The Philadelphia 76ers built some momentum heading into the playoffs by soundly defeating the Houston Rockets on Friday night, 134-96. Philadelphia had eight players finish in double figures, led by Tobias Harris' 18 points.
Friday's game against Houston was not exactly a playoff atmosphere, but it was still important for the 76ers to take advantage and use it as a final tune-up for the playoffs. The games will mean something again starting on Monday when the 76ers open up their first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics at 6:30 p.m.
Here are a few takeaways from the blowout victory:
1. Joel Embiid takes advantage of smaller Houston lineup in tune-up for playoffs
Joel Embiid, who was questionable heading into the game with a hand injury, started against the Rockets in the 76ers' final tune-up game before the playoffs. The game plan centered around feeding the ball to Embiid in the post, where he repeatedly took advantage of Houston's small-ball lineup. The big man feasted on mismatches throughout the night, finishing with 14 points and six rebounds in just over 20 minutes of action on the court.
After playing only a combined 20 minutes over the Sixers' previous two games due to a pair of minor injuries, it was important to get Embiid some quality playing time against Houston. The big man took advantage of the opportunity to be on the court as he, despite battling through a nagging hand injury he suffered on Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors, attacked mismatches and played aggressively on both ends of the floor.
Should there be any concern regarding the hand injury that nagged Embiid throughout the game against Houston? Head coach Brett Brown does not think so.
“Not concern the way that you would think that I would say, ‘Yes, there is concern.’” Brown said. “I don’t have concern it’s going to restrict him from playing against the Boston Celtics. I don’t have concern that it’s going to minimize his effectiveness.”
Outside of Embiid staying healthy, the main takeaway from Embiid's night against Houston was that he got both into a rhythm and tuned up for the playoffs.
2. 76ers went fishing inside the Orlando bubble and found their outside shot
The 76ers, throughout the regular season, were never among the NBA's best outside shooting teams. With the paint being clogged due to having Embiid, Ben Simmons and Al Horford all on the court at the same time, not having a plethora of good 3-point shooters was one of Philadelphia's key weaknesses.
However, the Sixers seem to have discovered their stroke from beyond the arc while in the NBA's Orlando bubble. Philadelphia on Friday shot the lights out from 3-point range, connecting on 18 of their 38 attempts from beyond the arc. Alec Burks led the team from beyond the arc, shooting 4 of 6 from 3-point range in just 22 minutes off the bench. The 76ers' hot outside shooting is not just a one-game occurrence. Over the last four games, Philadelphia has shot 45.4% from 3-point range on an average of 35.3 attempts per game.
The 76ers founding of a consistent 3-point shot is an important development, especially heading into the playoffs. Philadelphia has the unique ability to play a bully-ball style of offense, utilizing Embiid and Horford out of the post while also having Tobias Harris be able to take advantage of the occasional mismatch at small forward. However, how many times has Embiid struggled to back his man down because the defense will run over a quick double team? Having knockdown shooters might make teams less willing to double Embiid and therefore leave someone open along the 3-point line.
3. Furkan Korkmaz provides instant spark off the bench
Furkan Korkmaz, coming off the bench, has been one of the team's best 3-point shooters in the bubble. Outside of the Sixers' opening seeding game against the Indiana Pacers, Korkmaz has shot 17-of-35 (48.6%) from beyond the arc. Korkmaz has the ability to come off the bench and provide an immediate scoring impact, such as when he scored 10 points in the first quarter against Houston. He finished the game with 12 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.
In addition to his outside shooting, Korkmaz has put a lot of work into improving his ability to drive to the basket. He used to be a one-dimensional player on offense, where if he failed to hit his outside shots he did not provide much. However, he has effectively added another aspect to his offensive repertoire in the form of being able to get to the basket. This, in turn, allows him to get to the foul line at a higher pace (30 free-throw attempts in eight games inside the bubble). The Turkish native has effectively earned his way into becoming one of the first players off the bench.