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The 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey continues to impress with his improved play

The second-year point guard could be a leading candidate for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award.

Tyrese Maxey (0) has been the 76ers' go-to guy during the absence of Joel Embiid and has been delivering the numbers every game.
Tyrese Maxey (0) has been the 76ers' go-to guy during the absence of Joel Embiid and has been delivering the numbers every game.Read moreRick Bowmer / AP

PORTLAND, Ore. — Tyrese Maxey has turned into the 76ers’ Mr. Reliable.

Not only has the second-year point guard played in every game, he’s arguably an early candidate for the league’s Most Improved Player Award.

“He definitely has turned into a killer,” Georges Niang said following Saturday’s 118-111 road loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. “He just gets the ball and you turn and you think you’re running somewhere, and next thing he’s taking off and doing that funky right-handed layup that seems to go in every time ....

“He has a whole lot of [stuff] to his game.”

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Maxey’s stuff was on full display in Saturday’s matchup. He and Tobias Harris nearly led the Sixers (9-8) back from an 18-point third-quarter deficit.

Down 82-64 with 3 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third, the duo went on to score 10 points in the Sixers’ quarter-ending 15-4 run. Harris went on to hit a running layup to close the gap to 97-95 with 6:18 remaining. That was the closest the Sixers would get, but Maxey’s 15 fourth-quarter points kept things competitive.

He and Harris finished with a co-team-high 28 points. Maxey added a career-high nine assists, two steals, and zero turnovers in 35 minutes. 11 seconds.

“Honestly, I just got out there and tried to help us win,” said Maxey, unfazed by his latest individual accomplishment. “I promise you, if I had zero points and we won, I would be up here smiling, so happy.

“At the end of the game, it’s a competition. You know, you do whatever it takes to help the team win.”

He’s been getting noticed while starting in place of disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons, who has yet to play this season.

Opposing coaches have raved about Maxey’s impact and improved outside shooting from a season ago.

“I’ve been really impressed with him,” first-year Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “I liked him last year the moments he got into the game. But he’s really taking advantage of the opportunity that he has right now. He’s very aggressive. He [goes] to the rack. He keeps pressure on you on the offensive end.”

In addition to trying to impose his will on defenders, Maxey spreads the ball around and tries to be a scrappy defender.

“He just competes, man,” Billups said.

That competitiveness has enabled Maxey to be the Sixers’ third-leading scorer (18.4 points per game) behind Joel Embiid and (21.4) and Harris (20.6). He also leads the team in assists and is second in three-point percentage (41.2).

However, Maxey has been more of a go-to guy with Embiid sidelined the past seven games while in COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

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He’s averaging 24.2 points in those games. In addition to Saturday’s 28-point outing, he scored 31 and 34 points in consecutive games during that stretch.

But the 21-year-old point guard has been getting buckets the entire season. He’s scored in double figures in the last 13 games and in 17 of this season’s 18 games. His only single-digit game came in a blowout loss to the Knicks on Oct. 26 when he scored seven points.

“The kid has been doing it all,” Niang said, “and I couldn’t be more happy for him.”

Kings fire Luke Walton

The Sixers will face the Sacramento Kings late Monday night in the fifth game of their six-game road trip. This comes after the Kings fired head coach Luke Walton. Sacramento has lost seven of eight games, dropping to 6-11. Walton compiled a 68-93 record in two-plus season with the Kings.

Harris (left hip soreness) will be questionable for Monday’s game. Danny Green (left hamstring tightness), Embiid and Simmons remain sidelined.