Amid turmoil, illness, and injury, the Philadelphia 76ers are keeping their eyes on the prize. A 114–105 road win over the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 6 ran the NBA’s longest current winning streak to six games. After the game, superstar center Joel Embiid spoke glowingly about his short-handed squad. The win improved Philadelphia to 8–2, all without former All-NBA point guard Ben Simmons.
In Simmons’ absence, Embiid has taken firm control of the team. Playing the role of a point center, the three-time All-NBA performer is averaging more assists and fewer turnovers than ever before. The team is rolling despite Embiid scoring at his lowest level since his delayed rookie season in 2016–17.
Joel Embiid threw the dagger at the Bulls
In the win at Chicago, Joel Embiid had his best performance of the season. He matched a season-high with 30 points while shooting 11-of-19, his best mark of the season, to go with 15 rebounds.
With 15.5 seconds left, Embiid buried a step-back 3 to put the Philadelphia 76ers up by eight points. After effectively burying the Bulls, Embiid waved goodbye to the United Center crowd.
A solid offensive performance from Embiid is a positive sign for the 76ers. Since banging knees with Jonas Valančiūnas on opening night in New Orleans, he’s struggled with his mobility. Philadelphia opted to rest him in their Nov. 1 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, getting a big night from Andre Drummond in Embiid’s place.
At Chicago, Embiid hit 4-of-5 from deep after he was made just 32.1% (9-of-28) in his first eight games.
But while he’s averaging only 21.4 points per game, the big man is dishing 4.0 assists nightly and committing only 3.0 turnovers a game, the best marks of his career in both categories. More importantly, Embiid likes what he sees from the Sixers so far.
The Philadelphia 76ers are shrugging off all obstacles
Simmons hasn’t played this season. Tobias Harris hasn’t played in four games because of COVID-19. Matisse Thybulle recently entered the health and safety protocols, and Danny Green has missed three straight games with a strained hamstring.
The Philadelphia 76ers are playing with an eight-man rotation right now, and it doesn’t seem to matter. Joel Embiid leads the way, and they keep winning games.
Embiid has run hot and cold in his discussions regarding Simmons. Without naming the unhappy star, the unquestioned leader in Philadelphia fired some shots, per The Associated Press:
“The chemistry that we have is very different from the previous years. We’re complete. We’re on the same page. Everybody feels like they have something to prove.”Joel Embiid
Last season ended disastrously for the 76ers. After grabbing the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia was stunned by the upstart Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinal, losing the seventh game at home. Simmons’ disappearing act late in games in that series became a central talking point. Amid the criticism, his representatives told the 76ers the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up wanted a trade.
Without Simmons, the Sixers are rolling right along. Seven of the eight players Philadelphia deployed at Chicago finished in double figures. Besides Embiid’s 30 points, Furkan Korkmaz erupted for a season-high 25.
The win was also the 1,000th of coach Doc Rivers’ career. He’s the 10th to reach the milestone and trails ninth-place Rick Adelman by 42 victories.
Joel Embiid taking on the role of floor leader for the Philadelphia 76ers
It’s been evident during the hot start of the Philadelphia 76ers that Joel Embiid has fully embraced the leadership mantle. He’s running the offense in Simmons’ absence. You can see him actively directing cutters where to go, then making correct reads with the ball to get quality looks for teammates.
While Simmons gets kudos for his point guard skills in a power forward’s body, Embiid shows the ability to run the show.
It’s easy to pick and choose pieces from Philadelphia’s winning streak. Yes, it beat the floundering Detroit Pistons twice during its six-game run. But the Sixers also have home and road wins over the much-improved Bulls, blew out Atlanta in a supposed revenge game, and handled the Trail Blazers without Embiid.
Philadelphia’s last loss was at Madison Square Garden to the New York Knicks on Oct. 26. The 76ers get a chance to even the season series on Nov. 8 when they host the Knicks. They’ll follow that up with home games against the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors before opening a six-game road trip on Nov. 13.
But make no mistake. These are Joel Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers. And they’re rolling to the point you can almost hear the “Ben Who?” questions gaining in volume.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.