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Sixers’ star duo gives team, fans plenty to dream on after beating West-best T-Wolves

Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey combined for 86 points in a statement win over the Timberwolves. The ceiling looks quite high for the star duo.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

There’s something special happening in South Philly right now.

While the Eagles are scuffling, the Flyers are exceeding expectations but still rebuilding, and Phillies fans are on Yoshibobu Yamamoto watch, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and the Sixers are on quite the run.

With their win over the West-best Timberwolves, the Sixers have won seven of eight and improved to 19-8 — just two games back of the top-seeded Celtics and one behind the second-seeded Bucks in the East.

With Embiid utterly dominating, Maxey providing a perfect complement to the reigning MVP and assets stockpiled in the cupboard, the Sixers and their fans have plenty to dream on.

Embiid dropped 51 points on the Timberwolves, the team with the best defensive rating in the NBA. He is on a wildly historical run. In the eight games since Embiid returned from an illness, he’s averaging 41.4 points, 12.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.4 steals. His shooting splits are silly (61.5/37.5/92.5) and he’s recorded an absurd 71.9 true shooting percentage.

Embiid has now recorded at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in 12 straight games. The only other players to do that, per Basketball Reference: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Bellamy and Elgin Baylor. Decent company.

While there were jokes made that Embiid would have to have a preposterous season in order to edge out Nikola Jokic for another MVP, Embiid has been absolutely preposterous and is now the betting favorite to take home back-to-back Michael Jordan trophies.

When asked about the astronomical stats and the legends he was up there with, Embiid was unmoved.

“Nothing,” Embiid said with laugh when asked what the numbers meant. “We’re winning. That’s all that matters. Stats are great and it’s good to put up stats. But if it comes with a loss, that’s a different story.”

Well, the Sixers have been winning, too.

While they did feast on lesser opponents the last couple weeks, they’ve now beaten Minnesota, Boston and Oklahoma City this season. That’s a win against three of the top-four non-Sixers teams in the NBA. As of this posting, the Sixers are second in both offensive and defensive rating. That’s good enough to give them the best net rating in the NBA.

As Derek Bodner of PHLY points out, the Sixers’ offense has still hummed against elite opponents. They’ve played eight games against teams in the top 10 in defensive rating. In those games, they’re scoring 117.4 points per 100 possessions, which is the second-best mark in the NBA, per Bodner.

They’re also now 18-5 when Embiid plays this season — that’s a .782 winning percentage.

Wednesday night’s performance is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Embiid, who does have a track record of success against Gobert, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner.

Still, this feels a little different.

“We’re seeing something pretty cool right now right in front of us, right?” Nick Nurse said. “I think I heard him say a week or so ago … that his mindset is to go out there and dominate every single night. I like that as a starting point.”

What’s super encouraging is to see Maxey have success against a team like Minnesota.

The Timberwolves used Jaden McDaniels, a guy who will likely get a DPOY nomination or two before his career is over, on Maxey. McDaniels is officially listed at 6-foot-9, though there are reports that the 22-year-old might measure closer to 6-11 these days.

Navigating that length — and then a player like Gobert at the rim — is no small feat. As has been the case for a lot of the season, Embiid owned the first and third quarters while the second and fourth were (mostly) all Maxey. The 23-year-old guard dropped 15 of his 35 in the fourth quarter.

Like Embiid, the variety has been impressive. He made five triples for the third straight game and snaked his way to a couple beautiful finishes.

Maxey’s ability to learn and adjust in-game has been so impressive this season.

“Speed, and then just being decisive,” Maxey said of his success Wednesday. “They’re up high, trying to pick me up at half court. I just don’t feel like anybody can stay in front of me, picking me up that high — just from speed and my work. So I try to be extremely aggressive.

“And sometimes, before Joel sets ball screens, just beat the man 1-on-1 and get in the paint. Not always for myself, but just to collapse the defense. So I think that’s one thing to negate the height. But Joel’s going to be on me if I’m not aggressive, so I try to start aggressive and see how the game goes.”

Yeah, it’s a little hard to stop two elite three-level scorers.

The Sixers’ superstar duo dropped 86 combined points against the best defense in the NBA.

It feels like it’s become increasingly harder for opposing defenses to find the antidote.

“Just the combo of they did stay closer, take away some of the getting the ball to [Embiid],” Nurse said, “and that means Tyrese has to turn on the jets or bounce out there and go. And there was a segment where in the fourth, he was able to do that.”

Embiid and Maxey have the Sixers right in the thick of the race for the East. Daryl Morey, who is not one to sit on his hands, has ample assets to make a move that could put them over the top. Does he target a bonafide star? A star role player? Simply fortify the excellent depth?

No matter what move Morey makes, when it comes to Embiid and Maxey, you musn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

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