WASHINGTON — Tyrese Maxey sets high standards for himself and his teammates.
He knew Joel Embiid could have done more Wednesday night.
“He should’ve had 60,” Maxey said with a grin.
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Embiid posted a mere 50 points on 19-for-28 shooting against the Wizards, reaching that milestone for the sixth time in his career and leading the Sixers to a 131-126 win at Capital One Arena.
According to Embiid, he was indeed not at his best. Wednesday’s game was the All-Star big man's first since the Sixers’ blowout Nov. 27 win over the Lakers. He’d missed the past two contests with an illness.
“Man, my chest was hurting,” Embiid said. “I was pretty much struggling. But I’m much better than I was; it was pretty bad.
“I would imagine the last two games (out) were really helpful because in the first practice, I could not go up and down more than twice. And then yesterday, it was much better. (Tonight) in the second half I started feeling much better. So I would imagine that tomorrow, I’ll get on the floor again and push myself. And then Friday, I would imagine that I’ll feel good.”
However he felt, Embiid looked awfully dangerous from the jump in his return.
Over the first 3:30, he made four layups. Just about everything seemed promising against the Wizards' cellar-dwelling defense and center Daniel Gafford, who’s 50 pounds or so lighter than Embiid.
To begin the game, the Sixers had De’Anthony Melton make an Iverson cut to the right wing. Nicolas Batum then threw one of the many passes in his wheelhouse, a well-timed dish to a sealing Embiid.
Gafford did strip the ball once from Embiid inside, but the Sixers’ superstar scored eight seconds later. Melton screened for Embiid at the left block on the ensuing baseline out-of-bounds play, and the Wizards’ defense was far from textbook.
Embiid also got one early hoop on a post-up vs. Gafford and scored another by taking a handoff from Maxey and rumbling downhill to the rim.
In his first year under Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, the extent to which Embiid has showcased his many scoring dimensions is rather preposterous. He’s posting a career-best 8.0 points per game on drives with excellent efficiency. And the two-time scoring champion ranks:
• Sixth in isolation points per game
• Third in roll man PPG
• Tied for second in put-back PPG
• Second in post-up PPG
Embiid is again the NBA's top scorer overall and the Sixers sit No. 2 in offensive rating.
“That’s our safety valve — offensively, defensively,” Maxey said. “That’s why he’s the MVP, to be honest with you. He covers up for a lot of our mistakes defensively. And then offensively, sometimes he can bail us out late in the clock and make some shots.
“He was good tonight. He was aggressive from the jump. I’m glad he was; he had about 17 days off. Nah, he was great, man. He’s really good at basketball.”
That remained the case when the Sixers needed to keep producing down the stretch on a subpar defensive night.
Over the final 4:33, Embiid scored 11 points and went 4 for 4 on mid-range jumpers.
“JoJo kind of put us all on his back,” Kelly Oubre Jr. said, “allowed us to settle in and let us know that he’s got us whenever we have our little slumps.”