Red-hot Joel Embiid looms large in 76ers-Rockets rematch

The Philadelphia 76ers have appeared to reach the point where adversity is no longer an obstacle. At least, that’s one conclusion drawn from their recent results despite their attrition.

While extending their winning streak to a season-high-tying six consecutive games last Friday against the San Antonio Spurs, the 76ers were without Tyrese Maxey, Paul Reed, Shake Milton and Isaiah Joe, with Maxey and Reed in the league health and safety protocol while Milton and Joe were sidelined by back injuries. Those absences did little to stem the 76ers’ current tide.

Having a four-time All-Star in Joel Embiid at center certainly helps the 76ers’ cause. Philadelphia will likely be without the aforementioned quartet when it travels to face the Houston Rockets on Monday, but Embiid will be present to anchor the depleted roster.

Embiid has thrust himself into the league’s Most Valuable Player conversation with his exceptional play since his bout with COVID-19. During the 76ers’ win streak, he is averaging 33.2 points on 56.2 percent shooting, 10.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists plus a combined 2.5 steals and blocks. He recorded his first triple-double of the season last week against the Rockets (31 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists) and has scored 30-plus points in each game of the winning streak.

«I said this last year but you can kind of see the fear in the defenders’ eyes,» 76ers forward Tobias Harris said of Embiid. «When a guy is that big and strong and is able to make shots … he’s a guard in a center’s body. He makes some great moves, great footwork — his skill, his touch, shooting the ball. For the guys guarding him, it’s like, what can you do?»

That rhetorical question is a foreboding one for the Rockets, who struggled mightily against Embiid and had similar issues against Karl-Anthony Towns in a 141-123 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday at Toyota Center. Towns posted a season-high 40 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists, dominating Houston in a fashion much like Embiid last week.

«That’s just a quality big man who played very well,» Rockets coach Stephen Silas said of Towns, «and we’ve got to do a better job (Monday) night in order to just feel better about ourselves.»

The Rockets have to make strides defensively, not only against quality big men but in every facet possible. Against the Timberwolves, the Rockets were shredded in transition, allowing 31 fast-break points while routinely failing to get back and set up a modest barricade to the basket.

The issues weren’t based on miscommunication. The most glaring problem was undeniable.

«Just got to run back,» Silas said. «Sprint back and then figure it out from there. Sprint back, talk to each other and everybody should be organized.

«There are distractions, there are missed shots, there is the referee made a bad call or did not make a call, whatever. Just run back. We’ve got to learn that. I’ve seen this before with other teams I’ve been with, other young teams I’ve been with. The distractions are real for them and the run back part comes secondary at times. We’ve got to make sure the run back comes first.»

–Field Level Media