Nearly halfway through the NBA season, we finally got it: the win easy enough to (almost) make up for all the hard ones. The Philadelphia 76ers got out to an early lead against the Detroit Pistons in the first quarter, which grew to a sizable lead in the second, which ballooned to blowout proportions in the third, which stayed as such during a fourth quarter in which the Sixers' stars didn't play a second.
Final score: Sixers 114, Pistons 78. How sweet it is.
And the best part? Well, the best part of owning the Pistons by 36 is always just owning the Pistons by 36 — any more of a beating and we'd require a guest solo from Eddie Van Halen at halftime — but the second-best part was that all of the starters played well.
J.J. Redick continued his hot streak, scoring 21 on just 11 shots, with a team-high +34 for the night. Robert Covington shook off a shaky start to hit three big second-half threes to ensure that this one would be a laugher in the fourth. Dario Saric had a casually effective 11-6-3, with another solid night from deep (2 of 4). And Joel Embiid, playing against old foe Andre Drummond, anchored an ironclad Sixers D in the first half, and put up 23 and nine in just 25 minutes — seemingly scoring at will at the end of the third, just so he could be sure to get his numbers before an inevitably inactive fourth.
But the story from this one was, of course, Ben Simmons. The Fresh Prince was dominant early in this one, hitting his first five shots on a variety of creative and aggressive moves, not exactly hitting or even testing jumpers, but expanding his repertoire to include the little push shots, floaters and bankers that Simmons needs in his arsenal to be an effective scorer without a proper working jump shot. His offensive forcefulness also opened passing opportunities that had been largely closed to him in recent games, ending with 19 and nine on 9 of 13 shooting, with a pair of blocks and steals each. It's been a while since we'd seen Ben look as intimidating as he did in the season's first month, but with the point guard averaging a 22-6-6-3-2 on 57 percent shooting over his last three, Scary Simmons appears to have returned.
And look man, we were owed a game like this. We haven't gotten a win that could accurately be described as "comfortable" since Thanksgiving. The Sixers aren't the Warriors, but they aren't go-months-without-relaxing bad, either. Eventually the Ballers were gonna break loose for a win that was never in doubt, and finally on Friday, we got to close this one out with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, James Michael McAdoo and Justin Anderson (welcome back!) hoisting triples. About friggin’ time.
So the Sixers have won four in a row, battled back to .500, and are finally back in the playoff picture, sitting at eighth in the East with their 19-19 record. What do they earn for their achievement? Five days of rest and a ticket to London, where they'll play the Celtics next Thursday afternoon.
Maybe not the best timing for the suddenly gelling Sixers to go most of a week without playing, but five days off to rest Joel's aching limbs — and give Markelle Fultz the practice reps to hopefully get him back in the fold shortly after the team's return Stateside — won't be the worst thing. The Sixers have righted the ship on their seemingly adrift season, but the waters stay rocky from here, with four straight against the cream of the East: Boston (twice), Toronto and Milwaukee. Then again, this is Sixers January — the month of utmost Process invincibility — so perhaps it's the rest of the East that should be fearful at the moment.