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Joel Embiid bullies Houston on the way to a Sixers win

Another huge game for the big fella.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After an emphatic win over Kevin Durant and James Harden this past Thursday, the Sixers survived an underwhelming first half to pull out a win over the Rockets. The W moves the Sixers to 20-16 starts the new year off right.

Here are a few observations from tonight’s 133-113 victory over Houston:

  • Joel Embiid’s passing has been a show so far this season. With Ben Simmons out, Embiid has needed to increasingly function as a playmaker. His assist rate has jumped from 16.9 percent last year to 21.4 percent going into tonight. He finished with 10 assists and looks increasingly comfortable moving the ball around out of the post. It was a triple-double night for the best center in the NBA!

Another facet of Embiid’s game that’s taken a leap this season is the way he’s become a force in transition. The Sixers haven’t had a true big man who could do something like that since young Charles Barkley himself, a massive freight train who terrorized opponents in the late 1980s at the Spectrum.

After a slow start to the season, Embiid has been crushing it. He’s gone up from 21.0 points per game in October to 25.0 in November to 29.2 in December. He kicked off the Sixers’ 2022 slate with 31-15-10. For all the other headaches this franchise brings Sixers fans during the slog of a season, at least Embiid remains a constant.

  • I’m not exactly sure who the odd man out would be, but most Sixers fans want to see more of Isaiah Joe in the rotation, right? Less Furkan Korkmaz? Yank Danny Green if he seems cold early? He flashed with 18 points (some of that was in garbage time, but still!). With Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle in health and safety protocols, there are minutes to be had this week along the perimeter. Joe needs to make the most of them.
  • Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes are the same person. Change my mind.
  • Furkan Korkmaz sneakily had his own triple-double watch going tonight. Furk finished with 24-11-6 in his own right.
  • A bit more defensive intensity would have been welcomed. A team 17 games under .500 came into town tonight. The Sixers have had the last three days off. It’s more than coaching, right? I’d imagine Doc Rivers has the intestinal fortitude to say something in film review to a dude like Tobias Harris just looking completely disinterested. Dan Burke, still filling in for Rivers, is an old-school guy who’s honed his craft under Larry Bird, Rick Carlisle and Nate McMillan. There’s a difference between a player managing their body throughout a rough 82-game season and then just kinda-sorta allowing dudes to hit the lane like a bat out of hell for slam dunk after slam dunk.

The transition defense looked like what someone would seem from a fifth grade CYO squad. Yuck.

The way Houston got to the cup so effortlessly in the first half was infuriating. No surprise to anyone who knows ball, the tide changed in the Sixers’ favor once they tried to lock all windows and doors on that end of the court:

  • Tobias Harris, increasingly drawing the ire of Sixers diehards, raised his hands when fans booed after the team’s embarrassing first half performance, as if to encourage it:

He also did this:

BRING BACK THE AMNESTY CLAUSE! How many cartoon ape images can $180 million buy?

  • I hope for the best for Kate Scott as she makes her recovery from COVID-19 and she will eventually return to the booth, but, in the meantime, I’ve enjoyed this “replacement” announcing tandem of Tom McGinnis and Marc Jackson. McGinnis has been calling Sixers games on the radio since 1995. He’s been with the team longer than some Liberty Ballers writers have been alive! I always loved tuning in to him whenever I found myself driving during a game. Jackson is a Philly hoops lifer with stops at Roman Catholic, Temple and the Sixers themselves. They make for a good pairing.