76ers

Sixers top Hornets for first 3-game win streak since 2013-14 season

Sixers top Hornets for first 3-game win streak since 2013-14 season

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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."

Breaking down Joel Embiid's rough shooting night

Breaking down Joel Embiid's rough shooting night

Joel Embiid has joked in the past about his desire to be a guard in the NBA. All kidding and three-point shooting aside, the big man wants to play at the basket.

“We’ve got to do a better job of finding me in the post,” he said following the Sixers' loss to the Celtics on Friday. 

Embiid was candid about where he needs the ball following his 11-point performance. He didn’t score until the third quarter and shot 4 for 16 from the field and 0 for 6 from three in 28 minutes. 

“I felt like I needed to go to the perimeter to make something happen because I wasn’t getting the ball in the post,” Embiid said. “I think we’ve got to look at the tapes and find ways to get me the ball in the post. But I felt like because I wasn’t doing that, I had to go outside and make something happen to help us win.”

Embiid started off the game taking shots away from the basket. He went 0 for 2 from three in the first quarter and also missed a 20-foot jumper. His two points came at the line.

Embiid went scoreless in the second quarter and didn’t attempt any shots in the paint, either. He failed to connect on another three as well as an 11-foot jump shot and a 13-foot floater. 

He began the second half going 0 for 2 from long-range in the first four minutes. Finally, with 4:35 remaining in the quarter, he recorded his first field goal off a layup from Dario Saric. He scored off a dunk from Markelle Fultz late in the third and notched another point off a free throw. 

Embiid became more aggressive at the basket in the fourth quarter. He checked in with 5:37 remaining and the Sixers trailing by four. He knocked down a 13-foot pull-up and then missed his next four attempts: an eight-foot jumper, a layup, a trey, and a tip layup. Embiid made a layup with 16 seconds to play. 

The Sixers system has changed from last season when Embiid was the offensive go-to (20.2 points per game). As a rookie he made 63.6 percent of his field goals within three feet of the basket, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

The Sixers have added more scoring options, including Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, who drive the basket and are not perimeter-focused. Of the two, only Fultz made a shot outside the paint on Friday. The team as a whole scored 40 of their 92 points in the paint, compared to 28 by the Celtics. Below is a combined shot chart for Simmons and Fultz. 

Embiid's teammates will look to feed Embiid the ball at the basket. Just two games into the season, this newly-constructed squad still is learning how to play with one another. Embiid was limited in full-court practices for the majority of training camp and only played in two preseason contests.

The Sixers also are adapting to the offense when Embiid is both on and off the court as his minutes and availability fluctuate. He is not playing Saturday against the Raptors in the second night of a back-to-back. 

“If he’s in the game and he’s in the post, get him the ball,” Fultz said.

Embiid echoed, “He’s right. That’s the right answer.”

Sixers-Raptors thoughts: Embiid to sit, Okafor to take his place

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Sixers-Raptors thoughts: Embiid to sit, Okafor to take his place

Sixers (0-2) at Raptors (1-0)
7:30 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app. Pregame Live at 7.

The Sixers enter their first back-to-back set of the season when they tip off against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.

Hope you didn’t think the Sixers would flip the switch overnight. Oh yeah, it’s a process.

The Sixers found that out again when they stalled during the second half of Friday night’s 102-92 loss to the Boston Celtics in their home opener.

“We didn’t hold everything together like we should have,” Jerryd Bayless said.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• Joel Embiid won’t suit up against the Raptors because the center still isn’t cleared for back-to-backs yet. His stamina is not where it needs to be at the moment and it showed vs. the Celtics.

Embiid looked lethargic as he struggled through a 4-for-16 performance for just 11 points. That included the big man going 0 for 6 from three-point range.

After the game, the big man expressed that he wants more touches in the paint. That will certainly happen, but it will have to wait until the next game.

• So who will take Embiid’s playing time in Toronto? If only the Sixers had another center on their roster also taken No. 3 overall in a recent NBA draft.

Wait, they do? Hello, Jahlil Okafor.

Since slimming down in the offseason and performing well during the preseason, Okafor has been glued to the bench during the Sixers’ first two games of 2017-18.

That is likely to change against the Raptors. With both Embiid and Richaun Holmes out, Okafor could share the center duties with veteran Amir Johnson.

That wouldn’t be a bad idea based on the numbers. In five career games against the Raptors, Okafor has averaged 20.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in 31.3 minutes.

• For years, the Raptors have been fueled by their All-Star backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. That won’t change this season, but the team is intent on spreading the ball around more.

Toronto had six players score in double figures during its season opener. That included a team-high 23 points from center Jonas Valanciunas and 22 off the bench from veteran C.J. Miles.

Speaking of Miles, the Sixers will have to keep a close eye on the Raps’ new-look bench that accounted for 48 points in the team’s season-opening win over the Chicago Bulls.

• Ben Simmons has been as advertised. He’s big, strong, athletic and plays with poise.

The point guard put up 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in Friday’s loss to the Celtics. That made him the first rookie in Sixers history to start his career with back-to-back double-doubles and just the 11th in NBA history.

Simmons also became just the fifth player ever to have at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in their first two games, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The other four: Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Connie Hawkins and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yeah, he’s off to a pretty good start.

• The Sixers haven’t exactly had much success against the Raptors in recent years. They’ve lost 15 of their last 16 to their division foe, including nine straight at Air Canada Centre. Their last victory north of the border came on Nov. 10, 2012.

• Embiid (rest) and Holmes (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Fred VanVleet (head) is a game-time decision for the Raptors. Malcolm Miller (ankle) is out.