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Joel Embiid, team defense lead Sixers to another strong week

Impressive defensive performances against the Celtics and Heat capped off another strong week for the Sixers, who now sit at 25-17 on the season, good for 5th place in the Eastern Conference.

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers followed up last week's perfect 3-0 run with an even more impressive showing this time around, despite the fact that Wednesday night's loss to the Hornets did get in the way of another undefeated week.

By going 3-1 this week the Sixers have now won nine of their last 10 games, improving to 25-17 on the season and establishing themselves in the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference, with key wins over some of their Eastern Conference competitors, something that could become useful in a couple of months when playoff seeding is being determined.

The Sixers exited their cakewalk stretch of the schedule (vs Houston, @ Orlando, vs San Antonio, @ Houston) with a much tougher slate of games this past week, most notably the back-to-back victories over the Celtics on Friday and the Heat on Saturday, the latter of which was a road back-to-back after a night of travel.

The week was highlight by ... well, Joel Embiid, obviously, whose second-half performance (25 points on 9-11 shooting in 20 second-half minutes) against the Miami Heat on Saturday was wildly impressive, especially given it was against a tough opponent, on the second half of a back-to-back, after Embiid just logged 32 minutes the night before and, that he came into the game questionable with elbow soreness. The Sixers outscored the Heat 66-48 after intermission to steal a victory.

But beyond Embiid, the Sixers were carried this week by their defense. That's not something we've been able to say all that often this season, as the Sixers came into the week with a middling 16th ranked defense. It was even more impressive because the Sixers were without Ben Simmons (obviously), Danny Green (both Boston and Miami games) and Matisse Thybulle (against the Heat) for significant chunks this past week, giving them barely any contributions from their top 3 perimeter defenders.

But Thybulle was dominant against Jayson Tatum and the Celtics, with the Boston star scoring precisely zero points on 0-3 shooting in the 24 possessions where Thybulle was logged as the primary defender, per NBA.com. In addition to that, Thybulle's five steals and two blocks helped to get the Sixers' otherwise slow offense out in transition more than normal. The Sixers then followed it up with a team effort against Jimmy Butler (1-11 from the field) and the Heat, with Tobias Harris and Charlie Brown Jr deserving a notable shout-out for their efforts. The defensive performances created two of the more pleasant, enjoyable games of the season for the Sixers.

Again, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the recent stretch of play has convinced me that the team, as currently constructed, is ready to contend. When you look at the history of NBA champions, they almost always have multiple All-NBA caliber players, and frequently multiple Hall of Fame caliber stars to lead them to glory. The Sixers have Joel Embiid, who is an All-Star and All-NBA caliber player who could be on his way to Naismith if his career has enough longevity to it. Their No. 2 option merely qualifies for the Nice Guy All-Stars. Which is a great quality to have, don't get me wrong. It's just not good enough to contend for a title.

But it does mean that the gamble that Daryl Morey took to try to extend this Ben Simmons situation out to the trade deadline (at least) doesn't appear to have come with any significant consequences to it. We can (and I'm sure will) debate whether that same logic can be applied to keeping Simmons until the offseason if a trade for an impact player isn't available by February 10th, but so far so good on the Sixers' decision to wait to push their chips in.


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Covered in this post
  • Overview of the Sixers' week
  • A look at the week ahead
  • Injury Report
  • Rumor Roundup
  • Last week at The Daily Six

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