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  • Coach Brett Brown does have this team playing better and more like a team than it has all season.
By Khadrice Rollins
January 21, 2019

The 76ers picked the right time to start playing some of their best basketball of the season.

In Monday’s home 121-93 win over the Rockets, Philadelphia was without Jimmy Butler and had no answer for James Harden, but it didn’t matter.

With the newly acquired Corey Brewer in the starting lineup for the four-time All-Star, the 76ers blitzed Harden as much as they could on defense. And while they couldn’t stop Harden from still getting his shot, they slowed him down as a facilitator, forcing the reigning MVP to commit twice as many turnovers as assists in the contest.

Joel Embiid getting to deal with Kenneth Faried and Nene instead of Clint Capela also went a pretty long way. Through three quarters, Embiid had 30 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, two steals and two assists while shooting 8-for-13 and 14-for-17 from the free-throw line.

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And Philadelphia was up 94-63.

Houston was certainly bound for a performance like this. It’s been more than a month since the Rockets lost a game by double digits. And during that time, Harden was doing magic to take the team from out of the West basement and into the conference’s top five.

At a certain point though, Harden going nuclear wasn’t going to be enough. And until this happens two or three times, it feels like just a blip on the radar for Houston.

On the other side though, this was a sign of where the season is trending.

The 76ers are no strangers to going up big on an opponent. The issue is they normally squander that lead sometime before the middle of the fourth quarter, thus making life harder than it needs to be.

But not Monday.

Embiid and Ben Simmons were both out of the game with more than 10 minutes remaining and at no point did they have to worry about potentially having to check back in to close things down.

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Harden wasn’t coming back on the court to deal with Philadelphia’s constant double-teaming, so the 76ers got to sit their two top picks as the crowd watched the home team close out the holiday blowout.

A blowout like this isn't going to change the set the course of the season on its own, but when combined with other recent play, it shows where Philadelphia could be heading as it enters the most difficult part of its schedule.

The 76ers have now won four of five and eight of their last 11. And in their stretch of 12 games against teams above .500, they’ve started 2-1.

A road trouncing of the Pacers and a last-second home loss to the Thunder were the first two games of this daunting stretch.

So running through the streaking Rockets without Butler is huge. As is getting to rest guys late in games.

Monday’s victory was Philadelphia’s ninth of 20 or more points and their fifth since Dec. 19. The constant ball movement that key those four recent victories wasn’t on display the same way Monday, but Embiid’s dominating interior presence was at a near-peak level.

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The 76ers problems with depth and shooting haven’t disappeared as they’ve started to get hot, but they have shown they can make up for those issues by doing what they do well even better than normal.

They can’t become a perfectly constructed team overnight. Especially with the roster holes they already have.

However, coach Brett Brown does have this team playing better and more like a team than it has all season. And that synergy can go a long way, no matter who is on the court.

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