Photo credit - David Dow -
 Getty Images

Photo credit - David Dow - Getty Images

7 for 6: Home or Away? Doesn’t Seem to Matter

| A tough early schedule hasn’t held the Sixers back | 

Embiid dominates

It’s no secret that Joel Embiid invites the spotlight. Be it on social media or on the court, the dude thrives when the world is watching. Therefor it’s not surprising that his two best games of the season came in Los Angeles. In two games against the Clippers and Lakers, Embiid scored a combined 78 points, 31 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 blocks.

Embiid’s performance against the Lakers gathered national attention. Not only is his play on the court a joy to watch, but he’s showing an edge and has a mental advantage over some players. In the game against the Clippers, Embiid forced DeAndre Jordan and his backup, Willie Reed to foul out.

“I just wanted to go inside, especially against [DeAndre Jordan] and I don’t know, what’s his name? But that boy fouled out,” Embiid said after the game.

It didn’t stop there. After a viscous block against Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Embiid stopped and had some words for the rookie guard. Mitchell didn’t take very kindly to that. As Embiid put it, “he just got up and kind of fake shoved me and I flopped. Then he got a technical for it.”

Embiid might not want to be so open about flopping. Maybe keep that to yourself, big fella.

Clash of the Rookies

Embiid wasn’t the only Sixers to have a strong game in Los Angeles. The game was the first career matchup between Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons, two of the brightest young point guards in the league.

Ball: 2 points (1/9 FG, 0/6 3pt FG), 2 assists, 5 rebounds

Simmons: 18 points (8/13 FG) 10 assists, 9 rebounds

This was another case of Simmons asserting himself as the best rookie so far this year. His game is advanced and complete for someone who’s just 21 years old.

Lonzo Ball hasn’t been quite as impressive in his debut season but he’s not without positives. His defense and rebounding is better than expected at this stage and the Lakers are winning more games. But this game was a particularly poor showing, well below his season averages. Hopefully their next match up can be more competitive.

Team Still Learning

After two big wins, the Sixers were riding high. Upon returning home, they had a chance to avenge an earlier loss to the Golden State Warriors. And through the first half, they seemed well on their way to doing so.

Unfortunately, there are two halves in an NBA game. The Warriors blew the doors off in the 3rd quarter and came away with a victory. It’s a disappointing loss, but also a learning experience for such a young team.

“We opened up with 47 points, they started the second half with 47 points,” said Brett Brown after the game. “They showed why they have as much firepower as any team that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the league. You look at it and you say, we can play with them. They are the clear-cut league’s best, in my opinion, and many other people’s opinions. And we feel good about how we played for large majorities of the game.”

Joel Embiid also offered his thoughts via social media (where else?) about the blown lead.

 

Still Winning Games

Aside from some late game struggles, the Sixers are still winning games and establishing their position for a playoff spot. They’ve won 10 of their last 13 games, with two of those losses coming against the Warriors. Their 11 wins this exceeds what they won over a calendar year from 2015-16.

“We’re ahead of schedule,” Brown said after the Lakers game. “We knew this schedule was going to be difficult. We anticipated difficult things at the start.”

It’s also worth noting that 10 of the team’s first 18 games have been on the road, including a 5 game stretch out west. They’ve played a lot of good teams, including the Warriors and Rockets twice, and games against the Wizards, Celtics, and Trail Blazers. If they can continue this pace over a full season, there’s no reason to think they can’t make the postseason.

Defense Leading the Way

Offense is sexy in today’s NBA, but defense is still crucially important. It should be no surprise that the Sixers are winning games because their defense is much improved. Brett Brown has stated his goal to have a top 15 defense. Currently, they have the ninth best defensive rating in the league and are giving up 104.5 points per 100 possessions, good for ninth best. There’s still work to be done, but the Sixers have a strong foundation of a defense that can win games.

Individually, they’re getting strong contributions from key pieces. Joel Embiid continues to terrorize opponents who attack the basket. His 1.9 blocks per game lead the team and rank ninth league wide. Ben Simmons leads the team in steals with over 2 per game. Robert Covington continues to break up passing lanes; his 3.6 deflections per game are third best in the league.

Simmons contributions as a defender arguably have the largest impact. He’s been surprisingly good on that end for someone who didn’t have much interest in it during college. He’s still prone to occasional missed assignments or lazy footwork, but his overall body of work has added another player who changes the complexion of the team’s defense. When the Sixers run a lineup with Simmons/Covington/Embiid, it almost doesn’t matter who else is on the floor; those three are so long and disruptive.

Markelle Fultz Update

The team issued an update on their latest #1 pick to miss time with an injury. His shoulder soreness is reportedly going away. He continues to train and will be evaluated in another 2-3 weeks. It’s encouraging to see any positive news about Fultz, considering there’s been virtually none since he was drafted.

Looking Ahead

Recent success means heightened expectations. The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for Philadelphia. Their next 6 games; Cleveland, Washington, Boston, Detroit, Phoenix, and the Lakers. Boston appears to be the class of the East, Detroit has been very surprising early on, and Cleveland and Washington are talented enough to beat anyone.  5 of these 6 games are at home. This stretch of games will be a big test. And with 4 of those games against the Eastern Conference, they’ll have an impact on the playoff picture. The good news is that the Sixers are hitting their stride right as these games begin.