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Tyrese Maxey’s 28 points, James Harden’s 17 assists lead Sixers to 118-111 victory at Washington Wizards

The Sixers went small again in the absence of Joel Embiid, and once again, Maxey came up big.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) shoots over Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Washington. Philadelphia won 118-111. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) shoots over Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Washington. Philadelphia won 118-111. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)Read morePatrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON — The ball slipped out of De’Antony Melton’s hands while he was free under the basket, but it flew right into 76ers teammate P.J. Tucker’s grasp for the open layup.

It was a fitting sequence for a sometimes-sloppy Halloween night. Yet that potential turnover turned into a fortuitous path of the ball and score with about two minutes to play, helping the Sixers finish off a 118-111 victory over the Wizards on Monday night at Capital One Arena.

It was the Sixers’ third win in a row, which evened their record at 4-4 following a disappointing 1-4 start to a season with NBA championship aspirations. They’ll play eight of their next nine games at home, starting with a rematch against the Wizards on Wednesday night.

“We just have resolve and we’re the team that we don’t panic,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We understand we’re going to be good. We still understand we’ve got work to do. We’re nowhere near where we’re going to be — not close.

“But one of the things we talked about [is that] we’ve still got to win the games while we’re trying to figure it out, and we did that the past three games.”

After a clunky first half that saw the teams combine for 17 turnovers resulting in 16 points in a 52-52 tie, the Sixers blew the game open during a seven-minute stretch that overlapped the third and fourth quarters.

Tyrese Maxey’s dunk through contact — which he celebrated by skipping out of bounds — capped a 24-4 run to flip a 71-68 Sixers deficit into a 92-75 advantage. Rivers said his team kept running a variation of the same play, knowing the Wizards’ defense would key on Maxey while All-Star James Harden was off the floor.

“Everybody kind of knew what our goal was when we got the ball,” Maxey said. “And I think that’s been huge for us these past three games: We know what we’re looking for. We know how to attack. We know where guys need to be and what position they need to be.”

The Wizards answered with a rally to pull within 105-97 on two Kristaps Porzingis free throws with about five minutes to play, but two Melton layups off Wizards turnovers pushed that lead back to double digits. After Tucker’s right-place, right-time score, another Melton finish inside plus a Tobias Harris three-pointer gave the Sixers a 116-106 lead with 1:10 remaining to all but seal the win.

It was the second time in the past three games that Sixers All-NBA center Joel Embiid did not play, this time due to a non-COVID illness. Rivers again went with a small-ball lineup featuring the 6-foot-5 Tucker, who scored a season-high 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting primarily by finding space near the basket and outside the three-point arc early in the game.

And though Maxey did not put up the career-best 44-point night he had when Embiid was out Friday, he did emerge again as the Sixers’ main source of offensive firepower with 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting on a blend of drives to the basket and deep pull-up three-pointers.

All five Sixers starters finished in double figures, including Harden with 23 points, a season-high 17 assists and 7 rebounds, and 16 points apiece from Melton and Tobias Harris.

» READ MORE: Joel Embiid out for Sixers’ game at Washington Wizards with non-COVID illness

Harden’s hot start

Harden carried the Sixers in the first quarter, racking up 15 points and six assists.

He scored one basket by finishing a layup through contact, which left him with a gash on his left arm that required tape to stop the bleeding. He converted a four-point play, throwing both arms out to the side when he sank a three despite the bump. He hit an elbow jumper, another sign that midrange shots are becoming more a part of his game.

And though Harden only scored eight points after that opening frame, he continued to keep his teammates involved. His 17 assists were the most by an NBA player this season (as of late Monday), and he passed Stephon Marbury for 28th on the all-time assists list with 6,477 in his career.

“I just keep pushing, keep trying to make my teammates better,” Harden said. “[I] try to make the right play and good things happen. You give everybody confidence. ... Just trying to find the ways to help my teammates, make the game easier for them.”

Deep bench

The Sixers played 11 of their 13 available players, partially because Montrezl Harrell took an elbow to the side of the head that required medical-staff attention on the bench and gave Paul Reed unexpected second-quarter minutes.

» READ MORE: NBA rescinds two Sixers’ second-round draft picks for violating league’s tampering rules

That second unit provided punch during that surge at the end of the third, thanks to three buckets by Harrell and a three-pointer by Georges Niang. Niang continued his hot shooting in the fourth, finishing 4-of-7 from deep for 12 points.

“We’re starting to see slowly what our rotation can be,” Rivers said.

The only available Sixers who did not play were Furkan Korkmaz and Jaden Springer.