You don't want to see these Sixers in the playoffs

You don't want to see these Sixers in the playoffs

Kyle Korver hits a three late in the fourth quarter to cut the Philadelphia 76ers' lead, as big as 13 earlier in the frame, down to one. The Sixers have missed a couple chip shots and a number of free throws, Joel Embiid has struggled from the floor all night, and Ben Simmons is a foul away from getting himself DQ'd. Oh, and LeBron James is on the other side. You can think of any number of ways for this game to end for the Sixers, and none of them are all that good. 

But somehow, the Sixers not only held on to win handily in Cleveland, they were disrespectful about it. 

Dario Saric nailed a three from the corner to get them some breathing room, then stared down the nearby Cavs bench. Embiid hit a fadeaway over double coverage, then dedicated it to a heckler in the stands. By the time Simmons inbounded off an inattentive Cleveland defender and drove for an uncontested dunk (what!?!?!?) the game was so over that the TNT crew didn't even seem to register what had just happened. LeBron didn't even score in the final three minutes. 

I don't think it'd be an exaggeration to call this the biggest win of the Sixers' season. On the road, on national TV, following two straight losses (including the heartbreaker in Miami), against a team they haven't beaten in years — and without either particularly scorching three-point shooting (10 for 30), or a dominant Embiid outing (17 points on 7 for 18). It's huge that they were able to pull this one out, and it bodes extremely well for their postseason readiness. 

How did they do it? Well, ball security definitely helps — just nine turnovers in this one after coughing it up 20-plus times in Miami. Simmons was brilliant as well, posting an 18-9-8 on 8 for 14 with a couple huge steals, and keeping the Sixers liquid in the third quarter with his repeated abuse of Cedi Osman in the post. And even though Embiid struggled from the field (and the line, where he had an uncharacteristic 3 for 8 night), he was a monster on the boards, grabbing 14 while also handing out six assists and making his usual huge impact on defense, particularly late. 

And as much as you can quantify this stuff, the Sixers just seemed ready. Earlier this season, they would've folded down the stretch, but this time they stayed calm, executed and showed what happens when a team plays well down the stretch without having to deal with a player getting an entire season's worth of unlikely makes and preferential foul calls at the other end. (No, I'm not still seething about that Dwyane Wade game or anything.) They showed what we might be able to expect from their first playoff appearance in six seasons.

Of course, the talking points from this one probably won't have much to do with the Sixers' postseason push. One will be about the Sixers' final bucket of the game — an uncontested Saric dunk with 14 seconds left and the game already well in hand, which new Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson was unappreciative of, angrily spiking the ball off Saric in response. It was definitely a little Bush League of Dario, but I was mostly with Chris Webber on the TNT broadcast: It's on the Cavs for putting themselves in the situation to let The Homie bite his thumb at them like that. 

The second point will be whether the Sixers gave LeBron enough reason to give them a second look in free agency this summer. Hard to argue that The King wouldn't be better off trading his supporting cast for these Sixers at this point. His 30 points (with 9 boards and 8 assists) matched the combined total for the rest of Cleveland's starting lineup last night — though he may still get his chance to avenge this loss against the Sixers in the playoffs, before taking any kind of walk of shame all the way to Philadelphia in the offseason. 

Then again, LeBron probably doesn't want to see the Sixers in the first round this spring, and it's hard to imagine anyone else in the East does, either. Let's let the venerable Zach Lowe of ESPN get the final word here on the current state of The Process: 

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.