CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Joel Embiid will take the wins, but not with complacency.
The Sixers’ big man knows he can play better. He’s done it before and can tell when he isn’t at his peak performance.
“In a season, you’re going to go through slumps and I feel like I’ve been playing bad recently, although the box score might not say it,” Embiid said Tuesday following the Sixers’ 128-114 win in Charlotte (see observations).
Embiid posted 18 points, five rebounds and four assists against the Hornets. Those numbers don't scream poor game, but they were below his season averages (23.7 points, 11.2 boards). Embiid didn’t reach double digits until late in the third quarter. He scored nearly half of his points in the fourth, and attempted only two free throws.
On Sunday, Embiid didn’t hit a field goal in the pivotal third quarter while the Sixers were outscored 33-14 by the Bucks. Again, 19 points and eight rebounds is not an insufficient stat line, yet not up to the standards Embiid sets for himself, especially when the Sixers lost.
“Jo thinks if he doesn’t score 30 and 10, it’s a bad game,” Justin Anderson said from the locker next to Embiid’s.
“Like he said, if I don’t score 30, that has to be a bad game,” Embiid said. “That’s the bar and I feel like every night that I come out I’ve got to do that. Some nights it might not be enough. Some nights 20 points might not be enough. Some nights I might have to score 30 and if I don’t do that and we lose, I feel like that’s on me.”
Embiid is entering an unfamiliar part of the schedule. He has played 51 games this season, 20 more than his rookie total, including back-to-backs for the first time in his career. He also is averaging 31.4 points per game with 11 contests of 35-plus minutes. The All-Star starter still is experiencing a learning curve and adjustment period.
“Going into the season, I think the plan for me was to play, I don’t know, 45, 50 games. I'm well over that," Embiid said. “It’s a change. It’s new. I’ve got to get adapted to that. Never done it in my life. I’m starting to figure it out. I’m starting to figure out that I’ve got to choose my spots. Especially offensively, I’ve got to let the game come to me."
The upside in this situation is the Sixers are learning how to win without Embiid being the go-to every night. They beat the Hornets with a collaborative effort, starting with a team-high 22 points from Robert Covington and rounding out with double-digit totals from Dario Saric (19), Ben Simmons (16), JJ Redick (14), Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova (11 each). They shot 48.5 percent from long range and scored 48 of their points from three. Covington and Saric combined to go 9 for 16 from beyond the arc.
"It’s good to know that going into the playoffs, because not every shot is going to fall, so it’s good to know that all those guys, they’re going to have my back," Embiid said.