By Peter Gleason
Joel Embiid returned from a bumpy road trip to score 18 points and grab nine rebounds, and Furkan Korkmaz scored 17 points as the Sixers snaped a three-game losing streak with a 114-106 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Embiid played in Philly for the first time since his Oct. 30 fight with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns earned the All-Star center a two-game suspension.
Embiid missed the first two games of a four-game road trip (including a win at Portland) and was subpar in a loss in the finale at Denver.
Coach Brett Brown blamed Embiid’s ineffectiveness on the layoff and the altitude in Colorado.
“It’s clear the time off for Joel didn’t help,” Brown said. “Joel didn’t have one of the Joel games that we need.”
Embiid hustled from the opening tip and scored 15 points in the first half in a mismatched matchup against Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller. He blocked a Devonte Graham shot that led to a James Ennis III slam on the other end, and pump-faked his way into a basket and a foul whistled on Biyombo. Embiid, though, couldn’t do much when the Hornets ripped a 12-2 run late in the half to take a 58-53 lead into the break.
He only played 26 minutes (shot 6 of 10 overall) and got a breather down the stretch once the 76ers blew this one open in the fourth.
“We’re trying to get Joel in increasingly better and better and better shape,” Brown said. “I thought Zeller made him run a lot in the first half.”
Korkmaz keyed a Sixers’ run in the third quarter in their return home from the 1-3 trip. Korkmaz hit a 3 with just 0.4 seconds left to beat Portland for Philadelphia’s lone win on the trip. Against the Hornets, he hit a pair of 3s and a floater in the third that helped push the lead to double digits and sent the Sixers on their way to a needed victory.
“The team trusts me, the coaching staff, they trust me a lot,” Korkmaz said. “I think I’m in good shape right now. I just feel good.”
The 22-year-old Korkmaz, a first-round pick in the 2016 draft, had an uneven first two seasons in Philadelphia and played in only 62 total games. The Sixers even declined to pick up the third-year option on his contract before last season. But Korkmaz gives the Sixers a long-range threat they need and he signed a two-year deal in the offseason with the potential of more playing time ahead.
“(Coach) just told me this was all on the table,” Korkmaz said. “Just fight for your spot. If you make good, I will give it to you. I just came into training camp with that mindset.”
Korkmaz had the play of the game on his behind-the-back pass to Raul Neto for a 3-pointer in the first half. Neto got the start because Simmons missed his second straight game because of a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. Simmons will be re-evaluated Monday.
Zeller had 24 points for a Hornets team that had lost at home to New Orleans on Saturday. The Hornets hit three 3s in the final two minutes, making the rout look much more competitive than they were for most of the second half.