After back to back embarrassing losses in Dallas and Indiana to start the week, the Sixers are leaving MLK Weekend on a four game win streak. They even WON two road games this weekend in New York and Brooklyn to snap a six game road losing streak which dated back to a December 27th loss in Orlando. To be fair, the Sixers beat four teams under .500, the real test will come this week at Toronto and when the Lakers come into town Saturday night, but there are three huge, season altering strides being made without Joel Embiid.
The first is the emergence of Furkan Korkmaz. Hand up for me on this one, I have never been a Furkan guy, but he has shut me up this last week. He’s been RED HOT from deep and has even been a threat putting the ball on the floor and driving when defenders over commit on him at the line. A big part of his recent success is almost definitely the fact that he not wearing his neon shoes anymore and has team colored shoes that don’t make him look like an idiot. Anyway, the Sixers cannot expect him to be JJ Reddick, even though Brett Brown said in the Chicago game they ran Reddick plays for Furky. He’s no JJ but if they can get 3 or 4 threes a game from Korkmaz and have him to continue to spread the floor, he’s a major factor for the Sixers to go on a deep run in the postseason.
The second is the relentless defense that the Sixers have played in the last four games, specifically the last four 4th quarters. The Sixers have held their opponents to 16, 18, 18 and 20 points in the last four 4th quarters. Led by Simmons and Thybulle, the Sixers have “locked all windows and doors” (thanks Zu) to close out games with the exclamation point coming Monday afternoon forcing the Nets into 10 (!!) 4th quarter turnovers to go along with four blocks to help finish the comeback win in Brooklyn. This defensive effort and attitude are similar to the efforts we saw early in the season and will only be improved when Embiid returns from injury. Realistically, the Sixers can’t play with the bully ball mentality on defense for all 82 regular season games but it’s great to see the Sixers can flip that switch and lock up when needed. Defense will be one of the keys to a deep Sixers run.
The third and most important emergence has been the aggressiveness of Ben Simmons. Ben Simmons has been nothing short of spectacular in the past four games. He earned himself Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the week of 13-19 and is going to make a push for winning it back to back weeks after pouring in 34 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists and five steals Monday afternoon in Brooklyn. Simmons is riding a career high five straight games scoring 20+ points and has been effective as the point guard and off the ball in pick and rolls. Simmons has been unstoppable on the fast break for the whole season (11.8 ppg on the fast break) but for the Sixers to make a deep playoff run, they need him to continue his aggressiveness in the half court. Even when Embiid comes back, Simmons has to stay aggressive offensively. He is having a first team All Defense type of season, but the past week has shown he has the ability to be an All NBA player. To win a championship, the Sixers need All NBA Simmons paired up with All NBA Embiid.
Obviously, you never want your best player to miss time but without Embiid, other guys have had to step up. Horford is getting into a rhythm on both of ends of the floor that will help him better coexist with Embiid. Harris is getting the opportunity to be the closer which can only benefit the Sixers down the stretch. Brett Brown is using a number of different lineups in different situations that are allowing him to see what adjustments can be made when Embiid returns and they begin to get their playoff rotations set. The Sixers are gaining some confidence and if they can continue to play well until Embiid returns, they will be in good shape to push for the second seed and have a bit of home court advantage as they enter the most important postseason of The Process.