Ben Simmons leads undermanned Sixers to 119-102 rout of Hornets

76ers Hornets Basketball
76ers guard Ben Simmons passes around a double team by Charlotte Hornets forwards Marvin Williams (2) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Even undermanned, the 76ers keep on rolling thanks to Ben Simmons.

The point guard came two rebounds shy of another triple-double in Sunday afternoon’s 119-102 victory over the Charlotte Hornets as his team won its 10th straight game. This matches the Sixers’ longest winning streak since they won the first 10 games of the 2000-01 season.

The win at the Spectrum Center improved them to 46-30, marking the first time they’ve been plus 16 in regards to wins since April 10, 2003.

“By and large, the spirit of the group has been excellent,” coach Brett Brown said. “We are playing good basketball, and I am sure because all of that, it is all interconnected. Our 10 wins have those types of qualities.”

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The Sixers’ latest win came without two of their best players. All-star center Joel Embiid missed his second consecutive game after fracturing the orbital bone near his left eye  and suffering a concussion Wednesday against the New York Knicks. He had surgery Saturday and is expected to be sidelined two to four weeks. Meanwhile, Dario Saric sat out Sunday’s game with a swollen bursa sac in his right elbow. He banged it up several games ago.

In their absence, Simmons just missed out on his second straight triple-double and 12th of the season.  The rookie of the year front-runner had 20 points on 10-for-17 shooting. He collected a season-high tying 15 assists, eight rebounds, three steals, two blocks and one turnover in 31 minutes, 52 seconds.  Simmons, who now has 35 double-doubles, left the game with 3:22 left and the victory in hand.

“Ben was all over the place, his presence, his disposition, and lately his voice I think reeks of leadership,” Brown said. ” I think all of those are positive trends.”

On several occasions, the quiet 21-year-old yelled instructions to teammates.  At one point in the fourth quarter, he motioned to Robert Covington to settle down. The small forward had just fired up and missed an ill-advised three-pointer early in a possession.

Simmons showed all of the attributes the Sixers will need to remain successful while Embiid is unable to play.

Brown will tell you that the Australian’s growth has been expedited because of the injuries.  One could also add that the game has considerably slowed down for him since the start of the season.

“It’s getting a lot easier,” said Simmons, who averages 8.1 assists per game. “Just reading the plays knowing how guys want to play with me, how they cut, and where they get their shots from. It’s just easy for me to pass the ball and to get them open shots.”

He said things came easier once he got more comfortable.

Marco Belinelli was on the receiving end of several of Simmons’ passes. The reserve swingman had a solid performance with a game-high 22 points on 9 of 10 shooting.

His points were the most in a game by a Sixer reserve this season.  It also marked the fifth time during his 11th-year career that the 32-year-old scored 20 or more points on 10 or fewer field-goal attempts.

“I love playing with these guys,” said Belinelli, whom the Sixers picked up in free agency for the rest of the season in February.

He credits Amir Johnson, Ersan Ilyasova and the other post players for setting “great screens” for him, JJ Redick and Covington.

Redick added 20 points, while making 5 of 8 of three-pointers. Covington managed to produce a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds and season-high seven steals) on a day when he made just 7 of 21 shots. The small foward went 1 for 9 on three-pointers.

Ersan Ilyasova, who started in place of Saric, had 16 points.

Saric’s elbow bothered him in Friday’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.

“And to his credit, he played through it, it’s just when you really judge it in the light of the day and the next day, there’s some warmth there,” Brown said. “We’re just trying to get on top of this.”

Saric is expected to be available Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets at the Wells Fargo Center.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 16 points, five rebounds and two steals for the Hornets (34-44).

The Sixers reached a couple of milestones during this victory.

They had 36 assists on 48 made baskets, marking their ninth consecutive game with at least 30 assists.  They joined the Hornets (13 games in 1989), the Boston Celtics (10 in 1972) and Golden State Warriors (10 in 2016) as the only teams in NBA history to accomplish that feat in at least nine games. The Sixers posted a team record eight straight victories by at least 10 points.

They flew back home Sunday evening, and will have Monday off to rest. Then they’ll look to keep their successful run intact Tuesday.

“I think the way we play, we’re not a selfish team,” Simmons said of what’s working well right now. “We pass the ball. So missing guys that play a big role just leads for other guys stepping up. So everyone is really playing well.”