After Monday’s 113-95 win at Dallas, 76ers coach Doc Rivers was asked about the recent effectiveness of his second unit.
Rivers responded that it all had to do with the starters, or more accurately, their availability. This season the Sixers are 19-4 when their starting lineup consists of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, and Danny Green. Win No. 19 together occurred Monday.
“As much as it helps our starters, when we are at full strength it helps our bench because our bench is back together,” Rivers said after Monday’s win. “The starting lineup can survive, but it is the bench that struggles. When everybody is healthy, the bench is strong and I would say that has as much to do with [the recent success].”
The Sixers (37-17) are coming off a 3-1 road trip, and with 18 games left in the regular season, Rivers will be fine-tuning his rotation.
Shake Milton remains the key, because he is expected to provide scoring every night. For the most part, he has delivered. He is averaging 13.7 points.
Milton has come off the bench in all but two games. (As a starter he has averaged 26 points).
One area that is down is three-point shooting, This season Milton is shooting 32.2% compared to 43% last year, but he has been a dependable scorer.
Furkan Korkmaz is playing some of his best basketball of the season. He has started six games, when his average is 14.0 points per game. In 37 games as a reserve he’s averaging 8.5.
He has scored in double figures in a season-high four straight games for the second time this year. One of those games came as a starter, but in his last three off the bench he is averaging 14 points and has shot 9-for-19 from three-point range (47.3%).
Matisse Thybulle has proved to be one of the top defenders not only on the team but in the NBA. He leads the NBA with 3.7 steals per 100 possessions.
What would allow him more court time is improving his offense. He has started six games and has averaged 6.5 points. Thybulle is averaging 3.4 points in 45 games as a reserve. For the season he is shooting 30.9% from three-point range.
Dwight Howard has been a solid backup to Joel Embiid. While he is prone to committing unnecessary fouls (8.4 per 100 possessions), he has been a rebounding machine .
Howard is averaging 22.7 rebounds per 100 possessions, including 7.2 on the offensive glass. Even Embiid, in the midst of an MVP-type season, is averaging 16.4 rebounds per 100 possessions, including 3.1 on the offensive glass.
Mike Scott, for the most part, hasn’t been a difference maker, averaging 6.9 points in eight games as a starter and 3.5 points in 27 games as a reserve.
First round pick Tyrese Maxey has not been a big part after seeing significant time earlier this year.
This doesn’t even include veteran George Hill, acquired at the trade deadline on March 25 from Oklahoma City. He has not played since suffering a thumb injury on Jan. 24 that required surgery on Feb. 2.
Hill says he expects to be back and Rivers will likely plug him into a significant rotation role.
While the Sixers starters could be resting down the stretch, having a number of games with them together will be a big advantage to them and the reserves.
Contrast that with the Brooklyn Nets, who visit the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday in a battle of the top Eastern Conference teams.
Since acquiring James Harden on Jan. 13 from Houston in a four-team trade, the Nets have played only six games with Harden and fellow All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving together in the starting lineup. The Nets are 5-1 in those games.
Harden remains out with a right hamstring strain, so it will be a real question whether the Nets starters can develop the needed continuity before the postseason.