Before the start of the 76ers’ game against the Denver Nuggets Friday night, the organization’s last team to win an NBA title rang the ceremonial bell.
The 1982-83 squad was there to witness the club retire the No. 2 jersey of their late teammate and Hall of Famer, Moses Malone. They were elated to be on hand to help honor one of the greatest Sixers, and were equally elated by what they saw on the Wells Fargo Center court.
JJ Redick led the new-look Sixers to a 117-110 victory over the Nuggets on a night Joel Embiid battled gastroenteritis. They improved to 35-20 in the debuts of Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, and James Ennis. Jonathon Simmons, another addition, was sidelined with an abdominal strain.
Embiid labored, making just 4 of 17 shots to finish with 15 points. He managed to add 12 rebounds, 4 blocks and a steal. He did have four turnovers. But he was able to play, which was an accomplishment in itself. The two-time All-Star was unable to eat food prior to the game and looked sluggish at times.
Redick picked up the slack, finishing with a season-high 34 points while making 6 of 7 three-point attempts. He made his first six. But this night was all about welcoming the new Sixers and honoring Malone.
There were video tributes of Malone throughout the game. At halftime, his sons raised his number to the rafters with his former teammates and Sixer greats looking on.
For the current players, the ceremony was a reminder of what they are chasing and the milestones that can be achieved with hard work. This new-look team is not far from being an NBA title contender, but games like Friday night’s are a reminder that it could take time to mesh.
The Sixers reshaped their roster at Thursday’s trade deadline, making a series of deals in which Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, and Landry Shamet were shipped out, and Harris, Marjanovic, Scott, Ennis and Simmons were brought in.
In an instant, the Sixers became more athletic, and, more importantly, better.
The newcomers, who debuted on Friday, combined for 26 points on 11-for-23 shooting. Harris, the biggest addition, had 14 of those points to go with 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in 32 minutes, 29 seconds.
Harris, who had averaged 20.9 points with the Los Angeles Clippers before the trade, said it wasn’t hard to resist the urge to do too much.
“I just kind of went out there and played for the joy of the game and have fun playing,” he said. "It was funny because after the game somebody texted me and sent me a video of me actually smiling after the play. They wrote and was like ‘This is literally the first time I ever seen you smiling in game.’ I was like, ‘You ain’t lying.’
“It was cool to see that and just have fun out there. I had a lot of fun tonight.”
The team’s potential and the reaction of the fans were the reasons for his smiles.
“It feels good to be appreciated,” he said. “I really felt that tonight. That was big for me, and it was a good feeling."
Harris received a huge applause when introduced as a starter and after making each of his six baskets. However, he was the most excited after hearing the crowd’s reaction to Marjanovic scoring his first basket with 5 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first quarter.
"I’ve been here before, I’ve been traded, " he said. "and I know that feeling of coming into a new situation and what the nerves are like and things. I was a little nervous, too. I ain’t going to lie.
“But seeing the guys I came here with get off to a good start and get their confidence going that was big for me to see.”
Harris has been traded four times since he’s been in the league, not including being dealt on draft night.
The Sixers still have weapons in All-Star point guard Ben Simmons (12 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 9 turnovers) and Jimmy Butler (22 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals).
“I thought it looked great just coming off the court right way, that was my initial thought was we have a lot of options, a lot of versatility,” Redick said. “You saw a glimpse of it down the stretch tonight where I think each guy made a play down the stretch, and that’s who we can be.”
After leading by 16 points in the second quarter, the Sixers found themselves down, 97-96, with 7:17 left.
Butler made a pair of foul shots to give them a 98-97 advantage with 5:54 to play. They extended their cushion to four points on Harris’ three-pointer 21 seconds later.
But the Nuggets went on to knot the score twice. The second time came at 103 on Mason Plumlee’s reverse dunk at 4:09.
The Sixers responded with a 6-0 run – a floater by Harris, a cutting layup by Embiid, and a pair of foul shots by Butler – to take a 109-103 lead with 2:21 remaining. After Plumlee hit a driving hook shot, Simmons was fouled on a dunk. He missed the ensuing foul shot, but the Sixers still led, 111-105, with 1:48 left. Embiid blocked Malik Beasley’s layup on the ensuing possession before draining an 18-foot jumper at the other end.
“I think we’ve got a great group of guys,” Butler said. “We had a great group of guys before, but I think we got better in a lot of areas.”
All-Star center Nikola Jokic paced the Nuggets (37-18) with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his 11th triple-double of the season.
Before the game, coach Brett Brown talked about Fultz, who the Sixers traded to Orlando in exchange for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-round pick, and a 2020, top-20-protected first-rounder.