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With And Without Joel Embiid, The Sixers Close Out January Strong

4 min read
Joel Embiid

John Geliebter/USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers found ways to win without Joel Embiid and closed out January strong as fans continue to embrace and “Trust the Process.”

As the buzzer sounded at the end of Monday night’s Philadelphia 76ers game against the Sacramento Kings, fans at home and in the stands raised their cats as a familiar chant broke out in the Wells Fargo Center among the 17,000-plus in attendance: “Trust the Process.”

Not only did the Sixers get the win, thanks to a season-high 42 point third quarter, they did so without Joel Embiid (knee contusion), without Ben Simmons (foot), who has yet to make his season debut, and with Jahlil Okafor, who only recently came back from an injury himself, playing just 22 minutes and scoring just 15 points.

Trusting the process has never felt so gratifying. More importantly, its never felt so believable.

Surviving The Process and Reaping the Rewards

In 2013, following a season where the Sixers won 34 games, Sam Hinkie was hired to turn this middling team into a championship contender. Known for innovative and creative ways of using analytics which mirrored those of the Oakland Athletics’ moneyball approach, Hinkie had one important message for the fans. It wasn’t going to be easy, it wasn’t going to happen overnight, but if they trusted in the process that it took to build a winner, they would be rewarded.

Three years and countless top-5 draft picks later, Hinkie may be gone but his “process” still lives on. What had become a punchline for jokes when the tanking seemed to always need one more year and the win totals bordered on historic lows, has now become a rallying cry for a team that is finally starting to see results. It has become something that fans and players can embrace as more than just a slogan. It is embodied in Embiid, who was the crown jewel and the centerpiece of the rebuild. “The Process” has even become the charismatic rookie’s nickname, much like “The Answer” belonged to Allen Iverson.

But the process has always been about more than just Embiid or Simmons or Okafor. It’s been about getting value out of role players and creating depth. It’s been about Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas and Richaun Holmes. It’s been about finding where to plug the holes, finding players with specific strengths. It’s been about finding ways to bring the best out of everyone and if 2017’s start is any indication, that process is working the way it was intended to.

In January of the new year, the Sixers won 10 games including three against playoff teams in the Hornets (currently 6th in the East), Raptors (2nd in the East) and Clippers (4th in the West) and somehow, someway, find themselves just five games out of the eighth seed in the East. Embiid, who has been leading the charge of the Sixers’ improbable playoff hopes, has shined in this stretch, becoming the first Sixer since Iverson to score at least 20 points in 10 consecutive games and was recently named the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week. He is also the 2x defending rookie of the month, going back to the start of the season. He very well could have and should have been an All-Star, but that’s a story we another day.

Beyond Embiid however, this roster has shined as this team’s success is the sum of all of its parts. Seven players are averaging at least nine points per game. Nine players have started at least 10 games, not including the recently returned Nerlens Noel, who got his first start in Embiid’s absence against the Clippers and led the team with 19 points, eight rebounds and just one turnover in that game. Covington, who has had a great month of January, added 14 points and eight rebounds in that game and added a team high 23 points and 10 rebounds in January’s finale against the Kings. That game saw seven Sixers score in double digits as the team came back to upset the Kings, doing so with their best single quarter performance in over two years.

https://twitter.com/RaiseTheCat/status/826248650032611328

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The Sixers are no longer the laughing stock of the NBA, but rather they are rising, up the power rankings and slowly but surely up the standings. All because that process they, the fans and head coach Brett Brown were asked to believe in some three-plus years ago, is finally coming to fruition.

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