Simmons' presence sorely missed in 76ers' loss to Lakers

The Philadelphia 76ers visited Los Angeles on Wednesday, as the team looked to put up a fight without three key players - Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson and Joel Embiid. At the game, it was clear this was a competitive and well-fought battle – the whole arena was visibly engaged in the contest all the way until the end. Ultimately, the Los Angeles Lakers proved too strong for the depleted Sixers, winning 120-107.

An aggressive Matisse Thybulle is needed for the Sixers

Potential Australian Boomer, Matisse Thybulle was drafted out of the University of Washington by Philly, in the hope that his defensive versatility would translate in the NBA. So far, he has lived up to the hype, leading all rookies in steals at 1.4 per contest, while he is 18th overall in the league (every player above him plays an average of six or more minutes). He also leads all first year players in deflections at 2.5 and holds opponents to 41.2% from the field, which is good for second-best of all players that are in their first season and defending more than seven shots a game.

Amidst Josh Richardson’s unavailability and Glenn Robinson’s recent struggles, the Huskies product was moved to the starting team against the Lakers. Philly deployed a zone regularly throughout the game, yet they relied on the swingman to guard LeBron James for a handful of possessions. Thybulle held James to 1/3 shooting, deflecting the ball twice, and picking his pocket once.

Otherwise, in 18 minutes, Thybulle shot 1/3 from the field for two points, crashed the glass for four rebounds (three offensive), and also dished out three dimes. In the third quarter, his defensive impact was noticeable – he helped spur a 76ers run purely with his defensive pressure.

Much like the story of his season though, the hopeful Boomer’s offensive aggression went missing at times. He has had some hot shooting streaks previously in the year, but recently it has slowed down (he only attempted two three pointers today). Subsequently, he didn’t play extended minutes in the fourth quarter. He currently averages 4.7 points per game, while shooting 36% from three - numbers that certainly don’t jump off the page.

With the playoffs approaching, improving these numbers would greatly benefit the team. Being able to inject a firing Thybulle off the bench for much-needed energy on both sides of the ball is something the Sixers desperately need, especially considering their lethargic play away from home.

Simmons is clearly missed

In his first game back after the All-Star break, Ben Simmons suffered a worrisome back injury. It was reported on the 26th of January that he suffered a back impingement (per Adrian Wojnarowksi) and would be reassessed in two weeks. Considering the report stated he would be “re-evaluated” rather than “return” in two weeks, it is still unclear when he will actually be back, with the ambiguity behind his injury being shared by Sixers (and Boomers) head coach, Brett Brown before the game.

“Can [the Philadelphia 76ers] just ride the wave? Land the plane, ride the wave concept. And so I hope that when we start getting a healthy J Rich back, and Joel and it seems like Ben will be a little bit longer, that we can pull off some of those things we learnt last year,” Brown explained when comparing last year’s team to this year’s, at the same stage of the season.

Against the Lakers, it was clear Simmons was missed. The team lacked a perimeter playmaker for most of the game - Shake Milton’s good play has been a consolation prize, considering the bad luck the Sixers have endured in the past couple of weeks, but his hot hand was mitigated by a dogged Avery Bradley. Alec Burks provided some instant offence, but fails to involve his teammates in the same way Simmons does. Raul Neto got some burn, but he too didn’t quite leave his imprint on this one.

Without a creator like Simmons, who can easily drive to the rim for easy buckets or find open teammates when given too much attention, it will always be a difficult task for the Sixers to adequately compete against a team with one of the best records in the league.

On the other side of the ball, it seemed as if the Sixers did not have anyone viable to contain guys like James and Anthony Davis all game round, clearly hurting from the loss All-NBA level defenders that are Simmons and Embiid. James scored 26 on 9/16 shooting, while Davis went for 37 on 13/19 from the field.

Before the game, Brown made it clear it was always going to be a challenge without three of his stars and especially without Simmons’ elite defence.

“Ben’s a Swiss Army knife,” Brown explained when trying to describe Simmons’ defensive prowess. “Kawhi, LeBron, whoever.”

The fact that Simmons was so impactful against the Lakers the last time they met is more proof in the pudding of how much he helps this team. The Aussie had 28 points, ten rebounds, eight assists and four steals, as the team won comfortably by 17 (also without Embiid), when they met in January.

On a more positive note, after facing the two powerhouses of Los Angeles, the Sixers have the easiest record out of any team in the whole association, according to Tankathon.com.

As well as that, Richardson’s return can’t be too far off and Embiid will be up for re-evaluation in the coming days. Things will turn around, soon.