The Sixers steamrolled to their seventh straight victory Friday night.
The team blew by the Hornets for a 121-82 win at Spectrum Center, improving to 47-22 this season. The Sixers' 39-point margin of victory was their highest of the year.
Charlotte dropped its fifth consecutive game and fell to 22-50.
With the Celtics' win over the Trail Blazers, the Sixers remained a game behind Boston for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Joel Embiid kept playing special basketball with a 38-point, 13-rebound, five-assist, four-block performance in 29 minutes.
James Harden posted a triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Tobias Harris added 18 points.
Jalen McDaniels missed his second straight game with a right hip contusion. LaMelo Ball, Cody Martin, Mark Williams and Theo Maledon were sidelined with injuries for Charlotte.
The Sixers will finish their three-game road trip Saturday with a matchup against the Pacers. Here are observations on their eighth win in nine tries during March:
Harris gets in on the fun
The Sixers’ first play was sweet and familiar: Harden to Embiid for an easy layup.
However, their turnover problems from Wednesday’s win against the Cavs carried over to the early stages. Embiid picked one up trying to force the ball into Harris off of a flex cut. It made sense that the Sixers wanted to target Harris early; over his past six games, he’d averaged just 8.2 points and shot 28.6 percent from the floor. Harris made his first two shots, knocking down a wing three and backing down Kelly Oubre Jr. for a bucket, but his opening stint only lasted slightly over four minutes. Harris got called for his second foul on an Oubre jumper and Georges Niang subbed in.
Harris came back into the game in the second quarter. The Hornets managed to stay close for a while, in part because of a mediocre defensive stretch from the Sixers. Harris got beaten off the bounce by P.J. Washington for a layup. Rookie guard Bryce McGowens drove past Shake Milton before converting an and-one hoop.
Everything clicked into place once Embiid re-entered, though. Milton made a put-back layup following a block by Embiid, who passed Darryl Dawkins on Friday for sixth in blocks in Sixers history. After a Harris steal, Harden dished a slick between-the-legs pass to Embiid for a dunk. Harris has often stressed that he thrives when the team’s offense is flowing and the Sixers’ rhythm is sharp. Sure enough, he scored five points late in the second quarter and ended the first half with 13 on 5-for-7 shooting. That was more than he’d posted in any of the previous six games.
Harris shared a laugh with P.J. Tucker early in the third quarter after he attempted to dunk on Nick Richards. Though Harris couldn’t quite pull it off, he drew a foul. Less than 30 seconds later, he successfully threw one down on a Sixers fast break.
Merciless, extremely efficient Embiid
Facing a team he’d scored 53 points against in December, Embiid didn’t completely overwhelm the Hornets right away. Third-year center Richards recovered well to block him inside after initially biting on a pump fake.
Embiid inevitably found his game, though. During a 12-0 Sixers run in the first quarter, he made an and-one leaner soon before hitting an eyes-closed, and-one layup that he flipped over his shoulder.
By the middle of second quarter, the 29-year-old appeared to be at his peak level and the Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll ran rampant. Harden racked up six assists in the second quarter and passed Bob Cousy for 20th on the NBA’s all-time assists list. The 33-year-old had an off shooting night (4 for 15 from the floor, 0 for 6 from three-point range), but he still reached his 74th career triple-double.
Meanwhile, Embiid hit all six of his second-quarter field goals. He remained ruthless after intermission, continuing to play hard defensively on his way to a third consecutive four-block performance while looking unstoppable offensively. After beginning 1 for 4 from the floor, Embiid sunk 15 of his next 17 field goals. Despite not playing any fourth-quarter minutes in three of the past five games with Sixers wins secure, Embiid has scored over 30 points in each of his last eight outings.
Saving their legs
Backup big man Kai Jones was a bright spot for the Hornets. He made a couple of jump hooks against Embiid in the third quarter and it seemed like the Sixers might need to wait longer than desired to sub out their starters.
Any mild concern on that front soon evaporated. Embiid took a jumper from the top of the key, got fouled by Jones, and watched with glee as the shot bounced high off the back rim before falling through the hoop. He subbed out with 1:36 left in the third.
Paul Reed (eight points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) and Dewayne Dedmon split the fourth-quarter garbage time. Danuel House Jr., Furkan Korkmaz and Charlotte native Jaden Springer also had extended runs in the fourth. Montrezl Harrell was the one active Sixer not to play.
Clearly, the zero-stress finish was ideal for the Sixers on the first night of a back-to-back. Their last visit to Indiana was a fast-paced, offense-centric game, so having conserved a little extra energy certainly should not hurt Saturday night.