Sixers close out Hornets late in 121-114 victory

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Sixers 76ers tyrese maxey
Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, left, goes up for a shot against Charlotte Hornets’ Cody Martin during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers came into Friday night’s matchup with the Charlotte Hornets still reeling from the absence and free-falling in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers were coming off their most recent loss Tuesday in Boston when the game was closer than the final score indicated but ended up being their fourth loss in five games.

Meanwhile, the Hornets came in losers of three of their last four games but had a four-game winning streak before their recent skid. The Hornets were also without LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller, which only increased the Sixers as favorites Friday.

Sixers/Hornets game recap

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Ricky Council IV, center, tries to get a shot past Charlotte Hornets’ Bryce McGowens, left, and Nick Richards during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The game tipped off against the Hornets with an unusual starting lineup for the Sixers, which included Tyrese Maxey, Kyle Lowry, Buddy Hield, Tobias Harris, and Mo Bamba. Bamba got his first start of the season for Philly, giving the starting lineup some size with Kelly Oubre Jr and KJ Martin out. The game started slow offensively for both teams but Maxey and Harris got it going for the Sixers.

Philadelphia’s offense seemed to be to get Harris going early to keep him engaged and help get him out of his slump. Harris was aggressive and on fire in the first quarter scoring 13 points and shooting FIVE three-pointers. His play helped the Sixers build a five-point lead going into the second quarter.

The second quarter started and the defensive effort dropped significantly, specifically guarding the pick and roll. Guard Vasilije Micic knifed through the defense scoring on his own and then making drop-off passes to his bigs for dunks when Bamba overhelped. When Micic wasn’t doing damage, little-used shooter Davis Bertans knocked down tough shots beyond the arc, building their lead to as many as 12.

The group led by Lowry and Maxey helped the team fight back with Paul Reed pitching in off the bench. One highlight for the Sixers in the second quarter was a ridiculous dunk by Ricky Council IV. He was super effective in the first half but he is truly fighting for a roster spot. His dunk electrified the crowd and is all he needs to submit for the 2025 dunk contest.

The second half started with the same defensive intensity for Philly, trading buckets with the Hornets. Once they started locking in on defense, they gave themselves a chance to build some momentum. Bamba struggled early in the third quarter, so Nurse went to Paul Reed for the rest of the game. Reed provided some energy on both ends helping the home team turn the game around and start to try to build some distance.

In the fourth quarter, Nurse went away from his offensive unit to a more defensive unit with Nico Batum playing most of the fourth quarter. They were able to build a 12-point lead but almost gave it away as the Hornets pulled to within two points with less than two minutes remaining.

Some big shots by Tobias Harris and hustle plats from Kyle Lowry and Buddy Hield put the game away. The Sixers walked away with a much-needed 121-114 victory, led by Tobias Harris (31 points and 12 rebounds) and Tyrese Maxey (33 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists). The Hornets were paced by Miles Bridges (27 points and 11 rebounds).

Bouncing back

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Tobias Harris (12) goes up for a dunk during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Tobias Harris came into Friday night’s contest in one of the worst stretches of his career and seemed to just be checked out mentally. In his first media appearance since surgery, Joel Embiid mentioned he talked to Harris over an hour trying to pick him up and give him some confidence. The conversation looked to have sparked Harris, at least for this game.

The game plan was clear from the start, get him the ball early and often to help him settle into the offense and make him comfortable. He had 13 points in the first quarter including taking five threes. His lack of volume from deep has always hindered the Sixers’ spacing but tonight he let them fly early. He ended the night with 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists. Hopefully, this can get him going because they need him now more than ever.

Three’s company

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Kyle Lowry, right, tumbles after being fouled during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Nick Nurse started three guards against Charlotte, looking for an offensive boost and more ball handling for the starters. He inserted Lowry into the lineup with Maxey and Hield, which helped Maxey get some looks off the ball more.

Lowry found Maxey as he flared off down screens for three-pointers, which is critical because he is such a good shooter off the catch and off the bounce. The Sixers will continue to lean into small ball lineups with three of four guards on the floor to take advantage of the potential shooting they can have on the court.

French army knife

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Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (2) shoots over the defense of Philadelphia 76ers forward Nicolas Batum (40) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Nico Batum has been a starter for most of the year, playing in many different roles for this team. Tonight, he was asked to come off the bench but played important minutes in the second half. With Hornets forward Davis Bertans getting it going in the first half, Batum was tasked to take him out of the game and guard the Hornets’ better offensive players. He played almost the entire fourth quarter and his defense and passing helped the team pull out this win. They are going to continue to need him to continue to do the little things to help keep them afloat.