The Sixers wrapped up a 5 game road trip with a 3-2 record, and it had a lot of peaks and one low valley in one of their losses, but overall, the team has an 8-6 record heading into a rematch with the Golden State Warriors and there are good vibes all around the team after some staggering performances.
1. The loss to the Sacremento Kings showed that they are still very, very young
The way the Sixers lost to Sacramento was bad, but it shouldn't be a surprise nor a cause to call for Brett Brown's job, which is downright stupid. This team is still very new and very young and the current iteration of this roster has played a grand total of 14 games. That doesn't excuse the loss against the Kings, the Sixers had a 108-102 lead with 1:11 left in the game before JJ Redick fouled De'Arron Fox on an and-1 drive to the basket and started a 7-0 in the last minute to give the Kings the victory. That can't happen, but it's a learning experience.
A lot was made over Brett Brown not calling a timeout after Fox made the go-ahead jumper with 15 seconds left, deciding to play it out against a defense that was not set, but people forget that it has worked in the past. Two prime examples from last season are TJ McConnell's buzzer beater against the Knicks and Robert Covington's go-ahead three against the Portland Trailblazers. It seems like people who just started following the team yesterday or people who just can't see that Brett Brown is a solid coach who knows what he is doing, are just looking for every little reason to validate or justify their terrible "fire Brett Brown" take. Brown has seen it all, I'm confident he knows what he is doing, he isn't perfect by any means and has some things to prove but now that he has a stable roster, he needs time to grow as a coach himself. I think he is a really good coach and is perfect for this squad, but let's hold off on wanting to fire him for every little thing he does or doesn't do.
2. Everybody gets Warrior'd by the Warriors
I was looking forward to last Saturday's showdown with the Warriors. I admittedly skipped out on watching the NBC Philly broadcast to watch the NBC Bay Area broadcast just to see what they thought about the young Sixers, and man, they thought very highly of them. Their affection was validated when the Sixers kept up with probably the greatest team ever assembled for 2 quarters and a half. In the first half, the Sixers were whipping the ball around the court, forcing turnovers on defense, and scored 64 points in the first half despite not having a single player in double figures heading into halftime. With all that said, a quick run at the end of the half put the Warriors up 1 heading into halftime, this team is god-like, plug one hole and another leak springs, and eventually the wall breaks. It was tied at 74 with about 7 minutes to go in the third quarter and then the downpour of threes started to flush out the Sixers, and the game quickly got away from the Sixers.
It was the classic Warriors run we have seen for the last three seasons. You think you're in it, when all of a sudden, you're not. The Warriors turned up the defense, forced Joel Embiid to commit 7 turnovers while holding him to just 12 points, and Draymond Green gave approximately zero respect to Ben Simmons' jump shot, going about 500 feet under the screen and triple-dog daring him to shoot.
The Sixers have some things to figure out before the re-match this Saturday. They got master-class sparring lessons with the champs who were actually amped up to play a whole and healthy Sixers team but like how Goku in Dragon Ball Z, they held back their powers before eventually reaching full power to the point where the enemy can't match. Yeah, DBZ reference, deal with it.
3. The Sixers showed they can win without Embiid
The road trip started off with a 104-97 victory in Utah, a game Joel Embiid did not participate in due to "load management" (shout out Paul Pierce). Usually, whenever the Sixers have been without their Superstar center, they have been terrible, they have a -11.8 net rating in the 324 minutes Embiid has been off the court this year, which would rank 28th in the NBA only ahead of the Bulls and the Kings. This is what made the victory in Utah encouraging, I know the Jazz have a stagnant offense and like to slow the pace down, but beating a good defensive team on the road without your clear best player, when that exact scenario typically ends in disaster, are good signs that the team doesn't have to solely rely on Embiid like history has shown.
4. With that said...Joel Embiid is really really freaking good
What more can we say about this guy, other than begging the Basketball Gods to make sure this man has a long and healthy career. I still can't believe, through the four years of siding with tanking and watching those games during that era, that Embiid and Ben Simmons are sharing the court together.
Embiid is a different breed. I was at the game in Sacramento, when he rejoined the team on the road trip, and even though he struggled --lol putting up 22 points and 15 rebounds and he "struggled"-- it was incredible seeing someone of his size move like a guard in person. My brain couldn't comprehend it. He continued his struggles against the Warriors, as mentioned earlier, but boy, did he make up for it in the last two games of the road trip in The City of Angels.
First, he started his destruction against the Clippers, it was, until the next game, the full Embiid experience. He notched 32 points and 16 rebounds on 55% shooting and took 16 free-throws (only making 9 of them which wasn't ideal...) while making absolute fools out of every Clipper big man involved in the game. He was trolling the entire team to the point were the Clippers backup center Willie Reed committed a flagrant foul on JoJo, to which Joel continued to troll him some more shouting "HE CAN'T F****** GUARD ME".
He continued his onslaught against DeAndre Jordan, who was voted 1st team All-defense in 2015 and 2016, and this particular play was a microcosm of the night the Clippers bigs had.
Both Reed and Jordan would foul out of the game.
Then came the game against Lakers on national television. In what was promoted by ESPN as a match-up between Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons (HAHAHAHA ok), but it was Embiid who captured the attention of the national audience. Embiid steam-rolled the Lakers with 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks, no one in NBA history has posted a stat-line of at least 40+ points, 15+ rebounds, 7+ assists, and 7+ blocks, since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Also, no one in history put up the stat-line Embiid did. He stands alone.
*Wilt Chamberlin probably did this more than a few times but they didn't start recording blocks until the 1973-74 season*
It wasn't just the 46 points, it was how he got them. Posting up, facing up, mid-range jumpers, three-pointers, pick and roll, pick and pop, making 16 out of 19 free-throws and doing things that quite frankly, a 7'2, 280-pound man shouldn't be able to do.
The other impressive thing about his performance? When the Sixers were determined to turn over the ball, and give away the game, Embiid --and Ben Simmons, who almost had a triple-double with 5 steals and no one cares-- did what franchise players do, prevent their team from losing. Nineteen, yes, NINETEEN of Embiid's points came in the fourth quarter, and he pulled out all the stops. Does this move remind you of a certain center who played for the Rockets a long time ago and also happens to be Embiid's idol?
It reminds of what he did against New Mexico when he was in college.
Back to the destruction. Julius Randle had a rough night, Luke Walton left him out to dry single-covering Embiid with no help. Like Reed and Jordan the previous game, Randle fouled out trying to guard this guy.
He impacted the game in so many ways. Beyond the 7 blocks, he was patrolling the perimeter and was super-active defensively, a good sign that he is finally getting back into basketball shape and regaining the defensive form that he had last year. His passing, which has been improving game-by-game, was equally on point. Passing out of double teams and passing to cutters.
The best part of the Laker and Clipper games? He played 34 and 35 minutes respectively. So much for that minute's restriction at the start of the season.
Rich Hofmann of The Athletic, said on a Sixers beat podcast that he was done being surprised by anything Joel Embiid does, and I'm on that boat too. As noted before, by the end of the 2014 college season, I had Embiid at the top of my hypothetical draft board despite his foot injury, but even then, this performance had me in awe. If he is healthy, we better get used to these type of games.
Embiid and Simmons are in Sixer jerseys and they are ours. It's also made us forget Markelle Fultz hasn't even played for two and a half weeks now.
The Sixers have played 10 out of the first 14 games on the road and the fact that this young team is 8-6 is really surprising to me, they are ahead of schedule, and we should enjoy every moment of it.