Sixers having fun finding solutions during season-best winning streak

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Sixers having fun finding solutions during season-best streak originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers have enjoyed finding solutions on the fly over the past week.

To wrap a game-turning 12-0 run Friday night in the team’s victory against the shorthanded Warriors, De’Anthony Melton and Joel Embiid swapped traditional roles.

The play began with an inverted pick-and-roll as the 6-foot-2 Melton screened for the 7-foot Embiid behind the arc, drawing the desired switch. Melton then flashed to the high post and executed a smooth give-and-go with Embiid, who laid the ball in.

With Tobias Harris scratched late because of back pain, Furkan Korkmaz out with a non-COVID illness and Tyrese Maxey still sidelined following a left foot fracture, the Sixers were again grateful to have the exceptionally intuitive Melton. He posted 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the Sixers’ season-high fourth consecutive win.

“He’s just freaky,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “He really is. Long arms. We put him at the elbow a couple of times tonight. Just every time you lose another scorer like Tobias — and a guy who’s your third ball handler at times — it really hurts your offense. So we did some things with De’Anthony. The couple of ones on the high split action, we really hadn’t done that much with him. And he was pretty good at it.”

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Life alongside Embiid has also been good for James Harden lately.

After a rough return in Houston from a right foot tendon strain that kept him out for 14 games, Harden has averaged 23.8 points and 13.0 assists while making 14 of his 31 three-point attempts. Harden and Embiid together on the court has again looked like a near-guarantee for the Sixers outscoring their opponents by substantial margins.

“I don’t know the amount of games we’ve played together, but it’s not a lot,” Harden said. “Every single game, we’re figuring each other out. Me getting the ball or him getting the ball; our pick-and-roll; how teams are guarding it. It’s like a game-by-game scenario. We just keep building on that.

“It’s actually fun, going game by game. Like tonight, they did a little bit more switching, which we haven’t seen. … Just game-by-game scenarios so that at the end of the season, we’ve got a package of things that we’ve seen and (we know) this is how we attack different defenses.”

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Friday’s win improved the Sixers to 20-12 overall in the regular season — 6-5 this year — when Harden and Embiid both play. The team this season has a plus-10.3 net rating and 119.3 offensive rating (90th percentile) in Embiid-Harden minutes, per Cleaning the Glass. 

The Sixers’ 4-0 week wasn’t only about that duo blending its immense offensive talents. The Sixers ranked third in offensive rating outside of garbage time, fifth in defensive rating. During his postgame media session, Embiid went through just about every player who’s received minutes — “Can’t forget about De’Anthony; he’s amazing,” he said at one point — and indicated the Sixers have found greater clarity with their roles and approach.

“I think the main thing is that everybody has bought in,” Embiid said. “I think everybody just knows how to play. Everybody knows where the ball’s got to go. The ball’s not sticking. Everybody’s doing their job offensively and defensively, and that’s great to see.”

Rivers and Harden also highlighted the Sixers making meaningful progress beyond typical regular-season wins.

“It’s a long season, so things aren’t going to be perfect,” Harden said. “But when it’s time to get ready for things, we would love to be healthy and love to have an identity. And we’d love to go into the postseason with confidence and knowing what we want to accomplish. These games right here are really good for us.”

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Though Melton’s elite instincts and array of tools uncommon for a guard help plenty, the Sixers sealed Friday’s game in conventional fashion and by playing with the purposeful pace Rivers has emphasized.

With the Sixers up 11 points and a little under three minutes left, Harden grabbed a defensive rebound and threw the ball about 50 feet ahead to Melton as Embiid sprinted down the middle of the floor. The big man’s end-to-end effort got him an alley-oop slam.

“Time,” Harden said when asked about the keys to the Sixers’ streak. “And just the communication we’ve been having, whether it’s with Doc or Joel or just everybody. ‘This is how we’re playing, this is what we want to do.’

“And even for myself, pushing the pace, getting the ball past half court fast and then having a couple more seconds to decide what we’re doing. But I think our communication has been on point, me and Joel especially, that pick-roll. … It’s growing.”

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