76ers

With important game vs. Pacers looming, it's clear just how much Sixers' fate rests on Joel Embiid

With important game vs. Pacers looming, it's clear just how much Sixers' fate rests on Joel Embiid

After the Sixers’ late collapse and bizarre loss Wednesday night in Chicago, Jimmy Butler admitted he was too pissed off to even start thinking about the Rockets.

And after the Sixers’ 107-91 loss Friday to the Rockets (see observations), Ben Simmons dismissed the notion that the Sixers’ spirits were still high.

“No, we’re pissed off we lost,” Simmons told reporters in Houston. 

But, unlike Butler, Simmons wasn’t too upset to look ahead to the Sixers’ next game, a matchup vs. the Pacers on Sunday at Wells Fargo Center. Indiana sits in the third spot in the Eastern Conference, a game ahead of the Sixers. 

“We need that win,” Simmons said. “We need a lot of these wins coming down the stretch. There’s not too many games left so we really gotta lock in.”

There are 16 regular-season games left, to be precise. The postseason is morphing from a faint dot in the distance to a real, looming reality. And still, Joel Embiid has yet to play a game after the All-Star break. He missed his eighth straight game Friday with left knee soreness.

Without Embiid, the Sixers needed exceptional performances from their stars and solid contributions from their supporting cast to have a chance to beat the Rockets. Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler combined for 41 points on 18 for 33 shooting, but their teammates were 17 of 62 from the floor (27.4 percent).

Head coach Brett Brown hopes he’ll have his best player back Sunday, but he wasn’t willing to say anything definitive.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just know it can’t come soon enough. But I truly don’t know for sure. I hope so, but I can’t say for sure.”

If Embiid isn’t playing, any Sixers game has a de facto asterisk. You can add another asterisk for  Friday’s terrible shooting performance — the Sixers made 3 of 26 long range shots, their worst three-point shooting effort of the season. JJ Redick shot a season-worst 1 for 11 from the field. Though Houston made things challenging, the Sixers missed plenty of shots they’d typically hit. 

Still, even taking those valid excuses into consideration, the Sixers’ energy simply wasn’t high enough for Simmons’ liking. 

“We gotta get our energy up,” he said. “It starts with energy, honestly. If we have no energy, defensive and offensive, it’s not going to be there.”

Harris, who scored a team-high 22 points, is still optimistic about what the Sixers can do if they can get all the pieces to click. 

There’s a great deal of potential with our team, and I believe this is a great group to win. Once we have everybody on board with going out there and just playing for the main goal of just winning, and having fun doing that, we’ve shown so many spurts of how good we can be. We need to be locked into that all the rest of these games. We gotta get healthy, also. This is a team with a great amount of potential and a great amount of talent. 

Harris didn’t say it, but Embiid’s health trumps intangible factors like “being locked in.” You’d also think having fun and bringing consistent energy will be easier for the Sixers when their All-Star center is back on the floor.

“I look forward to welcoming Joel back into this mix, letting him play with his new teammates,” Brown said. “I hope that that happens soon. We’ve got a really big game on Sunday — we all get that."

It’s certainly possible Embiid doesn’t play Sunday and the Sixers still beat the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers, but that doesn’t feel like a probable scenario. And in the big picture, the odds of the Sixers doing any damage in the playoffs without Embiid are infinitesimal. He doesn’t solely control their destiny, but much of the team’s hopes rest on him — and his health.

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Sixers’ bell ringing ceremony after win over Nets was especially entertaining

Sixers’ bell ringing ceremony after win over Nets was especially entertaining

The Sixers' ceremonial, celebratory miniature Liberty Bell does travel, even if they've gotten much more use out of it at Wells Fargo Center than on the road this season.

Brett Brown's preamble Monday before handing the bell off to Ben Simmons was especially entertaining. Simmons was the Sixers' bell ringer after his 34-point triple-double in a 117-11 win over the Nets, but Brown made sure to praise several others.

“Al Horford … with just some adult f---ing plays at the end," Brown said. "Holy s---. Really just great stuff.”

Brown isolated Mike Scott, too.

“And how ‘bout you? You were great tonight, Mike Scott.”

You can watch the full video below, courtesy of the Sixers' Twitter account.



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Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Ben Simmons' stat line doesn't begin to tell story of his impact in Sixers' win over Nets

Before every game, Ben Simmons tweets out an emoji of an angry face with steam coming out of its nose.

In Monday’s 117-111 win over the Nets (see observations), Simmons was the personification of that.

Simmons played angry from start to finish in tying his career-high of 34 points while also notching his fourth triple-double of the season with 12 assists and 12 rebounds. He also had five steals, making him the first NBA player to record at least that stat line since steals were first tracked in 1973-74.

The scary thing: He was even better than the box score indicates.

“We learned that he was Conference Player of the Week during this game,” Brett Brown told reporters in Brooklyn. “I would have given him that just for his second half of this game.”

For as good as Simmons was in the first half, he was especially spectacular after halftime. That’s especially notable for all the recent scrutiny he’s faced.

For as well as Simmons has played in Joel Embiid’s absence (19.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists per game), many pointed to Simmons’ inability to score late in games. He had just two points (1 of 4) in 37 fourth-quarter minutes over his last four games. To be fair, he also had 11 assists to just two turnovers.

If you didn’t notice him in the second half of this game, you weren’t watching very closely. He had 19 of his 34 points after halftime. He also snagged three of his steals while only turning the ball over once.

Along with rookie Matisse Thybulle, Simmons ignited the team’s defensive effort coming out of the locker room. The Sixers held the Nets to just 43 second-half points and forced 15 turnovers.

“I think Ben's energy, honestly, is just contagious,” Al Horford said. “I think that at the level that he was playing — that kind of All-NBA-type, taking over the game — I just think it really rubbed off on all of us and we just stepped our game up and played free and played hard.”

With Embiid out, Brown turned to little-used Kyle O’Quinn and the even less used Jonah Bolden to back up Horford in the first half. They were a combined minus-six with six fouls in 15 minutes.

Enter Simmons.

We haven’t seen a ton of Simmons at the five this season, but desperate times may have caused the Sixers to “trip on something,” as Brown likes to say. They went to a lineup with Raul Neto at the one and found success using Simmons as a screener and roller.

Rookie Nicolas Claxton, who had a big first half for the Nets, wasn’t a physical match for Simmons. That won’t happen on most nights in the NBA, but when teams go small, the Sixers have quite an answer.

“It’s tough for any big to really guard me when I’m going at them,” Simmons said. “That’s not a knock on any bigs, I’m just pretty fast and can get to the rim.”

As we’ve seen many teams do this season, Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson used a center, Jarrett Allen, on Simmons. Allen just sat in the paint and dared Simmons to shoot. 

In the past when the strategy was deployed, Simmons wouldn’t attack it. That's changed of late. Instead of trying to beat that tactic by shooting, Simmons has eaten that space and taken on opposing bigs at the rim — with a ton of success.

We all know the strengths of Simmons and that one glaring weakness. It seems like Brown has maximized those strengths recently and Simmons has taken on a different mindset.

“Same s---, you know what I’m saying? That’s Ben Simmons,” Mike Scott said. “He’s an All-Star. He’s our leader. I thought it was as he should.”

While Simmons recorded easily the best stat line of his NBA career, this may have been his finest performance as a pro.

“He just peppered the stat sheet all over the place,” Brown said. “But what I see is his spirit, his body language, his facial expressions. They reeked of, ‘We’re going to win, and you guys hang on to me and I will carry you.’ And I felt like he did that in many, many ways.”

By the way, that emoji is known as “face with look of triumph.”

Yeah, that works.

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