PFB 019 – Reader Mailbag Podcast

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

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Ever since the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, it’s been a heck of a month for winning in Philadelphia sports. I do my first-ever mailbag podcast, answering questions sent in by you, the readers. The episode covers:

  • Who the Sixers should take with Lakers pick in the 2018 NBA draft;
  • My top 5 “untouchable” players in Philadelphia sports right now;
  • Thoughts on the upcoming Phillies season and when we can expect them to contend for an NL East title again;
  • The LeBron to Philly hype;
  • The bizarre Markelle Fultz situation;
  • What the Eagles should do in the 2018 draft and how to handle the Nick Foles situation;
  • And my limited knowledge on this year’s Oscars.

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Wizards snap Sixers winning streak at 7

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Washington 109, Philadelphia 94 – Box Score

It was a fun ride while it lasted, but all good things have to end sometime. That’s what Philadelphia fans are telling themselves this morning, after the Sixers had their winning streak snapped at 7 Sunday night in the nation’s capital. The Wizards led from the end of the first quarter on, as their advantage ballooned to as many as 23 points at one point in the third quarter. To the Sixers’ credit, they twice cut the deficit to 8 midway through the fourth quarter, but climbing out of that big a hole was too tall an order on the road on the second night of a back-to-back.

This game was the biggest example I noticed of an opponent really getting up to play the Sixers, a decided 180 from years past when teams would sleepwalk through games against them, until finally waking up in time to pull out the victory. Maybe it was the large contingent of Sixers fans in attendance in DC, chanting Trust the Process and E-A-G-L-E-S. Maybe it was the fact that the Sixers would have moved up to 5th in the East, dropping Washington down to 6th, with a victory. Or maybe they’re just tired of hearing about the Sixers as the next big thing in the NBA. Whatever the case, the Wizards were fired up, flexing for the crowd after every big play and leaping off the bench in celebration whenever a run prompted a Sixers timeout.

That energy fed into Washington’s shot-making, as whether open or contested, they drained every single jumper in sight. The Sixers got to the free throw line more, collected more offensive rebounds, and forced more turnovers, so it wasn’t a question of effort. But every time Philadelphia was making a push to get back into the game, Bradley Beal (24 points), Otto Porter (23 points), or Kelly Oubre, Jr. (19 points) would hit a huge shot to stem the tide. Washington shot 12-25 from behind the arc as a team, whereas the Sixers went a paltry 9-33, with not a single player making better than one-third of his attempts. Make or miss league, and all that.

Philadelphia’s stars played well enough. Ben Simmons recorded 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. Joel Embiid put together a line of 25 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. He also had the highlight of the night with this left-handed, no-look, over the shoulder hook shot. If he doesn’t even need to see the basket now to throw it in, I’m not sure what recourse opposing defenses will have.

Still, it wasn’t a nearly dominant enough performance when the majority of the supporting cast was MIA. The only other Sixer who showed much of a pulse was Richaun Holmes, who finally got off the bench in the third quarter and provided a huge spark for the team. Holmes’ numbers don’t pop off the box score (7 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 block), but he was a +12 in his 12 minutes of playing time. He noticeably bumped up the energy level for the team, the biggest catalyst in the Sixers trimming Washington’s lead back down to 8. It was great to see Holmes have another strong showing because of the other big piece of news Sunday.

Word on the street is that Ersan Ilyasova will be returning to the Sixers after being bought out of his contract with Atlanta. As I’m sure you recall, Ilyasova spent much of the 2016-17 season with Philadelphia, averaging 14.8 points and 5.9 rebounds, while shooting 35.9% from three. His skillset as a stretch four makes for a solid addition to the bench unit, especially getting him for nothing, although it’s funny the Sixers are collecting spare parts from the last place Hawks.

The million dollar question at the moment, though, is who will be the roster cut to bring in Ilyasova. Jerryd Bayless is owed $8.6M next season and I’m sure the Sixers would like to find a way to clear that salary off the cap this offseason. Guys like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and the recently-acquired Marco Belinelli are at a position of need for the current roster. That process of elimination basically leaves Richaun Holmes and Trevor Booker. Booker was a recent half year rental and would be the logical choice. He doesn’t help stretch the floor at all, something vital for a team with Ben Simmons as the point guard.

