What we've learned during Sixers' win streak

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What we've learned during Sixers' win streak

A 1-4 start threatened to rob the Sixers of some of the enthusiasm and energy surrounding the franchise entering this season. They sure turned that around quickly.

The Sixers have won five games in a row heading into a California swing that begins in Sacramento against the Kings on Thursday, and excitement levels are once again on the rise. They're two games above .500 for the first time since December 2012 and in the midst of a five-game winning streak for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

And if you ask Sixers guard JJ Redick, this team is just getting started.

"A winning streak isn't a winning streak until it hits five games, so we are in Day 1 of our winning streak," Redick said.

The Sixers will be tested on the road over the course of the next week. The team heads to Oakland to meet the defending-champion Warriors on Saturday, then moves on to LA for matchups with the Clippers on Monday and Lakers on Thursday. We'll learn a lot more about their makeup then, but here are a few thoughts on what we've discovered already.

1. The Sixers are coming together faster than expected. The first few games of the season, this team was very much a work in progress at the offensive end. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons could create and score at will, and Robert Covington had the hot hand from Day 1. But Redick and Dario Saric were having trouble getting involved, while Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless were taking on outsized roles for some reason. The offense seems to be striking the right balance now. Simmons and Embiid are still the workhorses, but there have been more opportunities for Redick and Saric, and even guys like T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot off the bench. Since the ball started winding up in the right hands more often, the team's improvement has been rapid — and it happened almost overnight.

2. Simmons has been as advertised with the ball in his hands, and he's continuing to work on his shot, but what about his development at the defensive end? No surprise, the 21-year-old is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. The kid is already a walking double-double, averaging 10.1 rebounds per night. Simmons also has 13 steals in the Sixers' last six games, and six blocks in the last two. He's jumping in passing lanes and contesting shots, and making it look easy with his ridiculous quickness and reach.

3. There wasn't much of a reaction to the news that Embiid missed Wednesday's practice to take part in physical therapy, this after he was held out of the Sixers' game against the Jazz on Tuesday. Either that means it was fairly routine and no cause for alarm, or everybody has gone numb to the appearance of any new injuries for Embiid. There's no indication from the club he isn't expected to play on Thursday against the Kings or Saturday against the Warriors — although, as we've seen in the past, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Regardless, expect the Sixers' leading scorer back in the lineup until alerted otherwise.

4. Saric is beginning to find himself again in the Sixers' crowded offense. After failing to eclipse nine points in the first five games, Saric has reached double digits four times during the Sixers' streak, including a season-high 25 points against the Jazz on Tuesday. And while he's playing more minutes, the differences are he's staying out of foul trouble and shooting the ball better. Saric was 3 for 14 (21.4 percent) from beyond the arc over the first five, and he's 15 for 30 (50 percent) since, which is a marked difference. It seems like a case of the 23-year-old's simply rounding into playing shape while also becoming more comfortable with his role. Whatever changed, Saric appears to be heating up.

5. You hate to say it, especially because he was clearly playing hurt, but the Sixers are clearly better off without Markelle Fultz right now. That might seem obvious based on the team's record with Fultz (1-3) compared to without (5-1), or because he was an astoundingly awful minus-123 over just 75 minutes of action. But since the No. 1 choice in the 2017 draft was sidelined indefinitely, the Sixers have averaged 112.5 points per game. When the club was forcing an injured 19-year-old onto the floor, the offense averaged 99.5. None of this is to suggest Fultz is a bust. He just needs to get healthy — otherwise, he's a weak link.

6. Covington has to cool off eventually, right? The Sixers' 3-and-D man is taking the "three" part of the equation to a whole other level this season. Covington has never shot better than 37.4 percent from beyond the arc over a full season, yet 10 games into the 2017-18 campaign, he's hitting 50 percent. Only four NBA players have made more threes — James Harden, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Eric Gordon — and they've all appeared in more games and are taking more shots. Obviously, Covington is going to make half his three-point attempts over the remainder of the season. That being said, is this merely a lengthy hot streak, or is the 26-year-old still growing?

7. I'd like to see Justin Anderson get more minutes. He was great on Tuesday, connecting on 4 of 5 shots for eight points in 13 minutes against the Jazz, and he was lauded afterward by Sixers head coach Brett Brown for his defensive performance. Acquired in the Nerlens Noel trade last season, Anderson has shown 3-and-D potential. Yet he's appeared in only six games this season, averaging 12.2 minutes in those games. The Sixers are winning, so Brown isn't going to make sweeping changes to the rotation, nor should he. Anderson just feels like a talent that's worth a closer look, maybe coming off the bench to spell Covington with a tad more frequency.

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz


Ben Simmons scored a career-high, Joel Embiid recorded a double-double, and still, the highest praise was directed to an unlikely player after the Sixers’ 107-86 win over the Jazz: Amir Johnson.

“He was the MVP of tonight,” Embiid said. 

