Dwight Howard believes the Sixers have championship DNA.
“We have everything we need, and we have what it takes to win a championship,” he said after Thursday’s 111-97 win over the visiting Dallas Mavericks.
To his credit, Howard, coming off his first NBA title last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, has been saying this all season.
The Sixers (22-11) own a half-game lead over the second-place Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference entering Saturday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Cleveland Cavaliers. While they certainly have the pieces in place to contend for a championship, do they really have everything they need?
When the Sixers play the way they did Thursday, everything seems like the correct answer. Even with Joel Embiid shooting 5-for-20 and Tobias Harris leaving the game for good in the third quarter because of a right knee bruise, they played one of their best all-around games this season.
Among the reasons was Howard, who had one of his best games with the Sixers, with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting, eight rebounds, and three blocked shots in 16 minutes, 3 seconds of action.
The Sixers have won two in a row and four of five. The last two games, which include Tuesday’s 109-102 win over Toronto in Tampa, have been two of their better defensive efforts all season.
They are fifth in defensive rating (108.8), which is the total of points they are allowing per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com stats. A strong defense will keep them in most games.
There is no doubt the Sixers can seriously contend for a title, even if they don’t make a move, especially if Ben Simmons continues his inspired recent play — he is averaging 20.7 points in his last 10 games.
Still, it is more likely that the Sixers will have to make additions by the March 25 trade deadline to keep up with the Nets and other potential Eastern Conference contenders.
While the Sixers can make a blockbuster trade and acquire someone such as six-time All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry of Toronto or add to the bench, it would be surprising if they stood pat.
At the least, the Sixers appear to need one bench scorer.
They shouldn’t be fooled by the strong bench play against Dallas. In that game, the five Sixers bench players who saw time when the game was still in doubt averaged a plus-10.6 rating. The five were Howard, Mike Scott, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Shake Milton.
Still, the Sixers are 28th in the NBA in bench scoring, averaging 31.6 points, according to RealGM.com. The bench is 22nd in field-goal percentage (42.9%) and dead last in three-point shooting (31.7%).
As a team, the Sixers are just below the middle of the pack in three-point percentage, standing 18th (36.4%). They are also 28th in three-point attempts per game (29.1).
Only three other NBA teams are averaging more turnovers than the Sixers (15.5).
“We just got to go out every night and lock in on our goal, which is to dominate every game and of course at the end of the year we want to earn a championship, but we have what it takes,” Howard said.
Maybe, but as strong as they look now, there is room for improvement.