Embiid-less Sixers

What a difference two months makes in the National Basketball Association. This time in January, the Sixers were crowding the Celtics and Bucks at the top of the East. Joel Embiid was on a tear, having just put up a whopping 70 points against the Victor Wembanyama-led Spurs to cement his hold atop the league’s scoring list. Clearly, they benefited from addition by subtraction; in the absence of the disillusioned James Harden, they saw the rise of perfect complement Tyrese Maxey. To argue that things were looking up under new head coach Nick Nurse would be to underscore the obvious.

Fast forward to the present, and the Sixers are hard-pressed to avoid the play-in tournament. Embiid’s extraordinary offensive explosion proved to be the precursor for yet another extended stint in the sidelines. With a meniscus injury keeping their foundational piece off the floor, they found themselves swooning to eighth in conference standings. His loss was particularly rough at the onset, leading them to suffer setbacks in eight of nine contests. And though they subsequently managed to alter their sets on both ends of the court, mediocre is what can best describe their output since then.

Taken in this context, yesterday’s victory was nothing short of critical for the Sixers. True, there’s still a lot of hoops left to play; 14 games remain in their regular season schedule. On the other hand, there can be no discounting the significance of their win against the Heat; the latter have been exchanging places with them for seventh in recent memory, and getting a leg up may well spell the difference between a one-and-done appearance and an extended trek to the hardware.

The triumph at home was brutal. The Sixers shot only 43.5% overall and failed to crack the century mark. Still, the final outcome is what matters, and the 19,782 fans at the Wells Fargo Center rightly went home smiling. Hopefully, it will help build momentum as they go through a brutal phase, with seven of their next eight opponents sporting positive win-loss slates. After that, it’s another encounter with the Heat — and another chance to get ahead. How well they fare in the interim is up to them.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.