76ers

Joel Embiid plays quarterback to help Sixers nail down 1st home win

Joel Embiid plays quarterback to help Sixers nail down 1st home win

BOX SCORE

Remember all that talk about Joel Embiid not getting the ball at the basket? That’s in the past, even if it was just a few games ago. 

Embiid shirked the three-point line late in Wednesday's game to dominate at the hoop with 11 points and three rebounds in the final seven minutes (see highlights)

“Guys were finding me,” Embiid said after the Sixers’ 119-109 win over the Hawks (see observations). “The ball was moving. A lot of guys made wide-open shots that made me open too. … I was just being a basketball player.” 

The Sixers looked to get him involved. Ben Simmons said “a lot of post play” for Embiid was one of the keys to the win. Embiid scored off assists from T.J. McConnell, Jerryd Bayless and two from Simmons during that stretch (see highlights)

Embiid dished a career-high six dimes. He’s averaged 5.0 assists over his last three games. Brett Brown was most pleased with his two turnovers, as Embiid, who logged a career-high 30:15 of playing time, was more effective at fighting through double-teams.

“I have to be a quarterback and just move the ball around,” Embiid said. “That’s what I felt like I did.”

Embiid became the fifth player this season to post at least 20 points, 10 boards, five assists and three steals in a game. Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and DeMarcus Cousins have reached those marks (Cousins twice). 

Center of attention
JJ Redick didn’t make his first three until 2:54 to play and yet Brown didn’t take him off the court. 

“[I played him] because of the attention that he creates,” Brown said. “You're reminded no matter if he is making shots or he isn't, the attention that he receives is prominent. You see it and so it creates space. It turns it into almost a 4-on-4 game.”

The usually savvy shooter said he felt “a little out of rhythm” after missing the last two games because of lower-back tightness. He shot 3 for 11 from the field (1 for 6 from three). Redick played 32 minutes in spite of his off night. 

“Stan Van Gundy said this to me when I was a second-year player (with the Orlando Magic) averaging four points a game — I am guarded a lot of times like a primary scorer,” Redick said. “That’s one of the reasons I can provide value without necessarily scoring 25 a night.”

A 'W' for the home crowd
The Sixers won their first home game of the season, and the first one in Philadelphia in a long time, period. Their last victory at the Wells Fargo Center was March 28 over the Nets. 

“It’s very, very inspiring that we gave the fans something to look forward to,” Robert Covington said. “All our other wins were on the road, but we wanted to do it in front of our city.”

A sellout crowd of 20,549 watched the win. Among those were 35 children from a local Boys & Girls Club, who were there as guests of rapper and Philadelphia native Meek Mill. Embiid and Justin Anderson met with the group after the game. 

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

CAMDEN, N.J. — In some ways, Joel Embiid is a dream to coach. You can go to him in the post whenever you need a bucket, rely on him to erase defensive mistakes, sit back and watch as he takes over games.

But in other ways, coaching Embiid is not an easy job. Brett Brown has to constantly weigh Embiid’s health with the immediate desire to win. That balancing act has never been more difficult for Brown, who commented Wednesday on how he plans to manage Embiid with the playoffs in sight.

“Everything is still, and it should be, delivering him to a playoff round,” Brown said. “It’s not cramming for the exam and doing whatever you can to get home court, it’s not that at all. And so I feel like the path that we’re all on is both professional and responsible. So it’s that more than trying to cram for an exam.”

The Sixers have six back-to-back sets in their final 27 games. Embiid played his first ever back-to-back on Feb. 2 vs. Miami and Feb. 3 at Indiana. Since then, he’s had an injury scare with his right knee (on Feb. 10 vs the Clippers) and missed the Sixers’ final game before the All-Star break with a sore right ankle.

That said, Embiid’s obviously taken major steps forward. After being sidelined for his first two NBA seasons and playing just 31 games (and only 25.4 minutes per game) in his rookie year, he’s played in 44 of the Sixers’ first 55 games, and is averaging 31.4 minutes per game.

But the Sixers are 3-8 when Embiid doesn’t play. Without Embiid, the Sixers don’t look like a playoff team. With him, they look like a team which could earn home-court advantage. The Sixers are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference at 30-25, two games behind the fourth-seeded Washington.

When asked how he’ll generally manage his players’ minutes in the final third of the season, Brown referred to his time as a Spurs assistant, implying that the Sixers will approach things more aggressively than a championship contender.

“In my old life, when you felt like you were going to be in the finals and win a championship, you definitely started managing stuff differently in this final third,” Brown said. “That’s not where we’re at now. We are fighting to get in the playoffs.

“And we’re in a fist fight, we want a little bit more than that. And we’re going to play with that in mind, and when the opportunity arises when I can rest some of our guys, I will. But it’s not about being conservative right now or feeling like we’re entitled and we’re in the playoffs; we aren’t. So we’re still fighting to do that, and I’ll coach it accordingly.”

It might sound like there’s a contradiction between that desire to fight for the postseason and Brown’s goal of “delivering [Embiid] to a playoff round.” The Sixers probably need Embiid to play the majority of their final 27 games to make the playoffs in the first place. On the other hand, nothing in Embiid’s past suggests that he’s capable of playing all six remaining back-to-backs and suiting up fully healthy in Game 1 of the postseason.

The key for Brown is finding the perfect middle ground between riding Embiid hard every night and babying his 7-foot-2 star to the detriment of the team. With the playoffs finally in sight after five seasons of processing, that’s going to be one of Brown’s greatest challenges in the home stretch.  

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

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Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

Donovan Mitchell continues to creep closer to Ben Simmons in the NBA Rookie of the Year race, and the gap in Bovada's odds for the two is as close as it's been all season.

Simmons is now -250 to win the award, meaning a $250 wager is required to win $100. 

Mitchell is at +170, meaning a $100 wager wins you $170.

In the most recent odds update in January, Simmons was at -650; Mitchell was +400.

It's a clear two-man race at this point.
 
Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks this season. No player in recorded history has hit all five criteria in the same season.

Mitchell, however, has been on fire for the NBA's hottest team. The Jazz have won 11 straight games to test the Pelicans for the 8-seed, and over that span, Mitchell has averaged 21.3 points, albeit on 41 percent shooting.

For the season, Mitchell is at 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He's made 35.4 percent of his threes and 83.6 percent of his free throws.

Both are stars in the making, but it's worth noting that the Jazz are playing better than they have all season and Simmons is still the favorite. Where Utah ends up will be a determining factor in the Rookie of the Year race — if the Jazz can somehow end up the 7-seed in a loaded West, arguments for Mitchell will grow louder.

Both Simmons and Mitchell were two of five guests this week on NBA TV's Open Court: Rookies Edition. Interesting talking points from the special: 

• Mitchell referenced former Sixer Jrue Holiday as an under-the-radar tough player to guard, saying he watches film of Holiday every day.

• Simmons recalled LeBron attacking him frequently in the first quarter of their first meeting, saying he wasn't surprised LeBron wanted to send a message by going right at him.

• The Morris twins were mentioned by Simmons and Jayson Tatum when asked about the most imposing players in the league. Everyone cited DeMarcus Cousins.

• Simmons downplayed the importance of his NBA redshirt season, saying you don't really know what it's like to play back to back and deal with the hectic travel schedule until you're involved in it every day.