It happened again.
The 76ers faced and defeated an undermanned team for the eighth consecutive game. This time, their opponent was the Eastern Conference’s last-place Detroit Pistons.
But the Sixers also joined in the act this time, playing without starters Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, and reserve Furkan Korkmaz in a 118-104 victory.
Joel Embiid had another solid game, finishing with 29 points on 11-for-13 shooting in less than 23 minutes. Tyrese Maxey added 22 points while starting in place of Simmons at point guard. Embiid’s backup, Dwight Howard, added 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
But Maxey’s performance comes one night after he didn’t play against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Coach Doc Rivers said he just went on a hunch by starting the rookie on Saturday with guys out.
“My thought was we were playing him every night,” Rivers said. “But [Friday] night we didn’t play him because they were big. And I thought [Saturday night] the young fella would have energy. And we needed energy in this game.
“I thought he brought that. I thought he was terrific. He shot the ball when he should shoot. He attacked when he should attack. He made the right passes.”
The rookie’s points came on 7-for-11 shooting, including making 2 of 3 three-pointers. He also had five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block.
Maxey attributes his defensive performance to watching teammate Matisse Thybulle’s defensive film.
“I just learned so much in a little span of knowing him and talking to him and watching that film,” Maxey said. “and [learning] just how to get better and better every single day.”
Saturday night’s win at the Wells Fargo Center extended the Sixers’ winning streak to a season-best eight games.
The conference-leading Sixers (47-21) have three-game cushion over the second-place Brooklyn Nets with four games remaining in the regular season. The third-place Milwaukee Bucks are a half-game behind the Nets (44-24).
Saturday’s victory was never seriously in doubt even without Simmons (back tightness), Curry (left hip injury recovery), and Korkmaz (right ankle sprain).
Simmons and Curry had the night off, while Korkmaz missed his third game after re-injuring his ankle on Monday against the Chicago Bulls.
“It’s all about health,” Rivers said of holding players out of a game in the midst of a battle for the No. 1 seed. “We have to keep it that.”
Well, they definitely picked the right night to hold out Simmons and Curry.
The Pistons (20-48) have lost eight of their last 10 games. And against the Sixers, they were without Hamidou Daillo (personal reasons), Josh Jackson (tooth surgery), Rodney McGruder (right elbow sprain) and Dennis Smith Jr. (left knee soreness). Three others — former Episcopal Academy standout Wayne Ellington (calf strain), former Sixers Jerami Grant (right knee soreness), and Corey Joseph (left ankle soreness) — were all cleared to play after being listed as questionable.
It didn’t really matter who played as the Sixers had five double-figure scorers.
Tobias Harris (18 points, six rebounds, four assists) and Danny Green (11 points, three rebounds, and four assists) joined Embiid, Maxey, and Howard.
Grant and former Villanova star Saddiq Bey paced the Pistons with 14 points apiece.
Embiid and Harris set the tempo from the start.
Driving to the basket, Harris scored on layups, floaters, and turnaround jumpers early on. The power forward ended up with 11 first-quarter points on 5-for-7 shooting. Embiid wasn’t far behind with eight points while making 3 of 4 shots.
Following their lead, the Sixers combined to shoot 63.6% to take a 34-17 cushion into the second quarter.
Embiid added 10 points in the second quarter as the Sixers took a 56-43 advantage into the half. Harris only had one point in the second quarter while not attempting any shots.
Harris had four points while struggling through 1-for-7 shooting in the third. However, Embiid, Maxey. and Howard took up the slack. All three had seven points in the quarter as the Sixers took an 89-73 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The highlight was Howard’s corner three-pointer, which gave the Sixers an 89-72 lead with 54.6 seconds left in the quarter. It was the 17th-year veteran center’s fifth three-pointer of the season and just the 14th of his career.
“When I caught it in the corner, usually I go ahead and rush a shot,” Howard said of his three-point attempt.
But Howard and Paul Reed have been in the gym shooting a lot lately. Reed asked him one day why does he shoot the ball so slow. Howard responded that guys are not going to rush out and treat him as a three-point threat. He said if he gets a chance, he’s going to take his time, set his feet, and knock down the shot.
“I had one of those tonight,” Howard said, “and it was a big shot. It felt good. The crowd, the energy, everything was like, man, I hope I could have gotten a Frosty for making a three. I think we should talk to Wendy’s about that ... We should go into the office and tell Wendy’s, ‘If Dwight makes a three, Wendy’s for everybody.’ "
During the second half of Sixers home games, fans win a free Frosty when an opposing player misses two consecutive free-throw attempts.
Howard moved into 11th place all-time on the NBA career rebounds list with 14,250. He surpassed Walt Bellamy, who recorded 14,241 during his Hall of Fame career. Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond is 10th with 14,464.
The Sixers went on to lead by as many as 24 points before taking the 14-point victory.
Maxey was in the middle of it all as 15 of his points came after intermission.
“I loved it,” Embiid said of his performance. “You know, he’s been on and off [the rotation] the whole season. I feel like he should be playing. You know the last couple of games that he’s played, he’s been amazing to watch.”
The Sixers Youth Foundation raised $254,829 on their Sixers sneaker auction. All the funds raised by the sneakers donated by Sixers players, coach Doc Rivers, assistant coach Sam Cassell and former Sixer greats Julius Erving and Allen Iverson will be matched by Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and his wife, Marjorie.