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Embiid had a historic night — now he’ll get a few days to rest for Giannis, KAT & maybe Ben Simmons

The Sixers earned a few nights off, but they’re back at it to host Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo, then perhaps a matchup with Ben Simmons and KD on the horizon.

Milwaukee Bucks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Joel Embiid had missed three consecutive games with the flu. And we didn’t know if he’d be ready to roll when the Phoenix Suns came to town last week. But he returned to the lineup and basically made the statement with his play, that even though I may not be 100 percent, I’m here to demolish everyone in my path.

Now, the five-time All-Star is averaging 40 points, 11 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.7 blocks over his last four outings. Basically, since he claimed the season reallllly began, when he joked they got a fresh start. The Sixers’ opponents are averaging just 97.5 points in those contests, as the Sixers’ defense has improved and they’ve won three of the last four.

Joel is back.

The team really, really misses James Harden, who we learned was expected to miss about a month with a foot sprain back on the Nov. 3.

According to, here are some of the most utilized lineups Doc Rivers has turned to when Harden isn’t on the floor, and how they’ve fared:

Doc’s favorite has been all of the starters with one of Matisse Thybulle or De’Anthony Melton in for The Beard.

Per offensive and defensive rating, the Sixers rank 15th on offense (111.7 points per 100possessions) and fifth overall on defense (109.4 points per 100 possessions allowed). I figure they’ll improve a bit offensively over time as they get healthier; we’ll see if they regress defensively or not. They’re off to an impressive start per the numbers, despite some head scratching moments, as the team learns a new defense.

But in Harden’s absence, the game plan has been condensed. Things have become simplified. Just like when the Sixers were shorthanded a year ago, as Ben Simmons sought a trade and dealt with his mental health, Rivers has simply fed his superstar the ball.

I’m calling myself out for missing the forrest amid the trees on this recent podcast, recorded after Embiid’s absolutely historic 59-point, 11-rebound, eight-assist, seven-block masterpiece. Adio Royster and I worried about workloads, one-dimensional offenses and how this team might stay healthy between now and playoff time at such a torrid pace.

But I probably should have simply embraced the moment. One of the greatest players in Philadelphia sports history is still in his prime, and may have had his best game to date, one of the best individual performances in NBA history. That requires a moment of pause and appreciation — more bell ringing, less hand-wringing. My bad.

Now the team can regroup a little bit and reflect a bit as well. Tyrese Maxey, we’ve written, has really missed James Harden. Missing Harden’s ability to handle the rock and put everyone in better spots places more of a playmaking burden on the 22-year-old’s shoulders. He’s simply struggled to make shots at the same rate since his veteran teammate left the lineup.

The days in between the back-to-back set and then the next stretch can be used for rest and film work.

Maxey can now decide where to attack, and perhaps come up with a plan for picking his spots. Embiid can review tape from the team’s first meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks. Unlike Utah, the Bucks tempted Embiid into much more midrange looks and confused him. They left him guessing when and from where the double was coming and he struggled to finish at the rim, dealing with the aftermath of a foot ailment and related conditioning issues.

But if he wants revenge, he’s going to need a lot more help than he received over the last few games.

So we got Giannis on Friday, then the Minnesota Timberwolves, followed by a showdown with the controversy-laden Brooklyn Nets.

Even when the Sixers play the Hawks, some Sixer fan somewhere is obsessing over one Benjamin David Simmons.

We’ll all hope Simmons suits up when the Nets visit Wells Fargo. But it wouldn’t be shocking if he was unable to go, as he gradually works his way back from offseason back surgery (and a full year off of hoops).

Embiid is right back in the MVP conversation. Hopefully he’ll still be after the next three games, and Tyrese Maxey will be right back in that All-Star conversation too.

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