We saw the benefit against the Hawks with Sauce tying a career-high with 7 assists against just 2 turnovers.

Philadelphia kept things reasonably close throughout the game, pulling within the razor-thin margin of 83-81 halfway through the 4th quarter. Ultimately, the Sixers ran out of gas and the offense just wasn’t there to get them over the hump. No shame in that in a tough situation playing with a skeleton crew. They’ll be back at it Friday night against LeBron James and company.

While the Sixers loss helping them in the lottery battle, they missed out on a golden opportunity with Orlando losing in overtime to Oklahoma City after blowing a big lead. Meanwhile, the Knicks were blown out at home by Miami; New York has embraced tanking down the stretch of the season like a long-lost lover. Fortunately, the Kings were romped by the Jazz at home. Meaning, with 7 games left (for Philadelphia), we’re looking at the Sixers tied for 5th-worst with New York and Sacramento sitting alone with the 7th-worst record. A late surge from both the Magic and Knicks would be a godsend, but I’m not holding my breath.

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