Sixers observations

3 observations after Embiid overwhelms Pistons, Sixers notch 6th straight win

Embiid posted 37 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday night.

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Joel Embiid overwhelmed the Pistons on Tuesday night and the Sixers stretched their winning streak to six games. 

In a 120-102 victory at Wells Fargo Center, Embiid recorded 37 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks.

Tobias Harris had a 15-point, 12-rebound outing. Buddy Hield added 18 points and Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 17.

Jaden Ivey (25 points) and Evan Fournier (21) led the 13-66 Pistons in scoring.

The Sixers were down Tyrese Maxey (left hip tightness), Kyle Lowry (left knee effusion), Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) and KJ Martin (left great toe contusion). 

Tuesday’s win improved the Sixers to 45-35. With two contests to go, they remain seventh in the tight Eastern Conference standings. Other pertinent games included the Pacers beating the Raptors, the Heat squeaking by the Hawks in double overtime, and the Magic falling to the Rockets.

The only way the Sixers could pass Indiana now is by finishing 2-0 and having the Pacers go 0-2. If results break in their favor, it's also still possible they could move past the 46-33 Cavs and/or 46-33 Magic.

“It doesn’t really matter where you end,“ Embiid said. “If we're good enough, we’re going to win. So play-in (tournament) or not, it doesn’t really matter. The job’s still got to be done on the court and we’ve got to win games.”

The Sixers will host the Magic on Friday night in their penultimate game of the regular season. Here are observations on the team's win over Detroit:

Embiid head and shoulders above Pistons in first half  

Harris returned Tuesday from a three-game absence with a left knee contusion. He was the Sixers’ most aggressive offensive player early on, taking seven field goals over the opening six minutes.

The 31-year-old forward scored three first-quarter hoops at the rim. After converting a put-back layup, he made eye contact with Embiid, slipped backdoor, and threw down a dunk to put the Sixers up 14-6. 

Embiid later found Oubre darting through the lane and set him up for a slam, too. The reigning MVP played his longest first-period stint since coming back from a left meniscus injury. He didn’t sub out until the 3:14 mark and was plenty productive in that time, posting 10 points, two assists, two rebounds and two steals. 

As is almost always the case, Embiid was clearly better than everyone else on the court Tuesday. He made seven field goals in a row at one point and continued to pick apart Detroit’s defense with his passing. Embiid committed just one turnover in the first half. No other Sixer had any.

Ivey was impressive and the Sixers conceded some open jumpers, but the team’s sizable advantage in the possession game meant the Pistons’ chances of a surprising win were slim. Embiid’s routine dominance decreased those odds considerably as well. 

Melton back in the fold

Following his outstanding night Sunday in a double-overtime win against the Spurs, Ricky Council IV was the second Sixer in off the bench.

The rookie made another excellent play to punctuate Tuesday’s first quarter, using a composed pump fake to create space for a buzzer-beating three-pointer. 

De’Anthony Melton got a warm reception from the home crowd when he checked in to begin the second quarter. The 25-year-old guard, who’d been out because of lumbar spine bone stress, played his first game since Feb. 27. 

Melton said he dealt with “a pinch in my back. ... I was feeling it constantly throughout my movement in my everyday life. That’s when I knew it was getting too much.

“But now I feel a lot better, I feel a lot stronger, and that’s the most important thing.”

He started in encouraging fashion. Soon after subbing in, Melton leaped to snag an offensive rebound and dropped an assist off to Jeff Dowtin Jr. He swished the first shot he took, sinking a catch-and-shoot corner three. 

Sixers head coach Nick Nurse had said pregame that he expected Melton to be “very limited.” He wound up playing a shade over seven minutes in the second quarter and about eight and a half minutes in the fourth. Melton missed a few open jumpers, but the Sixers will care much more about his health moving forward than his stats Tuesday night.

For the game, he tallied five points on 2-for-9 shooting, three assists, three rebounds and two steals.

“I think the main thing is he looked very good movement-wise,” Nurse said. “He was springy and quick and stuff like that. Obviously he didn’t shoot the ball well, but he took all really good shots. ... I thought he had a couple of nice steals. I thought he looked good.”

Sixers shrug off third-quarter rough patch

The Sixers’ level of play plummeted in the third quarter.

Embiid had several sloppy giveaways, including an outlet pass that he tossed out of bounds. Cameron Payne got whistled for a five-second violation on a sideline out-of-bounds play. 

Nicolas Batum threw a rare off-target entry pass. Embiid fell to the floor as he chased after it and appeared to be in pain, but he remained in the game after a Nurse timeout. 

“He went down pretty awkwardly there and it looked like it was pretty painful,” Nurse said. “But he went right to his normal spot during the timeout, so I knew he wasn’t coming out. So it was just a scary moment for him — and for everybody else, too — but he’s OK.”

Defensively, there was little to like for the Sixers early in the third quarter. They quickly piled up fouls and then allowed Ivey to drill a three as soon as they switched to zone. The Pistons beat the Sixers to nearly every loose ball and contested rebound during a 9-0 run that cut their deficit to 71-70.

The Sixers ultimately stabilized. Paul Reed played with Embiid for about a minute late in the third quarter and put back his seven-time All-Star teammate's miss. Dowtin chipped in a few momentum-shifting plays, including a steal that he turned into a tough and-one layup.

By the end of the third quarter, the Sixers' lead was up to 90-78. Two fourth-quarter triples from Hield extended their advantage to 23 points and ensured this win was much smoother than the double-OT affair in San Antonio.

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