My favorite random streak of 2018: the Philadelphia 76ers had won 11 consecutive first halves going into last night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks, dating back to the end of last December. They were 8-3 at the end of four over that stretch, but always leading at the break -- usually by a decent amount. The Sixers had been getting off to reliably hot starts, and though they couldn't always maintain, it was encouraging to know that the Sixers at their freshest and loosest were reliably better than the competition.
Another, not coincidental common factor in those 11 games: Joel Embiid played in all of 'em, a career-best stretch of consecutive games for JoJo. It seemed possible he would make it 12 last night in Milwaukee, and notch he first back-to-back of his brief NBA resume, but he was ruled out shortly before the game, having played too many minutes Sunday against Oklahoma City. (He'll supposedly make his back-to-back debut later in the week at home against the Heat and Pacers.) The Sixers still got out to an early lead against the Bucks, but without Embiid (and with Ben Simmons in early foul trouble), the Sixers couldn't hold it until the break, losing the first half 55-53 -- and then after another two, dropping the whole thing, 107-95.
You most saw Embiid's absence in the cramped spacing for our three-point shooters, who went an unsightly 2-26 from deep in this one -- including our two most reliable current bombers Robert Covington and Dario Saric combining to hit one in 16 tries. The Bucks started hitting their own daggers from deep in the third quarter, and the Sixers were unable to crawl back -- despite another fairly strong from Ben Simmons, who went for 16-7-5 on 7-10 shooting, with excellent defense on Bucks MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo most of the night.
It's a forgivable loss -- and considering the Sixers hosted the Bucks without Giannis earlier in the month, it seems only fair we should return the favor of spotting 'em Embiid in this one. Unfortunately, it does drop the Sixers to 24-23 and the eighth seed -- a position which got a little less secure yesterday with the surprise trade of Clippers All-Star forward to the ninth-place Detroit Pistons. I'm not sure Blake makes Detroit that much better -- they had to give up a couple starters to get him, its tough to integrate new guys like that mid-season, and he's been injured and hampered in effectiveness for most of his season / recent career -- but at the very least it means they're not throwing in the towel on the season, so the Sixers are gonna have to continue their winning January ways to fend 'em off in the months ahead.
The good news? Life is about to get a whole lot easier for the Liberty Ballers. After a quick stop in Brooklyn tomorrow night, the team gets six of their next seven at home heading into the All-Star break, and the toughest team they play in that stretch -- or all of February, for that matter -- is the Miami Heat. Not that we get a ton of cupcake games either -- those are mostly coming in March and April -- but they're teams the Sixers should be able to beat, and ones we can possibly even pass in the East standings if things break our way (and if Joel can actually now do both halves of back to backs, which we have two more of before the break). The hard, non-health-related part of the season's over, and we went 7-4 over it. #SixersJanuary forever.