The Sixers traveled to Brooklyn for a matinee against the lowly Nets yesterday and escaped with a 105-95 win, bringing their record to 10-25. The team started off slow, not gaining their first lead until the second half. A strong third quarter changed the game though, as they opened on a 13-0 run. Philadelphia ended up outscoring Brooklyn by 21 points in the third and fourth quarters. Joel Embiid finished the game with 20 points, his sixth consecutive 20-point game, while Dario Saric added 18 points off the bench.
The victory was Philadelphia’s third in their last four games, and sixth in their last thirteenth. Last year, the Sixers did not capture their tenth win until their 78th game, and they only had three victories in their first 35 games. Arguably more impressive though, this season, of their 25 losses, 9 of them have come within 5 points or went to overtime. So, while the win total might be low, Philly has lost a lot of games down the stretch and are at least playing competitively. Winning close games is a skill that they’ll learn going forward.
Philly’s recent surge should bring a lot of confidence to such a young team. This is what progress looks like. When things were bleak and the roster was made of players like Vander Blue, Brandon Davies and Larry Drew II (none of whom are currently in the NBA), fans dreamed of the next step in the legendary “process.” Enter the 2016-17 Sixers. Philly is not a playoff caliber team, but they’re finally climbing out of the basement of atrociousness. They look like a real NBA team that consists of real NBA players.
Philadelphia is currently on pace to win 23 games this season. That would surpass each of the past three seasons, with 10, 18, and 19 wins respectively. The last time they had over 20 wins was in the 2012-13 season. The Sixers finished that season 34-48 in the ninth seed after missing the playoffs by four games and have not made the playoffs since the season before that. That season’s starting lineup consisted of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thad Young, Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes. Every player on that roster was no longer on the team by the 2015-2016 season.
The team is playing good basketball as they’re nearing the halfway point of the season. Embiid has had arguably the most exciting rookie season for the Sixers since Allen Iverson in 1996. There’s a buzz around the team that has not been here since before Sam Hinkie’s gutting.
While Embiid is getting all the attention, fellow rookie Dario Saric has quietly put up a good season. He has proven to be a great defender and rebounder while also showing a range of scoring abilities at only 22 years old. He is a jack-of-all-trades. His play is reminiscent of Thad Young, with the grittiness and the never-ending hustle.
Arguably the most important player on the team, excluding Embiid, has been Ersan Ilyasova, who the team acquired in an early season trade for Jerami Grant with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Turkish power forward has meshed well with Embiid. Ilyasova, a 38% three-point shooter, has the range that allows him to play away from the basket, giving Embiid the room to operate down low. Ilyasova is also a great passer and has the ability to throw the ball to Embiid where he wants it. Even though Ilyasova, 29, is the second oldest player on the team, the team should resign him once the season ends. While Ilyasova has been an average player throughout his career, he could find a niche playing along side Embiid.
The Sixers are playing respectable basketball for the first time in years. Their win total, which has been celebrated, while would be depressing almost anywhere else, is emblematic of the next stage of the process, the rebuild. The pieces are starting to come together. Embiid has looked better than advertised and he was definitely worth the two-year wait. Combine him with the first overall draft pick, Ben Simmons, who will hopefully come back within a month or so and it looks like a sturdy foundation for the next decade. Come June, the two of them will be paired up with a (if not two) top picks in what should be considered one of the best drafts in years.
Joel Embiid told reporters after the game on Sunday that the team was looking towards the playoffs after winning three of their last four. While that probably won’t happen, the fact that even the players are even talking about the playoffs is something that only would have been mentioned in sarcastic sports segments during the Hinkie era. Long live the process!
Mandatory Credit: Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports