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Consecutive Big 5 wins for top-ranked Villanova, which beats Temple, 87-67

Sixers Notebook: Big week ahead

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 26

This is a big week for the 76ers. To understand why it’s a big week, we have to first look back at the past month.

The Sixers are 10-3 during the past month (Oct. 26-Nov. 26). Two of their three losses were to the defending-champion Warriors. (Inexplicably, the other loss was to the Kings.) Only three of the Sixers’ 10 wins came against teams currently with winning records, but two of those wins came against division leaders (the Rockets and Trail Blazers).

After going 2-2 against Western Conference division leaders during the past month, with both losses coming against the Warriors, the Sixers get the opportunity to test themselves against the three Eastern Conference division leaders this week.

This challenging week, which includes four games in six nights, begins Monday (7 p.m.) with a home game against a team that isn’t leading its division. Unfortunately, that team is the Cavaliers (12-7 through Saturday’s games). The Cavaliers started the season in terrible fashion, but they’ve won their last seven games to pull within a half-game of the Central Division-leading Pistons.

The first of the three division leaders in line to face the Sixers is the Wizards, who will visit Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Sixers catch a break because the Wizards (10-9) will be without point guard John Wall, who is sidelined by inflammation in his left knee.

It doesn’t appear that there will be any breaks on Thursday (7:30 p.m.) when the Sixers visit Boston. The Celtics have the best record (18-3) in the NBA, having won nine of their last 10 games. With the Sixers playing on back-to-back nights, there also is a question concerning whether Joel Embiid will play in both games. If not, will the Sixers choose to play Embiid before the hometown fans, who paid their money to see Embiid, or will he play in what appears to be the more difficult game?

After the Celtics game, the Sixers return home Saturday (7:30 p.m.) to host the Pistons, who, with the Cavaliers bearing down on them, may not still be in first place by the time this game takes place.

Regardless of the variables, this week is a wonderful opportunity for the Sixers (11-7) to test themselves against the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

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ELBOW ROOM: One concern as the Sixers enter this challenging week is the health of guard Ben Simmons. He sat out Saturday’s 130-111 win over the Magic due to swelling in his left elbow. As I write this Sixers Notebook on Sunday morning, Simmons’ status for Monday’s game against the Cavaliers.

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COVINGTON’S REWARD: Robert Covington’s journey from a D-League (now the “G-League”) callup to valuable player took a huge step when he agreed to a four-year contract extension worth $62 million. Covington established a reputation as a fine defensive player and streaky outside shooter. This year, however, he has become a more consistent force on offense.

Covington is averaging 15.9 points per game. More importantly, he is producing within the confines of a structured offense. In past years, the Sixers were often trailing, so taking bad shots didn’t matter as much. This year, with more options on offense, Covington has to be judicious with his long-range shots. He has been extremely efficient, making 46.2 percent of his shots from 3-point range.

Covington has transformed himself from an unknown player to an integral part of the Sixers’ future. It’s nice to see him rewarded for his hard work and development.

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NO ATTENTION DEFICIT: Joel Embiid loves the spotlight. After Wednesday’s victory over the Trail Blazers, Embiid declared that he’s the best defensive player in the NBA. His performance against the Trail Blazers was impressive, particularly how he helped out on guard C.J. McCollum, hounding him into a 1-for-14, 5-point performance. But, after playing 47 games in his career, perhaps it’s a bit premature for Embiid to proclaim himself the best defensive player in the league. (It will mean a lot more when other people say he’s the best defensive player in the league.)

Embiid also made news this week by blocking Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell’s shot, trash-talking him on his way up the court and then flopping to the ground to draw a technical foul when Mitchell bumps him. Embiid, who jokingly referred to his flop as using his soccer skills, also had a confrontation with the Clippers’ Willie Reed the previous week.

Embiid is a lot of fun to watch. He’s extremely entertaining, and you don’t want to temper his enthusiasm. But his trash-talking, both on the court and on social media, is starting to get him in hot water. Although the water may only be lukewarm now, it’s going to get much hotter if Embiid doesn’t exhibit some restraint. We’re already seeing signs that not everyone is going to dismiss his trash-talking as fun and games.

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MAKING A POINT: Fifteen points, 13 assists and seven rebounds. Not a bad night for the Sixers’ starting point guard.

Except on this night the starter wasn’t Ben Simmons. It was T.J. McConnell.

McConnell, considered a fringe NBA player not too long ago, continues to impress when given the opportunity. With Simmons sidelined Saturday by elbow soreness and with Markelle Fultz continuing to be out of action with a shoulder injury, McConnell didn’t look out of place as he started during the Sixers’ 130-111 triumph over the Magic instead of the past two top overall picks in the NBA Draft.

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OUTSIDE SHOT: J.J. Redick made eight of 12 shots from 3-point range Saturday against the Magic, the team for which he played the first seven seasons of his NBA career, as he led the Sixers with 29 points. Redick is third on the Sixers in scoring with 16.1 points per game. He is making 41.3 percent of his shots from 3-point range and leads the team in free-throw percentage (90.9 percent). With his veteran leadership and shooting prowess, Redick has been a valuable addition.

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