Three things we learned Monday: Don’t say the Sixers suck anymore

Associated Press
4 Comments

We know you spent Monday night mesmerized by the LeBron/Hamilton send up, so here is what you could have learned watching a full slate of NBA games…

1) Sixers have won four in a row at home, 3-of-4 overall. You can stop mocking them now. The Philadelphia 76ers are a real basketball team.

Not a real good team, mind you, they remain last in the Eastern Conference. But they are a competitive team now — and one on a winning streak. With Monday night’ s 101-94 win over Miami the Sixers have won consecutive games for the first time since March 2015 (it didn’t happen last season). They have won three-of-four overall and four in a row at home. If you want to get overly optimistic, they are 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the East. But that’s a bit much. Still, they are no longer the worst team in the NBA (that honor goes to Dallas), and every night they put up a fight.

Philadelphia has the guy in the lead of the entirely-too-early-to-discuss Rookie of the Year race with Joel Embiid, who is averaging 18.4 points and 7.8 rebounds a game in limited minutes every night. Monday night “The Process” faced off against Hassan Whiteside — who somewhat quietly is having a monster season — and held his own.

Embiid has work to do — his moves still can be a bit stiff, like the guy spent the last two years practicing them against chairs and 6’2” coaches. The big man is getting 35 percent of his looks off post ups and is shooting just 42 percent on those, which is pretty average but below where he can get (stat via Synergy Sports). Embiid is shooting just 57.1 percent in the restricted area right at the rim, a little below where the Sixers want him to be. That said, he is dangerous as a roll man after setting the pick — he has an eFG% of 64 percent in that situation, in part because he can knock down the three. Embiid is 11-of-22 from three this season.

Here is the stat that matters: The Sixers are nine points per 100 possessions better when Embiid is on the court (and around Christmas the team will look at raising his minutes limit of 25). When he gets help from veteran Gerald Henderson (19 points vs. Miami) or Nik Stauskas, the Sixers can put up some points. At least enough to be competitive and win some games.

The little hot streak the Sixers are on likely comes to an end with their next four games being against Memphis, Chicago, Cleveland, and Toronto. But you can bet they will be competitive in those games, too.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo is killing it as a point guard for the Bucks. This season Jason Kidd put the ball in the hands of his Greek Freak and turned him loose — and it has worked. Don’t take my word for it, ask Orlando as Antetokounmpo dropped a triple-double on them with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists (he also had five steals and three blocks).

On the season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 21.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game, shooting 49.3 percent, and he has the PER of an All-Star at 24.8. On the downside, he is shooting just 16.7 percent from three, his midrange jumper strikes fear in no one, and teams are going under picks on him and clogging the middle. Still, you see the room to grow. You could tell in the win Monday that he is the leader — when he plays with energy, particularly on defense, the rest of the team follows.

As a side note: Maybe the most interesting lineup Kidd rolled out Monday (and one that had a 16-2 run early in the fourth) was a small ball with Antetokounmpo, Mirza Teletovic, and Michael Beasley as the bigs. Jabari Parker is playing too well to do that all the time, but it was a good change of pace.

3) Gregg Popovich wants the Spurs to respect the game. The Spurs won Monday night, beating a depleted Dallas team 96-91 at home. But that didn’t stop the postgame Gregg Popovich rant — and we love nothing more than a Popovich rant.

Popovich said before the Laker game last Friday that this early in the season he doesn’t watch video of other teams — he only watches the Spurs, he wants to get his own house in order then he starts to worry about who else is out there. The Spurs are 11-3 and on a six-game win streak, the house seems pretty tight. But Popovich is right — they didn’t respect the game Monday night. That, more than just about anything, will set Popovich off.