Don’t look now but the Philadelphia 76ers are starting to hum.
Plagued by headlines in the first quarter of the NBA season, Ben Simmons’ team has smoothed out the early ripples made by Jimmy Butler’s arrival, temporarily shed itself of the distraction of Markelle Fultz — and won four straight after a impressively steady 103-95 win against Memphis.
Importantly for Simmons — who was the player of the game with 19 points, 12 rebounds and six assists — he is looking more comfortable with splitting time between the point guard and power forward positions with every outing.
“I just wanted to stay aggressive the whole game,” Simmons said. “Find my teammates and play my way.”
The Australian provided the early spark against a tough Grizzlies unit, bullying his way to the rim for three early baskets while creating two more to put the 76ers up 10-3 inside two minutes.
He continued to be unstoppable in the post in the second quarter on his way to a dominant statline of 15 points, seven rebounds and two assists in a 54-44 first half lead.
Memphis refused to go away and closed within four points with two minutes remaining in the final quarter but Simmons made a crucial steal to preserve his team’s advantage.
The victory moved the Sixers’ record to 17-8 — and 13-1 at home — as they close on the plateauing Milwaukee Bucks (15-7) for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
Fultz, who hasn’t played for the past few games after seeing a specialist for unspecified shoulder and wrist problems, was spotted on the bench at the Grizzlies game.
But TJ McConnell continues to play well in the back-up point guard position, finishing the contest with a game-high plus-minus of +16.
JJ Redick continues to flourish since being reinserted into the starting line-up, scoring a game-high 24 points, just ahead of Butler who had 21.
Joel Embiid (15 points, 14 rebounds) didn’t shoot well in a match-up against fellow All-NBA centre Marc Gasol, but won the head-to-head battle as the Spaniard finished with just 12 points and four rebounds.
Mike Conley led Memphis with 21 points and five assists while Jaren Jackson Jr added 17 points.
Sterner tests await this week as Philly travels to the streaking Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons.