Sixers soak in Markelle Fultz's historic night

Sixers soak in Markelle Fultz's historic night

After becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, Markelle Fultz got quite the unique shower from his teammates in the locker room.

“They poured strawberry milk, chocolate milk, water,” Fultz said. “They drowned me with everything, but it’s all love and appreciation.”

It was a night of celebration for Fultz and the Sixers, as the team clinched the No. 3 seed and a first-round matchup against the Heat with its 16th straight win, 130-95, over the Bucks Wednesday (see observations). Fultz, who posted 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 25 minutes, was mobbed by his teammates after grabbing his 10th rebound with 1:12 left to seal the accomplishment.

Fultz was also spurred on by the crowd at Wells Fargo Center, who stuck around during garbage time, cheering the rookie’s every move and chanting “Fultz” in a Philadelphia variation of the Vikings’ “Skol” chant.

“It’s unbelievable,” Fultz said. “That’s the support I’ve been getting all year. Going through what I’ve been through, they’ve been like that all year, just being there, supporting me, boosting my confidence, and that’s why I love it.”

With Brett Brown confirming pregame that he intends to stick with Fultz in the rotation during the postseason, Fultz showed Wednesday night some of the ways he could help the Sixers.

He pushed the pace aggressively in his first stint, finding Justin Anderson for two long-range jumpers, converting on a pair of fast-break layups and leading an unstoppable Sixers’ offense. By the time he checked out early in the second quarter, the Sixers led by 31 points.

While Fultz still looks more comfortable in transition than in half-court offense, he seems to be growing in confidence with his decision-making. But Fultz insists he’s always had faith in his ability.

“I always believed in myself,” Fultz said. “It was just a matter of going out there, enjoying myself, having fun and playing confident.”

Since JJ Redick was sidelined with lower-back tightness, Brown mainly paired Fultz in the backcourt with T.J. McConnell, who finished with 16 points and seven assists. While Fultz has taken some of McConnell’s minutes recently (see story), McConnell said he enjoys playing with the rookie.

“I’m doing whatever the coach asks me to do,” McConnell said. “I love playing with Markelle, I love playing with Ben. Any way I can get on the floor and play, that’s what I’m going to do. Anything to help us win.”

McConnell’s attitude is not an outlier on the unselfish Sixers. Brown pointed to the moment in which the team rushed to celebrate Fultz’s achievement as the highlight of the night, and as evidence of the unity this team has heading into the postseason.

“If you said what was the most impressive thing of the night, that’s mine,” Brown said. “To see his teammates react to Markelle Fultz was special. I think it’s a snapshot into who these guys are. I think it’s a real-time example when you hear me say, ‘Oh, they play together, they coexist, this and that’ — that’s real. That doesn’t require a coach throwing out some math. There’s a human side to that which is special.”

Joel Embiid shows support for Sixers, himself with awards rant

Joel Embiid shows support for Sixers, himself with awards rant

Joel Embiid hadn’t talked to the media for awhile. He had a lot to get off his chest.

Wearing a black mask after working out before the Sixers’ regular-season finale against the Bucks, Embiid answered questions about his health heading into the postseason. He said it’s “unlikely” he’ll play in Game 1 of the first round (see story).

He also shared his seemingly unfiltered thoughts on a number of other topics, ranging from why he thinks Ben Simmons should be the Rookie of the Year, to why he should win Defensive Player of the Year.

Embiid’s mini-rant started with a question about his take on the Rookie of the Year race.

“Honestly, first of all, I think what they’ve got going on is pretty funny,” Embiid said of the tension between Ben Simmons and Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell (see story).

“A lot of people might have a different definition of what’s a rookie … it happened with me last year, there was a lot of talk about whether I was a rookie or not.”

But Embiid clearly wasn’t persuaded by Mitchell’s sweatshirt and its apparent argument that Simmons, who missed last season with a right foot fracture, somehow has an unfair advantage.

“I remember when I was out, I didn’t get to practice, I didn’t get to be with the team as much, didn’t really get to work out,” he said.

“Ben is the clear-cut guy for that award.”

For the record, Mitchell is averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, while Simmons is posting 15.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game. Simmons has averaged a triple-double during the Sixers’ 15-game winning streak.

