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Joel Embiid striving to find his groove | Off the Dribble

The All-Star center had his second-best performance of the season Tuesday night in a 98-97 victory over Cleveland.

Joel Embiid getting a hand up from teammate Tobias Harris (left) and the Cavaliers' Collin Sexton during the third quarter Tuesday night.
Joel Embiid getting a hand up from teammate Tobias Harris (left) and the Cavaliers' Collin Sexton during the third quarter Tuesday night.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The 76ers have made things exciting, and more so than the players and coaches would like. Tuesday night in a 98-97 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Sixers scored the final six points and shut out the Cavs for the last 3 minutes and 34 seconds.

It continued a trend of struggling but beating sub-.500 teams. The Sixers are 5-0 in games against teams that entered Tuesday’s play with losing records. They have won those five games by a total of 16 points.

The encouraging sign is that Joel Embiid was dominant down low, with a surprising touch from three-point range.

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Embiid looking to turn it on

This has not been the start of the season that Embiid envisioned. Tuesday’s win was only his second truly dominant performance. (He was on his way to another before being ejected for his fight with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.)

Embiid’s best performance to date was in the Sixers’ 105-103 win at Atlanta, where he had 36 points and 13 rebounds.

Against the Cavs, Embiid had 27 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, two turnovers and two blocked shots. For good measure, he was 3-for-5 from three-point range.

After serving his two-game suspension, he shot just 11-for-33 in losses at Utah and Denver, and looked gassed, especially against the Nuggets. In Sunday’s 114-106 win over Charlotte, he had a solid 18-point, 9-rebound effort, attempting only 10 field goals.

“The two-game suspension doesn’t help, and I feel like before that, I was in a good rhythm,” Embiid said before the Sixers departed for Orlando and Wednesday’s game against the Magic. “I kind of lost it the last couple of games, especially when it comes to efficiency and taking care of the ball. We are going to figure it out.”

Embiid said that with so many new teammates, such as starters Josh Richardson and Al Horford, it might take time for the Sixers to jell.

“The starting lineup is pretty new, if you ask me. Tobias [Harris] got here last year late, so it basically has been me and Ben [Simmons] in the starting lineup,” Embiid said, noting that Harris was acquired Feb. 6 from the Los Angeles Clippers. “We are still trying to figure out how to play with each other. I don’t think we are nowhere close to our potential offensively.”

Embiid is averaging 23 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists but 3.3 turnovers in seven games. He is also averaging 1.7 blocks and is shooting 38.5% from three-point range.

Starting five

  1. The Sixers did just enough to beat the pesky Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-97, Tuesday.

  2. Steven M. Falk had some outstanding photos in this gallery of the Sixers-Cavaliers game.

  3. I write about the Sixers’ Al Horford reluctantly sitting out Tuesday’s game.

  4. In the second week of The Inquirer’s NBA power rankings, the Sixers took a steep drop.

  5. Former Simon Gratz star Rasheed Wallace, inducted last week into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, took a part of Philadelphia with him during his 16-year NBA career, Damichael Cole writes.

10-game checkup

Maybe it was the 5-0 start that really heightened expectations, but with the Sixers at 7-3, there appears to be a sense of doom among their fans.

The Sixers should be graded on a higher curve because they have championship expectations, but their world isn’t falling apart, either.

Comparing the Sixers this season to the previous two years, when they were eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinals, shows that this year’s team is ahead, at least as far as record through 10 games.

2017-18: 6-4. Final record, 52-30.

2018-19: 6-4. Final record, 51-31.

2019-20: 7-3.

Important dates

Tonight: Sixers at Orlando Magic, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia

Friday: Sixers at Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sunday: Sixers at Cavaliers, 3 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia

Nov. 20: New York Knicks at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia

Nov. 22: San Antonio Spurs at Sixers, 8 p.m. NBC Sports Philadelphia and ESPN.

Passing the rock

Question: Ben and Jo have both made almost zero improvement in their weakest areas, which are the willingness to shoot the ball for Ben and fitness/turnovers for Jo. Should Brett and the front office take some responsibility for this? — @time4tweetstick on Twitter.

Answer: Thanks for the great question. While the front office and coaching staff aren’t blameless, it is up to the individual to make improvements. And that will come only when each looks in the mirror and sees what he needs to do to take to it another level.

Both are stars who aren’t going to be benched, so they have all the leverage. Playing at less than ideal condition or without a jump shot doesn’t make them complete players. Yes, they can be prodded by the front office and coaching staff, and maybe they have been, but the only way things will change is if both decide they want to be better than their current All-Star level.