SACRAMENTO -- Sipping on Shirley Temples and dominating the Eastern Conference -- that's how Joel Embiid rolls. The talented 24-year-old center is in Sacramento for a Saturday night clash with the Kings.
There won’t be a reenactment of the Embiid, DeMarcus Cousins butt swatting incident. Those days are long gone in Sacramento, but someone is going to have to slow the All-Star big or the Kings are in a lot of trouble.
Willie Cauley-Stein will give it a go early and he’s had some success against Embiid in the past. In their lone matchup last season, Philly’s star big posted 22 points on 7-of-20 shooting to go with 15 rebounds and two assists. But with the game on the line, it was Cauley-Stein who was clutch.
“Resilient,” Cauley-Stein said of how he approaches the battle with Embiid. “When I play against dudes like that, that [are] a load, [I am] just always coming. I feel like dudes that play that aggressive, they’re waiting for you to fall, they’re waiting for you to just give in.”
In the final 1:13 of the game, Cauley-Stein blocked Embiid twice in the paint, once on a layup attempt and the second time on a hook shot with Sacramento trailing 108-107 with 25 ticks remaining.
After De’Aaron Fox drilled a jumper to give the Kings a 109-108 lead, Cauley-Stein once again came up with a defensive stop against Embiid on a jumper to seal the victory for Sacramento.
Embiid looks like a different player this season. He’s averaging 27.2 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists and 1.9 blocks in 33.4 minutes per game. In addition, he’s played in 48 of the Sixers 52 games, which is amazing when you consider that he played in a total of 94 games in his first four seasons in the NBA.
“He’s got some moves and his footwork is really great,” Cauley-Stein said. “He plays with a lot of power up top and his base is so strong that you can’t let him get to that spot. If you let him get to that spot, it’s over with.”
On Friday, Embiid was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month and he’s coming off a 26-point, 20-rebound performance in Philly’s win over the Warriors. Cauley-Stein, as well as Harry Giles and maybe even Kosta Koufos will have their hands full.
In order to keep Embiid from having a monster night, Cauley-Stein has to do his work early and he needs to keep him off the glass.
That’s easier said than done.
“I just try to give him different looks and keep on coming,” Cauley-Stein said. “He’s going to score, he’s going to get rebounds, that’s what he does, he’s really good at it. It’s just, how many times can you stop him from doing that.”
The Kings won both matchups against the 76ers last season, but Philly is rolling. They’re 7-2 over their previous nine games and Embiid is a huge part of that success.