PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With Allen Iverson watching from a suite, Joel Embiid produced yet another dominant game in a season where the 76ers’ All-Star has barely practiced.
Yes, Embiid is another Philly star who sits out practice.
Unlike Iverson, whose complaints about practice are part of his legend, the suddenly sturdy 76ers big man takes extra rest with the full support of coach Brett Brown.
Embiid had 25 points and 19 rebounds and Ben Simmons had a triple-double to lead Philadelphia to a 108-94 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.
Simmons had 11 points, 12 rebounds, 15 assists and no turnovers for the Sixers, who still have a chance to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference and earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The 76ers have one of the easiest schedules of any team the rest of the season. The Sixers would have to pass Washington and Indiana to grab the No. 4 seed and stave off a potential Toronto or Boston matchup for at least a round.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” Brown said. “Now, seemingly, we are pretty close to doing that. Now we all get greedy and say, ‘Let’s get a home court.’ And I’m the captain of that new club. And it can only happen if we guard. And that’s the message to our team.”
How’s this for D?
The Hornets missed 17 of 21 shots in the third (going 1-for-5 on 3s) to crush their chances of stretching a seven-point halftime lead.
“Nothing matters unless we play defense,” Brown said. “It’s how we set the tone in this program since the day I arrived.”
The 76ers have had countless dark days since Brown arrived in 2013.
The 19-, 18- and 10-win seasons that give birth to The Process have paid off this year, and the Sixers are set to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
They are the favorites in the majority of their games and have become the team that now has to worry about playing down to the level of their competition.
Embiid has led the charge, playing 58 of 69 games a year after playing 31 in his rookie season. He missed his first two seasons with injuries and the Sixers have been judicious with his practice time. Embiid said he works with the medical staff to decide his schedule.
“It’s the most unusual thing that I’ve ever experienced, that he’s that capable and that talented to impact a game and be selected as a starter on the All-Star team with effectively not practicing with his team,” Brown said. “We’re really trying to preserve his health.”
Philadelphia could never really shake Charlotte until late.
Embiid, who had nine turnovers, hit two straight 3s and JJ Redick hit one to give the Sixers a 58-56 lead in the third. Marco Belinelli hit consecutive 3s late in the third to make it 72-64. He hit one more 3 for a 10-point lead to help the Sixers beat their third straight sub.-500 team (New York, Brooklyn).
Embiid connected on one more 3 at the top of the arc to close the quarter.
Embiid made 4 of 6 3s — not bad for a 31 percent shooter from beyond the arc this season.
“It’s not like he’s knocking them down, but he had it tonight,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.
Dario Saric hit a 3 in the fourth for an 88-83 lead and Robert Covington, who scored 18 points, sealed it with Philadelphia’s 16th 3 of the game for a 12-point edge late in the fourth.
“Ben was moving the ball, everybody was moving,” Embiid said. “That was a great effort in the second half defensively and everybody did their job.”
Kemba Walker led the Hornets, coming off a 124-101 loss to the Knicks, with 24 points. Wily Hernangomez scored 17 points off the bench in just 12 minutes in the first half to help the Hornets lead 56-49 at the break.
Hornets: The Hornets made all 14 free throws in the first half. … Hernangomez scored 15 points in the second quarter. … Jeremy Lamb started in place of injured guard Nicolas Batum (Achilles).
76ers: The 76ers went just 3 for 4 from the free-throw line in the first half. … The loudest ovation of the night came when Hernangomez missed two straight free throws in the third to win every fan a free fast-food treat.
The Hornets made 24 of 30 free throws and the Sixers went just 6 of 8. Hornets center Dwight Howard, who scored 10 points and had five fouls, ripped the officiating nonetheless.
“I just thought it was crap the whole night,” he said. “I thought the referees did a good job of trying to keep players out of the game. … It’s not cool. I think that really got the momentum for the other team. Officiating hasn’t been that bad all year. I was pretty upset about that.
“I tried to fight through it. It just kept getting worse. I never complain, I never really say nothing about refs to anybody in the media. But tonight wasn’t cool.”
HE SAID IT
Simmons might need Embiid’s practice schedule this deep into the season.
“Physically I feel fine, but mentally it’s a little draining,” he said.
The 76ers held “Barbershop Night” on the promotional schedule and members of the organization <a target=”—blank” href=”https://twitter.com/jakereynolds24/status/975883241499570176″>had images of players or team logos</a> shaved in their heads.
Hornets: Play Wednesday at Brooklyn.
76ers: Host Memphis on Wednesday.
More NBA basketball: <a target=”—blank” href=”https://apnews.com/tags/NBAbasketball”>https://apnews.com/tags/NBAbasketball</a>