76ers

Recent success has Joel Embiid thinking playoffs after Sixers' win over Nets

Recent success has Joel Embiid thinking playoffs after Sixers' win over Nets

NEW YORK -- The Sixers have won three of their last four games, and their recent success has Joel Embiid eyeing the playoff standings in early January.

“I think we’re seven or eight games from the eighth place, so I think that’s a goal. I think we have a chance,” Embiid said. “We’ve been hot lately. … We’re really figuring things out, we’re starting to learn how to win games.”

The Sixers moved up to 10-25 with a 105-95 win over the Nets (8-28) on Sunday (see Instant Replay). The Wizards currently are in eighth in the conference at 18-18. The Sixers are second-to-last in the East (ahead of only the Nets), half a game behind the Heat, with five teams between them and the Wizards.

Embiid views this mathematical scenario with a glass-half-full perspective.

“It’s an amazing thing to really have this mindset of potential playoffs in just a matter of a year,” Nerlens Noel said of Embiid's thoughts. “Guys are really looking forward to it. Presuming everything stays on the right road with health and the direction we’re going now, we’re playing good basketball, that’s definitely a possibility.”

This season is not about making the playoffs. The most pressing objectives are developing young talent and sorting out roster balance. The Sixers’ veterans want their teammates to focus on the other ways they can be successful.

“I don’t think that should be our concern as much,” Gerald Henderson said. “Even now, teams that are going to make the playoffs, they’re not thinking about the playoffs. They’re thinking about staying healthy, what it looks like out on the court so they can prepare themselves to play after the season. We just need to focus on playing consistently, taking care of our fourth quarters and contributions from everyone.”

Ersan Ilyasova echoed, “We do have potential but we have to consider all those obstacles obviously during the whole season. I’m not going to say we’re not going to be in the playoffs, but a season’s long … From now on, we have to take care of our business first. Obviously if we win the games, we have a chance.”

Embiid is encouraged by the Sixers' progress. They tied last season’s win total in their 35th game on Sunday. For a team what hasn't made the postseason since 2011-12, the goal is that victories this year will translate into building toward a postseason contender.

“We are winning basketball games more frequently than we have been,” Brett Brown said. “But for us it’s still, ‘How are we doing what we do? Are we doing our job? Are we not skipping steps? Are we putting in good days?’ We believe as simple as that might sound, that they will add up, they do count for something.”

Give and Go: How will Sixers fare on season-long homestand?

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Give and Go: How will Sixers fare on season-long homestand?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we'll look at whether the Sixers can keep their momentum going during their upcoming six-game homestand.

Harris
At first glance, I thought the Sixers were looking at a winning homestand of 4-2. But with the latest injury to Justin Anderson (out at least three weeks with shin splints), the Sixers’ depth chart at guard could severely cripple those hopes. 

While they start Ben Simmons at point guard and JJ Redick at the shooting guard, the bench is left with only T.J. McConnell, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and rookie Furkan Korkmaz.

It’s hard to believe that guard rotation (or even a fully healthy one) would slow down Golden State. That's likely a loss any way you look at it with the Warriors coming off Thursday's loss to Boston.

The Sixers should handle Utah just as they did in Salt Lake City. But after that, the backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will likely be tough to endure.

Orlando should offer a very strong chance at a win. The Magic have cooled off since a 6-2 start. Any team that can lose to the Bulls at home should be beatable by Brett Brown's squad.

The last two games against Cleveland and Washington should be great measuring sticks as top teams in the East. Both the Cavaliers and Wizards have been inconsistent. You'd hope the Sixers would be a little healthier by the last two games on the homestand. It will likely come down to late-game execution and I can see the Sixers earning a split.

So that's a 3-3 homestand from my vantage point with a chance to get a fourth win depending on Joel Embiid's availability. But with six games in 12 days, you have to wonder if "load management" won't play a factor here. So I'll stick with a shorthanded 3-3, accounting for the possibility of a JoJo no-show.

Hudrick
Unfortunately, the homestand will likely start with an L to the Warriors. As Marshall alluded to, the Warriors are coming off a loss on Thursday. That does not bode well for the Sixers.

The team has been playing at such a high level. Here’s the crazy thing though: they went 3-2 on a West Coast trip where JJ Redick and Dario Saric, two extremely important cogs in the Sixers’ lineup, contributed very little. 

Redick will right the ship. He has the track record. Sometimes, you’re just off. If it’s a mechanical issue, you know Redick will get it figured out. Saric’s struggles are likely the result of a role change and fatigue from playing so much basketball. While he doesn’t have the track record of Redick, I expect Saric to bounce back as well. 

