Friday gave another glimpse of how special Sixers' starters can be

Friday gave another glimpse of how special Sixers' starters can be

Six games.

That’s how many games the Sixers’ new starting five has played together. 

That’s it.

First-year GM Elton Brand didn’t waste his time getting his feet wet, acquiring two star-caliber players in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. With that, Brett Brown has a difficult task in getting all the team’s stars to align with just 13 games remaining.

Yet, as Friday night’s win over the Kings at the Wells Fargo Center demonstrated (see observations), this has the makings of something special.

The starting five of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Butler and Harris has played a total of 97 minutes. Among current NBA starting fives that have played at least 90 minutes — a small sample size, to be sure — the Sixers’ unit has the highest net rating at 22.8.

The Sixers saw a more aggressive Butler Friday (see story), but overall, this was by far the most balanced effort they got from their new starters. When there’s this much offensive firepower on the floor, it’s just matter of getting everyone involved.

“I like it when we play with some level of pace and the ball moves and things are a little bit unpredictable,” Brown said. “To just walk it up and call a play, I don’t feel that that’s how you really win. I think we had 28 assists, you know 10 turnovers, that’s not too bad … 

“When you look down and you see Jimmy with 14 shots, Tobias 16, Joel with 19, JJ with 12, Ben with 12, that’s pretty good distribution.”

Out of the five starters, Harris is the only one that was “off” on Friday. He was 7 of 16 and just 1 of 5 from three. But the newest member of the Sixers’ starting lineup has arguably been its most consistent since his arrival.

Harris has scored in double figures in every game he’s been a Sixer and has played less than 32 minutes only once — a blowout win over the Lakers.

But even on a night when his shot wasn’t falling, he found other ways to score. He was 2 for 10 from the field in the first half, but was more aggressive getting to the basket in the second, making 5 of 6 shots and going 4 of 4 from the line after halftime.

A perfect complement to Embiid and Simmons, the 26-year-old has fit in seamlessly.

“I would just say coach’s system and the talent level that’s around me has made the game easier for me to get the looks that I know I can make,” Harris said. “Even [Friday], I thought in the first half I had a bunch of good looks that normally fall, didn’t fall. I would just say the talent level has been the biggest thing that’s helped me and helped my game. I play in the flow of the game. I play off other guys and that’s a lot easier to do with the group that we have.”

Harris helped fuel the Sixers’ reserves as Friday night also gave us a sneak peek at what might be Brown’s playoff rotation.

Brand also overhauled the team’s bench, making it more postseason-ready with veterans like Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic. He also added James Ennis III, who has shined recently, from the Rockets for a second-round pick swap.

While Friday was a positive sign, the Sixers can’t afford to pat themselves on the back with a tilt looming Sunday against the Bucks, the only 50-win team in the NBA. While they have little chance to catch Milwaukee, it certainly provides a litmus test for this new-look team.

“I can’t wait because I think what it is, is it’s a reality check,” Brown said. “It really is an opportunity for us to see where we’re at. That’s why I like those types of games. You want to play Toronto or Boston or Milwaukee, Indiana, you can really get a gauge on where you really are at.”

The Sixers’ starting five looks incredible on paper. On Sunday, we’ll see how it looks on the floor against the NBA’s elite.

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Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

We are paying tribute to a legend. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia will re-broadcast three of Kobe Bryant's landmark games Monday night — the 2008 Olympic gold medal game at 6 p.m., followed by Bryant's final game in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. and the 2012 Olympic gold medal game at 10:30 p.m. 

Bryant honed his Hall of Fame talents at Lower Merion High School and sharpened his skills and competitiveness in the Sonny Hill League and on playgrounds across the Delaware Valley. 

Bryant had his share of highs and lows as a professional in his hometown. 

He played 17 regular-season games in Philadelphia, finishing with a 7-10 record and a 22.8 scoring average. More importantly, he had a perfect 3-0 record in postseason games in Philadelphia, with all three wins coming in the Lakers' 4-1 series victory over the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals. Bryant averaged 25.7 points in those three games and captured the second of his five career NBA championships. 

Here's a look back at some of Bryant's most memorable moments in Philly. 