Johnson embraced the ultimate role player mentality. He didn’t know until shortly before the game if he was going to start in place of Embiid or come off the bench. Embiid, who had been dealing with left knee soreness, ended up playing. So Johnson waited for his name to be called and stepped right into action. 

Johnson began the game with five rebounds in four first-quarter minutes. He finished with 13 boards, eight points and four blocks in 21 minutes. Johnson pulled down 10-plus rebounds for the 98th time in his career (see observations)

“I feel like my job is just to find ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “Knowing Joel, Ben and those guys are going to get the majority minutes, but when I come in I want to be effective at the same time.”

The 13-year veteran has been studying game film. Even though he didn’t get on the court in either of the Sixers’ matchups against the Warriors and played a combined 28 minutes in three road games in California, Johnson has been staying ready. 

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said of Johnson’s defense. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

The Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year, $11 million contract this summer. He proved what he could do on the court since entering the league out of high school in 2005, but the even bigger draw was what he could add to the locker room. Brett Brown reached out to some of Johnson’s former teammates and the assessments echoed one another. Now the Sixers are seeing what those who played with Johnson were talking about. 

“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle sitting and swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. 

“To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots isn’t ever on my mind with Amir. He’s a perfect teammate.” 

Redick bounces back in 2nd half
JJ Redick is at a point in his career where he isn’t worried about a slow start. He went scoreless in the first half and still ended up with 20 points. 

“Maybe five or six years ago I probably would have been a little more stressed at halftime,” Redick said. “But I just knew there would be some opportunities and stayed patient.”

Brown noticed Redick getting better looks after halftime. He evenly distributed his scoring with 10 points in both the third and the fourth quarters. He shot a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in the third. 

“I’m always going to be aggressive. There just weren’t opportunities to get shots off in the first half,” Redick said. “I scored 20 in the second half, but didn’t feel like I was forcing anything. The opportunities were there. Sometimes that happens within a game.”

Simmons, too
Simmons showed the same kind of poise, even more notable because he is a rookie. Simmons shot 2 for 9 in the first half, shook off the early struggles, and scored a career-high 27 points. He scored half of the Sixers’ 28 points in the third quarter off an efficient 7 for 9 shooting stretch. 

“I thought I was going to have more, honestly,” Simmons said. 

Simmons took advantage of the Jazz missing center Rudy Gobert in the middle. He became the only Sixer since 1963-64 to score in double digits in each of his first 16 games. Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Best of NBA: Kyrie Irving helps Celtics rally for 16th straight win

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Best of NBA: Kyrie Irving helps Celtics rally for 16th straight win

DALLAS  -- Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team's first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters (see full recap).

Cavs rout Pistons for 5th straight win
DETROIT -- LeBron James scored 16 of his 18 points in the first quarter and the Cleveland Cavaliers made 11 3-pointers in the first half on the way to a 116-88 rout of the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Cleveland led 73-46 at halftime thanks to an overwhelming shooting performance, an indication that Detroit's stay atop the Central Division might not last much longer. The Pistons still lead the Cavs by a game, but Cleveland has won five straight and scored at least 110 points in eight of its last nine.

The Cavaliers led 27-22 when James went to the bench late in the first quarter. By the time he came back in, it was 50-30. Cleveland's reserves ended up outscoring Detroit's 26-8 in the first half.

The Cavs shot 62 percent from the field in the first two quarters and 11 of 17 from 3-point range. They finished the game 16 of 33 from beyond the arc. Cleveland led 101-62 after three, and the top players for both teams had plenty of time to rest in the final period (see full recap).

Knicks push Clippers' skid to 9 straight
NEW YORK -- Kristaps Porzingis scored 25 points and the New York Knicks extended the Los Angeles Clippers' losing streak to nine games with a 107-85 victory Monday night.

Porzingis outplayed a frustrated Blake Griffin and helped the Knicks snap a 10-game skid in the series with their first victory over the Clippers in five years.

Doug McDermott added 16 points for the Knicks, including a 3-pointer that swung the momentum for good midway through the third quarter.

Griffin scored 21 points but shot just 6 for 17, picked up a technical foul and fouled out with 4:46 remaining. The Clippers (5-11) still haven't won since Nov. 1 at Dallas, when they improved to 5-2.

Patrick Beverley returned after missing five games with a sore right knee and had nine points and six rebounds. But the Clippers are still without fellow guard Milos Teodosic and the rest of their backcourt play was mostly dismal (see full recap).

Oladipo's 29 leads Pacers over Magic for 4th straight win
ORLANDO, Fla.  -- Victor Oladipo had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven steals to lead the Indiana Pacers to their fourth straight win, 105-97 over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.

Oladipo, who played his first three NBA seasons in Orlando, and Bojan Bogdanovic combined for 40 points in the second half, 14 of them during a 16-3 third-quarter run that put the Pacers in command.

Bogdanovic scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half.

Nikola Vucevic had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Magic, who lost their fifth straight. Aaron Gordon had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Magic finished with 22 turnovers and shot 33 percent in the second half to fall below .500 for the first time this season (see full recap).