However, even though he’s young and has plenty of supporters among the fan base, the coaching staff seems to have soured on Richaun Holmes at times. He’s gathered plenty of DNP-CD’s this season, mainly due to concerns on the defensive end. His being the odd man out wouldn’t be completely out of left field. Booker is the smartest choice though; hopefully, that’s the news we’ll be hearing in the next day or two.

Meanwhile, although the Sixers could have moved up to 5th place in the East with the win, they’re still sitting in fine position. Currently, they reside in 7th place with a comfortable 4.5-game cushion between them and the 9th-place Pistons. The playoffs are more and more secure by the week. Don’t let one bad game cloud what’s a very bright big picture.

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Embiid leads Sixers over Orlando for 7th straight win

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 116, Orlando 105 – Box Score

An unusual 5:00 Saturday afternoon start time. A nationally televised Sunday night game in DC on deck. An Orlando Magic team that entered play having lost four straight and sitting next to last in the Eastern Conference. There were plenty of reasons the Sixers could have fallen victim to the classic “letdown game”, and when Orlando jumped out to an early 15-6 lead, it looked like that might be the case.

With Joel Embiid, however, there would be no letdown. Upon re-entering the contest with 2:39 remaining in the first quarter, the Sixers center immediately went on a personal 6-0 run. That short sequence was a prelude to the 27 minutes of destruction he would rain upon the Magic throughout the afternoon and early evening.

Embiid’s first two points of the game came bringing the ball up himself and pulling up from the foul line. After the jumper swished through, the camera cut to Brett Brown on the bench, a bemused smirk playing across his face. Technical post moves to finish around the basket, rip-throughs to earn easy trips to the free throw line, silky smooth face up jumpers, Embiid threw the whole arsenal at the Magic and they were helpless to stop him. A three-pointer from the top of the key four minutes into the second quarter gave Embiid 17 points and put the Sixers ahead by 15. The game was never truly in doubt the rest of the way.

The cherry on top came in the third quarter, though, featuring a sequence where JoJo drained a textbook Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaway and then blocked a Shelvin Mack drive on the other end, punctuating it with the Dikemebe Mutombo finger wag.

That’s the greatest shooting big man ever and one of the best defensive big men of all time all in one tidy package. He goes by The Process for short.

The final line for Embiid: 28 points on 10-17 shooting, 14 rebounds, and most impressively, zero turnovers. A few of those buckets came off terrific feeds from J.J. Redick, who had 3 assists when he wasn’t knocking down every jumper in sight (16 points on 6-8 shooting). Ben Simmons had an efficient 17 points and 7 assists, keeping the momentum rolling for his Rookie of the Year frontrunner status.

Crucially, Embiid and every Sixer other than T.J. McConnell logged fewer than 30 minutes, meaning the roster will be as well-rested as possible heading into the second half of their back-to-back. The Sixers have won 7 straight games, and still haven’t lost in Philadelphia in 2018. They’re now just one game back of the 4th seed in the East, currently held by Washington, who the Sixers will face next. I think Joel Embiid and company might just be ready to keep climbing the conference ladder.

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Sixers steal a win in Chicago

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 116, Chicago 115 – Box Score

Right now, Chicago is in a situation very familiar to Sixers fans in recent years, openly tanking by announcing veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday wouldn’t be dressing for the game. (Just don’t come out and say you’re trying to lose. You don’t want that $600k fine like Mark Cuban.) Meanwhile, the Sixers have already crawled through that river of toxic sludge and are finally on the other side, winners of five straight heading into an All-Star weekend where they had three players starting in the Rising Stars game and an All-Star starter to boot.

So it was no surprise when Philadelphia jumped out to an early 25-7 lead. Playoff-bound team destroys team positioning for lottery balls; it’s a tale as old as time. To the Bulls’ credit though, that’s not at all how things played out. Chicago got insanely out from the outside, tying a franchise record with 18 made threes on 34 attempts. Zach LaVine hit 5 of 7 shots from downtown for 23 points and  David Nwaba knocked down all 3 of his three-pointers for a career-high 21 points.

