It appears as if the lower level of NBA teams haven’t received the memo about the 76ers’ championship aspirations.
The Sixers have proven in the early going they can beat the lesser lights of the NBA, but little has come easy.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were the latest team not to back off when the Sixers puffed their collective chests.
The Cavs stood toe to toe with the Sixers all evening.
In the end, Joel Embiid’s dunk with 13.2 seconds left proved to be the difference as the Sixers beat the pesky Cavaliers, 98-97, Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers are now 7-3. They own five wins over teams that entered Tuesday with sub .500 records and none of the victories have been by more than eight points.
When asked if the Sixers were playing with fire by having so many close games with so-called undermanned teams, coach Brett Brown said, “It is a blow torch.”
Embiid finished with 27 points and 16 rebounds, while Josh Richardson scored 17.
Kevin Love and Jordan Clarkson each scored 20 for the Cavs (4-6).
Collin Sexton’s basket with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left extended the Cavs’ lead to 97-92. It would be Cleveland’s final points.
Tobias Harris, who was 0-for-11 from three-point range, hit consecutive baskets making it 97-96 with 1:42 left.
Brown said Harris had a stomach bug and didn’t know until 4 p.m. that he would be playing.
Both teams missed field goals on their next possessions and then the Cavs were charged with a shot clock violation with 47 seconds left.
Embiid then missed inside but Ben Simmons forced a jump ball, which the Sixers won to keep possession.
On the winning basket, Josh Richardson found Harris at the foul line, and Harris immediately fed an open Embiid down low for the dunk.
“It was a great play call by coach,” Embiid said. “Great pass by Tobias and I was wide open.”
Cleveland’s last chance failed when Love missed a three from the top of the key and the ball rolled around on the floor as the clock expired.
The Sixers could have only one reaction: Whew!
On Wednesday, the Sixers face another sub-.500 team, when they visit 3-7 Orlando.
When asked if he would play in back-to-back games, Embiid wouldn’t give a definite answer.
“We will figure it out,” he said.
The Sixers also hope to figure how to put away teams when they are in command. Their biggest lead was nine points, the latest coming when Embiid hit a driving finger-roll layup to give the Sixers a 64-55 advantage with 7:30 left in the third quarter.
“When up by [nearly] 10 or more we should push the gas even more and keep building the lead and not relax,” Embiid said.
Simmons returned after missing the previous two games with a sprained right shoulder.
Other than wearing a white T-shirt under his blue jersey, there were no other discernible signs of the injury.
Simmons went to the basket with authority and helped the Sixers to a 54-48 first-half lead with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
For the game, Simmons finished with 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting with six assists, but four turnovers.
They needed his effort because Al Horford sat out the game as part of a planned rest day.
Cleveland is a young team, but one that is showing a lot of spunk early in the season. Under first-year coach John Beilein, recruited from the University of Michigan, the Cavs are playing with college-like enthusiasm.
They will make plenty of mistakes, but with a youthful backcourt of rookie Darius Garland and Sexton, a second-year player, the Cavs have a foundation to at least move forward.
Sexton plays with the confidence as if he is the best player on the court and for several stretches he was.