Joel Embiid after victory over Celtics
Photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

A week after hosting them in Philadelphia, the Sixers (22-16) visited the Houston Rockets (11-30) on Monday. Philadelphia intended to push its winning streak to 7 games. Houston wanted to snap a two-game losing streak. Another game on the likelier side of a triple-double for Embiid powered the Sixers to a blowout of the Rockets, 111-91.

Before we get to what I saw, some context is due.

Contextual Notes

Philadelphia was without the services of Seth Curry, who missed the game with a sore left ankle. Shake Milton is nursing a back contusion and was unavailable.

Tyrese Maxey and Paul Reed remained in the health and safety protocol and were out. Jaden Springer missed the game with a non-COVID illness.

Ben Simmons is not mentally ready to play and was not with the team.

Doc Rivers started Furkan Korkmaz, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

Houston was without the services of Eric Gordon, who missed the game with a tight right groin, and Alperen Sengun, who is nursing a sprained right ankle. 

Armoni Brooks is in the health and safety protocol and was unavailable.

Trevelin Queen missed the game due to personal reasons.

Stephen Silas started Kevin Porter Jr, Jalen Green, Jae’Sean Tate, Christian Wood, and Daniel Theis.

First Quarter

The Sixers game planned against the Rockets’ offense quite well before the game’s first timeout. Houston is last in the NBA in turnover percentage this season. That’s a combination of age, clunky fits, and lacking skill. So when you face a young team that is going to beat themselves, you let them do that.

All the Sixers had to do was minimize gaps in which the Rockets could operate, and it was out to the races. Whether it was risky passing or lacking awareness, the Rockets played exactly how the Sixers wanted them to play. As such, Philly had 6 fast break points in the first 6 minutes of play.

Embiid’s play around the rim over the last handful of games has been nothing short of unstoppable. The scoring skill and finesse are things that we already knew about. But his play in the paint as of late is the intersection between his overwhelming physicality and his improved handle.

Save for maybe 4 bigs in the league, no one can consistently stop Embiid in the paint. The turning point that has made him untouchable is the tightened ball-handling.

Embiid keeps his dribble low, makes his move quickly, and doesn’t leave the ball exposed too far away from his body. As such, when he puts the ball on the floor, it’s basically a processing overload for like-sized defenders. Embiid had 17 points in the first frame, and got to the line for 9 free throws.

Second Quarter

Charlie Brown Jr has stepped into his role with the Sixers and capitalized on his opportunities as a 10-day signee amidst the team’s COVID cases. Many G-Leaguers lack the physical gifts to be effective hustle types. So if they do get their chances to play in the NBA, it’s difficult to find the right fit that allows them to stand out and stick. For Brown Jr, his length and activity are the perfect puzzle pieces to what Philly needs.

The Sixers are an extremely poor rebounding team. Brown’s hustle afforded them extra boards against both the Spurs and Rockets. The Sixers are not a particularly good perimeter defense. His length and recovery on the perimeter enable him to minimize pockets of space that would normally empower opponents to attack or shoot. If he wasn’t recovering to the Rocket nearest him when the pass was made, he was poking the ball off course as it traveled to its receiver.

I don’t know that Brown does anything particularly well enough on the offensive end to be a long-term piece. To be fair to him, Brown hasn’t gotten much of a chance to showcase what he can do on offense. But, he’s done all of the little things that are typically weaknesses for this group. And he’s proven to be worthy of a second 10-day deal.

Furkan Korkmaz is the latest partner to be developing a two-man game with Embiid. He certainly isn’t the shooter that Curry is on any level of the floor. But, the chemistry between he and Embiid is so strong that the offense hums anyway. Korkmaz had a particularly strong half scoring the ball. Perhaps the perfect symbol of that relationship was Embiid rifling a gorgeous pass out to Korkmaz as he burst into a spin on a deep post. The shot did not fall, but Embiid knew exactly where Korkmaz would be. And the ability to spring accurate passes to the perimeter out of a rapid post move is totally unguardable.

Third Quarter

At first glance, Embiid’s late close-outs on Daniel Theis in this game appear to be lazy perimeter defense. But the truth is that it shows that Embiid is paying attention to the scouting reports. Theis is making less than 27 percent of his threes on 3 attempts per game this season. It makes more sense to not risk freak injury or shooting foul than it does to put an aggressive contest on a guy who just isn’t a deadly shooter. If Theis beats you shooting them, you’ll sleep at night knowing you took away Houston’s more dangerous options.

Speaking of Embiid, it was the status quo for him in the third quarter on Monday. The status quo is absolutely ridiculous. The chemistry with virtually everyone on the roster (and ‘virtually’ is not a reference to Ben Simmons) is just fantastic. He was spreading the ball all over the floor in the third frame. In the first half, it was mostly just Korkmaz receiving love from Embiid. In the third quarter, Embiid found Thybulle spotting up in the corner twice (I don’t know anyone who has as much confidence in Thybulle’s three-point shot as Embiid does). He also found him cutting to the dunker spot out of a post-up. Embiid dimed up Isaiah Joe lurking in the wings for a triple, too. 

I don’t know that he’ll ever have Nikola Jokic’s intuitive feel as a passer. But, Embiid has rapidly jumped from a decent playmaker to an excellent playmaker season.

Fourth Quarter

Isaiah Joe has a habit of kicking his foot out when he shoots and it’s a habit that should probably be broken sooner rather than later. I’m not sure whether it’s a natural part of his motion, or an attempt to collect cheap shooting fouls. But, the league has rules to account for that. If they see you kicking out on a shot in an effort to draw a shooting foul, they’ll call an offensive foul. Besides jeopardizing possessions for his team, that also means that Joe is more focused on drawing the foul than making the shot, if that is what he’s trying to do.

Charlie Brown Jr is going to have to work on those shooting mechanics. Right now, he catapults the ball from his right shoulder and basically shot-puts it at the basket. He attempted a pair of triples against the Rockets. One might’ve been an uncalled foul, and Brown struck the bottom of the close side of the backboard. The second bricked off the back of the rim. I don’t know that the Sixers want Herb Magee working with any more of their players. But, perhaps Embiid can pass a Drew Hanlen business card to the young wing. That shot needs some fixing.

If you would’ve told me this team would have separate 6-game and 7-game winning streaks, I’d have trouble believing it. But, here they are.

The Sixers (23-16) will host the Charlotte Hornets (22-19) on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM, EST. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.