It’s been a weird couple weeks for the Sixers.
Between drama surrounding the fit of the team’s stars, the poor performance of the bench and just some overall bad basketball, they've had a rough go recently.
But here we are on Jan. 18 with the Sixers at 30-16, just 3½ games out of the top spot in the East after a 120-96 win — perhaps their best of the season (see observations) — over the Pacers Thursday night.
The Sixers have the look of a team that’s starting to figure things out.
We’re growing, we’re learning,” Ben Simmons told reporters postgame. “Everybody’s trying to play the right way with each other and we’re continuing to build each game …
“I think everybody’s just buying in and really trying to get better and not bulls---ting.
If there were ever a time for "not bulls---ting," it would be now for the Sixers. The game Thursday kicked off a brutal 12-game stretch with an impressive win.
The Pacers had the best record in the NBA since Dec. 1 coming in. They have the third-highest defensive rating in the league and are the second-best shooting team in the NBA. On Thursday, the Sixers had 38 assists on 46 made field goals and held Indiana to just 40 percent from the field.
More importantly, it’s the team’s three stars leading the way in “sharing and caring” as Brett Brown said postgame.
“To be able to come to Indianapolis and be able to set the table with our defense and then get and share the ball [was big],” Brown said. “To have 38 assists with Jimmy [Butler], Joel [Embiid] and Ben having eight each and having 38 of our 46 made baskets assisted is a statement that we’re proud of. You guard, you share — it set the table for a good night.”
While so much attention has been on the Sixers trying to make their stars fit on offense, their two biggest deficiencies have been their defense and a lack of production outside of those stars (and JJ Redick).
The team’s defense has been a big factor in their last two wins. While Simmons pointed toward communication as being a part of the improvement, he also pointed simply to the team’s effort.
Maybe personnel is another part of the equation.
While Elton Brand may have a move or two up his sleeve before — and possibly after — the trade deadline, Brown appears to have found a rotation that works.
Rookie Jonah Bolden earning a role as the team’s backup five has been a big development. It’s allowed Mike Muscala to move to the four and Wilson Chandler to play more three.
But the Sixers are only going to go as far as Embiid, Simmons and Butler will take them. The last two games have been a positive sign that, though they may be an imperfect fit, maybe they can make it all work.
With a tough Oklahoma City team up next on this grueling 12-game slate, it looks like the Sixers are getting their act together at the right time.
“It’s a matter of wanting to learn and get better as a team and I think we’ve been doing it,” Embiid said. "The connection is better — on and off the court — and that’s something I’m excited about."
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