Still, the Sixers are up against a gauntlet. After Saturday’s matchup with Golden State, the team hosts the Jazz, Trail Blazers and Magic before wrapping the homestand against the Wizards and Cavs. In my eyes, that’s three very winnable games and three extremely challenging contests. If they go 3-3, there would be nothing to be upset about.

But I think they pull out one of the games against the Wizards or Cavs and they go 4-2 over the next six games at the Wells Fargo Center.

Haughton
This is tricky because it combines how well the Sixers are currently playing with the level of competition set to enter the Wells Fargo Center.

On the Sixers’ end, things couldn’t be much better. The team capped off the five-game road trip with an exclamation mark as Joel Embiid put on a show for the ages against the Clippers and Lakers in Los Angeles. More importantly, the Sixers finished the trip with a 3-2 mark (should have been 4-1 if not for the “rogue” moment in Sacramento). Either way, the Sixers are in a solid position as they return to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time in just over two weeks.

As for the opponents, there aren’t any real slouches on the slate. The only team the Sixers will face below the .500 mark is the Rudy Gobert-less Utah Jazz, who they already took care of on the road.

Things get started with the champion Golden State Warriors, who had won seven straight prior to Thursday’s loss to Boston. The Sixers will also face Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the Portland Trail Blazers before a date with the surprising Orlando Magic. They finish off the home stretch with Eastern Conference heavyweights Cleveland and Washington.

I would say a split would be more than acceptable for the Sixers, but I’ll get a bit greedy and say the young squad feeds off the home crowd’s energy to go 4-2 during the stint with losses only to the Warriors and Cavaliers.

Best of NBA: Spurs overcome 23-point deficit to beat Thunder

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Best of NBA: Spurs overcome 23-point deficit to beat Thunder

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a 23-point deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-101 on Friday night.

Danny Green added 17 points, and Pau Gasol had 14 points to help San Antonio end Oklahoma City's three-game winning streak.

Aldridge put back of Green's missed 3-pointer gave the Spurs a 102-99 lead with 24.2 seconds remaining.

The Thunder missed two 3-pointers on the ensuing possession, but Carmelo Anthony tracked down a second offensive rebound and made a 25-footer with his foot on the 3-point line to cut the lead to 102-101.

Gasol made two free throws, and Russell Westbrook stumbled to the court and threw up an airball on a 3-point attempt.

Anthony had 20 points to lead the Thunder. Westbrook was held to 15 points after scoring 10 in the opening period. He was 5 for 22 from the field (see full recap).

LeBron scores 39 as Cavs rally past Clippers in OT
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 39 points, Kevin Love added 25 and the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 118-113 in overtime on Friday night over the skidding Los Angeles Clippers, who dropped their seventh in a row.

Love drained a pair of 3-pointers in OT, when the Cavs outscored the Clippers 13-8. Dwyane Wade added 23 points and 11 rebounds for Cleveland.

The Cavs' win wasn't eye-pleasing, but it was another step in the right direction for the Eastern Conference champions, who went 3-1 on a just-completed road trip.

The Clippers are headed the other way. Los Angeles has lost nine of 10 since a 4-0 start.

Blake Griffin scored 23 and DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and 22 rebounds for Los Angeles, which didn't give up the lead until the first minute of overtime. The Clippers had chances to put the Cavs away in regulation, but they didn't execute down the stretch and then had defensive breakdowns in overtime (see full recap).

Bulls overcome Walker’s 47 points to snap skid
CHICAGO -- Justin Holiday had 27 points and the Chicago Bulls beat the skidding Charlotte Hornets 123-120 on Friday night, overcoming a 47-point outburst by Kemba Walker to snap their five-game losing streak.

Walker finished five points shy of his career high but missed a driving layup with Charlotte trailing by one in the closing seconds.

Lauri Markkanen then hit two free throws to make it 123-120 with 2.6 seconds left, securing the Bulls' third win in 13 games this season. Charlotte has dropped six straight.

Last in the NBA in scoring and field goal percentage, Chicago shot 52 percent and hit 17 of 34 3-pointers.

Holiday and Denzel Valentine, who had 18 points, each sank four from long range. Kris Dunn scored 22, Markkanen added 16 and the Bulls came out on top after a tense finish.

Charlotte's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist rebounded a missed shot by Chicago's Robin Lopez with about 10 seconds left. After a timeout, a driving Walker was bothered by a rotating Markkanen as Walker tried to put the Hornets ahead (see full recap).