Sixers ground Rockets as Joel Embiid returns to action

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid goes up for a shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

PHILADELPHIA, PA — In the first of the NBA’s nine-game MLK Day lineup, the Houston Rockets came to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Philadelphia 76ers.

From early on, the Sixers appeared firmly in control of this game. Asserting themselves on both sides of the ball, Philadelphia played physically from the jump, even forcing the Rockets to call a timeout less than a minute and a half into the game.

The entire team played with passion and energy, but it was the return of their star that sparked Philadelphia.

Sixers welcome the return of the MVP

Coming into the afternoon matchup, Sixers star and reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid was listed as questionable. Shortly after running through his typical pregame warmup, it was announced that Embiid would suit up after missing the Sixers’ last three games. His return, as expected, was an immense lift to Philadelphia in this game.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid signs for fans after an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Washington. The 76ers won 131-126. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Setting the tone for the Sixers early on in the game, Embiid’s presence was felt on both ends of the court. Offensively, Embiid quickly returned to his dominant ways, scoring 26 first-half points. Houston was simply unable to slow down the Embiid, who had his way during his 30 minutes on the court.

Despite a 21-point lead entering the fourth quarter, Joel Embiid reentered the game in the fourth quarter to continue his streak of 30 point and 10 rebound games. This game marked the 16th straight for Embiid, matching Kareem Abdul-Jabar for the longest such streak since Wilt Chamberlain’s 20 consecutive 30 and 10 games during the 1963-64 NBA season.

Embiid also did some work to continue climbing up the all-time 40-points, 10-rebound leaderboard.

Role players doing role player things

It was a strong night for some of the Sixers’ more notable role players. Whether it was Kelly Oubre Jr., who made his return to the court after missing Friday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Nico Batum, who continues to make a mockery of Father Time, or Pat Bev, who filled in for De’Anthony Melton as “Mr. Do Something,” the Sixers’ role players were rolling all game long.

Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) battles Philadelphia 76ers’ Nicolas Batum (40) and Paul Reed (44) for a rebound during the first of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Over the course of his career, Kelly Oubre Jr. has been somewhat of an enigma. The talent has always been there, but he faced efficiency and concentration issues throughout his NBA journey. In Philadelphia, Oubre has been asked to serve in a more confined role, one which has enabled him to thrive as a catch-and-shoot and hustle specialist. Oubre continuing to succeed in this same role will play a crucial factor in the team’s ability to succeed through this season.

Nico Batum also played a large role in the team’s success against Houston. While it was far from the efficient affair we’re used to watching from Batum, every hustle opportunity that came the way of the 16-year veteran, he took. Whether he’s diving for a loose ball, sending an incredible backhanded touch pass Joel Embiid’s way in transition, or rising up for a big-time block, Nico Batum has come up large for the Sixers constantly this season.

Then there was Pat Bev, who took it upon himself to stuff the stat sheet against the Rockets, collecting 10 points, five rebounds, and six assists in 27 minutes of action. The gritty reserve guard has provided this Sixers squad with a sense of physicality and determination that Philadelphia has sorely lacked in past years.

In a game that, outside of Joel Embiid’s dominance, was a struggle at times, the effort put forth by the Sixers’ veterans was undoubtedly crucial.