However, the real show-stopper was Bobby Portis, who went 6-9 from behind the arc and 15-26 from the field overall for a career-high 38 points, a dozen more than his previous career high. Part of the reason you make a solid contributor like Lopez a healthy scratch is to give more playing time to a younger guy like Portis, and he certainly made that decision look wise Thursday night. Late in the fourth quarter, the Sixers were down 5 and it looked like they were destined for a bad loss to kick off the second half of the season.

Ah, but the reason the Sixers went through those years of tanking was to obtain elite talents through the draft, and those elite talents were ready to step up for them when it mattered most. Down 1 with five seconds remaining, Joel Embiid used all of his 7’6″ wingspan to snag an errant Bulls inbounds pass.

Embiid dished it off to Ben Simmons, who was fouled. Now, Simmons had only gone 4-9 from the free throw line up until that point. But with the game hanging in the balance, Ben received a friendly roll over the front iron on the first shot, and calmly swished the second for the go-ahead point. Great confidence builder for the young man to hit game-winning free throws after teams were playing Hack-a-Ben earlier this season.

There was still plenty of time left for Chicago and they couldn’t have asked for a better chance to win when 6’2″ T.J. McConnell was switched onto the 6’11” Portis under the basket. Portis was fed the ball, but despite scoring 38 points already, couldn’t make it 40 as he missed the open bunny deep in the painted area. The Bulls even got one more chance with the offensive rebound, but Denzel Valentine’s short jumper was also just off the mark. The Sixers somehow escaped with a victory in the reverse of the sort of heartbreaking loss we saw them lose far too many times in recent memory.

Beyond their last second heroics, Simmons and Embiid were doing their best to single-handedly (double-handedly?) drag the Sixers to victory all night. Simmons dropped a career-high 32 points on 13-18 shooting, adding 7 rebounds and 11 assists. Embiid tallied 30 points, hitting all 3 of his attempts from behind the arc, and contributing in all the other areas with 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 4 blocks. I’m not going to go in-depth on how amazing these guys are. You’ve seen them. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if Embiid received down-ballot MVP votes this season. Simmons is unlikely to miss another All-Star game for a long time.

The Sixers have now won six straight (still undefeated in the Eagles are Super Bowl Champions era) and are 2 games away from the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. With the lowly Magic on tap next, things should continue to trend in an upward direction, as long as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons keep playing like the stars they’ve already become.

Joel Embiid shines in All-Star debut

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Team LeBron 148, Team Steph 145 – Box Score

It was a busy weekend in Los Angeles for Sixers big man Joel Embiid. Friday night, he started in the Rising Stars game, where he, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric helped Team World to a dominating victory. One night later, he participated in the skills competition, falling in the second round, but adding his own unique flavor to the proceedings by purposely throwing his passes away rather than trying to get them in the cylinder (to save time, you see). Sunday night was the main event, however, as Embiid was taking the court alongside the best players in the game of basketball as an All-Star starter.

To the surprise of no one, in Philadelphia at least, Embiid proved he belonged amongst the game’s elites. The Sixers center finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks, also rekindling that rivalry with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook along the way. It’s safe to say Sixers fans are going to have the Thunder’s visit to the Wells Fargo Center circled on their calendars next season. This sequence where Westbrook dared Embiid to shoot a three, Embiid drained it, and then blocked Westbrook at the basket on the other end was a key highlight of the game.

Most encouragingly, when it came to crunch time and the top players in the game ratcheted up the intensity to actually play two-way basketball, Joel Embiid was on the floor. Team Steph was even working the offense through him, and after Embiid scored on LeBron James down low, LeBron and Kevin Durant came with a double team the next possession down the court. I can’t imagine a higher sign of respect than that pair deciding they need to come at you with a double team. Embiid dribbled it off his own foot, and although no one else appeared to touch the ball, his team retained possession after a lengthy replay review (much to the consternation of LeBron).

