Updated, Thursday, 1:25 a.m.: The NBA announced Wednesday night that it is suspending the 2019-20 season after a Utah Jazz player, identied by multiple reports as Rudy Gobert, preliminarily tested positive for the coronavirus.
The context of the Sixers’ 124-106 win Wednesday night over the Pistons was unusual.
The team released a statement about two hours before the game detailing coronavirus protocols and indicating the game would go ahead as scheduled “consistent with the recommendation of the NBA.”
Later, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the league was expected to continue its season playing games without fans in attendance.
Still, the win ultimately counts the same as any other for the Sixers, who improved to 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center, 39-26 overall.
Here are observations on the victory:
Two starters return
Joel Embiid was back after five games out with a left shoulder sprain, while Josh Richardson (concussion protocol) returned following a three-game absence.
Embiid, who had 30 points and 14 rebounds in 27 minutes, sure seemed to be having fun in the second quarter after a Mike Scott dunk, celebrating very emphatically.
The All-Star center also picked up a technical foul after a contentious third-quarter exchange with Brandon Knight.
Process Era Sixer Christian Wood (career-high 32 points) has been a standout for Detroit since the trade deadline, and he got the better of Embiid a couple of times. On one sequence in the third, he blocked Embiid’s shot, then hit a three-pointer in his face on the ensuing possession.
That said, Embiid was sharp overall and still very difficult to handle down low. His ability to draw fouls (10 of 12 from the foul line) is one of many tools the Sixers were missing.
Richardson looked OK but wasn't an offensive focal point, only attempting six field goals in 30 minutes.
Alec Burks served as the Sixers’ backup guard with Richardson back, while Raul Neto did not play.
The Embiid-Horford pairing
With Ben Simmons’ lower back injury set to be re-evaluated in three weeks, Brett Brown said Tuesday he’s still aiming to develop the Embiid-Al Horford pairing.
“I feel going forward when we don't have Ben, my intention is to play him with Joel and try to grow that,” Brown said. “When Ben comes back in the mix, we'll re-evaluate, but I feel like that period of time that we're talking about is long enough for me, where I do want to invest in the Joel-Al pairing while we don't have Ben and see where that plays out.”
To be frank, it’s been a bad combination for the Sixers this season, the only two-man lineup with at least 400 minutes together to sport a negative net rating.
It appeared the high-low was a point of emphasis with Horford on Wednesday, and an effective one.
A little Harris-Horford— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 12, 2020
action right here. pic.twitter.com/hXDfPkZ1TR
Horford did well as a passer during Embiid’s absence, averaging 6.2 assists over the past five games, and the Sixers would clearly like to maximize his abilities as a high-post facilitator.
He shot the ball well on Wednesday, too, hitting 8 of 11 field goals (4 for 6 from three) and recording 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
💦 HORFORD 💦— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 12, 2020
Horford with a make from beyond the arc as the Sixers lead 83-68. pic.twitter.com/BMAfZXhP2E
We all know the pairing isn’t a natural fit at this point, but with the playoffs in mind, Brown evidently doesn’t want to give up on it.
Wednesday was the first time this season Embiid and Horford have each scored 20 or more points in the same game.
Offense keeps clicking
Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Sixers had the No. 2 offensive rating in the league during the time Ben Simmons has missed with his lower back injury.
Their offense continued to look strong, albeit against a 20-win Pistons team that’s now lost 12 of its past 13 games.
The Sixers had no problems when Detroit went to a zone defense and stayed hot as a team from three-point range, shooting 42.4 percent from long distance.
The defensive performance wasn’t as good, with a few of the basic KYP (know your personnel) mistakes that Brown has called out on occasion throughout the season. Still, this never felt like a game the Sixers were in remote danger of losing.
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