Sixers vs. Hornets: Joel Embiid dumps 53 points, Sixers pass Charlotte

Joel Embiid added a 50-point fourth game to his resume on Sunday night.

He dominated soundly and almost casually in the Sixers’ 131-113 win over the Hornets at the Wells Fargo Center, posting 53 of 20 points on 32 shooting and 12 rebounds.

James Harden had 19 points, 16 assists and nine rebounds.

Kelly Oubre Jr. and Terry Rozier each scored 29 points for Charlotte.

Tyrese Maxey (fractured left foot) and Danuel House Jr. (lacerated left foot) remained out for the Sixers. House has been listed as questionable heading into the last two games and took jumpers after the Sixers’ shootout on Sunday morning, so he looks likely to return soon.

Five Hornets were injured, including LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward.

The 14-12 Sixers will face the Kings on Tuesday night. Here are the observations on their victory on Sunday:

Pace, insufficient ball movement at start

Both teams have been slow to find any attacking success. They started a combined 0 for 7 from the floor.

The Sixers seemed to have some momentum when Embiid converted a layup from a flat De’Anthony Melton and Harden hit a back three. However, the team was sorely lacking in the pace that head coach Doc Rivers said he wanted to see improve ahead of the game and didn’t trouble Charlotte’s defense much. The Sixers starters went 4 for 17 from the field in their first stint. When Tobias Harris tried to push the ball off a defensive rebound, Jalen McDaniels slid in from behind, stole a steal and went on for a layup that gave the Hornets a 13-7 advantage.

Rivers switched to an all-composed roster late in the first quarter and early results from that unit weren’t pretty either. Georges Niang, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle chained the turnovers one after the other. Niang uncharacteristically denied an open three-pointer and waited too long to attempt a pass to PJ Tucker on the inside. Thybulle also struggled early on with Rozier, struggling to cut the angles the veteran guard wanted or make productive bets.

Nonetheless, the Sixers’ second unit outplayed the first to start the game. Shake Milton and Montrezl Harrell both hit the paint regularly and looked solid as a pick-and-roll duo. The Sixers played an effective streak of zone defense and tied the game at 21 early in the second quarter on an 8-0 run. Not an inspiring start from a distance, but the Sixers’ bench at least added some juice and kept the team from falling into a deep hole.

Embiid takes control

Embiid flipped a switch in the second quarter and the Hornets’ efforts to stop his push were in vain.

Mason Plumlee was seriously outgunned against Embiid, as are most defenders. To his credit, Embiid also made sure the Sixers didn’t get mired in slow-developing half-court possessions. After catching a defensive plank, he decided to lead a quick break. Harris helped him by filling the lane well, accepting Embiid’s pass and throwing a dunk.

Amid Embiid’s dominance, there have been several notable instances of Sixers players not being on the same page. After an Embiid layup and one at the end of the second quarter, he immediately shared a few words with Harden, who had just returned the ball. He then spoke with Tucker, who apparently didn’t cut Embiid’s post-up like the big man had intended. Those kinds of brief discussions are preferable to ignoring all of the game’s issues, although the Sixers are, in general, a team that has made too many mistakes this season. They hope that better health and stability with rotation will soon help reduce the need to troubleshoot miscommunications, awkward spacing and frustrating rollovers. Of course, Rivers also plays an important role in identifying the biggest mistakes and how the Sixers should fix them.

Sunday’s game reinforced that Embiid can frequently render many of these broader concerns irrelevant. He stormed down the lane for a big dunk by contact and made a big dunk by contact, then sank his free throw to put the Sixers up 59-49. The game after recording a 20-point period in the first quarter against the Lakers, Embiid did it in the second Sunday night.

No worries in the fourth quarter thanks to No. 21

Melton also replicated some of his magic from Friday’s overtime win over the Lakers.

Again, all the help from the Harden and Embiid defense led to plenty of open shots for Melton. Although he didn’t break a bunch of career highs, he did make four three-pointers in the third quarter and the Sixers extended their lead to 19 points.

A real blowout wasn’t in the cards because the Hornets continued to rack up points — 33 apiece in the second and third quarters. Rozier and Oubre were Charlotte’s two main offensive threats and the Sixers couldn’t completely neutralize either, although the blitz did bother Rozier at times. Defensive rebounding was also an issue; the Hornets finished the game with 15 offensive boards. Kai Jones scored two and a lay-up on Niang, who came on as a substitute after 13 minutes with five fouls.

Charlotte cut the Sixers advantage to 110-102 on a three from Rozier. Whenever the Sixers looked for an answer, sending the ball to Embiid almost always led to a satisfying answer. Even in light of the Sixers’ recent late-game frailty, a Hornets comeback seemed impossible as long as Embiid continued to receive hits.

Between 7:25 a.m. and 4:03 a.m. of the fourth quarter, Embiid scored 12 points and didn’t miss a shot. He was automatic in the midrange, hit a hook over PJ Washington and made it all very easy. His state-of-the-art equipment is a terror to Sixers opponents.

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