Joel Embiid wasn’t fond of the connotation. It was impossible to avoid public perception — it lasted for three years — but it never sat well with Embiid.
He is confident a three-game winning streak and victories in five out of the last six contests will alter that.
“My job here, I’ve been trying to change the culture,” Embiid said after the Sixers’ 102-93 win over the Hornets on Friday (see Instant Replay). “I think people are starting to see that we’re winning games. The way people view the Sixers — hopefully that changes.”
The Sixers have improved to 12-25 and won three straight for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Embiid was drafted that summer and his experiences with the team had been of losing streaks. The Sixers were 28-136 in his first two seasons while he was sidelined by foot injuries.
“The word associated with the Sixers was basically tanking,” Embiid said. “I don’t think anybody was trying to do that. The roster just wasn’t good enough. But everybody was playing hard and we weren’t winning games. So I’m trying to get people together.
“I’m not the only one. My teammates, they’re helping me. We’re winning games now, so got to give them a lot of credit. Now the way I see it, now people got to get away from that word and see that, yeah, the Sixers now, they’re winning and thinking about playoffs.”
Friday’s win over the Hornets was the first against a team currently in playoff position during the recent stretch. The Nuggets, Timberwolves, Nets and Knicks are below .500, while the Hornets entered the game 20-19. Even so, Embiid wasn’t shaken by the opponent’s record.
“We’ve been playing well lately,” he said. “Going into [the] game [against] Charlotte, I didn’t know we were going to win but I was confident.”
The big man played with confidence, too. He scored 24 points on 6 of 12 shooting to give him eight straight games of at least 20 points. Embiid also added eight rebounds in the victory.
Still, his biggest impact may have been on the defensive end. Embiid blocked three shots and had two steals as the Sixers forced the Hornets — the NBA’s best team in terms of taking care of the ball — into a season-high 19 turnovers.
Hornets head coach Steve Clifford recognized the impact Embiid has had on the Sixers in his first game against the rookie. Embiid sat out of their matchup in November for rest.
“He definitely has the whole package,” Clifford said. “He has the size, agility. He is quick, he is strong and has a wide body. He has a skill level. He has brought in the energy to his teammates, which has obviously changed them with the way they are playing. He certainly has the talent to be a big-time player.”
For Embiid, changing the attitude around the team has meant building a close relationship with the fans. He is tightly connected with the Sixers faithful, and during Friday's game, he prompted the fans to get louder as they chanted "trust the process" while he shot free throws.
"I love the fans and I think they love me, so they’ve been showing me a lot of love," he said. "At the beginning of the season, I was playing with a lot of passion and getting into it with the fans. At some point, that changed and I wasn’t playing with that much passion, I wasn’t getting into it with the fans. Then I just went back to it and it’s all fun again, the game is fun, we're winning games."