PLAYER GRADES: Philadelphia 76ers 123, Sacramento Kings 114

The Philadelphia 76ers earned their 44th victory of the season Friday night, defeating the Sacramento Kings 123-114 at the Wells Fargo Center.

It has come full circle for the Philadelphia 76ers. Just a few short years ago, they were the young team in a rebuild. They were young enough to remain fiesty game in and game out. They would give any team their best shot on any given night, but would almost always come up short.

Things are different now. The Sixers have become the team that pulls away late to avoid the upsets from the younger, less talented teams. On Tuesday, it was the Cavaliers who gave the Sixers all they could handle before Joel Embiid woke up and secured the seven-point victory in the final minutes. Tonight, it was the Sacramento Kings who gave the Sixers their best shot.

The Sixers, in one of Brett Brown’s more noticeable coaching performances of the season, utilized mismatch opportunities endlessly to build a lead as big as 13 points. Brown often elected to switch Jimmy Butler to the ball-handler role and bury Ben Simmons in the paint against smaller matchups in De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield.

With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons taking a break, Jimmy Butler became a ball-handling post operator while Harris became the shooter. Butler abused matchups with Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes, and Nemanja Bjelica to create scoring opportunities for himself, while Tobias Harris benefited from cuts for easy finishes at the rim. When Butler was given a few minutes to refresh, Harris attacked isolation opportunities in the post against the same favorable matchups.

As a result of Brown’s rotations and manipulation of matchups, all five starters had excellent nights.  Simmons scored the fewest points of the five, finishing with 18. Harris and Redick added 19 each. Embiid logged 21, while Butler led the way with 22. However, it wasn’t just the 99 points scored by the starters that tell the story of tonight’s game, the assist to turnover ratio is what made this performance possible. The Sixers recorded 28 assists while only committing 10 turnovers. They were highly efficient on the offensive end of the floor tonight, maximizing the majority of their possessions. As a result, Philadelphia, now 44-25, emerged victorious.

JIMMY BUTLER

Small Forward, Philadelphia 76ers

A+

35 mins | 22 pts | 6 reb | 7 ast | 2 stl | 1 blk | 3 TO | 8-14 FG | 0-1 3PT | 6-7 FT | 2 PF | +20 |

Jimmy Butler had one of his best games as a Sixer and easily the best game he has had in quite some time tonight. He played point guard, shooting guard, and small forward at various points in this game. His body language remained positive regardless of how he was being used, he remained composed with the ball in his hands, and finished plays to halt any momentum built by the Kings throughout the game. Most importantly, he remained aggressive throughout and executed on both sides of the court. This is the Jimmy the Sixers need when the playoffs begin next month.

JOEL EMBIID

Center, Philadelphia 76ers

A

35 mins | 21 pts | 17 reb | 3 ast | 1 stl | 4 blk | 4 TO | 9-19 FG | 0-3 3PT | 3-4 FT | 2 PF | -2 |

As has become customary, Joel Embiid was the most unstoppable player on the court tonight. He is now at the point where at least 20 points and at least 15 rebounds is an expectation, not a noteworthy performance. His shot selection was better, as he operated from the free-throw-line-extended area and utilized his mid-range jump shot well from that distance. He did, however, take at least one unnecessary 3-pointer from well beyond the arc. Given his percentage from that range, it would be best to limit those shots to spot-up attempts with his feet set and just beyond the 3-point line. He does not need to be shooting from 24 feet out.

Turnovers continue to be Joel’s biggest weakness, but no player is perfect. That will become less of an issue when he stops attempting to create plays from the perimeter using dribble moves. His crossover is excellent, but Embiid occasionally over-dribbles himself into trouble and ends up turning the ball over.

BEN SIMMONS

Point Guard, Philadelphia 76ers

A-

35 mins | 18 pts | 2 reb | 5 ast | 1 stl | 0 blk | 0 TO | 8-12 FG | 0-0 3PT | 2-2 FT | 2 PF | -4 |

Ben Simmons continues to be aggressive, and, as such, he continues to play at an elite level. His perimeter defense continued to be elite against Sacramento’s numerous wings and his willingness to wear down smaller matchups in the paint resulted in efficient scoring tonight. But he played 35 minutes and only amassed two rebounds and five assists. For a player who thrives in a fast-paced offense, Simmons should have more to show in the other major statistical categories.

TOBIAS HARRIS

Power Forward, Philadelphia 76ers

A-

34 mins | 19 pts | 7 reb | 4 ast | 1 stl | 1 blk | 1 TO | 7-16 FG | 1-5 3PT| 4-4 FT | 1 PF | +19 |

Tobias Harris did not have his best night shooting the ball, but he utilized his basketball IQ to be effective tonight. Recognizing that the shots were not falling from beyond the arc, he looked to get to his most comfortable spot on the floor– the mid-post. He used his size and strength to get to the free-throw-line-extended space and converted turn-around jumpers throughout the game. He also recognized when the defense was cheating on screens or was falling behind him as he moved without the ball, cutting with precision and finishing multiple plays at the rim. Harris also showed an ability to defend without fouling, preventing scores from Fox, Barnes, and other Kings.

J.J. REDICK

Shooting Guard, Philadelphia 76ers

B

31 mins | 19 pts | 1 reb | 4 ast | 0 stl | 0 blk | 2 TO | 6-12 FG | 4-9 3PT| 3-3 FT | 2 PF | -7 |

J.J. Redick had been mired in a painful slump from the perimeter for seven of the eight games Joel Embiid missed following the all-star break. He had a refreshingly good game against Cleveland on Tuesday and he built on that performance tonight. He still missed a few that he must knock down; the trade-off of his complete defensive liability is that there are certain shots that he needs to make. Redick missed some of those tonight.

The Sixers will now turn their attention to the Milwaukee Bucks, whom they play in their gym on Sunday afternoon.

Next: Grading possible outcomes of the 2018-19 season

The Bucks (52-17) are looking to lock up the No. 1 seed in the East, while the Sixers are looking to break the 20-games-above-.500 seal for the first time this season and maintain pace as the three-seed in a very tight battle for home-court advantage with Indiana and Boston. Every game is a must-win for the Sixers as they look to guarantee themselves home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.