First NBA game in Philadelphia — Nov. 26, 1996
Bryant played his first professional game in his hometown as an 18-year old reserve, scoring 12 points in 21 minutes in a 100-88 Lakers win. He shot 4 of 10 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made both of his free throw attempts.  

Bryant's rookie counterpart Allen Iverson finished with 16 points on 6 of 27 shooting and 10 assists. Former Temple star Eddie Jones and Shaquille O'Neal each had a game-high 23 points for the Lakers. 

Bryant came off the bench in 65 of the 71 games he played as a rookie, averaging 7.6 points in 15.5 minutes per game. 

NBA Finals — June 2001
The Lakers and Sixers arrived in Philadelphia for Games 3, 4, 5 of the 2001 NBA Finals with the series even at one game apiece. The 22-year old Bryant famously proclaimed that he was coming to Philly to "cut their hearts out."

The Lakers went on to win the next three games in Philadelphia to secure their second straight NBA championship. 

Game 3 was the closest of the three games — the Lakers won 96-91 behind Bryant's 32 points. He had 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in a 14-point win in Game 4 before closing out the series with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a 12-point win in Game 5. 

2002 All-Star Game MVP — Feb. 10, 2002
Bryant's "cut their hearts out" comment was still fresh in the minds of Sixers fans eight months later when the 2002 All-Star game was played in Philadelphia. Bryant was booed throughout the night, but he fed off the negative energy to score a game-high 31 points and win the first of his four career All-Star Game MVP awards. 

He was subsequently booed during the All-Star MVP presentation and admitted that his feelings were hurt by the frosty reception from his hometown crowd.  

Bryant averaged 25.2 points during that 2001-2002 season and led the Lakers to a third straight NBA championship. 

44-point outburst — Dec. 20, 2002 
Bryant's best game in Philadelphia came 10 months after that 2002 All-Star Game, when he posted 44 points and 10 assists in a 107-104 loss to the Sixers. He shot 16 of 35 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made all 10 of his free throw attempts. 

Iverson led the Sixers to victory with 32 points, nine steals and five assists. Keith Van Horn had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. 

The 2003 Lakers came up short in their quest for a fourth straight NBA title, losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.

Snapping the streak — Dec. 21, 2007
Bryant and the Lakers got their first regular-season win in Philadelphia in nearly eight years, beating the Sixers 106-101 to snap a six-game losing streak at the formerly named Wachovia Center.

Bryant had 19 points in the win, but Andrew Bynum stole the show with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Andre Miller led the Sixers with 21 points and eight assists. 

The 2007-2008 season marked the first of three straight trips to the NBA Finals for Bryant and the Lakers. They would lose the 2008 Finals to the Celtics before beating the Magic in 2009 and winning a rematch with Boston in 2010. 

Last great performance in Philadelphia — Dec. 16, 2012
This was Bryant's last vintage performance in his hometown. The 34-year old Bryant had 34 points and six assists in a 111-98 win over the Sixers. Nick Young led the Sixers with 30 points, while Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes each scored 16 points. 

Bryant's 2012-2013 campaign ended with a torn Achilles tendon late in the 80th game of the regular season. The Kobe-less Lakers were swept by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. 

This turned out to be Bryant's last great season. He averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds to earn First Team All-NBA honors in his 17th NBA season. 

Final game in Philadelphia — Dec. 1, 2015
Bryant's last game in Philadelphia came nearly 14 years after he was booed during the 2002 All-Star Game. That proved to be plenty of time for old wounds to heal. He was showered with applause and tributes in his Philly farewell, and for a while it looked like he would deliver one final great performance in his hometown. 

Bryant opened the game by hitting 3 of his first 4 three-point attempts, whipping the Wells Fargo Center into a frenzy. But at 37 years old, Bryant eventually ran out of gas and finished 7 of 26 from the field in a 103-91 loss to a Sixers team that entered the game with an 0-18 record. 

Bryant scored 20 points and finished his 20th and final NBA season with a 17.6 scoring average.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

On this edition, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss:

(2:12) — Questioning Joel Embiid's fitness is like beating a dead horse; will the Sixers have a chip on their shoulder?
(13:22) — Charles Barkley calls Moses Malone trade a disaster to his career.
(20:20) — Would the season being cancelled be worse than watching our most hated rival winning the Finals?

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