On the defensive end, Team LeBron kept attacking Embiid with isolations, but the big man proved up to the challenge. He forced Kyrie Irving into a tough, contested three-pointer (which rimmed out), and then LeBron hit a deep three-pointer of his own. Then, Embiid’s finest work came matched up against Paul George with just inside of a minute remaining. George was able to beat Embiid off the dribble, but Joel recovered enough to block George’s shot off the backboard to keep the game tied.

Yet, in spite of that play, Team Steph coach Mike D’Antoni (who you may recall was on the Sixers coaching staff for a year, so he should know better), took Embiid out of the game for the next defensive possession. As you might expect, Team LeBron scored easily at the rim, and went on to secure the victory.

Nevertheless, crunch time in the All-Star game serves as an unofficial barometer of who the best ten players in the league are for a given season. Joel Embiid was not only out there, but he was a key figure in the proceedings. Not since Allen Iverson led the East to a massive comeback in the 2001 All-Star game have the Sixers felt this relevant on the national stage. By every indication, the team should remain in the spotlight for years to come.

Sixers complete 24-point comeback to defeat Miami

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 104, Miami 102 – Box Score

A 24-point second half lead somehow evaporated before our very eyes. It’s the type of situation Sixers fans sadly have seen far too often this season. Except, on this Valentine’s Day night, there was a plot twist the people of Philadelphia had to love. This time, it was the Sixers who trailed by 24 points early in the third quarter, only to roar all the way back and defeat the Heat by 2 points.

The comeback was made all the more improbable because it happened without Joel Embiid, who was a late scratch for this game with his sore right ankle. Without their All-Star big man, the Sixers looked completely out of sorts in the first half. Sloppy turnovers, multiple technical fouls borne out of frustration, and a stagnant offense that without Embiid to draw defense attention, had to resort to tough jumpers from J.J. Redick and Robert Covington which were off the mark. The referees were even seemingly against the Sixers, as Tony Brothers at one point waived off a Ben Simmons jumper for a 24-second violation when Ben clearly got the shot off in plenty of time (they later reversed it upon review).

Things flipped in a big way after halftime, thanks in large part to an uptick in energy from the big men off the bench. Richaun Holmes and Trevor Booker combined for 20 points and 18 rebounds, with 8 of those boards coming on the offensive end. It’s a credit to Holmes that he rarely plays anymore, but received last-minute word before the game that Embiid would be out and answered the bell with a spirited effort.

Getting in on the bench surge, recent signing Marco Bellinelli, who has been doing nothing but say “Trust the Process” and tweet out Rocky memes since arriving in Philadelphia, further endeared himself to the people here in his Sixers debut. Bellinelli caught fire for a stretch in the second half, hitting 3 three-pointers and scoring 13 of his 17 points after halftime.

Dario Saric also hit a rhythm scoring the basketball in the second half, dropping 14 of his team-high 19 points following the intermission. However, the Sixers wouldn’t have come close to erasing the huge deficit without Ben Simmons, who pulled a T.J. McConnell and recorded his 6th triple-double of the season with 18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and 4 steals.

There’s been a lot of “Donovan Mitchell should be Rookie of the Year” talk lately because the Jazz have won 11 straight and Mitchell has played a huge role in that turnaround for Utah. But it’s tough to watch what Simmons did Wednesday night and conclude he shouldn’t win the award. He was all over the place defensively, getting into passing lanes, helping clean the defensive glass, and tracking down loose balls.

Then, especially with Embiid out, Ben was the main catalyst for much of the Sixers offense, leading the team out in transition, spoon-feeding Richaun Holmes and Amir Johnson for some buckets underneath, and getting into the paint at will to score around the basket. I don’t know what the opposition is supposed to do when the opposing point guard is finishing something like this:

Just an outstanding effort from the home team to not give up on a night they could have easily packed it in without their best player. With the victory, the Sixers head into the All-Star break riding a 5-game winning streak. They currently sit in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, just 2 games out of 4th place. It’s been mentioned everywhere, but it bears repeating that Philadelphia’s schedule the rest of the way is Charmin-soft. Home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs is an entirely realistic goal. Let’s get it.

