The Sixers steamed to their seventh straight win on Friday night.
The team blew past the Hornets for a 121-82 win at Spectrum Center and improved to 47-22 this season. The Sixers’ 39-point victory margin was their highest of the year.
Charlotte dropped her fifth consecutive game, falling to 22-50.
Prior to the Celtics’ game in Portland on Friday, the Sixers trailed Boston for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference by half a game.
Joel Embiid continued to play special basketball with a performance of 38 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in 29 minutes.
James Harden posted a triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Tobias Harris added 18 points.
Jalen McDaniels missed his second game in a row with a right hip contusion. LaMelo Ball, Cody Martin, Mark Williams and Theo Maledon were sidelined with injuries for Charlotte.
The Sixers will conclude their three-game road trip Saturday with a game against the Pacers. Here are observations from their eighth wins in nine attempts in March:
Harris joins in on the fun
The Sixers’ first play was sweet and familiar: hardened to Embiid for an easy layup.
However, their turnover issues from Wednesday’s win against the Cavs carried over into the early stages. Embiid picked one up while trying to push the ball into Harris from a flex cut. It made sense for the Sixers to want to attack Harris early; over his past six games, he had averaged just 8.2 points and shot 28.6 percent from the floor. Harris made his first two shots, knocking down a wing three and Kelly Oubre Jr. reversed for a bucket, but his opening stint only lasted just over four minutes. Harris was called for his second foul on an Oubre jumper and Georges Niang filled in.
Harris got back into the game in the second quarter. The Hornets managed to stay close for a while, thanks in part to a lackluster defense from the Sixers. Harris was knocked off the butt by PJ Washington for a layup. Rookie guard Bryce McGowens drove past Shake Milton before converting an and-one hoop.
However, everything clicked into place when Embiid re-entered. Milton made a put-back layup on a block from Embiid, who passed Darryl Dawkins on Friday for sixth in blocks in Sixers history. After a steal by Harris, Harden gifted a slick pass between the legs to Embiid for a dunk. Harris has often emphasized that he thrives when the team’s offense is fluid and the Sixers’ rhythm is sharp. Sure, he scored five points late in the second quarter and finished the first half with 13 on 5-for-7 shooting. That was more than he had posted in any of the previous six games.
Harris had a laugh with PJ Tucker early in the third quarter after he tried to dunk Nick Richards. While Harris didn’t quite pull it off, he committed a foul. Less than 30 seconds later, he successfully knocked one down on a Sixers fast break.
Merciless, highly efficient Embiid
Facing a team he had scored 53 points against in December, Embiid didn’t completely overwhelm the Hornets right away. Third year center Richards recovered well to keep him in after initially biting a fake pump.
However, Embiid inevitably found his game. During a 12-0 Sixers run in the first quarter, he slammed one-and-one short before hitting a layup with eyes closed and one-one that he flipped over his shoulder.
Midway through the second quarter, the 29-year-old appeared to be at his peak and Harden-Embiid’s pick-and-roll was rampant. Harden scored six assists in the second quarter, passing Bob Cousy for 20th on the NBA’s all-time assists list. The 33-year-old had a bad night (4 for 15 from the floor, 0 for 6 from three-point range), but he still managed his 74th career triple-double.
Meanwhile, Embiid scored all six of his field goals in the second quarter. Remaining relentless after the break, he continued to play hard defensively en route to a third consecutive four-block performance while looking unstoppable offensively. After starting 1 for 4 from the floor, Embiid sank 15 of his next 17 field goals. Despite not playing a fourth quarter with Sixers wins secure in three of the past five games, Embiid has scored more than 30 points in each of his last eight appearances.
Save their legs
Backup big man Kai Jones was a bright spot for the Hornets. He made some jump hooks against Embiid in the third quarter and it looked like the Sixers might have to wait longer than desired to get their starters out.
Any slight concern on that front soon dissipated. Embiid picked up a jumper from the top of the key, got fouled by Jones and happily watched the shot bounce high off the back rim before falling through the hoop. He fell out with 1:36 left in the third.
Paul Reed (eight points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) and Dewayne Dedmon shared fourth quarter waste time. Danuel House Jr., Furkan Korkmaz and Charlotte native Jaden Springer also had extended runs in the fourth. Montrezl Harrell was the only active Sixers not to play.
Clearly, the stress-free finish was ideal for the Sixers on the first night of a back-to-back. Their last visit to Indiana was a fast-paced, offensive game, so keeping a little extra energy wouldn’t hurt Saturday night.