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How Sixers’ Al Horford plays differently with or without Joel Embiid

The Sixers like to use two different styles, employing a more up-tempo game when Embiid is out.

Sixers Al Horford (right) gives the eye to Utah Jazz Mike Conley (left) after he was fouled by Conley in the first half of Monday's game at the Wells Fargo Center.
Sixers Al Horford (right) gives the eye to Utah Jazz Mike Conley (left) after he was fouled by Conley in the first half of Monday's game at the Wells Fargo Center.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

During the first quarter of the Sixers’ 103-94 win over the visiting Utah Jazz on Monday, Al Horford looked every bit the part of the five-time All-Star that he is.

He scored 12 points while hitting all five shots from the field, including two from three-point range. It was the most comfortable Horford has looked as he continues transitioning to playing with Joel Embiid in his first season with the Sixers after the previous three in Boston.

But Horford has to get used to playing two different styles in the same game. When Embiid leaves, the 6-foot-9 Horford slides over from power forward to center.

“You have a team that has Joel Embiid and there is a style of play you should play and then you have a team with Al Horford and there is a style of play you should play, and they are different,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said Tuesday.

When Embiid is in the lineup, the Sixers become more of a half-court team, taking advantage of his post-up skills. When the two-time All-Star is out, the Sixers look to run more.

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“[Brown) wants us to play faster when Joel is off,” Horford said after Monday’s win. “I think the strength of our team is kind of keeping the defense on their toes.”

That means two styles with two different players.

“We can play bully ball, can execute in the half court and have another route where we can go out and run and create chaos that way,” Horford said. “I think that is the strength of our group.”

The versatility of Horford has been one reason the Sixers have gotten off to a 15-6 start, including 10-0 at home. Of the 112 field goals Horford has made, most have come from inside five feet, where he is 46-for-68 (67.6%), according to stats.

His second most field goals have come from 25 to 29 feet where he is 22-for-56 (39.3%).

In a half-court setting, Horford can drill the three, but he also has the ability to thrive in transition.

Now in his 13th season, Horford has never been a volume shooter and this year is no different. He is averaging 12.2 shots per game, which is actually the third highest of his career. Horford is averaging 14.5 points, which is his highest since averaging 15.2 ppg. in 2015-2016 with Atlanta. He is also averaging 7.1 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots in 31.4 minutes.

Horford is a difficult grader. He was asked what grade he would give for him and Embiid playing together.

“I would probably say a B-minus,” Horford said. “I think there is a lot of work to do, not just for me and Jo, but the group in general. We are making strides but not where we need to be.”

That said, he is encouraged at his continued comfort level with his new team.

“We have to continue to work and the good thing is that it’s only December,” Horford said. “I do feel like we are starting to understand how Coach wants us to play and getting better.”

Wizards are next

The Sixers resume action on Thursday in Washington against a Wizards team that went into Tuesday’s home game with Orlando third in the NBA in scoring (118.8 ppg.), but last in scoring defense, allowing 122.7 points per game. … Sixers starting guard Josh Richardson, who has missed the last three games with right hamstring tightness, went through an individual workout and received treatment on Tuesday, according to a team official. ... Sixers reserve guard Trey Burke, who missed Monday’s win over Utah with an upper respiratory illness, returned to practice on Tuesday. … Shake Milton, who returned from a G League assignment on Monday but didn’t play against Utah, didn’t practice on Tuesday and is being treated for right hip discomfort. ... Jonah Bolden was sidelined with right Achilles soreness for Tuesday’s game with the Wilmington Blue Coats, the Sixers’ G League affiliate. He is considered day-to-day.