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McConnell records triple-double as Sixers win 4th straight

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 108, New York 92 – Box Score

As much fun as it should be to watch Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric over All-Star weekend, the upcoming break couldn’t be coming at a worse time for the Sixers. Philadelphia is firing on all cylinders right now, taking care of the Kristaps Porzingis-less Knicks Monday night to win their 4th straight game and 10th straight at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Knicks hung around for a while thanks to a lot of tough jumpers by Michael Beasley (22 points) and Courtney Lee (18 points), actually tying things up at 73 in the third quarter. There would be no second half collapse in this one, however, as the Sixers immediately answered with a 10-2 run to retake control, thanks in large part to the efforts of Robert Covington (13 points). In the span of four possessions, Covington hit a three, slammed home a dunk for an and-one, and as a grand finale, posterized Michael Beasley with a dunk so fierce that Joel Embiid picked up a technical for taunting on his teammate’s behalf.

Having reasserted themselves, the Sixers closed the door defensively, allowing just 13 New York points in the fourth quarter. 13 was a key number for the Sixers on the evening, as all five Philadelphia starters scored 13 or more points. Dario Saric (24 points), J.J. Redick (18 points) were lights-out from behind the arc, combining to make 7 of their 12 three-point attempts. Joel Embiid had 17 points in just 24 minutes. Thanks to the strong team effort, he was able to sit out the back half of the fourth quarter, a nice option to have considering how banged up he’s been lately.

Rounding out the starting five, Ben Simmons was an absolute force on both ends with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. It’s unbelievable how active Simmons is defensively, he has great innate instincts that didn’t show up in college. There had to have been something to the idea that he was bored at that level. Offensively, I don’t know how in the world he finds some of the angles he does to set up his teammates in tight spaces.

I saved the best for last, because the catalyst behind the Sixers putting this game away was T.J. McConnell, who grabbed his first career triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, and a whopping 6 steals. Facing a Knicks team he once nailed a game-winner against, the most spirited player on the team had the intensity meter cranked up to his jersey number 12. McConnell was a bothersome pest all game long, doing his usual routine of picking up full court and denying Knicks point guards (Emmanuel Mudiay especially) the ability to start the offense.

With the triple-double in sight, McConnell definitely looked for his shot on two straight possessions. After T.J. made a jumper on the second try to get to 10 points, he then grabbed his 10th rebound and the Wells Fargo Center erupted. The entire arena was chanting, “T.J., T.J. T.J,” and Joel Embiid and Covington doused McConnell with water during the postgame interview. Justin Anderson, who had rolled his ankle earlier in the game and headed to the locker room, was at the front of the tunnel in street clothes and an ankle wrap to congratulate him.

https://twitter.com/sixers/status/963240503230812160

The entire team was pumped for McConnell to reach that milestone. They are playing well, playing for each other, and going out there each night with the idea that they’re consistently the best team on the court. Honestly, the way things are rolling for them right now, there isn’t a team in the league they couldn’t go toe to toe with.

The Sixers have one more game Wednesday night against Miami before the All-Star break. With a win in that one, they would have sole possession of 7th place in the East.

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Embiid returns to court following late injury, Sixers win third straight

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 112, Los Angeles 98 – Box Score

Unlike their previous two victories, there was actually a period of time when the Sixers trailed the Clippers Saturday night. They fell behind for a whopping 3 minutes in the first quarter, before taking control for the rest of the way. The win makes three straight for the Sixers, who haven’t lost a game at the Wells Fargo Center since all the way back on December 21st against Toronto.

Unfortunately, the good vibes from the win evaporated with 7:33 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Joel Embiid slipped awkwardly on the floor and hobbled off to the locker room.

 

After the game, Embiid said the pain was from the impact with the floor, not from a twist or anything. Whatever happened, he was cleared by the medical staff to return and re-entered the game with 4:53 remaining and the Sixers up by 4. A Simmons steal and feed to Covington for a dunk, followed by a Redick three-pointer, quickly put Philadelphia back up by 9. Embiid contributed 3 free throws the rest of the game.

