76ers

Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

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Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

As we collectively bask in the glow of the Southern California smackdown the Sixers administered to the Clippers and the Lakers to close out their road trip at 3-2, let’s take a little inventory of just what they’ve accomplished overall this season.

Through 14 games, they are 8-6. That’s two wins shy of their total amount of victories just two seasons ago, and we’re still in November. The times they have a changed in Sixer-land.

The team has not one, but two transcendent stars who are capable of taking over games.

Joel Embiid’s last two performances have been pure dominance. 78 points, 31 rebounds, eight blocks and nine assists, while shooting 25 of 40 from the floor and averaging 35 minutes. He’s made whomever is guarding him look foolish, including one of the better defenders in the game, DeAndre Jordan.

From Game 1, Ben Simmons has looked like a 10-year veteran. His poise belies his years. Simmons is a double-double machine and a triple-double threat every night. He’s posting gaudy early numbers of 17.8 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Despite not being a threat beyond 12 feet, Simmons' ability to get to the rack and finish with either hand more than compensates for his outside shortcomings. That duo has been awesome.

Not to be overlooked is Robert Covington. The 26-year-old, who transformed himself into a top-10 defender in the league, is putting up monster offensive stats after an inconsistent season from the floor last year. Covington is scoring 16.5 points, while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three-point land (49.5). Couple that offensive production with his defensive prowess and the Sixers got a pretty good bargain for a reported four years, $62 million.  

But what’s even more remarkable when considering the Sixers' good start is who they are doing it without. First overall draft pick Markelle Fultz has played in just four games this season as he continues to battle a shoulder issue. Compare that to the contribution the NBA’s best team thus far, the Celtics, have gotten from third overall pick, Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old is scoring 13.9 points per game and pulling down 5.6 rebounds, while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from three. He’s been an integral piece in their 14-game winning streak. The Sixers have not had that luxury.

Beyond Fultz, Dario Saric has not been able to find a rhythm all season. Saric averaged 15.8 points per game over the final three months of last season. He hasn’t rebounded or shot it as well this season either. No doubt there were going to be adjustments and growing pains as the Sixers incorporated Simmons and with more availability from Embiid, but as the season progresses they will need more from the Saric.

The other crazy thing about the wins over the Clippers and Lakers was the manner in which JJ Redick struggled. He shot 7 of 25 from the floor and 1 for 15 from three-point land. He did make some late buckets inside against the Lakers, but he’s here to knock down shots.

I believe Brett Brown will figure out a way to get more out of Saric. The Croatian works way too hard and cares far too much to not get going. With Redick, shooters can be streaky. It happens. And even when he is not making shots, he provides a lot in terms of leadership and example. How Fultz will fit in and what his shooting form will look like is anybody’s guess, but they didn’t give up a lot to move up two spots for nothing. He wasn’t the consensus first overall pick by accident. My sense is in addition to the shoulder issue, he is struggling mightily with his confidence. So it could be a process with him when he’s ready to return.

To be winning without much of a contribution from these players speaks volumes about how good the Sixers' big three (Embiid, Simmons and Covington) have been. And it’s been noticed nationally. The win over the Lakers was a coming out party of sorts for those on the fringes. They are coming to the realization that we’ve known in this city for some time now.

This team is a playoff contender now. The question is how much better will they be at full compliment?

Robert Covington (lower back contusion) vs. Pelicans

Robert Covington (lower back contusion) vs. Pelicans

UPDATED: 7 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Robert Covington will miss the Sixers' game Sunday night against the Pelicans in New Orleans because of a lower back contusion he suffered during a fall Saturday late against the Cavaliers.

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday's game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington's injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

The Sixers will have to replace Covington in the starting lineup.

Joel Embiid, who was expected to play after sitting out Saturday because of his back-to-back restriction, was scratched right before the game because of back tightness.

Trevor Booker wastes no time impressing Sixers in debut

Trevor Booker wastes no time impressing Sixers in debut

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND — Trevor Booker made his transition to the Sixers look easy in his first 20 minutes with his new team.

The veteran forward was a highlight of the Sixers’ 105-98 loss to the Cavaliers (see observations). He came in off the bench and gave the Sixers just what they expected when they acquired him Thursday from the Nets in exchange for Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas. 

“What we just saw is an accurate snapshot of what he is,” Brown said. “He’s high energy. He’s got a big motor. There’s a level of maturity and toughness that we need.”

The Sixers were shorthanded in the frontcourt without Joel Embiid, who was not with the team because of his back-to-back restriction. (Embiid will play Sunday in New Orleans.) Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes were picking up the playing time, but both got in early foul trouble.

Booker was ready to go. He scored 12 points (4 for 6 from the field) and pulled down eight rebounds. Booker found himself at the right place at the right time, being a target for his teammates at the hoop.

“I think just going out there and playing with energy," Booker said, "finding easy baskets like that around the rim, those are things I have to do to get myself going and to help this team out.”

Booker is already forming chemistry with Ben Simmons, which could develop into a backcourt-frontcourt punch. Brown is excited for the younger players to share the court with the eighth-year veteran. 

“He’s a beast,” Simmons said. “I love playing with him so far. He’s a hard-working guy, he runs the floor, knows how to play the game, spaces the floor. He’s a good player.”

Booker echoed of Simmons, “He’s a tremendous passer, tremendous overall player. I can tell I’m going to have a lot of fun playing with him.”

Booker barely has had a second to catch his breath since the trade. He was in Mexico City with the Nets when he received the news. Booker estimates he got an hour of sleep Thursday night. He had to take an early morning connecting flight that eventually got him back to Brooklyn and then to Philadelphia for a physical. In a whirlwind of travel, he flew with the team Friday to Cleveland.

Still, he managed to look well rested and equally well prepared in his Sixers debut.

“Trevor can play on any team in the league,” JJ Redick said. “He’s easy to play with. He plays hard, he screens, he knows who he is, he stars in his role on a consistent basis. We’re lucky to have him.”