LOS ANGELES — Now comes the stiff challenge.
After acing Tuesday’s test against the undermanned Los Angeles Lakers, the 76ers headed to Northern California for perhaps their toughest game of the season. They’ll meet the two-time defending NBA-champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday night at the Oracle Center.
The Warriors (36-14) are the league’s hottest team, riding an 11-game winning streak.
That’s not the only streak the Sixers (33-18) will look to snap. They haven’t beaten the Warriors since a 104-97 decision on March 2, 2013, at the Wells Fargo Center.
Golden State has won 10 consecutive games vs. the Sixers and six straight in Oakland.
This reality might have been unnerving on the evening of Jan. 13. Back then, the Sixers barely defeated the struggling New York Knicks after losing consecutive games to the similarly struggling Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards.
At the time, the Sixers' star players were having a tough time coexisting and were unhappy with their roles. Coach Brett Brown acknowledged that the team was “walking on eggshells” knowing it was about to begin a grueling 12-game stretch after its Jan. 15 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Sixers, however, are 4-2 midway through that stretch after beating a Lakers squad that was missing LeBron James (left groin strain), Lonzo Ball (left ankle sprain) and Kyle Kuzma (left hip strain), 121-105, at the Staples Center.
Saturday’s 126-110 decision at Denver was one of the two losses. The Sixers were without frontcourt starters Joel Embiid (rest), Wilson Chandler (left hamstring tightness), and Jimmy Butler (sprained right wrist) against the Nuggets.
All three returned Tuesday and produced against the Lakers. Embiid had team highs of 28 points and 11 rebounds. Butler added 20 points, six assists, and a game-high five steals, and Wilson finished with nine points, two steals, and a block.
“I feel completely confident that our team is as together as it’s been,” Brown said. “People understand roles and [have] acceptance of roles.
“We understand we got a rough road with the schedule. But I like the togetherness, the toughness, the spirit of the group as it sits.”
Brown can’t explain how things changed for a group that once was in disarray. He thinks the players felt “enough is enough” after those losses to the Wizards and Hawks.
The Sixers were able to overcome Butler’s missing three games after injuring his wrist in their other setback during the stretch, a 117-115 home decision to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 19. Brown said the four-time All-Star flew from Los Angeles to Denver for a four-hour visit with his team during last Saturday’s game and then flew back to Southern California.
“I respect that,” Brown said. “I appreciate that. And I just think that everybody is starting to fall into place as far as their roles and their minutes, that type of thing.”
Thursday night, the jelling and improved Sixers will try to pull off a huge upset. The game will mark the home debut for Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins. The All-Star center is coming off a torn Achilles injury he suffered in January 2018 as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. Cousins, who was signed as a free agent by the Warriors last July despite the injury, has played five road games with them, averaging 15.2 points and 21.8 minutes a game.