Now, hopefully, the medical staff made the right diagnosis, nothing serious actually happened, and Embiid will be perfectly fine going forward. But given everything we’ve seen from the staff in the past, why should we just be confident that will be the case? In fact, we saw a very similar situation just last season.

As you may recall, Embiid landed awkwardly in a game against Portland, after which the team sat him out a few games before having him return for a nationally televised game against Houston. The Houston game was the last one he would play during his rookie season. Embiid would sit out the rest of the year, having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee along the way. We can never really know for sure, but it’s reasonable to conclude Embiid made that injury worse by playing on it.

With Embiid’s injury history in mind, I’d like to see a little more caution exercised by the team with a few minutes left in a January regular season game. If the team can’t hold onto a 4-point lead without him, so be it. I hope we’re not shaking our heads about yet another medical screw-up in the days or weeks to come.

The Embiid thing was really a shame, because he played such an outstanding game on the whole, finishing with 29 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks. There is absolutely no chance for anyone to defend a 7-footer hitting a turnaround, fadeaway jumper like this one.

Ben Simmons continues to play like he’s pissed off for being left off the All-Star team, even four spots down on the replacement list. The rookie casually recorded 14 points, 10 assists, 2 steals, and a block, showing terrific energy on the defensive end and pulling off this Rondo-esque Houdini trick for one of his buckets.

Everyone’s favorite Pittsburgh native also showed up in a big way. T.J. McConnell scored 17 points off the bench on 6-7 shooting and a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc, while also chipping in with 8 assists. After all the handwringing about whether T.J. could play alongside Simmons because Ben needed to be surrounded by shooters, McConnell has now made 51.1% of his threes on the season. Both he and #TrustTheFriendship buddy Dario Saric have done a tremendous job improving in that area.

Sixers sign Marco Belinelli

Following the game, we had late-breaking news that the Sixers had signed guard Marco Belinelli to a veteran’s minimum deal. Belinelli had recently reached a buyout agreement with the Hawks, after Atlanta could not find a trade they liked at the deadline. Belinelli is a career 37.7% three-point shooter, making almost exactly that number this season at 37.2%. He brings little else to the table, but won’t be asked to in Philadelphia. Knock down open shots off Joel Embiid post-ups and Ben Simmons drive-and-kicks, and you’ll do just fine here, Marco.

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Sixers roast Pelicans to stay unbeaten on the home stand

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 100, New Orleans 82 – Box Score

After months of searching, the Sixers at long last found what they were looking for: the lead too big to blow. Just like their previous game against Washington, the Sixers never trailed against New Orleans, opening up an 18-point lead after the first quarter. Joel Embiid shook off his sore ankle to dominate the game from the onset, recording 16 points and 6 rebounds in the opening stanza alone.

On the other end, Embiid anchored a terrific defensive effort by Philadelphia. The Sixers held the Pelicans to 14 points in the first quarter and just 11 in the third. The Eagles scored more points in two quarters of the Super Bowl than the Pelicans managed in the third quarter. New Orleans is clearly in a tailspin since DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the year with a torn achilles; they have now lost 5 of 6 games following the injury.

By the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Sixers led by as many as 35, vitally allowing Brett Brown to rest the starters for the entire fourth quarter with a back-to-back against the Clippers on Saturday night. Embiid finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds in just 24 minutes. As relayed by @SixersStats, he is one of just four players to record that many points and assists in less than 25 minutes, joining Kenneth Faried, Karl Malone, and Robert Parish. Embiid was also instrumental in rendering Anthony Davis a non-factor; the Brow shot just 6-19 from the field for 14 points. Plus, in a nod to the Winter Olympics kicking off, he and Robert Covington combined for a synchronized alley-oop.

Dario Saric matched Embiid for game-high honors with 24 points. Saric shot 8-11 from the field and 4-5 from behind the arc; he’s up to 38.4% from three on 5 attempts per game. Remember when whether his shooting would translate to the States was a legitimate question? The Homie Dario was in the rookie of the year conversation last season, but I think we’ll look back on this as his breakout campaign.

