Thanks to a lockdown performance on the defensive end, the Sixers earned their first winning streak of three games or more since 2014, beating the Hornets 102-93.
Charlotte never managed to get going against Philadelphia, with the combination of Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel offering a stiff test in the paint. The Hornets shot 13-45 (28.9 percent) in the first half, thanks to hyperactivity and length from both their centers. Nearly every shot the Hornets attempted was contested, and Sixers guards did a great job closing out on their men and funneling drivers toward length at the rim.
But giving Noel too much credit here might be a misnomer. Embiid was a one-man force against Charlotte, and his explosion appears to be coming back bit by bit. While he’s a special player even without elite burst off his feet — being 7’2” with his touch will do that — that little bit of extra oomph helps him make highlight reel plays on both ends of the court.
This block, made early in the third quarter against Cody Zeller, is almost comical:
Real nice recovery by Embiid on Zeller here. pic.twitter.com/5dRDSXEoBV— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) January 14, 2017
Embiid has been one of the best rookies in modern NBA history, and yet he still finds new ways to impress every night. If his athleticism goes up a tick as he gets his legs back under him, there’s little any team can do to stop him from dominating a game.
He’s bringing it on the offensive end, too:
Joel Embiid destroys MKG. #NBAVote https://t.co/y6Y2bwdBES— Jake Hyman (@RealJakeHyman) January 14, 2017
The most striking part of Embiid’s recent success is his ability to shrug off missteps like a confident veteran. His three-point shot has fallen off a cliff, but his attacking mentality remains, and his attention to detail on defense keeps the whole unit together.
It’s visible even when he’s not actively involved in the play; Embiid was barking out orders at teammates from start to finish, organizing players in transition and doing lots of work that won’t go down in the stat book. On one play in the third, he used his size to contest Nicolas Batum in mid-air, forcing him into an up-and-down violation for a travel. The subsequent turnover isn’t credited to Embiid, but it’s a possession he cancelled out single-handedly.
Philadelphia’s recent hot streak has coincided with Noel taking Jahlil Okafor’s spot in the rotation, but perhaps too much of the focus has been on that move. Embiid has been nothing short of special over the last few weeks, erasing mistakes for a supporting cast who would be lost without him.
24 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and a +22 is impressive, but it’s nearly impossible to sum up his dominance with stats. There’s very little this kid can’t do, despite a two-year absence and his newness to sport compared to his peers. The Sixers aren’t supposed to have nice things, yet somehow, they have one of the best young players the NBA has seen since the turn of the century.
News and Notes
The Homie rises
Dario Saric has been on a rollercoaster this season, struggling to adjust to a new league and an uncertain spot in the Sixers’ rotation. He was at the top of the hill tonight; The Homie knocked down four attempts from downtown, showing off the type of range he needs to be a long-term factor in the Sixers’ plans.
Get this guy more minutes! When Saric is able to settle into a consistent role, he should be able to shine.
Shooters getting the job done
As was mentioned in the preview for tonight’s game, Robert Covington may finally have found the range. He shoot 3-6 from deep tonight, a welcome sign against a Hornets team that plays swarming perimeter defense.
As Embiid’s stroke has faltered, the rest of the team has picked up the slack. Stauskas and Ilyasova both knocked down a couple triples, and the bench shot 7-14 from deep, a crucial contribution for a team that needs to hold down the fort when Embiid is off the court. If Noel is going to be the primary backup — and he is for now — the Sixers have to rely on other players to create offense. Tonight, the rest of the team did their jobs.
Tomorrow, the Sixers do battle without Embiid
Life without Embiid is still an infrequent reality. With the team on a back-to-back against the Washington Wizards tomorrow, the Sixers will try to keep the good times rolling without the team’s best player.
Okafor, who has played the good soldier despite a string on DNP-CD’s, will have his chance to prove he deserves a spot in the rotation. At the very least, tomorrow’s game should provide plenty of fodder for conversation, and perhaps show just how much Embiid means to the Sixers, even at this early stage.