By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 102, Charlotte 93 – Box Score
For the first time since late 2013-early 2014, the Philadelphia 76ers have an honest-to-god winning streak. With Friday night’s smothering defensive performance against the Hornets, the Sixers have finally won 3 straight games and 5 of their last 6.
As usual these days, the man of the hour was Joel Hans Embiid. Coming out in pregame introductions performing the Triple H water spitting routine out of the tunnel, Embiid then wrestled the Hornets frontline into submission with 24 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. 5 turnovers made for the only blemish on an otherwise stellar evening that included his ritualistic burial of Cody Zeller.
Embiid is the only player ever to score at least 20 points in 8 straight games where he does not play 30 minutes. By the fourth quarter, the usual “Trust the Process” chants had transformed to “MVP”. With JoJo on the cusp of an All-Star berth and having the Sixers playing as well as anyone in 2017, such an idea might not be too far-fetched.
With Embiid as the back line anchor and Nerlens Noel out there the sole back-up center, the Sixers played some of their best defense of the season. They forced 19 Charlotte turnovers, which is the most the Sixers have forced this season and the most the Hornets have committed on the year. As a team, Charlotte shot just 32.9% from the field, as Philadelphia held Kemba Walker below his 23 ppg average with just 17 points on 7-23 shooting.
Noel made his presence known in just 20 minutes with 4 blocks to go along with a perfect 3-3 shooting night. Nerlens knocked down another mid-range jumper, continuing a trend that has seen him shoot well above 50% on those shots this season.
Aside from Embiid and Noel getting full run as the lone big men on the court, the biggest beneficiary of these recent Jahlil Okafor DNP-CD’s has to be Dario Saric. The Homie gets to play almost exclusively at his natural power forward position and looks much more comfortable out there. Against Charlotte, he dropped 15 points 6 rebounds in 21 minutes, shooting 4-6 from three.
Unfortunately for those hoping the Sixers can make it 4 straight, Joel Embiid will be sitting the second half of the back-to-back Saturday night in Washington. That means Jahlil Okafor will get his chance to show what he can do, and well, we’ve seen that show before. For tonight though, let’s enjoy the fact that the Sixers are just 6 back in the loss column of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. If Joel Embiid believes, I believe.