Brett Brown still thinks finishing atop the Eastern Conference is realistic for the 76ers.
“For me, it has to be,” the Sixers coach said Saturday night before his team routed the Cleveland Cavaliers, 141-94, at the Wells Fargo Center. "Do we get into. ‘Oh, we dug ourselves too deep into a hole as of December whatever it is?’ It’s hard for me to admit that.
“Like I still think it’s still early days.”
The Sixers improved to 16-7 with the romp and pulled within four games of the conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks with 59 regular-season games remaining.
Philly improved to 11-0 at home on a night Ben Simmons scored 14 of his career-high 34 points in the first quarter. It was the most first-quarter points by a Sixer this season. The point guard’s 26 points by intermission were the most by a Sixer in any half this season. It was also the most by any NBA player in the first half this season in the arena.
“I was locked-in every time I was on the floor, regardless of how many minutes I played,” the All-Star said.
Simmons’ relentless attacking play stood out the most to Brown.
“Just really, really aggressive attacking,” he said, "controlling fast to slow, slow to fast, slow to really, really fast, playing his gears. "
His highlight was a a catch-and-shoot corner three-pointer to give the Sixers a commanding 61-28 lead with 3 minute, 41 seconds before intermission. He’s 2-for-4 on three-pointers this season. They are the first two three-pointers of his three-year career.
“Work pays off,” said Simmons, who worked on his three-point shooting this summer. “Time will tell just to stay in the gym and working.”
Brown wants him to take one three-point attempt a game moving forward.
“You can pass it along to his agent, his family and his friends, and to him,” the coach said. “I want a three-point shot a game, minimum. The pull-up twos, I’m fine with whatever is open. But I’m interested in the three-point shot.”
The Australian made 12 of 14 shots and 9 of 12 free throws to go with seven assists, three rebounds, two steals, two blocks, and one turnover in 25 minutes, 39 seconds. He left the game for good to a standing ovation with 3:36 left in the third quarter.
“He was fast,” Mike Scott said of Simmons. "He was making plays, playing in transition, being athletic, being the All-Star that his is and just being Ben Simmons.
“He made a three, that was pretty cool to see.”
The Sixers led by as many as 53 points on a night they were without starters Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson. Their 141 points tied the record for the most points by an NBA team at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers’ 43 assists were also a floor record.
Richardson missed his fifth game with right hamstring tightness. The shooting guard will remain sidelined Sunday when the Sixers host the Toronto Raptors.
Embiid missed the game with a bruised left hip. A team spokesperson said his status for the Raptors will be announced at 1 p.m. Sunday. But Simmons let Embiid’s playing status slip.
“Having him tomorrow, we’re going to be great,” he said.
Even without the duo, the lopsided victory wasn’t surprising.
The Cavs (5-17) have lost six straight and 12 of their last 13.
The Athletic reported Friday that players are unhappy with the college style of coaching by John Beilien, The coach, who was hired this offseason from Michigan, disputed the report. However, the Cavaliers looked like they were frustrated and quit once the game got out of control in the first quarter.
The Cavs are reportedly making players available for trades. The Sixers reportedly inquired about reserve Jordan Clarkson. Teams have also been said to be asking about Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love.
Sixers rookie Matisse Thybulle rolled his right ankle in the first half and didn’t play after intermission.
Scott and Furkan Korkmaz started for Philly with Embiid and Richardson out. Scott responded with a season-high 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting in his first start of the season. The power forward made 3 of 5 three-pointers.
Reserve Trey Burke had a season-high 21 points. Tobias Harris had 15 and reserve Kyle O’Quinn finished with 10. Rookie Darius Garland paced the Cavs with 17 points.
Second-year player Zhaire Smith suffered a deep right lower-leg cut Friday in the Delaware Blue Coats’ win against Capital City Go-Go. The cut required four sutures to close. He will be reevaluated this weekend.
Richardson went through a full-court workout Saturday with the Sixers’ development staff. A team spokesperson said he was progressing well.