Sixers looking for Butler return vs. Cavs

By Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange

In the month since Jimmy Butler joined the Philadelphia 76ers, things are going pretty well.

Just not in the last two games, as Butler sat out with a strained groin and 76ers took a pair of home losses.


With or without Butler, the 76ers hope to snap their first losing streak since acquiring him Sunday afternoon when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Sixers (19-11) are 10-5 since Butler, who is listed as questionable for Sunday, joined the team Nov. 14 in Orlando. They are 10-3 with him in the lineup.

Butler was injured in Monday's 116-102 win over Detroit and an MRI exam showed no structural damage the following day. He was held out of Wednesday's 127-124 loss to the Brooklyn Nets and also sat out a 113-101 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday.


Without Butler, Furkan Korkmaz scored 18 points in the starting lineup Wednesday and six points in the starting frontcourt Friday.

Joel Embiid recorded his league-leading 25th double with 40 points and 21 rebounds but the Sixers were outscored 64-42 by Indiana after halftime.

"I think the physicality got the better of us," Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. "They are the second-ranked defensive team in the NBA and we felt all of that. I thought that they were just more physical. You know, I think that we tried to find production from different places and struggled."

According to Basketball-Reference, Embiid became the first Sixer to total at least 40 points and 20 rebounds since Charles Barkley (40 and 22) on Dec. 7, 1990, vs. Denver. Most of Embiid's production occurred before halftime when he had 28 and 14.

Whether or not Butler plays, Philadelphia will be attempting to avoid its first three-game losing streak since Jan. 28-31.

"It's still early," Embiid said of the Sixers since acquiring Butler. "We are still learning how to play with each other. We just have to figure out each other's tendencies, like where one likes to have the ball and likes to operate, but he's fine. He's great. We have been winning the last few games. We have been winning so I guess we have to do the same thing. But at the end of the day, it's all about winning. "


One of Philadelphia's losses was a 121-112 home setback to Cleveland on Nov. 23 when the Cavaliers scored 67 points in the second half and shot 52.7 percent. Two players who saw time in that game will not be present this time. Tristan Thompson is out with a foot injury and Kyle Korver was traded to Utah a few days after the win in Philadelphia.

Cleveland (7-22) is 4-8 since its surprising win at Philadelphia and is 1-6 against the top five teams in the Eastern Conference (Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, and Indiana).

The Cavaliers will be facing one of those top teams in the East for the third time in four games before heading out on a three-game trip that includes visits to Indiana and Toronto.

Cleveland's last two games against one of the best in the East was a 108-92 loss at Milwaukee on Monday and a 114-102 home loss to the Bucks on Friday. The latest defeat occurred after owner Dan Gilbert told season ticket holders during a conference call that the Cavaliers will get better quicker than the first time LeBron James departed in free agency.


The Cavaliers lost despite holding Milwaukee to 42.6 percent shooting but had little answers for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 44 points by making 14 of 19 field goals and 16 of 21 free throws.

"Our effort was there, our effort was there," Cleveland coach Larry Drew said. "I can't fault that. We put up a fight, we were down early. You have to exert a lot of energy to get back in it to fight yourself back."

Channing Frye started at center for the second straight game in place of Thompson, but Larry Nance Jr. saw plenty of action by playing 37 minutes and being among those assigned to guard Antetokounmpo. Nance will likely see plenty of time against Embiid, who totaled 24 points and 12 boards in the first meeting.

Jordan Clarkson continued to play well by scoring 23 points and has three 20-point games in his last five contests and 25 games in double figures as a reserve. The Cavaliers will also be hoping for a bounce-back by rookie Collin Sexton, who was held to five points after being in double figures for 18 straight games as he struggled with Milwaukee's size advantage on defense.


"Anytime you're trying to finish over length, your percentages go down," Drew said. "He has not figured that out yet. I think it's something that will come in time."

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