Trae Young, Hawks Beat Joel Embiid-Less 76ers Despite Ben Simmons' Triple-Double

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons (25) dunks next to Atlanta Hawks' DeAndre' Bembry (95) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The Atlanta Hawks figured out a way to cool off the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center with a 123-121 victory in Friday's Eastern Conference showdown.

Philadelphia, who was without Joel Embiid because of an ankle injury, entered the contest an impressive 18-3 at home but dropped to 27-16 overall as Atlanta snapped a two-game losing streak. John Collins hit a fadeaway jumper to give the Hawks the lead with less than 10 seconds remaining, and Jimmy Butler missed two free throws on the ensuing possession.

Butler missed the second one on purpose, but Wilson Chandler missed the game-tying putback at the buzzer.

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Collins finished with 25 points and nine boards, while Kevin Huerter (29 points) and Trae Young (18 points and five assists) contributed to the win.

Butler (30 points) and Ben Simmons (23 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds) spearheaded the effort for the 76ers, but they didn't have enough firepower to defeat the visitors without their big man.

           

Mortgaging Future Worth the Gamble for Razor-Thin Sixers

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The 76ers made valuable additions when they signed Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova last February, bringing in the type of underrated role pieces who are so often needed in playoff games.

It is even more pressing they make additions this season with the Eastern Conference no longer controlled by LeBron James—who made eight straight NBA Finals appearances before heading West this past offseason—and the team in the middle of a championship window with the Big Three of Simmons, Butler and Embiid.

The depth issues were on full display for stretches of Friday's game against an overmatched opponent with Embiid sidelined.

Butler and Simmons were forced into more heavy lifting than should have been needed during a regular-season home game against the Hawks, with the former playing 22 of 24 minutes in the first half.

Simmons was at least halfway to a triple-double in points, assists and rebounds in the first half with Butler playing well, and Philadelphia was still up just two at halftime before falling behind in the third quarter.

This team is going to need fresh legs come playoff time, and the lack of ancillary pieces puts that type of additional stress on the Big Three every game. Philadelphia's bench boasted an uninspiring net rating of minus-0.6 entering play, per NBA.com, which is not exactly reflective of a team with NBA Finals aspirations.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News reported the Sixers may be willing to trade a first-round draft pick for another piece this year, particularly if it netted them a frontcourt player who can stretch the floor with his outside shot. They lost two versatile players in Dario Saric and Robert Covington who could do just that in the Butler trade, and more shooters would open up driving lanes for Simmons and more post plays for Embiid.

While Butler is the type of two-way, dominant presence who can take over a playoff game, it was still a two-contributors-for-one swap that put the absence of Markelle Fultz on a team already struggling with depth even further under the microscope.

Moving a first-round pick for a supporting player is a risk, but the Sixers should be willing to mortgage the future for the present after taking a win-now approach with the Butler trade. Eyen though Zach Lowe of ESPN.com reported the front office wants to re-sign him, the future is still far from guaranteed since he has a player option for 2019-20.

That trade wasn't the type of move typical of a team content to see how the season plays out, and the lack of depth has been a glaring issue against the top competition it will face in the playoffs. Philly is an ugly 2-6 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers.

Boston and Toronto, in particular, boast playoff-tested supporting casts alongside stars in Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard, respectively, and the 76ers don't have enough high-caliber options to counter their depth in long playoff series with the current roster.

The right trade could change that.

          

What's Next?

Both teams are in action Sunday with the 76ers at the New York Knicks and the Hawks hosting the Milwaukee Bucks.

Zach Lowe was the guest on the latest edition of The Full 48 podcast and spoke about the 76ers and much more. To hear the 76ers discussion, jump to 35:56.

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