Danny Green is proud of the position the 76ers are in.
The small forward thinks the team fought through COVID-19 related issues, scheduling issues, and all types of injuries during the first half of the season.
“You know guys have to come play every day,” he said. “So I’m proud of that.
“But we can grow in many areas. For us, the sky is the limit.”
Thursday night’s 111-97 victory over the Dallas Mavericks marked their fourth win in their last five games. It also kept the Sixers (22-11) a half-game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The Mavs, however, dropped to 15-16 and had their two-game winning streak snapped. Dallas was without standout post player Kristaps Porzingas, who missed the game with lower-back tightness.
This matchup featured two of the league’s elite ballhandlers, Ben Simmons and the Mavericks’ Luka Dončić.
Simmons was named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve for the third consecutive season on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Dončić, a third-year player, was voted an Western Conference All-Star starter for his second straight season.
Despite their size, the two are triple-double machines.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Simmons has 31 career triple-double with three coming this season. Meanwhile, the 6-7, 230-pound Dončić has seven this season and 32 for his career.
“I love him,” Doc Rivers said of Dončić. “I said three years ago. I jokingly said I had a man crush on him. I love how he plays. I love the joy that he plays with. There’s another guy, [LaMelo] Ball in Charlotte.
“There’s a group of guys now, and I love seeing it. They are not only great players, but they bring joy to the game as well. I’ve always thought that was a good thing for all of us.”
But he didn’t display a lot of joy of this night.
Dončić finished with 19 points, four assists, three rebounds, and three blocks, but made just 6-of-13 shots while being mostly guarded by Simmons. He also committed seven turnovers and was a minus-20. He shot 3 of 9 in the first half.
“Just being me, doing what I do,” Simmons said of how he was able to contain Dončić. “I like taking those challenges. I said this over and over, again. You know, just tell me who to guard.”
Dončić on comparing Simmons’ defense to other players guarding him: “I don’t pay attention to things like that.”
Simmons finished with 15 points, seven assists, two steals, and one block. Joel Embiid had 23 points, nine rebounds, two steals, and a block.
With those two leading the way, the Sixers played solid team defense.
“I thought Ben set the tone,” Rivers said. “Joel was phenomenal. Seth Curry got his hands [on the ball]. We told him, he should have known their plays.”
The Sixers didn’t have a great shooting night, making 43.3% of their attempts. But they were up 20 points for most of the game due to their defense. They held the Mavs to 41%.
“Dallas is a great offensive team,” Rivers said. “For us to play defense like that was special.”
Curry had 15 points to go with his game-high three steals in his first matchup against his former team. The Sixers acquired him from the Mavs on Nov. 18 in exchange for Josh Richardson and the 36th overall pick in the 2020 draft. Dallas used that pick to select Tyler Bey.
There was no extra motivation to play against his former team for the Sixers shooting guard.
“Never nothing personal, man,” Curry said. “I got a lot of respect for a lot of those guys over there. I just think they made a bad business decision.
“But it happens all the time. It is what it is. Another night to go out get a win and play well as a team.”
Tobias Harris had six points on 2-for-7 shooting before leaving the game for good in the third quarter with a right knee bruise. Rivers is not sure if the injury will sideline the standout power forward long-term.
“It’s too early,” he said. “I think they are gonna to do some tests in the morning to make sure that it is structurally fine and then go from there.”
Reserves Shake Milton (10 points), Mike Scott (6), Dwight Howard (14), and Furkan Korkmaz (9) also contributed to the Sixers’ balanced scoring.
Richardson had 13 points and six rebounds against his former team.
The Sixers and Mavs have been two of the teams hit the hardest by COVID-19 in regards to games in the first half of the season.
Seth Curry and Vincent Poirier were both sidelined after contracting the coronavirus. Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle missed time due to contract tracing.
Then the Sixers had to play against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 9 with just seven healthy players and had only nine players two days later versus the Atlanta Hawks. Their Jan. 17 road game at the Oklahoma City Thunder postponed 90 minutes before tip-off.
Meanwhile, the Mavs also had several players sidelined by COVID-19 and contact tracing. Dallas had three games postponed due to the coronavirus.
Several games league-wide were canceled due to the health and safety protocols. But for the most part, the Sixers and Mavs played with undermanned rosters while dealing with it.
“Well, I think we were unfortunately the teachers,” Rivers said. “You know that you should probably cancel games. It affected us, obviously, and it affected the Mavs. You can’t get it back now.”
“There’s two games that I look back on that we just shouldn’t had played but we had too, probably three in the stretch.”
But Rivers acknowledged the health and safety protocols are new for everyone. He also pointed out the NBA is making adjustments and learning as the season goes along.
“And overall,” he said, “It’s been pretty good.”