Smith, Covington lift suddenly decent 76ers past Phoenix
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Nicki Minaj took a seat near the 76ers' bench and watched the worst team in the NBA hit the top of the scoring chart.
Well, maybe not.
The superstar rapper seemed a bit preoccupied while the Sixers put the ball through the (hoopty hoopty) hoop.
''Everytime I looked over she was looking at herself in the mirror,'' guard Nik Stauskas said. ''I don't think she was really watching the game today.''
What Minaj might have missed was a team that, yes, is in a bit of a zone.
Ish Smith had 20 points and nine assists and Robert Covington scored 19 points to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 113-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.
Once 1-30 on Dec. 23 and challenging for the worst record in NBA history, the Sixers have since gone 6-9 and might not even end up with the worst record in the league.
The Sixers led almost the entire game against the slumping Suns and built a 19-point advantage.
Stauskas scored 15 points and Nerlens Noel had 14 for the Sixers.
Noel certainly noticed when Minaj sat down and rocked out when some of her songs played in the arena.
''How can you not?'' he asked.
Archie Goodwin nearly pulled off an improbable win in the fourth with some late clutch shots that rallied the Suns. Goodwin led the Suns with 26 points. Alex Len had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
''You don't want to get down big and try to have to make comebacks,'' Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said.
With the Sixers seemingly cruising, Goodwin chipped away at the lead. Goodwin, who made 11 of 15 shots, converted a three-point play with 5:27 left that pulled the Suns within seven. Noel buried a pull-up jumper as the shot clock expired and stretched the lead to nine.
Goodwin again got the deficit under double digits with another late 3. Hollis Thompson, who scored 13 points, hit a long jumper with under a minute left to help the Sixers win their fourth home game of the season.
The Sixers opened the third quarter on an 11-2 run and Covington hit a 3 later in the quarter for a 68-49 lead. The Sixers made 11 of 22 shots in the third and hit 3 of 6 3-pointers to give themselves a needed cushion.
Smith, the true point guard the Sixers needed, has sparked them since he was acquired in a Dec. 24 trade. Smith was sensational again, finding open teammates - the dish from Ish has become a Philly catchphrase - and creating room for his teammates to find open looks. The Sixers hit 11 3-pointers.
Smith had two career 20-point games over the first five seasons of his career and has five already since he joined the Sixers.
''We're just going out there trying to collect wins,'' Smith said.
Suns: Are 3-6 in the first game of back-to-backs. ... Held a 45-41 edge on the glass. ... ''The guys are getting opportunities and we're playing decently,'' Hornacek said.
Sixers: Minaj attended with boyfriend Meek Mill. ... The 76ers were blown out 112-92 by Boston in their last game.
JAH RULED OUT
Sixers C Jahlil Okafor sat out against the Suns and will miss Wednesday's game against the Pistons because of an illness. Okafor leads the Sixers with 17.4 points and is second with 7.3 rebounds. JaKarr Sampson also sat out with an illness. Guard Isaiah Canaan was listed as questionable after he hurt his wrists in a fall but was in the game by the second quarter. He later suffered a sprained left ankle.
Elton Brand was active for the first time since he signed with the Sixers on Jan. 4. He did not play.
BRAND NEW HOME
The Sixers said construction on their 125,000-square-foot training complex in Camden, New Jersey, is moving along and the building should be enclosed within a month. The business operations offices will include a media production studio, 7,000-square-foot roof deck and 10,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial space.
''In designing the basketball operations facility we pulled inspiration from the most cutting-edge sports medicine, wellness, and recovery practices from leagues, teams, and sport disciplines across the world,'' general manager Sam Hinkie said. ''We challenged ourselves to create a 24/7 destination for our players' physical and mental needs.''
Phoenix plays Wednesday at Cleveland.
Philadelphia plays Wednesday at Detroit.