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Sixers lean heavily on Embiid; Doc Rivers says they have work to do

The big man amassed 43 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists in a win over the Hornets.

Sixers center Joel Embiid looks to pass between Charlotte Hornets forward Cody Martin (left) and center Nick Richards during the first half Monday.
Sixers center Joel Embiid looks to pass between Charlotte Hornets forward Cody Martin (left) and center Nick Richards during the first half Monday.Read moreChris Carlson / AP

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The 76ers must know they were fortunate.

On paper, Monday night’s 127-124 overtime win at the Spectrum Center marked their 15th consecutive victory over the Charlotte Hornets. But the Sixers needed a 43-point, 15-rebound, and seven-assist effort from Joel Embiid to beat a team ravaged by COVID-19.

Reserve power forward P.J. Washington, who stands only 6-foot-7, was the primary defender against the 7-foot-2 Embiid. The Hornets also utilized zone defense and double-teamed Embiid at times. Regardless of how many defensive schemes the Hornets threw at him, the expectation was for Embiid to dominate against a team playing without guards LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, and Ish Smith, center Mason Plumlee, and reserve forward Jalen McDaniels because of COVID-19 protocols.

The Sixers were without point guard Tyrese Maxey (illness), who would have helped some with ballhandling. But they avoided a loss Monday thanks to Embiid, who took over in overtime by scoring six of the Sixers’ eight points and assisting on the other basket. That’s not necessarily a good sign for the Sixers, considering that Charlotte was undermanned and playing the second game of a back-to-back.

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“I think we made a lot of mistakes, a lot of turnovers,” coach Doc Rivers said after the Hornets scored 23 points off the Sixers’ 15 turnovers. “They shot 20 more shots than us. In basketball, if one team takes 20 more shots than you, you don’t win that game. We just made a lot of mistakes tonight and that happens, but we still won the game.”

Rivers declined to disclose what the Sixers (13-11) would work on before Wednesday’s rematch here against the Hornets (14-12). He would only say they have to work on their team, and that will be the focus.

“In the long run,” Rivers said, “if you do that, you will be better prepared for anyone and that’s what we have to do.”

The Sixers will need to prioritize keeping their opponent in front of them. The Hornets routinely drove by defenders as if they were subway turnstiles. Charlotte scored 58 points in the paint and had a 23-10 edge in second-chance points.

The Sixers also had a tough time stopping Kelly Oubre Jr. The Hornets guard finished with a team-high 35 points while making 6 of 13 three-pointers.

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Embiid felt as if the Sixers were going through the motions on the defensive end. “We [stunk] defensively,” the center said.

Tobias Harris said they need to work on keeping the Hornets in front of them before Wednesday’s rematch. “They have versatile wings that can get downhill, that can get to the rim,” Harris said. “But there were just too many plays for them having open lanes.”

Harris believes the Sixers will make adjustments and slow down the Hornets’ stretch shooters.

“I will say that we had more than a couple of mental mistakes that could have really shifted the game,” Harris said. “One way where we could have held a lead and another way where they could have actually won the game.

“So we know we have to get better there.”

NOTE: Maxey is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s contest. The second-year player is averaging 17.2 points and a team-leading 4.9 assists.