James Schmehl

Trio of veterans give Sixers boost they need for 12th straight win

Trio of veterans give Sixers boost they need for 12th straight win

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DETROIT — When the Sixers brought back Ersan Ilyasova and signed Marco Belinelli this past February, fifth-year coach Brett Brown was simply hoping to add a boost to his team’s bench.

What he’s witnessed the past two months from both veterans, particularly in the wake of All-Star center Joel Embiid’s injury, has been above and beyond what Brown could have ever imagined.

“I love the foreign guys, as you know,” Brown said following his team’s 115-108 win Wednesday over the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena (see observations). “And to get them both in a single season, and to truly have a home for them, where you can give them 20 minutes, that is rare in March.”

And, without question, Ilyasova and Belinelli have taken advantage of their rare opportunity.

On the second night of a back-to-back, with playoff seeding up for grabs, the Sixers (48-30) put forth yet another dominant performance en route to their 12th consecutive win. And, once again, both Ilyasova and Belinelli played key roles in keeping the streak alive.

Six players finished the night in double digits Wednesday, including Belinelli, who put up 19 points off the bench — nine of which came in the fourth quarter. And Ilyasova? The 30-year-old forward supplied 13 en route to his third double-double in his past four games.

“They’ve just added so much,” Brown said. “None more important than the personal side of it. They’re good people.”

Another key veteran, JJ Redick, was undeniably the star of the night. He dropped a team-high 25 points, but Wednesday’s win proved to be a team effort, highlighted by a well-rounded offense and a tenacious defense.

“A lot of guys have just been playing well, knowing that we need a lot more from everybody as individuals,” said Ben Simmons, who finished with 16 points. “Everybody’s stepping up.”

Following the loss of Embiid, the Sixers were simply hoping to keep things afloat until he rejoined the team.

Thanks largely to a trio of veterans who have stepped up to fill the void, the Sixers now find themselves riding the team’s longest winning streak since the 1989-1990 campaign, and the fourth-longest streak in franchise history.

But in order to advance deep in the postseason, the Sixers will need a healthy Embiid. They know this.

“We are clearly a better team with Joel,” Brown said. “We have more potency with Joel. There is zero doubt about that. And we look forward to including an All-Star back in our lineup.”

Redick echoed his coach’s sentiment. 

“Look, we’re trying to hold down the fort while he’s out,” he said. “But we know for us to be able to win, and win big, we need Joel healthy, and at his best.”

The Sixers’ dominant success as of late may have come as a surprise to some, given the injuries to Embiid and Dario Saric, who has missed time with cellulitis. However, their win streak has highlighted two key strengths: team chemistry and a deep bench.

“This is a testament on how we’ve grown as a unit, and the way our team has grown overall,” forward Robert Covington said of the team’s 12-game win streak. “We’ve done so much and we’re making the right strides.”

And they’re making the right strides at the right time.

With clutch contributions from their contingent of veterans, the Sixers gained a half game on the Cleveland Cavaliers, and will now enter their highly anticipated matchup Friday in a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

It’s a chance for the Sixers’ veterans to, once again, put their leadership — and talent — on full display.

“That’s going to be a true testament of a playoff game,” Covington said. “And I know Philadelphia is going to be behind us.”

A 12th straight Sixers' win eliminates Pistons from playoff contention

A 12th straight Sixers' win eliminates Pistons from playoff contention

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DETROIT — For the 12th straight game, the Sixers walked away with a win.

And they nearly did it in double-digit fashion once again.

JJ Redick put up a team-high 25 points to help the Sixers capture their 12th straight win and eliminate the Detroit Pistons from playoff contention with a 115-108 victory at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday.

On the cusp of matching NBA history, the Sixers (48-30) fell just shy of extending their franchise-best record of consecutive wins by at least 10 points to 10 games.

The Sixers entered the second half with a 16-point lead, highlighted by a combined 23 points from non-starters, and never looked back. 

• With the win, the Sixers matched their longest winning streak since compiling 12 straight wins from Jan. 13 to Feb. 5, 1990. They’ve won 15 of 18 games, dating back to March 1.

• For the second straight game, on the second night of a back-to-back, the Sixers relied on a balanced attack to ward off a red-hot Pistons (37-41) squad that entered Wednesday having won seven of its last eight. Six players finished with double digits, including Marco Belinelli (17), Robert Covington (12) and Richaun Holmes (11).

• The Sixers were once again without two of their best players — Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, both of whom are nursing injuries. But, once again, they weren’t needed. Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ben Simmons finished with 16 points and Ersan Ilyasova, who recorded his third double-double in his past four games, added 13.

