By Steve Kelly
Joel Embiid had 25 points and 19 rebounds and Ben Simmons a triple-double to lead the Sixers to a 108-94 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Simmons had 11 points, 12 rebounds, 15 assists and no turnovers for the Sixers, who still have a chance to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference and earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Sixers would have to pass Washington and Indiana to grab the No. 4 seed and stave off a potential Toronto or Boston matchup for at least a round.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “Now, seemingly, we are pretty close to doing that. Now we all get greedy and say, ‘Let’s get a home court.’ And I’m the captain of that new club. And it can only happen if we guard. And that’s the message to our team.”
The Hornets missed 17 of 21 shots in the third (going 1-for-5 on 3s) to crush their chances of stretching a seven-point halftime lead.
“Nothing matters unless we play defense,” Brown said. “It’s how we set the tone in this program since the day I arrived.”
The 19-, 18- and 10-win seasons that give birth to The Process have paid off this year, and the Sixers are set to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
They are the favorites in the majority of their games and have become the team that now has to worry about playing down to the level of their competition.
Embiid has played 58 of 69 games a year after playing 31 in his rookie season. He missed his first two seasons with injuries and the Sixers have been judicious with his practice time. Embiid said he works with the medical staff to decide his schedule.
“It’s the most unusual thing that I’ve ever experienced, that he’s that capable and that talented to impact a game and be selected as a starter on the All-Star team with effectively not practicing with his team,” Brown said. “We’re really trying to preserve his health.”
Embiid, who had nine turnovers, hit two straight 3s and JJ Redick hit one to give the Sixers a 58-56 lead in the third. Marco Belinelli hit consecutive 3s late in the third to make it 72-64. He hit one more 3 for a 10-point lead to help the Sixers beat their third straight sub.-500 team (New York, Brooklyn).
Embiid connected on one more 3 at the top of the arc to close the quarter.
Embiid made 4 of 6 3s — not bad for a 31 percent shooter from beyond the arc this season.
“It’s not like he’s knocking them down, but he had it tonight,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.
Dario Saric hit a 3 in the fourth for an 88-83 lead and Robert Covington, who scored 18 points, sealed it with the 16th 3 of the game for a 12-point edge late in the fourth.
“Ben was moving the ball, everybody was moving,” Embiid said. “That was a great effort in the second half defensively and everybody did their job.”
Kemba Walker led the Hornets, coming off a 124-101 loss to the Knicks, with 24 points. Wily Hernangomez scored 17 points off the bench in just 12 minutes in the first half to help the Hornets lead 56-49 at the break.