Meanwhile, Ben Simmons struggled to finish around the basket, going just 3-11 from the floor for 10 points, but stuffed the stat sheet elsewhere with 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and a block. Brett Brown had no interest in putting him back on the floor after his 25 minutes to chase a meaningless triple double.

The win and a loss from Detroit put a game of separation between the Sixers and 9th place in the Eastern Conference. They’re also just 2.5 games back of Washington for the fourth seed in what’s become a very bunched playoff bracket outside of Toronto and Boston. The Sixers have three more winnable games at home before the All-Star break (Clippers, also playing on a back-to-back, the Porzingis-less Knicks, and Miami when the Heat will have played another road game the night before). Things are looking good for the Sixers and there were more Super Bowl Champion Eagles in the house Friday night. We deserve this.

Sixers kick off key home stand with win over Wizards

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Philadelphia 115, Washington 102 – Box Score

You might have already heard this somewhere, but the Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl Champions. Like everyone else around Philadelphia, the Sixers wanted to honor the city’s heroes of the gridiron. Tuesday night, the entire Eagles offensive line was on hand to ring the ceremonial Liberty Bell on the court prior to the game. There was more than the usual sprinkling of green in the Wells Fargo Center crowd, with the jubilant masses constantly breaking out in E-A-G-L-E-S chants, along with more creative numbers like modifying Minnesota’s “Skol” war chant to “Foles”.

With that level of electricity in the building, it’s not surprising that the Sixers jumped out of the gates like Corey Clement racing downfield on a wheel route. Philadelphia dropped 37 points on the Wizards in the first quarter (I was really hoping they would match the Eagles’ 41 points for symbolic purposes); the team shot 16-23 from the field, their best shooting opening frame of the season, at one point surging to a 16-0 run.

Leading by 17 after one, it was then simply a matter of not Sixers-ing the advantage away. Sure, as they often do, the unnecessary turnovers came in droves (17 total on the evening). First-time All-Star Bradley Beal also scored 30 points on 12-22 shooting to leave a kernel of doubt in the mind of Sixers fans throughout the contest. But the Sixers were never in real danger of blowing this lead, and the fans’ euphoric streak of winning continued apace.

The team was on fire from distance all game long, connecting on 14 of 28 shots from behind the arc, led by J.J. Redick’s 4-5 night for 18 points. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid played up to his All-Star starter status, going off for 27 points, making 3 of his 7 threes from the top of the key, grabbing 12 rebounds, and swatting away 3 Washington shots. Whenever the offense bogged down in the half court, the Sixers would find Embiid in an isolation situation and he would bail them out by nailing a jumper over a defender. It’s incredibly valuable to have a “break in case of emergency” option of someone who is bigger than anyone else on the court and can get his shot off whenever and wherever he wants.

Ben Simmons also snagged his share of the spotlight, tallying 15 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and a block. Per his usual MO, all of Simmons’ shot attempts came around the basket, but he makes it work by either finishing with a forceful dunk or using his ambidexterity to flip in some creative buckets. Simmons did have 5 turnovers, as did Robert Covington, so it wasn’t an entirely flawless night. Those edges need to be cleaned up on nights the Sixers aren’t shooting the lights out.

Though they were missing John Wall, a lot had been made about how the Wizards entered play a perfect 5-0 without their star point guard. The Sixers did well to ride the wave of enthusiasm the crowd brought to the table and start their five-game home stand heading into the All-Star break off on the right note. With the Pistons surging since the Blake Griffin trade, the Sixers need to string together some wins to keep pace in the playoff picture.

At the moment, everything is aces on the Philadelphia sports scene. The only negative on the night was the first media interview with Markelle Fultz in over a month; speaking with Caron Butler during the game, Fultz said, “it’s been a long journey just trying to relearn it [his shot].” Not exactly what you want to hear. The downfall of the first overall pick continues to be the biggest mystery in sports. When you’re a city of Super Bowl Champions though, nothing can get you down.

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