Just two days before Christmas, the Sixers were sitting at 16-16 following a home loss to the Hawks, the team that destroyed their championship hopes last summer. After a fiery 8-2 start to the season, things felt bleak for the Sixers, only amplified by the cloud of the Ben Simmons saga looming over the franchise. The Sixers have since ripped off seven consecutive wins since and will look to make it eight tonight against a 22-19 Charlotte Hornets squad.
Here are a few observations and notes from me ahead of the 7:00 p.m. ET tipoff:
- It’s time to carry the passion of last season’s Joel Embiid MVP campaign to 2022. Since the start of December (17 games), Embiid is averaging 29.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game with a true shooting percentage of 61.9 percent. That volume and efficiency combination has Embiid looking like a legitimate top-five player and will once again have him vying for the league’s MVP award. While Nikola Jokic continues to be the golden boy for a certain sect of Basketball Twitter, perhaps Embiid leading the Sixers to a top-four or a top-three finish in the Eastern Conference while Simmons continues to sit out could provide the narrative element to have Embiid avenge his 2021 MVP runner-up performance. Keep Mason Plumlee in your thoughts tonight.
- The Sixers have been getting absolutely destroyed on the boards this season. They’re 30th in rebounds per game (42.4), 24th in defensive rebounds per game (33.9), 27th in rebounding rate (48.3 percent) and 23rd in defensive rebounding rate (71.4 percent). Part of that is undoubtedly the absence of Simmons. It helps to have a 6-foot-10 power forward masquerading as a point guard when you’re trying to grab rebounds! This is after the Sixers were eighth in rebounding rate in 2021 (51.5 percent). It feels impossible for a team that has Embiid and Andre Drummond, who literally has the highest rebounding rate of all time (I’m sure Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell would top him if they had possession data back in that era). It would be full-boomer to say some CYO basketball mantra about “following your shot” on offense when offensive rebounding has become so devalued at the pro level and just simply isn’t how the modern game is played, but can the Sixers at least stop giving opponents second-chance buckets?
- Hornets owner Michael Jordan is my GOAT, but I’d obviously have LeBron James in my Tier-1 ranking of players alongside Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Could you imagine, however, the way the internet and talking head sports debate shows would treat LeBron if he was the owner for a team that’s been so pathetic for so long the way MJ’s Hornets have been? Jordan bought a controlling stake in the Hornets in 2010 (then the Bobcats). In the 12 years since then, the Hornets have made the playoffs only twice, have never advanced to the second round and have won three total postseason games. They’ve had nine losing seasons. The 2012 Bobcats, who went 7-59 in a lockout-shortened season, were a bigger disgrace than anything the Process Sixers ever did. LaMelo Ball is the truth, so I’d bank on the Hornets’ fortunes changing over the next half-dozen years, but if the Warriors don’t egregiously take James Wiseman over Ball in the 2020 NBA Draft, Jordan would still be overseeing maybe the most irrelevant franchise in the 21st-century NBA. If it weren’t for their uniforms, which are among the best in the league and ooze ‘90s nostalgia, I might have forgotten they existed at some point in the last decade.
- The Sixers’ last eight-game winning streak was from April 26, 2021 to May 8, 2021. The Sixers were 47-21 and had clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The NBA playoffs felt the most wide open they had been in my entire lifetime. We were on top of the freaking world. As Mick Jagger once said, “All the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke.”