Bad luck

Bad luck

It wasn’t a pretty match by any means. The protagonists made only 71 out of a combined 170 shots. And, in an era of pace and space where the 120-point threshold is routinely met, a 97-89 final score is indicative of uglyball on display. Even as the Sixers were projected to engage in a cakewalk, they found themselves doing battle until the final minutes of the set-to. Standing between them and victory were the 9-30 Hornets, handicapped by the absence of leading scorer and playmaker LaMelo Ball and yet determined to keep pace against preseason favorites.

All the same, the Sixers gladly took the win. Coming on the second of a back-to-back set, it extended their streak of triumphs at five and kept them at third in East standings. At this point in the season, they know who they are; under the confident handling of first-year head coach Nick Nurse, they’ve established a solid defensive presence and a steady offense built on an established pecking order. At the top, of course, is Joel Embiid; again leading the league in scoring at a robust 35 points per outing, the reigning Most Valuable Player has been all but unstoppable with the ball on his hands.

Significantly, the Sixers’ success is likewise due to the ascent of Tyrese Maxey at the point. His rapid improvement, arguably to an All-Star level, has enabled them to move past the departure of James Harden without losing step. If anything, they’re better now. Even third-leading scorer Tobias Harris has thrived under the new setup, posting norms higher than last season’s, and with increased efficiency. No doubt, it’s because of the clear delineation of roles, leading to greater buy-in.

Needless to say, the Sixers will ride on Embiid’s coattails. Any hopes they have of contending for the title will rest on his availability, a big question mark since being drafted third overall in 2014. Which is why they’ve been cautious with his health. He has missed a quarter of their schedule to date, and though they’re prepared to see him sidelined from time to time, the hope is that he will be at his fittest come the playoffs. After all, he’s the surest there is to a bucket in the National Basketball Association; not for nothing has he put up at least 30 in 20 straight starts. And, yesterday, he reached the milestone despite the collectively low numbers.

Will the Sixers finally justify the moist eyes they have been casting on the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season? The answer lies with Embiid, whether he’s on the court or off — literally.


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.