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.