The Sixers suffered two disappointing losses on the road in Atlanta and Orlando.
This didn't even look like the same team.
In a potential first-round playoff preview, the Sixers took it to the Nets early and never let up in a 123-110 win at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.
The victory improves the Sixers to 48-27 on the season and keeps them in the driver's seat for the East's third seed. They split the four-game season series with Brooklyn.
Here are observations from the win:
• Joel Embiid got off to a fantastic start. He hit 5 of his first 7 shots, including three threes, for 14 points in his first stint in the first quarter. He finished the half with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.
We saw a little more of his guard-like skills as he grabbed the ball off the rim, dribbled it up the floor and nailed a three from the top of the key. He followed that up by putting a beautiful spin move on Joe Harris for a bucket and then drove past D’Angelo Russell and drew a foul.
Early on, he did a great job defending the pick-and-roll with Russell and Jarrett Allen. On one possession, he made a tremendous play stripping Allen after a nice pocket pass from Russell.
Unfortunately, he also picked up three fouls in the first half. One of those was obvious as he extended his arm to the face of Chester native Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on a drive. The other two were questionable. After Embiid was called for a foul on Spencer Dinwiddie with minimal contact, Jimmy Butler picked up a technical for defending his big man. Embiid was then hit with a technical of his own after a dubious call on him against Hollis-Jefferson.
Embiid got the last laugh on Hollis-Jefferson and the Nets, finishing with 39 points (12 of 20), 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block. As has been stated, he won't win the MVP, but he has been so damn good.
• Boban Marjanovic hit another three and the crowd went expectedly wild. With that said, Marjanovic got exploited on defense in the first half. When he checked into the game, the Sixers held a 48-28 lead. By the time he checked out, that lead was cut in half.
Kenny Atkinson went small, using Hollis-Jefferson at the five. It was puzzling that Brett Brown didn’t adjust when it was clear Hollis-Jefferson was getting the better of the matchup. To Marjanovic's — and really Brown's for sticking with it — credit, he did a much better job in the second half, punishing the smaller Hollis-Jefferson offensively. Marjanovic recorded 16 points on 6 of 8.
• This was really the first time in the four games they've played the Nets that Russell and fellow guard Dinwiddie didn't torch the Sixers. They did a particularly good job on Russell, who finished just 6 of 9 for 13 points. Dinwiddie was just OK with 13 points on 4 of 9. The Sixers were much more disciplined in the pick-and-roll and their perimeter defenders did a much better job fighting through screens.
• Ben Simmons looked healthy after missing Monday’s matchup in Orlando with an illness. He put a ton of pressure on the Nets, pushing the ball every chance he got and making Brooklyn’s smaller defenders pay at the rim.
The one thing that stood out in this one is the budding chemistry with Simmons and Embiid. For the early part of their careers together, Brown would always try to stagger their minutes on the floor since both players do most of their damage in the paint. Recently, Brown has been playing them together and the results have been impressive.
Simmons hit Embiid for this pretty alley-oop.
Earlier in the game, Embiid hit Simmons for an impressive one-handed alley-oop. In the second half, Embiid found a diving Simmons out of a double team for a layup. They’re starting to look for and find each other more and more. If this duo continues to develop, they could be awfully dangerous.
Simmons had 16 points and eight assists, but fouled out with 3:11 left in the game. Simmons was also given a technical as he walked off the floor. The officials called this one tight.
• And what set those lobs up? Both players running an action with JJ Redick.
Redick was hot in this one, hitting 6 of 12 from the field and 4 of 9 from three for 18 points. The Sixers as a team shot a sizzling 48 percent from three (12 of 25). Redick’s value is at its highest when he’s hitting shots, but he still opens up the floor so much as other teams scramble to account for him.
The biggest concern with Redick has to be his defense. He got beat by Harris for a couple backdoor layups early. He did have one nice defensive possession on Russell that ended in a strip, but Redick’s defense is something to monitor.
• Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were both quiet in this one. The duo finished a combined 6 of 18 for 15 points.
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