Next, Embiid was simply asked if there was anything else he wanted to talk about. Yes … yes, he did.

“I feel like starting with Coach [Brett Brown] taking the team, last year we won [28] games, people don’t really put him up there for Coach of the Year,” Embiid said. “I think it’s absurd. I think he’s amazing.”

He then seamlessly transitioned into an argument for his own Defensive Player of the Year candidacy.

“It is what is, [the media] has a lot of say in it, but I think he should be the Coach of the Year, Ben should be Rookie of the Year, and I should be the Defensive Player of the Year because I feel like all year long we’ve done it,” Embiid said. “My teammates have helped me a lot and I’m in this situation because of them. I give them a lot of credit. But I still feel like I’ve been the best defensive player in the league this year.

“Last year, I kind of had the knock on me of not playing a lot of games, but this year I’ve played a lot of games, so I don’t know what excuse they’re going to find next.”

Anything else Embiid wanted to air out? Of course.

“I think we got a pretty good chance,” he continued. “At the end of the day, it’s all about winning, and that’s what we did this year, getting to the playoffs and next year … and what else? I should be first-team All-NBA, too. I think I’ve been the best center in the league and I’ve proved it.

“I’ve seen a lot of people put Anthony Davis, but I think he’s a four. He’s had a great season and I have a lot of respect for Anthony Davis, but I think he’s a forward. But I’m glad this season’s about to be over. We got one game more, and now we got our sights on the playoffs.”

Robert Covington's production continues to fly under radar for Sixers

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AP Images

Robert Covington's production continues to fly under radar for Sixers

Dario Saric is the prototypical underrated Sixer. He hustles, makes big shots, gets overshadowed by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

But don’t forget about Robert Covington.

On the surface, 12.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game is not an incredible stat line for somebody making nearly $17 million this season.

Yet Covington has a massive, positive impact on the Sixers. Even if you appreciate all the little things Covington does, all the deflections he gets defensively and spacing he creates offensively, the numbers are hard to believe.

During the Sixers’ 13-game winning streak, their longest since the 1984-85 season, the Sixers have a 25.8 net rating in the 381 minutes Covington has played. During the 243 minutes he’s been on the bench, their net rating is minus-4.3.

While those ridiculous numbers can in part be attributed to a small sample size, the Sixers have still been much better when Covington is on the court than when he’s on the sidelines. Overall, he has a 10.6 net rating. When he’s on the sidelines, the Sixers’ net rating is minus-4.7.

The No. 1 reason Covington has that large of an effect on the Sixers is his defense. He’s often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player, and though he sometimes gets burned, he usually holds his own.

His 99.6 defensive rating is fourth in the league, ahead of even Embiid. When Covington is on the court, matched up against the opposition’s biggest threat, players like JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli don’t get exposed on defense, as they often did against LeBron James in Friday night’s dramatic 132-130 win (see observations). Covington’s defensive prowess does show in at least one traditional stat — his 1.7 steals per game are ninth in the NBA.

Offensively, it’s harder to pinpoint Covington’s impact. He’s a good, not great, long-range shooter (37.0 percent from three-point territory on 6.9 attempts per game). Since the majority of Covington’s shots are from deep, however, he’s probably often perceived as a less efficient player than he actually is.

The fact he is a legitimate three-point threat that defenses have to guard also shouldn’t be discounted, since it opens up space for Embiid and Simmons to operate.

Perhaps one explanation for why Covington is underrated lies in when he tends to have his worst games — Sixers’ losses. Covington has shot 35.7 percent from the field in losses this season, compared to 44.8 percent in wins. His net rating in wins is 19.9. In losses, it’s minus-5.4.

That stat gives some insight into why Covington is often the scapegoat when the Sixers lose, whereas he flies under the radar when they win. After a loss, it makes sense that your first instinct is to blame the guy who missed a bunch of threes and didn’t seem to do much else. And after a win, it makes sense to praise Simmons for another sensational triple-double, or Embiid for another dominant performance.

But when you take a step back and look at what Covington means to the Sixers, there’s no way this team would be in the midst of a 13-game winning streak and third in the Eastern Conference without him.