3 Observations: Undermanned Sixers Run Out of Gas on Second Half of Back-to-Back, Fall to Hornets

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The Philadelphia 76ers dropped to 9-9 on the season after losing a road matchup with the Charlotte Hornets 107-101 on Wednesday night.

The Sixers were heavily shorthanded and playing on the second half of a back-to-back. They were playing without James Harden (right foot tendon strain), Joel Embiid (left mid-foot sprain), Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture, Matisse Thybulle (left ankle tenosynovitis) and Jaden Springer (right quad strain).

They were led in the loss by Shake Milton, who finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. The nine assists tied his career-high. De’Anthony Melton added in 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals.

The Hornets, who were without LaMelo Ball (left ankle sprain), were led by 22 points and six assists from Terry Rozier. P.J. Washington added in 19 points and six rebounds.

The Sixers’ next matchup is a road matchup with the Orlando Magic on Friday. Here are three observations from the loss.

Melton’s hot start

The shorthanded Sixers have been in need of one of the supporting cast to step up and lead the offense. In stepped Melton, who continued his excellent season for the Sixers. He got off to a red hot start against the Hornets, making his presence felt on both ends of the court. After committing an early turnover, he immediately stole the ball back and drew a foul.

Melton’s mid-range shooting has been so pure of late. His first three made shots of the game all came from the mid-range area. The Sixers do a good job of using screens to set him up in position for those mid-range pull-up jumpers. He also connected on a three-pointer from the corner. The Sixers took a 33-21 lead into the second quarter due in large part to Melton’s excellent first-quarter performance. He finished the opening quarter with 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting to go with four rebounds and two steals.

He had a quiet second quarter offensively, cooling off and missing all five of his shots. However, he still made an impact on the game by recording two steals in the quarter. His ability to impact a game in multiple areas helps him to be the ultimate glue guy for the Sixers.

More positive signs from Milton

Milton is another Sixers player taking advantage of the opportunities created from Harden and Maxey being out of the lineup. He has put together a stretch of incredible performances, playing with a ton of confidence in the process.

The 26-year-old did a good job orchestrating the offense. Milton is not an extraordinary point guard, but he very much is capable of making the correct reads and spreading the ball around. He opened up the game assisting a Montrezl Harrell dunk. Harrell, who received the start at center, finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.

Milton appeared to put on some muscle during the offseason, and it is clear he plays a more physical style of basketball. He excels in attacking in the mid-range either through pull-up jumpers or a floater. He has a craftiness when operating in the mid-range. It is something he should look to do more often.

His performance in the fourth quarter was impressive as he carried the offense for large stretches. He scored 10 points in the final frame, including a huge and-one jumper that cut the deficit down to two points with 1:55 remaining. He had perhaps the most well-rounded game of his career, impacting the game in multiple areas. At this point, it is safe to say he should be receiving minutes even when both Harden and Maxey are back on the floor.

Sixers fail to overcome tired legs on back-to-back

The Sixers got off to a red hot start, scoring 33 points in the opening quarter. Things were looking good for Philadelphia. Tobias Harris was doing a solid job attacking mismatches and playing bully ball. The team shot 60% from the field in the first quarter.

However, things started going downhill gradually throughout the second quarter. The jumpers that were falling in the opening frame started falling short. The Sixers scored just 21 points in the second quarter while shooting a paltry 8-of-24 from the field and missing all six of their attempts from beyond the arc.

For a while, it looked as if the Sixers were going to be able to make up for it with a solid defensive effort. However, Charlotte got into rhythm, knocking down a trio of three-pointers in the final few minutes of the first half. The Hornets went on a 9-2 run in the final 2:50 of the first half. Playing on the second half of a back-to-back, the Sixers looked gassed heading into halftime.

Points were hard to come by in the third quarter, with neither team able to hit shots at a high clip. The Sixers were able to stick around despite the poor shooting, with the lead changing back and forth throughout the quarter. However, the Hornets went on an 11-4 run to take a 79-75 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Paul Reed, coming off the bench, did a relatively good job anchoring the Sixers defense. The majority of his minutes came in the second half, and he finished the game with six points, eight rebounds and three blocks. The three blocks tied his single-game career-high.

One night after shooting 50% from three-point range, the Sixers failed to shoot well from beyond the arc. The team shot just 23.7% from three-point range. Charlotte connected on just 26.1% of their shots from deep. The Sixers had a brief flurry of success from three-point range, with Melton and Georges Niang (nine points, 3-of-8 from deep) each knocking down a three-pointer at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

The shorthanded Sixers put together a valiant effort. However, they were not able to overcome their tired legs. The Sixers started playing sloppily in the fourth quarter, and the Hornets took advantage to pull away.