The Philadelphia 76ers missed Joel Embiid's impact in clogging the paint and experienced a night to forget against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, especially in the final seconds.
Embiid missed the game because of a sore right ankle, injured in Wednesday night's loss to Washington, but the 76ers hope to have him back Sunday afternoon when they visit the New York Knicks.
Without him for the third time this season, the Sixers allowed 62 points in the paint, got outrebounded 44-30 and took a 123-121 home loss. Mike Muscala started at center but hardly could compensate for Embiid's team-leading 26.9 points and 13.5 rebounds.
The Sixers lost on a night when Ben Simmons recorded his seventh triple-double of the season and 19th in his career with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and a season-high 15 assists. They also lost on a night when Jimmy Butler scored 30 points but missed two free throws with 2.4 seconds left after making his first 12.
Philadelphia heads to New York with consecutive losses for the third time this season. The Sixers also enter the game having allowed at least 120 points in consecutive contests for the third time this season and in five of their last nine games.
"Whether it's Joel or not Joel, you know we should be better defensively," Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. "Historically, we have been. It's where we anchored our program and at the moment, we are poor. Right now, lately, we have been poor."
Starting with a loss at Boston on Christmas, the 76ers are 5-4 in their last nine and 8-7 in their last 15 games. In the last month, the Sixers have allowed an average of 114.3 points per game.
"We got plenty of games left, we just got to fix it. I think we're going to be fine," Butler said. "All I know is, everybody's in there. We're in it together, we're not going separate ways. Stay as a whole, win and lose as a team. "
While Philadelphia has turned in mediocre showings in the last few weeks, the Knicks have been on a major tailspin. Since Dec. 1, New York has lost 16 of 19 and eight straight at home with 12 of their losses in this stretch coming by double-digits.
The latest loss was Friday's 121-106 loss to Indiana when the Knicks trailed for the final 268 minutes. The Knicks also allowed at least 109 points for the 21st straight game.
"Defensive breakdowns," Knicks coach David Fizdale said of the latest loss. "For whatever reason ... we're rolling along right there, competing with them step for step, and we took probably three shots where we didn't make one pass, which put a ton of pressure back on our defense."
Emmanuel Mudiay scored 21 points Friday but rookie Kevin Knox continued his run of quiet showings with 14 points.
The Knicks were without Enes Kanter due to flu-like symptoms, two days after the center tweeted a video of him eating several cheeseburgers. They also lost Tim Hardaway Jr. to a hamstring cramp, though the guard is listed as probable for Sunday.
Kanter could be out again Sunday and since he is not accompanying the Knicks on the trip to London this week over security concerns, his next game would be Jan. 21 -- assuming he has not been traded by then.
Philadelphia claimed double-digit home wins over New York in a span of three weeks in November and December, has won the last six meetings and is 8-2 in the last 10 meetings.
In a 117-91 win on Nov. 28, Embiid totaled 26 points and 14 rebounds while the Knicks shot 34.8 percent. In a 131-109 win on Dec. 19, Embiid finished with 24 and 10 as the Sixers held a 51-35 rebounding edge.
--Field Level Media