Sixers close in on 'something special' with great escape

Sixers close in on 'something special' with great escape


CHICAGO — If the Sixers end their playoff drought this season, it’ll be because of the franchise’s big two.

All-Star Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons showed just how much fun that could be Thursday night.

Embiid forced a turnover in the final seconds, Simmons scooped up the ball and made a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds to play and the Sixers scratched out their sixth straight victory, 116-115, over the Bulls (see observations).

The win halted a four-game road skid but, more important to the Sixers’ fortunes, had Embiid and Simmons’ fingerprints all over it.

Simmons finished with a career-high 32 points and had 11 assists and seven rebounds to come close to his second straight triple-double while Embiid added his ninth straight double-double — 30 and 13 rebounds with four blocks — to pace the Sixers on a night when they didn’t get much else.

“Joel and Ben carried us,” coach Brett Brown said after his team won on the road for the first time since Jan. 26. “I thought everyone else really had subpar performances. You felt like we came out of a break.”

The tanking Bulls — starting center Robin Lopez was a healthy scratch as Chicago joins the dash for better NBA draft odds — made 18 three-pointers in both teams’ return from the All-Star break and appeared to have the Sixers on the ropes after Zach LaVine’s triple with 1:02 to play made it 115-110.

That was the last time Chicago scored.

Simmons followed his miss with a layup and JJ Redick made a pair of free throws with 8.0 seconds left to set up the final defensive sequence that put Simmons at the line.

“First of all, we needed a steal and I saw Joel get it and he kind of lobbed it to me and I said, ‘S---, I better get it,’” Simmons said. “Stepping up to the line, I knew I was going to knock ‘em down. You have to have that mentality. I was put to the line and I can’t be thinking I’m going to miss ‘em.” 

With 26 games to play, the Sixers can move into the upper half of the Eastern Conference with a late surge, but will need solid play — and the workloads that come with it — from Embiid and Simmons. If their contributions Thursday (both players were on the court for at least 30 minutes) are any indication, Sixers fans might have more postseason success to celebrate in the spring.

“We stole that win. Sometimes you need those and that’s what we did tonight,” Embiid said. “It’s fun when you win games like that.”

It’ll be even more fun when games like that happen in the postseason … which looks much more plausible every game lately thanks to the big two.

“They feel something special is close. They feel something special that we’ve worked hard for for four years is just around the corner and no one is taking that for granted,” Brown said.

“There’s no entitlement. We just fight for everything we can get.”

Whew! Sixers figure things out just in time

Whew! Sixers figure things out just in time


CHICAGO — That momentum the Sixers had at the All-Star break must’ve had a hard time making the trip to the Windy City, but they got it when they needed it most.

Ben Simmons scored the last of his career-high 32 points from the line with 5.6 seconds left and the Sixers pulled out a 116-115 win in both teams’ return from the hiatus.

The Bulls had a pair of looks at a game-winner in the final seconds but the ball bounced away and left the Sixers with their sixth straight victory.

All-Star Joel Embiid added 30 points and 13 rebounds — his ninth straight double-double — to help the Sixers end their four-game road losing streak.

Simmons had 11 assists and seven rebounds to come close to his seventh triple-double and Dario Saric chipped in 13 to help the Sixers take the season series from the Bulls.

JJ Redick made a pair of free throws with 8.0 seconds left to cut the lead to a point, then Simmons drew a foul to put the Sixers ahead for good.

Up 93-91 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Sixers watched Bobby Portis score 10 points during a 12-5 run that gave the hosts a lead they wouldn’t lose until the final seconds. Portis, who missed the first of the Bulls’ final chances, finished with a career-best 38 points and Zach LaVine added 23.

• Chicago left the door open by missing four straight shots in the final minutes, but an Embiid turnover with about a minute to play kept the Sixers from tying the game at 112-112 or taking the lead. LaVine nailed a three-pointer at the other end to make it 115-110 and keep the Sixers scrambling.

• The Sixers jumped out to a 25-7 lead midway through the first quarter after making their first five three-point tries — including two by Embiid — but trailed, 69-67, at the break. Chicago’s Portis led the charge for the hosts by scoring 14, a dozen of which came on triples, in the second period.

• One more triple-double will put Simmons in some rare company. Hall of Fame enshrinee Magic Johnson was the last NBA rookie to record seven during the 1979-80 season.

• Justin Anderson, who left a Feb. 12 win over New York with a sprained right ankle and missed the Sixers’ finale before the break, did not play Thursday night. 

• Chicago benched center Robin Lopez and guard Justin Holiday on Thursday as the franchise joins several others in a race for the best odds in the NBA draft lottery. 

Sixers coach Brett Brown remembers days like that and said there’s more to the story.

“It didn’t beat me down, but you had to coach yourself a little bit,” Brown said of recent seasons. “We went overboard just with the relational side and the development side. Anything that fell under those two categories, we went overboard trying to help guys, help them get better, help them stay in the league.”

• The Sixers return home Saturday hoping to extend an 11-game winning streak at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers tip off against the Orlando Magic on Saturday at 5 p.m.

Joel Embiid's 1st career back-to-back yields mixed bag

Joel Embiid's 1st career back-to-back yields mixed bag


INDIANAPOLIS — The Sixers would’ve liked a better result, but Saturday night’s final score took a backseat to what they learned about All-Star center Joel Embiid.

He finally played the second night of a back-to-back and, for the most part, looked pretty good doing it. After slowly acclimating the big man through his first 70 career games, Sixers coach Brett Brown was optimistic after a 100-92 loss at Indiana (see observations).

A night after playing 31 minutes, Embiid was on the court for 34 and finished with a game-high 24 points to complement his 10 rebounds, but also ended up minus-20 with seven turnovers.

Brown will take the good with the bad.

“It just goes to show how dominant Joel can be. He ends up with 24 and 10 rebounds, and you question his impact on the game,” Brown said. “That’s a helluva statement.”

“For him to do that in his first back-to-back, full credit to him. To produce those types of stats in a back-to-back is impressive but it wasn’t Joel Embiid.”

Embiid agreed with the coach after a fourth quarter (four points, two turnovers) that mirrored his teammates’ effort. The Sixers managed just three field goals while turning the ball over six times in the first seven minutes of the final period to help doom themselves to their fourth straight road loss.

“I’m happy that I finally played in a back-to-back but wish we would’ve gotten the win,” Embiid said after his 25th double-double of the season. “I felt like the whole time we were just flat. It’s not to the level we usually play at but overall we didn’t have a good game. 

“It just wasn’t our best night.”

Embiid, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons were a combined 14-for-40 from the floor Saturday night and the Pacers, who dropped the Sixers back to the .500 mark with the win, turned the Sixers' 18 turnovers into 22 points.

Still, the final 32 games of the season, which starts with a five-game homestand and legitimate hopes of the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2012, seemed to be the focus.

Brown, who said before Saturday’s game it felt good to not have to alter the plan because he knew he’d have Embiid in the lineup, doesn’t think it’s going to take any getting used to now that it appears the center is ready for a playoff push.

“I think we’ve had enough of a taste of Joel to not have that level of adjustment. I think that it’s only positive; the more he’s with us and playing with us, that’s a good thing,” he said. “We’ve played quite a bit of basketball with him so I don’t feel like there’s any adjustment.

“I feel like we’re going to start to thrive more and more in a very positive way and not speed bumps because we’re now playing with him more.”

The Sixers are at home until the All-Star break. They begin the five-game stretch Tuesday night when Washington visits the Wells Fargo Center.