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After taking the lowly Cavs a little lightly on Tuesday, the Sixers looked like a more focused team against the hungry Kings.

It was a tight affair, but the Sixers managed to hang on for a 123-114 win over Sacramento Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The victory brings the Sixers to 44-25 on the season, same as the Pacers — a team they've already won the season series against — and two games ahead of the Celtics for the Eastern Conference's third seed.

Here are observations from the win:

• Joel Embiid has had plenty of dominant halves this season, but the first half of this one had to be right up there among his best. He had 14 points (7 of 10 shooting), nine rebounds and two blocks before the break.

He looked spry as he crossed over Willie Cauley-Stein for a mid-range jumper and also had a pull-up jumper from the top of the key.

Harry Giles is a good-looking young center, but he was no match for Embiid on the block.

Perhaps proof that he hasn't quite rounded into shape from his eight-game absence, Embiid finished with just 21 points. He did hit a huge jumper over Cauley-Stein with the Kings threatening with under two minutes in the game. He also grabbed 17 boards and blocked four shots overall.

 

It’s amazing how much of a difference Embiid makes on defense. Beyond covering the Sixers' mistakes — which he does a ton of — it just seems like the team communicates and helps at such a higher level with him on the floor.

• Early on, Ben Simmons exposed the size advantage he had on the Kings’ guards. He bullied De'Aaron Fox on multiple plays and imposed his will in driving to the basket. He put a lot of pressure on Sacramento overall, pushing the basketball and causing the Kings to scramble.

After struggling against Marvin Bagley III in the first half, Simmons was able to use his quickness and craftiness to elude the rookie. He finished with 18 points (8 of 12 shooting) and was also 2 of 2 from the line. Most impressively, he continues to do a better job taking care of the basketball, with five assists and zero turnovers.

• It appeared that Brett Brown wanted to get a look at a Simmons-Embiid pairing in the first half. Unfortunately, the duo was a combined minus-one at the half and finished minus-six. 

It was odd that Brown staggered his bench to have Mike Scott close out the first half instead of Tobias Harris. The starting unit started the game by taking a 19-13 lead and didn’t get another run together before halftime.

• There’s no way you could argue that Jimmy Butler wasn’t assertive on Friday night. He had several physical drives to the basket and really looked to take over when running with the team’s second unit.

Much to the crowd’s delight, Butler abused (former Sixer?) Nemanja Bjelica for this crazy and-one.

Butler also hit a mid-range jumper with under a minute left which proved to be the dagger. He wound up with 22 points (8 of 14) with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Defensively, this was one of the better games I’ve seen from Butler. He was his usual active self looking for steals and deflections, but he was also better on the ball, keeping the game in front of him for most of the night.

• Tobias Harris is in a mini-slump from deep. He’s shot just 33 percent from three over his last six games, which isn’t bad for most players, but for a guy shooting over 42 percent from the season, it’s a bit of a dry spell. He had a rough night shooting-wise Friday, going 1 of 5 from three and 7 of 16 overall for 19 points.

 

To Harris’ credit, he played though it. You do continue to see the pick-and-roll chemistry between Harris and Boban Marjanovic. Especially when the Sixers’ offense was sluggish to start the second half, that pairing got the team going.

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