76ers

Sixers' starting 5 lives up to hype in 'scary' good performance

Sixers' starting 5 lives up to hype in 'scary' good performance

After all the excitement of the last couple days, there was a real life basketball game to be played on Friday.

The Sixers rolled out their new starting five, which had been touted as the NBA’s second-best unit before it even got on the floor. The Nuggets found out it’s not just hype.

Tobias Harris made his Sixers debut alongside Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons in a 117-110 win in front of a raucous Wells Fargo Center (see observations)

It’s hard for things to live up to the hype, but early on it appeared the juggernaut that is the Sixers’ starting five might just run Denver right out of the building.

“I think when we go back and look at film of this game — and even in this game you could see — there were pockets in the game where you said, ‘Dang. This is something scary there,’ Harris said. “I always knew the talent from afar but going out and playing and seeing it today, seeing how much spacing we have out on the court and playmakers was big.”

Of course it wasn’t perfect. There were moments of guys almost being a little too unselfish, passing up decent looks to make the extra pass. Defensively there were issues, a big reason the Sixers — who led by as many as 16 in the first half — found themselves in a dog fight.

Joel Embiid, who was battling a stomach bug, shot 4 of 17. Ben Simmons had nine turnovers.

None of that mattered in the end, as JJ Redick went off for a season-high 34 points, Jimmy Butler was quietly excellent all around with 22 points and Harris pitched in with 14 points.

Harris’ first basket could be the first of many like it. Simmons grabbed the ball off the rim, pushed it up the floor and threw a cross-court frozen rope to Harris on the wing for a three.

There were moments when the ball movement was a thing of beauty. The ball never seemed to stick.

“I think that we all feel the responsibility that we have to take this circumstance, this situation, in all of our sporting lives — it might sound cliche, but it’s true — and maximize it,” Brett Brown said. “And to come out in this fantastic basketball atmosphere and the home crowd and roll out our new team was a real special treat, it was for me. To see our guys and to see [Simmons] with new teammates was something special. The responsibility, the opportunity, this amazing home crowd — we wanted to capitalize on that. I think the momentum can easily grow from this type of base.”

While the Sixers won a basketball game against a good team, the vibe in the arena felt more like a party. A group of fans showed their love for Elton Brand — who was in his customary seat in the press area — chanting “Thank you, El-ton.”

What Brand has done is nothing short of spectacular. As a first-time GM, having played in his last NBA game less than three years ago, Brand has assembled the second-best starting lineup in the league. Not bad for a guy that’s been on the job for less than five months.

With that kind of firepower comes expectations, but that doesn’t mean these guys won’t enjoy it.

“It’s funny because after the game somebody texted me and sent me a video of me smiling after a play and wrote to me, ‘This is literally the first time I’ve ever seen you actually smile in a game’” Harris said. “And I was like, ‘You ain’t lyin’.’ It was cool to see. It was fun out there. I really had a lot of fun.”

Sixers fans are hoping the fun has just begun.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Hopefully Charles Barkley is wrong about Joel Embiid, Sixers

sixers-talk-joel-embiid-nikola-jokic.jpg
NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Hopefully Charles Barkley is wrong about Joel Embiid, Sixers

On the latest Sixers Talk podcast presented by Wilmington University, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Charles Barkley's criticism of the Sixers and Joel Embiid, compare the Sixers to the Clippers and more.

• Does Charles Barkley have a point or this all just sensationalism?

• The Sixers have new pieces and it's leading to a clunky fit. What is the solution?

• Just a little more Matisse Thybulle love.

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To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question for Joel Embiid

To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question for Joel Embiid

In years past, it was a common occurrence for Joel Embiid to make a big play and elicit cheers from a sold-out Wells Fargo Center. He’d then raise his arms, imploring the crowd to get louder — and they’d oblige.

This kind of moment happened in Tuesday night’s 97-92 win in a slugfest against the Nuggets (see observations).

With Denver having gone on a run to cut a double-digit deficit to two, the Sixers made a push late in the third. As the clock was winding down, Embiid grabbed an offensive rebound and made a circus shot while he was being fouled.

Embiid went out to center court, raised his arms and the fans went nuts.

Moments like this haven’t been as frequent this year. Not because Embiid hasn’t had spectacular moments, but because he’s trying to be even-keeled.

I haven't done it enough all season,” Embiid said. “I have not been having fun like usual. … It goes back to with me being mature. And one of the biggest parts of my game is just having fun and by having fun is talking trash, but that part, that's kind of been cut. I just need to be myself and I guess just do whatever I want. Because when I'm having fun, I dominate. But this year, I don't know, I can probably count on one hand how many times I've done it. Last year was basically a reaction that I love it. They get me going. They understand me, I do understand them. So, I need to start doing it again because that's how I'm gonna dominate.

Embiid continues to be his dominant self on the defensive end — in case some national pundits forgot that there are two ends to a basketball court. He’s No. 1 in the NBA in terms of defensive rating (95.3) and anchored the defense that held the Nuggets to just 92 points.

With Jimmy Butler gone, it’s also been Embiid who’s been tasked with being the team’s go-to scorer in the fourth quarter. Going to a post player late in games is not something a ton of teams do. Then again, most teams don’t have a big man as physically gifted as Embiid.

Brett Brown has tried to do different things here and there — run isos for Tobias Harris or pick-and-rolls with Ben Simmons. Ultimately, though, Brown said his offense still runs through his “crown jewel.”

Embiid, who almost sounded like a player that had just lost, admitted that he’s still adjusting to his late-game role and also to the idea of drawing attention to free up his teammates.

“Not good enough,” Embiid said when asked about his late-game scoring. “Still getting used to [it]. The whole season I've been trying to adjust. Obviously, it's not the same as last year. It's completely different. So the adjustment has been hard but I'm gonna do whatever I'm asked to every single night. Like I keep mentioning, even if it's being a ball screener or just rebound the ball or take three shots — I'll do that. Whatever they ask me to do.”

It’s been a peculiar season for Embiid. If you were to just look at his scoring numbers, they’re way down. He’s averaging just 21.9 points, down from his 27.5 mark last season. A lot of that is the result of more aggressive double teams and a new supporting cast.

He also just seems a little off as far as his personality goes — and his words Tuesday kind of confirmed that. The only game where he seemed to be his usual plucky self was back on Oct. 30 against the Timberwolves. Of course, that’s the game where he got into a scuffle with Karl-Anthony Towns, shadowboxed to the crowd, got into a profanity-laced Instagram war with Towns, and got suspended for two games.

After that incident, Embiid vowed to never get suspended again. It’s a respectable cause, to be sure, but it seems like it’s led the 25-year-old into an existential crisis.

I'm not trying to be a distraction to the team," Embiid said. "The fight happened and we had good momentum and from there, we just kind of lost it. We lost a couple of games. So, I'm not trying to be a distraction, but that's just part of my game. And I feel like me losing that part, I think it's kind of taken a toll on my game. So it just goes back to me. Sometimes I might be childish and like I said, do whatever I want to, but then again, I care about winning. Everybody knows that. I'll do whatever it takes to win. I care about my teammates, I care about the organization, I care about being a role model. Everybody told me that I need to be — from fans to everybody else — I gotta be mature, so I'm doing it and I don't think it's working but I'm gonna keep doing it.

To be mature, or to be dominant, that is the question.

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