NEW YORK – Right now, the 76ers are road bullies.
For the most part, they have a tough time on the road against teams battling them for Eastern Conference playoff seedings. However, the Sixers have taken advantage of the conference’s struggling teams in their own buildings.
Sunday night was the perfect example.
They took the Brooklyn Nets to the woodshed, winning 120-97 at the Barclays Center.
The victory pulled the sixth-place Sixers (36-29) within one game of the fifth-place Washington Wizards with 17 games remaining.
It was just their fourth win in their last 12 games away from the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers’ other win during the stretch came at struggling Charlotte (March 6), at undermanned Cleveland (March 1) and at lowly Chicago (Feb. 22).
In the Nets (21-46), they beat the team with the conference’s third-worst record. Brooklyn has lost 13 of its last 15 games since upsetting the Sixers here on Jan. 31. Back then, the Sixers had a knack for playing down to their competition.
But on this night, the Sixers were not overlooking the Nets.
“We were just more focused — stuck to our game plan the whole time and tried to make them take tough twos,” Ben Simmons said.
The Nets came into the game averaging 35.1 three-point attempts per game. The Sixers held them to 28.
Meanwhile, the Sixers shot 52.6 percent from the field and committed just 10 turnovers in a game where all five starters and reserves Marco Belinelli, T.J. McConnell, and Ersan Ilyasova all scored in double figures.
“Everything is easier and it’s hard to guard us when everybody can score and everybody can pass,” Dario Saric said. “It’s hard for Brooklyn to guard, because they don’t know who to attack, because there are unbelievable players from our team.”
Joel Embiid is recognized as the best Sixer. Dominant in the post, the center showed why he’s an all-star.
The 23-year-old paced the Sixers with 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting. He also had eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and a block in just 26 minutes, 28 seconds of action. This was his best game of the four-game road trip.
“I thought I had more energy tonight,” Embiid said. “I played harder than I’ve been playing for the past three or four games. I felt better today.”
The 7-foot-2, 280-pounder spent more time on the low post than in recent games. He and the Sixers benefited from that, as the Nets were no match for his low-post presence.
“Tonight I wanted to be down low, get deep post-ups and just be a beast down there,” Embiid said. “I thought I did a better job, but I’m still not at the level I should be at.”
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) March 12, 2018
Robert Covington erased memories of finishing with three points on 0-for-10 shooting in Thursday’s loss at the Miami Heat. On Sunday, the small forward had 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting — including making 3 of 7 three-pointers. Saric added 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting. JJ Redick had 12 points, while Simmons added 11 points, six assists, and six rebounds.
Belinelli had 13 points, Ilyasova finished with 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds and McConnell had 10 points and six assists.
Brooklyn shooting guard D’Angelo Russell had a game-high 26 points.
Perhaps, the Sixers might consider canceling all of their remaining shootarounds.
That’s because Embiid didn’t look sluggish for the first time in four games.
He made three of his first four shots en route to scoring seven of the Sixers’ first 13 points. He also blocked a shot and grabbed two rebounds before Richaun Holmes subbed him out with 5 minutes, 34 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“I wanted to come out and be aggressive,” Embiid said. “The past three or four games, I was kind of hesitant in the offense. I felt like I wasn’t getting the ball in the offense, and I felt like I wasn’t getting the ball as much.
“So today that was one of the main things.”
Followng his lead, the Sixers went on to take a commanding 37-25 advantage after one quarter. They shot 80 percent (16 of 20) in the quarter to set a record for shooting percentage in a quarter. Their former record was 77.8 percent in the second quarter against the Hornets on Tuesday.
They extended their cushion to 19 points (54-35) on Covington’s three-pointer with 7:46 left in the second quarter. But as they always do, the Sixers let their opponent back into the game. The Nets pulled within six points (74-68) on Russell’s pull-up jumper with 8:19 left in the third quarter.
The Sixers regrouped and built a 15-point cushion on two occasions late in the quarter. The second time came on Embiid’s dunk to make it a 96-81 game at the 1:44 mark.
Ilyasova’s jumper with 4:49 left pushed the Sixers’ lead up to 27 points (113-86).