Sixers' future is now, but maybe not quite there yet

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Sixers' future is now, but maybe not quite there yet

Wow, was that first half against the Golden State Warriors fun Saturday night or what? Going into the break up 22, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons dominating, Robert Covington and JJ Redick hitting from everywhere and the Warriors playing at least marginally shook, looking like a team woefully underprepared for a fully weaponized Sixers squad. It was absolutely stunning seeing it all come together, since as good as the Sixers had been through 14 games so far this year, they'd still never played a full game this season with both their shooters hitting and their stars locked in. 

And they still haven't. As second quarter gave way to third, can't say for certain if the Warriors' switch was flipped, but something definitely was. All of a sudden, the paint closed off for Embiid and Simmons, Covington started clanking and trying to defend the Warriors was as fruitless as trying to save a soup with a hole torn in the takeaway carton. Philly's 22-point lead turned into a 10-point deficit, and it wasn't coming back. Final score: 124-116, Warriors. 

Once this one really got outta control — in a bad way — you kinda just had to laugh about it. The Sixers' first-half steamrolling was head-smackingly unsustainable, but to see everything good about their performance dissolve so fully and so quickly, there was nothing really to say: You just had to recall fondly how hilariously beautiful those first 24 minutes were, and know that someday we'll get a performance like that from the Liberty Ballers that extends all 48. Maybe even against these Warriors, who probably weren't gonna lose to both the present and the future of the Eastern Conference in back-to-back outings. 

As much fun as it would've been for the Sixers to jump their timeline about two seasons in one night, they're not there yet. Half their bench is out, for one thing, including that guy Markelle Fultz who should still be an enormous difference-maker for Brett Brown's crew if he ever gets his head (and his shoulders) straight. And though Simmons and Embiid already both show flashes of "Oh My God They've Figured It Out" and "We're All Doomed" with absurd frequency, to expect them to have totally solved the NBA with 59 games of Association experience between them is not terribly realistic. The team's turned a corner this season, no doubt, but there's still a lot of corners left in that treehouse for them to investigate. 

The good news? The Sixers are staying at home for a while now — after playing 10 of their first 14 on the road, they're now in the midst of eight of nine in South Philly — with challenging, but mostly winnable games coming up, including Monday night against the Utah Jazz. The Sixers are not ready to run the rest of the league off the court just yet, but they're ready to establish themselves as one of the decisively good teams, and hopefully, their home building as one of the league's obviously tough arenas. For a team where crisis forever lurks just below the surface, that would certainly be enough Process-to-Progress for one season. 

Kevin Hart finally gets his Lombardi Trophy

NBC Sports Philadelphia

Kevin Hart finally gets his Lombardi Trophy

Kevin Hart finally has his Lombardi Trophy.

Hart, a comedian and a native of Philadelphia, had a few too many adult beverages during Super Bowl LII and attempted to get to the stage for the presentation of the trophy. He was unsurprisingly denied.

But Hart refused to accept "no" for an answer.

The lesson here is, if you're big enough of a celebrity to get on the field after your hometown team wins the Super Bowl, you probably have enough coin to just buy your own trophy instead of trying to drunkenly crash the trophy presentation.

On his birthday, Embiid delivers present to fans

On his birthday, Embiid delivers present to fans

Most Sixers fans probably could've predicted the 2-0 result of the Sixers' back-to-back swing against the Knicks and the Nets, but the expenditure of energy it'd take to get there was hard to see coming. One night after needing a fourth-quarter comeback to escape from New York, the Sixers went even further down to the wire against Brooklyn at home, needing a huge final-minute three from Robert Covington and some savvy playing of the foul game from T.J. McConnell to squeak out the 120-116 win.

Both one of the biggest reasons the Nets were able to hang around and one of the biggest reasons the Sixers won anyway was the birthday boy himself, Joel Embiid. JoJo turned 24 yesterday, and he matched that with a 24-point performance -- though he needed 23 shots to get there, only hitting a Kobe-like six of them. But The Process was eminently trustworthy elsewhere in the box score: a career-high 19 boards, four assists (with only one turnover), and most importantly, an immaculate 11-11 from the foul line, where he'd been struggling recently (just 63% from the stripe this month previously). It was about as dominant a performance as our big guy could submit while being an absolute mess from the field.

And he was matched along the way by Ben Simmons. The Fresh Prince didn't notch his third consecutive triple-double, sadly, but he came damn close with his 21-8-12 line -- to go with three big steals and just two turnovers -- his highest-scoring night since he hung 32 on the Bulls in February. We've said it before, but having a superstar to carry your team when they're struggling is the ultimate luxury; having two feels downright immodest. (Simmons since All Stars were announced in late January, btw: 16-8-9 on 58% shooting and under three turnovers, with four triple-doubles and double-digit scoring in 25 out of 25 games.)

So the Sixers move to 38-30, two games up on Milwaukee in the seventh seed, half a game behind Washington at five, a full game behind Cleveland at four, and 1.5 behind Indiana at three. While the Sixers have struggled some against top-level teams in the past month -- going 1-5 in their last six games against playoff-bound opponents -- they've kept pace in the East by taking care of business against the sub-.500 teams, winning their last eight against losing squads, dating back to them taking an L against these Nets in Brooklyn at the end of January. Now they get a couple hard-earned days off before two more home games against lottery-bound squads in Charlotte and Memphis. Trust -- and celebrate -- The Process.