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."

Sixers hope they have Embiid tonight vs. reigning MVP

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AP Images

Sixers hope they have Embiid tonight vs. reigning MVP

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is listed as questionable while the Sixers need all hands on deck to defend Russell Westbrook.

The big man's status tonight is uncertain because of back tightness. Embiid missed Sunday's game against the Pelicans with the issue but played a career-high 39 minutes on Tuesday in the Sixers' overtime win against the Timberwolves. 

Embiid was on the court after shootaround draining threes barefoot. He commonly puts up shots without shoes.

The Sixers will require a total team effort against Westbrook. They will have their top perimeter defender Robert Covington back in the lineup after he missed the last two games with a lower back contusion.

Brett Brown will try different looks on Westbrook, but one thing is already known: There's no clear-cut formula to contain the reigning MVP. 

"Russell Westbrook demands a team to guard him," Brett Brown said Thursday. "He comes at you with such cocky aggression. How about the athlete that we're seeing and the mentality of that athlete? It is bizarre to me. That is a fierce, competitive person that just doesn't seem to get tired ... He's amazing to me. He really is amazing to me." 

Westbrook is averaging 22.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game this season. All those stats don't really project much considering he's capable of going off for 30, 40 points any given night. He scored 30-plus points in three of his last five games. 

Even though the Thunder are below .500 (13-14), the Sixers are not ignoring the offseason additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Veteran scorers cannot be overlooked, regardless of a team's record heading into the game. 

"[Westbrook] is a special player in our league and he's going to be tough to contain one-on-one so it's going to be a group effort tonight," T.J. McConnell said. "Even with the other two, Carmelo and Paul George, it takes a team and following your principles and playing hard. That's all you can really do." 

• The Sixers will wear their red Statement Edition uniforms tonight for the first time. The jerseys were designed to reflect the history of the franchise and the city of Philadelphia. "Sixers" is written in cursive for the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

• The Sixers are unveiling a sculpture of Maurice Cheeks in front of their training complex in Camden. Cheeks is now an assistant coach for the Thunder. The point guard was a member of the 1983 championship team and earned four All-Star selections with the Sixers. Cheeks' sculpture will join those of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham already on "76ers Legends Walk."

Ben Simmons takes 4 families on holiday shopping spree

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Photo courtesy of Sixers' Twitter account

Ben Simmons takes 4 families on holiday shopping spree

Four families gathered in a roped-off waiting area adorned with Sixers decor inside of a Philadelphia Target store. They were told they were getting a surprise Thursday evening, but they didn't know who or what until a car pulled up outside ... and Ben Simmons walked through the door.

Simmons gave each family a $1,000 shopping spree right then and there. The room erupted in cheer.

"Beautiful," a mother exclaimed at the news. One child put his head in his hands in disbelief when he saw Simmons. Another said, "This is the best day ever."

"It's one of those things I always wanted to do growing up," Simmons, who came up with the idea for the shopping trip on his own, said. "It's the perfect time, season of giving. It just means a lot for me to be able to do this for some families."

The towering 6-foot-10 point guard walked through the store on Monument Road with each family and helped them choose their gifts along the way. 

They headed straight to the toy section, where the children piled in Legos, dolls and anything else that grabbed their attention. Then it was on to electronics. One child filled his cart with video games and a gaming system. Another family selected a television and soundbar. 

Shopping carts accumulated quickly as the kids ran in and out of aisles with bright smiles on their faces.

"Seeing them pick out what they want, not having to worry about it, I think that was the biggest thing," Simmons said. "It was a great time. I had a lot of fun, can't wait to do it next year."

The recipients were selected through Unity in the Community, a nonprofit organization based in South Philadelphia. Each had been through tough times in the past year and this trip helped to put the happy in their holidays.

"They can enjoy it now," Simmons said. "It's great for them to have no worries, especially on Christmas."