Game Preview: During Encouraging Stretch, Embiid Sets Ambitious Tone

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Sizing Up the Sixers (10-25):
The 76ers are in the midst of a solid stretch, winning three of their last four games.

But, does a modestly successful spurt such as this a season make?

No, not in the least. There is plenty of basketball left to be played.

It does, however, represent a noteworthy turn of fortunes in the context of the Sixers, given where the team has been, and where it ultimately hopes, in the long-term, to go.

Thus, part of the logic behind Joel Embiid’s comments about the post-season that came in the aftermath of Sunday’s 105-95 victory in Brooklyn.

Brett Brown applauded the big man’s attitude.

“I love the mentality of it,” Brown said Tuesday, following the Sixers’ practice in Camden, New Jersey. “He’s got a big personality, that’s Joel Embiid. When I put my own coaching hat on it, I view it more as just a reminder that [players] think like that.”

Since he started becoming more and more integrated into the team on a full-time basis this past fall, Embiid has spoken frequently about his desires to change the atmosphere within and external perception of the Sixers.

The last three years have certainly seen a fair share of adversity hit the franchise, whether in the form of game results or injuries.

“I think we’re starting to build a winning culture, we’re starting to win games,” Embiid said Tuesday, standing by his playoff remarks from the weekend. “I have that mindset, and I’m sure my teammates have that mindset, too. I think there’s a chance. We just need to keep playing like we’ve been playing, play together, and win games and see what happens.”

For the sake of this article, we’ll go along with this notion for a bit, even with 45 games - more than half the schedule - remaining in the regular season.

As of Wednesday morning, the Sixers sat eight games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Veteran teams like the Bulls, Pistons, and Knicks were all ahead of the Sixers (as were the Magic, too), while the Heat and Nets sat behind Embiid and his teammates.

The rookie realizes that, to some outsiders, the Sixers entertaining the idea of the post-season might seem far-fetched, given their collective youth and inexperience. His belief is still strong.

“It’s kind of surprising, because the past three or four years, we’ve been at the bottom of the Eastern Conference,” said Embiid. “I think it’s a realistic goal, and I think we can achieve it.”

Over the course of his tenure with the Sixers, Brown, a former Spurs assistant who was part of four championship seasons, will tell anyone of his young players willing to listen that in the playoffs, the NBA becomes a “different sport.”

“It’s not even close,” said Brown, “and that requires a hardened mind, and a hardened way to see the world.”

You get the sense, though, that Brown thinks Embiid will (in the long run) be up to the task, not only in terms of ability and skill, but in the way his “confidence and swagger” tends to rub off on the rest of the roster.

“I give him credit,” Brown said. “We want people backing themselves. We want an inner belief. I feel like it’s born out of them truly believing that we put in the time to deserve being rewarded. It’s not like you just make stuff up, and just throw out words for the sake of using words. These guys work. I respect their energy, I respect their work. We feel like we put in good days, so I think some of that is a reflection of the confidence they feel we’re heading in the right direction.”

Returning to the here and now, chatter and speculation about any type of playoff possibilities are just that, and probably premature. The immediate task at hand for the Sixers Wednesday evening at The Center will be to earn a second straight win, and keep their momentum rolling into a new week.

In addition to having posted victories three times in their last four opportunities, the Sixers have also carried leads into the fourth quarters of seven consecutive outings. Brown’s group has gone 6-7 since its 4-18 start, needing just 35 games to match its 10-win total from all of last season.

“If we have put in work into any area, we have put in a lot of work on trying to hold this thing together,” said Brown. “It’s relationships, it’s communication, it’s off-court activities, it’s them - I hope - genuinely believing that we want to make them better, that we care about them. As a team, as a family, you go through rocky periods. But to date, we haven’t had many what people would call NBA instances over three and a half, four years of not a lot of winning. I credit the guys first, because they are good people. I credit my staff a really close second, where I think that we are pushing the right buttons. The human side matters to us. For that reason, you can navigate some hits and situations like this and hold it together.”

And, as Embiid has done as of late, even allow the mind drift and wander a little bit more towards ambitious goals.

Sizing Up the Knicks (17-21):
New York has not been in a good place as of late, dropping eight of its last nine games. The latest defeat in this slump, a 110-96 setback to New Orleans Monday at Madison Square Garden, was highlighted by Derrick Rose’s sudden disappearance. According to reports, he went home to Chicago to tend to a family matter. Nonetheless, the Knicks fined him.

Rose, a three-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year and MVP, is expected to be with New York Wednesday. He was acquired by the Knicks in a trade with Chicago this past June.

Series History:
Meeting their Atlantic Division rival for the first time this year, the Sixers will aim to avenge getting swept by New York in the teams’ four-game series a season ago.

Nerlens Noel averaged 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in four match-ups versus the Knicks last year.

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