• Redick, who entered Wednesday with a career-high-tying streak of five straight games with 19-plus points, scored the Sixers' first eight points of the game and 13 in the first quarter — matching the most he’s posted in any quarter this season. He finished 5 of 7 from behind the arc.

• The win moved the Sixers into a two-way tie for third place with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who own the tiebreaker, with four games to play. The Sixers return home Friday to host the Cavs, who are riding a four-game win streak after topping the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.

• Saric, who has been sidelined with cellulitis — a bacterial infection — in his right elbow, missed his third straight game. Saric is listed as questionable to return Friday when the Sixers host the Cavaliers. “I don’t know. I can’t say that [he’ll be back Friday],” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “We hope.”

• Pistons center Andre Drummond, who missed Wednesday’s shootaround because of an illness, recorded his 60th double-double this season, which ranks second overall in the NBA. Drummond avoided suspension earlier this week, but was fined $15,000 for a shoving match with Brooklyn Nets forward Quincy Acy that resulted in their ejections Sunday.

• Pistons forward Blake Griffin, who has missed the last week because of a bone bruise in his right ankle, was held out of Wednesday’s game. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said there’s no plan to shut down the five-time All-Star, who continues to work toward returning this week and playing in one of the last three games of the season.

• The win capped a four-game season sweep against the Pistons.

Ben Simmons joins elite company with triple-double in Sixers' 1st win

Ben Simmons joins elite company with triple-double in Sixers' 1st win

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DETROIT — Sixers coach Brett Brown was well aware of the risk when he asked Ben Simmons, who played forward in high school and college, to run his team’s offense.

It was a gutsy call, at the time, that many critics scoffed and questioned.

Not anymore.

In just his fourth career NBA game, Simmons pieced together a memorable triple-double Monday night to become just the third player in history to accomplish the feat in such a time span, and more importantly, help lead the Sixers (1-3) to their first regular-season win.

“It’s awesome to have a triple-double, but at the same time, it’s even better to have that win,” Simmons said. “Especially with these guys and a young team like this.” 

It wasn’t a do-or-die game for the Sixers by any stretch, but Monday night’s 97-86 win in Detroit certainly rejuvenated a fan base that may have started casting doubt as to whether the Sixers are a legit playoff-caliber team (see observations)

Moreover, it served as much-needed validation for Brown and his young, talent-packed squad, following three straight losses, including Saturday’s 34-point blowout loss in Toronto.

“I’m happy for our guys,” Brown said. “They really came into the building knowing that we needed to get a win. To get rewarded with the win, it just validates some of the work that everybody has put in.”

Particularly Simmons, who entered this season with the eyes of Philadelphia watching his every move during his first tour around the NBA after missing all of last season nursing a fractured foot. 

“We won, and, honestly, that means so much than stats for me,” said Simmons, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. 

Simmons doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical point guard, but — then again — the NBA has evolved into a position-less league. Players of all shapes and sizes do everything nowadays. And Simmons — just four games into his NBA career — is among those leading the charge.

“I mean, we all see how gifted he is physically,” Brown said. “Him, with the ball, able to do the things he does, produces a lot of these mismatches and numbers. 

“We’re able to post him. He’s able to seal the pick-and-rolls. You see how gifted he is in open court. He’s got that breakaway speed that is jaw-dropping. And he’s 6-foot-10.”

Simmons, to his credit, was extremely humble when asked about his triple-double accomplishment after the game. But it’s possible the 21-year-old phenom was unaware of the elite company he joined and how rare a feat it was to put up a triple-double just four games into his career. 

When Simmons notched his 10th assist on Joel Embiid’s layup with slightly more than minute to play, he became the first player with a triple-double in his first four career games since Hambone Williams in 1967. The only other player in NBA history to do so? Oscar Robertson, in 1960. 

“I feel like this stat line, we’ve kind of seen a snapshot of it the first three games,” Brown said. “It just seems a bit more special when it’s associated with a win.”

Win or not, Simmons has made it abundantly clear Monday night that — even with Markelle Fultz in the mix — he’s the Sixers’ point guard. No ands or buts about it.

When it was made clear in April that Brown wanted the versatile rookie to play point guard, the controversial decision was met with raised eyebrows. But Brown, to his credit, hasn’t wavered. And today, by all accounts, that gamble is paying off. 

“You know, the decision to make him our point guard is challenged in some some way,” he said. “But as an organization, we stayed strong that that’s where we want to play him.”

It was a gutsy call by Brown at the time, and while the Sixers may only be four games into the season, it’s proving to be the right call.