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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Sixers Notebook: Road test

Posted by Eric Fisher On January 26

The 76ers hit the road this week with a point to prove. Despite an impressive 32-17 record, the Sixers still have a losing record (11-12) on the road.

The Sixers currently are fourth in the Eastern Conference. That means that if the season were to end today, they would, barring a first-round upset of the top seed, only have homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Consequently, they would have to be able to win on the road.

The Sixers picked up a big road win on Thurs., Jan. 17 against the Pacers. The Sixers were dominant in a 120-96 victory. But they will be severely tested during their upcoming four-game road trip.

The four-game western swing includes games against the Warriors and Nuggets, the top two teams in the Western Conference. The trip also includes the Lakers and Kings, both of whom are 25-24 following Friday’s games.

Perhaps the Sixers are trying to take some of the pressure off of this trip by basically conceding the first game (Saturday, 9 p.m.) against the Nuggets. Joel Embiid has a scheduled rest day on Saturday, according to head coach Brett Brown. Why Embiid would need a rest day three days after the Sixers beat the Spurs and three days before their next game is a bit of a mystery. One possibility is that having six days between games would give Embiid an opportunity to give his lower back, which has been a source of tightness, extended time to heal.

Another possibility is that having Embiid sit out the game would give the Sixers an excuse, more for themselves than for outsiders, if they lose to the Nuggets, who are tied with the Raptors for the NBA’s second-best home record (21-4). Yes, the Nuggets’ home record is even better than the Sixers’ home record (21-5). With starters Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler likely to miss Saturday’s game due to injuries, a Sixers victory on Saturday would be a miraculous triumph while a loss could be dismissed as being the result of being undermanned. The Sixers could then proclaim their rematch with the Nuggets at Wells Fargo Center on Fri., Feb. 8 as the true test of superiority.

A win over the defending-champion Warriors, who have won nine straight games, would be a big deal regardless of where it occurs. But a win over the Warriors on their home court would be a huge psychological boost.

A 3-1 trip would wipe out many questions about the Sixers ability to win on the road, but the Sixers have set themselves up so that a 2-2 road trip would be considered satisfactory, especially when a loss to the Nuggets could be dismissed as being a product of the Sixers being shorthanded. A 1-3 trip would still leave the Sixers’ ability to win on the road a pressing question. Only an 0-4 trip would be considered a disaster.

It’s likely that the Sixers’ ability to win on the road will remain an unanswered question after this road trip.

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STAR GAZING: Joel Embiid was selected to the All-Star Game for the second straight season. Embiid, averaging 27.2 points and 13.3 rebounds, was selected as a starter from the Eastern Conference for the game, which will take place on Feb. 17 in Charlotte. He is the first Sixer selected in consecutive years since Allen Iverson.

Reserves for the All-Star Game will be announced Thursday. Ben Simmons, who finished fourth in the voting among Eastern Conference guards, has a good shot at being named as a reserve. It’s also possible that Jimmy Butler could be picked for the team.

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SIGH OF RELIEF: After guard Jimmy Butler saw a specialist in Los Angeles, head coach Brett Brown said the Sixers expect Butler to be ready to play Tuesday against the Lakers. Butler was sidelined from the Sixers’ wins over the Rockets and Spurs this past week due to a sprained right wrist, and he is expected to miss Saturday’s road game against the Nuggets.

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WELCOME ADDITION: With Jimmy Butler sidelined, Corey Brewer started against the Rockets and Spurs. The Sixers won both games, with Brewer playing a crucial role against the Rockets, guarding James Harden. Although Harden scored 37 points, Brewer did an admirable job. The veteran swingman was rewarded Friday with a second 10-day contract.

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THIRTY SOMETHING: If it sounds strange to praise Corey Brewer for his defensive effort on a night that James Harden scored 37 points, consider that Harden has scored at least 30 points in 32 straight games, an NBA record.

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BOLD(EN) MOVE: Another player who has seen his minutes increase lately is rookie forward Jonah Bolden. After sitting out most games earlier this season, Bolden has played in 14 straight games, playing at least 10:58 in each of those games. Bolden’s versatility on defense makes him a valuable player for the Sixers, who need more contributions from their bench.

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TIME REDUCED: In contrast to Bolden, Furkan Korkmaz has seen his playing time reduced. Korkmaz has only played 10 minutes in two of the past seven games. He also didn’t play at all in two games during that stretch. Korkmaz is a good shooter which led to calls to increase his playing time earlier this season, but he doesn’t add much else, and he is a liability on defense.

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ROUGH SCHEDULE: After completing their western swing, the Sixers’ schedule doesn’t get much easier. They will host the first-place Raptors on Tues., Feb. 5, and then continue their homestand with games against the Nuggets, Lakers and Celtics before visiting the lowly Knicks at Madison Square Garden in their final game before the All-Star break.

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