The 76ers just might be in the midst of something special.
We’ll have a better idea of just how special it is after they face their next two opponents — the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers. But there’s no denying that what they’ve been doing this past month has been exceptional.
Tuesday’s 121-95 victory over the Brooklyn Nets at the Wells Fargo Center marked the Sixers’ 11th consecutive victory. It’s their longest winning streak since taking 12 straight from Jan. 13 to Feb. 5, 1990. The Sixers (47-30) are plus-17 in the win column for the first time since the end of the 2000-01 regular season. And they’ve won 14 of 17 games dating back to March 1.
“It’s as good of basketball that we played all season,” JJ Redick said of this stretch. “I think the consistency has been big. Even the games that we lost, we’ve been in them. We had a chance to win them.
“I think that there’s a level of professionalism that we now have as a team that we didn’t have in November, December and even January.”
One game that popped to Redick’s mind was a 105-101 loss on Jan. 22 to the Grizzlies in Memphis when he was sidelined with a knee injury. They had held a 15-point lead in the third. Back then, the Sixers consistently lost games in which they held large leads.
‘We’re learning how to put teams away consistently,” Redick said. “Obviously, we won some games early in the season. But we’ve been very consistent with that in terms of holding leads and playing really good basketball on both ends of the floor.”
The Sixers have won nine straight games by 10 or more points, becoming the first NBA team to do so since the San Antonio Spurs during the 2014-15 season.
On this night, they were again without two of their best players — Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, both of whom are injured. But they weren’t needed.
That’s because Ben Simmons, again, helped to take up the slack.
The point guard was four assists shy of his 12 triple-double of the season.
The rookie of the year front-runner had 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting. He collected 12 rebounds, six assists, one steal, and four turnovers in 25 minutes, 14 seconds. Simmons, who now has 36 double-doubles, left the game with 4:25 left in the third quarter and didn’t return.
Meanwhile, Redick also sat out the fourth quarter. Redick still managed to score a game-high 19 points in 23:20. Ersan Ilyasova, who’s starting in place of Saric, had 11 points and 13 rebounds in 28:13.
Robert Covington (12 points, six rebounds, four steals, three blocks) and reserves Marco Belinelli (17 points), Richaun Holmes (11), T.J. McConnell (10) and Markelle Fultz (10, one block) also scored in double figures.
Fultz and Simmons were paired together in the backcourt from the 7:52 mark of the third quarter until Simmons was subbed out by Ilyasova with 4:25 left in the quarter. It marked the first time in Fultz’s five games back that the duo were on the court together.
He scored four points on two baskets and had an assist to Richaun Holmes during that stretch. Meanwhile, Simmons split his pair of foul shots when Fultz checked in. He also assisted on a driving floater by Belinelli.
“It was fun,” Simmons said of the pairing. “Just give him the ball and let him do his thing. Make it easier for me.”
Brett Brown liked the pace and how the ball moved during the two point guards’ pairing.
“It’s that simple to me, you play with a pace offensively and the ball moves,” Brown said. “Defensively, I think Markelle is proving me wrong. He is better defensively that I initially expected him to be.”
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) April 4, 2018
The upcoming games against the Pistons (37-40) and Cleveland (48-30) should provide stiffer competition for a squad battling injuries. Detroit, which was off Tuesday, is on a five-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the third-place Cavs are a half-game ahead of the fourth-place Sixers. They won their fourth straight game with a 112-106 decision over the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.
The Sixers face the Pistons in Detroit on Wednesday before hosting the Cavaliers on Friday.
That’s why Redick delivered a message to his teammates while they were up 72-50 with 8:36 left in the third quarter.
“I basically said, ‘Let’s not let this lead get under 22,’ ” he said.
The Nets pulled within 20 points seven times. However, the Sixers went on to extend their lead to 30 points late in the game.
“The basic message was let’s get some rest for the guys who are playing big minutes,” Redick said.” Know that Detroit is waiting for us and we’ve got another back-to-back.”
Embiid, an all-star center, missed his third consecutive game after fracturing the orbital bone near his left eye and suffering a concussion last Wednesday against the New York Knicks. He had surgery Saturday and is expected to be sidelined two to four weeks.
Saric is expected to return Friday night against the Cavaliers. The Sixers power forward has been sidelined since Sunday with cellulitis, a bacterial infection, in his right elbow. He missed Sunday’s game against the Hornets at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C. He did not play Tuesday vs. the Nets (25-53) and will miss Wednesday’s game.