Here are some key takeaways and "best" and "worst" awards from the 76ers' 101-95 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
— Joel Embiid has not been cleared to play in back-to-back games, and even if he had been, his back issues have kept him sidelined. His importance to the team is growing more and more clear with every day that goes by. Embiid has missed four of the Sixers' last six games. His team has won just one of the seven games he's missed this season.
Load management and extreme caution seem to be the way the Sixers are going to operate with their franchise player, so the rest of the team needs to learn to win without Embiid. If they can't figure out a way to turn it around when the big man is missing, then they can kiss their chance at making the playoffs goodbye.
— After 17 years in the league, and at 38 years old, Zach Randolph has no intention of slowing down. The veteran power forward finished Tuesday with a game-high 27 points to go with five rebounds and one block. With Embiid sidelined, Randolph made easy work of playing bully ball down low, connecting on 12 of his 19 field goals. Randolph's longevity and efficiency are traits to which young players can aspire.
— Robert Covington's streaky shooting continues. He is 7-of-32 from three-point range in the last three games. After starting out the season on a tear and shooting 50 percent from deep through the first 13 games, his percentages have dropped and he can't seem to string together more than two games of good shooting.
— It has become the norm for Ben Simmons to shine on the stat sheet while playing an overall game that's just okay. That was the case Tuesday, when he was one assist shy of a triple-double but took six shots over the course of the game. He was efficient, hitting five of those six shots, but after two quick jumpers early in the first quarter his offensive aggression dwindled.
Simmons has to gain confidence at the free throw line so that making contact in the lane isn't so daunting. And the jumpers we saw early on against the Kings need to be a more regular occurrence.
— Trevor Booker returned last night from a sprained left ankle. In the third quarter the Sixers lost JJ Redick due to tightness in his right hamstring. Then there are the continuing injuries — Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Justin Anderson. Even the deepest reaches of the bench aren't immune, as Furkan Korkmaz is dealing with a foot injury.
All NBA teams deal with injury problems, though. For the Sixers, the ability to play through them, and for substitutions to feel fluid rather than forced, will be a test moving forward.
‘Best’ and ‘Worst’ awards
— Best performance: How can it not be the ageless Randolph? It's not just his numbers that are impressive, but the way he stakes his claim down low. He plays through contact, recognizes mismatches, and can score from any angle. The Kings finished the night with 48 points in the paint to the Sixers' 32 in large part because of the work that Randolph did.
— Worst performance: It's hard to give this to the Sixer that was the team's leading scorer, but that's what has to happen. Robert Covington had 17 points on just 5-of-19 shooting, including 2-of-13 from beyond the arc. He tried to make up for it by scrambling for loose balls and making hustle plays, but he also coughed up four turnovers.
— Best defensive performance: Brett Brown said that Frank Mason changed the game for Sacramento, and I would agree on that for the most part. He was an efficient 7-for-9 for 16 points and had two major blocks
But the award is split. The other half goes to Buddy Hield. He made his presence known on the defensive end, not just on offense. He ran off passes, forced turnovers, and picked up three steals to go with his 24 points — and only committed one foul.
— Worst statistic: The Sixers' three-point shooting has too often made an appearance as the worst stat of the game, and here it is again. They shot just 28.6 percent (10-of-35) from long range against the Kings.
— Best statistic: Jerryd Bayless shot 4-of-8 from three and did so at key moments late in the game, closing the gap and giving the Sixers chances to tie the game or retake the lead. The Sixers didn't capitalize on those opportunities, and it often felt like it was too little too late. But in light of the awful shooting from the rest of the team, Bayless' clip looks great. He's hitting at 50 percent from long range through the last four games.
— Worst of the worst: The Sixers' performance in the fourth quarter was far from okay. Closing out games has been a problem. and this one was ugly. The Kings outscored the Sixers 30-17 over the final 12 minutes, while the Sixers committed six turnovers and shot just 5-of-20 from the floor. That's definitely not how you should hold on to what had been a 16-point lead in the third quarter. It is certainly not how you win games.