Observations From Sixers’ Loss to Suns, Wild Day of Trade News and Rumors

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

On a day filled with trade news and rumors from all around the NBA (more on that below), the Philadelphia 76ers played a basketball game. They fell to the Phoenix Suns, currently the best team in the league, 114-109 in front of a packed house at Wells Fargo Center.

Devin Booker finished with 35 points on 11-of-23 shooting. Philadelphia native Mikal Bridges added in 23 points and four rebounds. Chris Paul finished with 16 points and 12 assists.

Joel Embiid extended his 25-plus points streak to 21 consecutive games, scoring 34 points on 13-of-25 shooting to go with 12 rebounds and three steals. Tobias Harris continued his stretch of good play from the past month, totaling 30 points and seven rebounds.

The Sixers will take a 32-22 record into what could potentially be a momentous trade deadline for this organization. Their next game is not until after the Feb. 10 deadline, they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night in Philadelphia. Here are some observations from both the loss to Phoenix and the day's trade news.

Embiid, Harris played well offensively on night where rest of the team struggled

The Sixers got off to a slow start out of the gate, missing their first seven shots of the game. However, Embiid was soon able to get going, finishing with 10 of the team's 25 points in the first quarter. One of the team's best offensive stretches came early in the second quarter, one of the few times where everything was clicking, the ball movement was crisp and the three-pointers were falling.

However, it was truly an Embiid-Harris show in terms of the Sixers offense for much of the night. Seth Curry struggled mightily, making just one of his nine shot attempts. He has not looked right since returning on Jan. 29 against the Sacramento Kings. The Sixers should consider giving him extra rest whenever possible until he gets back to 100 percent from the sore ankle which cost him four games in late January.

Harris continued his recent stretch of good play, getting to his spots and taking his shots with confidence. He got into an early rhythm, taking advantage of a mismatch against Paul in the post.

One of the things Harris excelled at last season was taking advantage of mismatches whenever possible. He has gotten back to doing a lot of the same things he was doing last season, when he was snubbed from the All-Star game. He has been especially effective working in the mid-range and around the paint over the past few games. Against Chicago on Sunday, he shot 10-of-14 from the field on shots from inside the arc. In the loss to Phoenix, he shot 11-of-14 in those spots.

Embiid was able to do his customary things, bullying DeAndre Ayton and generally getting wherever he wanted to throughout the night. Just consider this play from late in the fourth quarter where he muscles his way from the three-point line to the rim, where he finished with a powerful dunk.

Embiid played another good game overall, but one of his lone mistakes could not have come at a worse time. With the Sixers down 110-107 with under 30 seconds to play, Embiid stole the ball from Paul but then overthrew a lead pass to Curry coming up the court. It was an uncharacteristic mistake on a pass he normally makes 99 times out of 100.

Thybulle's defense on Booker

A player of Booker's caliber is going to be able to produce no matter the level of defense against him. He might have scored 35 points (his final line was boosted from a pair of trips to the free-throw line off Philadelphia intentional fouls), but Matisse Thybulle made him work for it throughout the night. It was Thybulle's first game back from a one-game absence due to right shoulder soreness, but he showed no signs of rust.

Consider this possession where Thybulle suffocates Booker, doing something that not too many other players in basketball are able to do.

Possessions like the one above are a prime example of why the Sixers want to hold onto Thybulle at nearly all cost. He possesses elite defensive abilities that not many others have.

While he does not provide much offensively on most nights, he has made some small strides this season. He knocked down both of his attempts from three-point range against the Suns and has made five of his last eight attempts over the previous four games.

Updates on NBA trade news and rumors

With the trade deadline just two days away, there was a ton of major breaking news and rumors throughout the day. On the trade front, the Portland Trail Blazers sent a package centering around CJ McCollum and Larry Nance to the New Orleans Pelicans for a package centered around Josh Hart and some draft picks. The Sixers should have their eyes on how this affects Damian Lillard's desire to stay in Portland past this season. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Portland's plan is to "fully reshape the roster" around Lillard, but it will be interesting to see if Lillard buys into the team's revamped vision.

The Sacramento Kings, to the surprise of nearly everyone, shipped out 21-year-old Tyrese Haliburton, along with Buddy Hield and Tristan Thompson, to the Indiana Pacers for a package centered around Domantas Sabonis.

According to Bleacher Report's Jason Dumas, Philadelphia's general manager and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey passed up on Ben Simmons offers from the Trail Blazers, Kings and Pacers in the days and weeks leading up to the Feb. 10 trade deadline. Haliburton is assumed to be the player the Sixers were targeting from the Kings, but he is clearly now off the table.

Morey is intent on getting a superstar player in return for Simmons. He passed up on some solid offers in an effort to hit the home run, and now that both McCollum and Haliburton were moved it becomes sealed he is going superstar or bust. Lillard has not made it clear he wants out of Portland. Beal, who is set to have season-ending surgery on his left wrist, has also not made up his mind on his future with the Washington Wizards. That leaves James Harden, and there is a ton of noise surrounding a potential trade sending him to Philadelphia.

The trade discussion surrounding Harden is fascinating to follow along as the reports present competing information on an almost daily basis, with some reports painting the picture that there has not really been much discussion between the two teams. The discussion may be taking place in non-traditional ways, such as through back channels, but as Brian Windhorst said today on ESPN, "this negotiation is taking place."

The situation seems to have become a high stakes game of chicken between Morey and Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks. The Nets appear to be leaving things open as they decide what to do with Harden, while the Sixers, according to The Athletic's Sam Amick, "strongly believe he won’t re-sign with the Nets and remain hopeful that Brooklyn sees the light before the deadline buzzer sounds."

Morey is an expert in this theoretical game of chess, and he has some leverage to hold over the Nets in an effort to get them to pull the trigger this season. As Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer first reported on Monday, the Sixers could trade Harris to the Oklahoma City Thunder (in addition to also clearing Simmons' cap hit via trade at the deadline) in order to clear cap space to sign Harden outright in free agency this summer. The Nets' front office is faced with the decision to trade Harden now and get a solid return back or potentially lose him for nothing in the offseason if Harden does indeed have his mind set on leaving Brooklyn.

The Nets will definitely be looking for a huge return if they indeed pull the trigger on a Harden trade before the deadline. Windhorst said it could be Curry or Thybulle in addition to Simmons. The Sixers should look to keep Thybulle due to his elite defensive abilities. While giving up Curry's shooting would hurt, Morey should not let that be what prevents him from acquiring Harden, a proven superstar player (even on a down year for his standards, he is averaging over 22 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists per game).

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