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Sixers are officially winners for first time in forever

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Sixers are officially winners for first time in forever

It feels almost impossible to believe. 

The Sixers hadn't had a winning 82-game season since 2005. Could've sworn one of those Doug Collins or Mo Cheeks teams at least went 42-40, right? Nope. Aside from going 35-31 in the lockout-shortened 2011-'12 season, the Sixers never went better than 41-41 (which they did twice) in the last 13 years. But now, for the first time since Marc Jackson was on the squad, the Sixers are officially a winning ballclub, clinching a plus-.500 record with their 42nd win of the season last night. 

It came with a 120-108 home victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in a game that shouldn't even have been that close — 50 laps around the gym today for the benchwarmers, who couldn't hold a 27-point lead well enough in the fourth quarter to keep Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons from having to re-enter the game. Nonetheless, the W was the Sixers' sixth in a row and third straight with Embiid playing under 25 minutes, essentially earning the star big man an extra rest game in total between them. 

Anyway, the first three quarters of the game were beautiful. Embiid had 18 points, six boards, three blocks and one windmill dunk. Dario Saric started the game on fire and ended with 18 points on 6 for 10 shooting. Marco Belinelli scored 17 points on six shots. And of course, Simmons exited the game with his 10th triple-double of the season in barely 25 minutes of tick. The team handed out 33 assists on 42 field goals, setting a club record with a fifth consecutive 30-plus assist game. (Should've been 34, by the way — shame on Dario for blowing Simmons' best pass of the year, then both ensuing free throws.) 

So... 42-30, with only three games left on the schedule against winning teams — all at home, first coming tomorrow against the outside-looking-in Denver Nuggets. Only need to go 6-4 to tie the Sixers' best record (48-34 in '02-'03) since the AI finals team and to win more games than we did in the first three seasons of The Process combined. And only need to go 8-2 to get to JoJo's new goal of 50 Ws. Oh yeah, and only one win (or Detroit o Indiana loss) to clinch the first playoff appearance in six years. The fact that we're even talking about any of this is still hilarious. 

Brett Brown believes Ben Simmons is 'stone cold' Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown believes Ben Simmons is 'stone cold' Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown made his case for Ben Simmons to win top rookie honors, and Simmons agrees.

“He is the stone cold Rookie of the Year,” Brown said.

The Sixers head coach’s strong words came after Simmons recorded his 10th triple-double of the season Saturday in the Sixers' win over the Timberwolves (see observations).

With 15 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists in just under 30 minutes, Simmons posted a stat line that is becoming routine for the 6-foot-10 point guard.

“I think the play I’ve had over the season has been pretty consistent,” Simmons said. “I’m doing some things that haven’t been done in a while.”

Simmons is right. He already passed Magic Johnson for second-most triple-doubles by a rookie in NBA history and trails only Oscar Robertson in that category. The 21-year-old currently is averaging 7.9 assists, putting him on track to join Robertson as the only rookies to average at least 16 points, seven rebounds and eight assists per game.

In comparison to rookies around the league this season, Simmons ranks first in rebounds, assists and steals and second in scoring. 

For as well as Simmons is playing, there will be a tough competition for the award.

Like Simmons, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell is leading his team in the hunt for the playoffs. Mitchell is averaging 20.3 points (first among rookies), 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He has scored 30-plus point in seven games, including a 40-point performance.

Forward Jayson Tatum also has been mentioned in Rookie of the Year consideration. Tatum is posting 13.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists on the Eastern Conference second-ranked Celtics.

"I’m not worried about putting up points every game,” Simmons said. “As long as we win, that’s all I’m worried about. I think everything else will come along with it. But that’s just not the way I play. I don’t need to score 30, 40 points every game. Now I can create 40 points by passing the ball, that’s easy to me."

The conversation about this award is far from over.

Sixers look like a playoff team in win over Timberwolves

Sixers look like a playoff team in win over Timberwolves

BOX SCORE 

The Timberwolves were an anomaly in a recent stretch of sub-.500 opponents for the Sixers — a playoff contender holding their own without Jimmy Butler in the tough Western Conference.

The Sixers took care of business, 120-108, but it wasn’t without a hitch in the final quarter.

The Sixers had a 98-71 lead after three, a big enough gap for Brett Brown to comfortably sit his starters in the fourth. Well, it should have been a big enough lead. The Timberwolves cut that deficit to 10 points, and Brown turned back to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to quiet the Timberwolves’ push.

“For us, we don’t want to go back in,” Simmons said after the game. “We want to see our guys play and finish out the game because we know they’re capable of that. But to see our guys not do that, it’s kind of annoying but we’ve got to get on top of that and everybody has to be ready to play.”

This was a less-than-ideal situation as the Sixers are looking for ways to rest their high-minutes players, particularly Embiid, who had only clocked 22 minutes through three quarters. In total, Embiid and Simmons played less than two minutes apiece in the fourth, but the reserves have to take better control of leads so the starters don’t have to return at all.

"I trust the guys that were on the floor," Embiid said. "We just wanted to make sure we had it locked and that nothing was going to happen. But it was nothing."

The Sixers improved to 42-30. They could have clinched a playoff spot with a Pistons loss to the Bulls, but Detroit won Saturday night, 117-95.

• Simmons needed less than three quarters to record his 10th triple-double of the season: 15 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists.

• Joel Embiid was having a good time out there on his way to 19 points, six rebounds and three blocks.


• Led by those 13 assists from Simmons, the Sixers dished a total of 33 dimes. Their five-straight games of 30-plus assists are their longest such stretch since December 1981. With assists, turnovers can be just as significant. The Sixers committed 14, equal to the Timberwolves, but gave up only 13 points compared to the Timberwolves’ 22.

• The Eagles continue to show their support for the Sixers: