Tobias Harris makes All-Star case in 76ers win over Pelicans

Dave Uram
December 14, 2019 - 8:50 am
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When bad teams come into your building, you’re supposed to win no matter what.

That was the case for the 76ers Friday at Wells Fargo Center, improving to 14-0 at home with a 116-109 win over the struggling New Orleans Pelicans, who’ve dropped 11 straight. The Sixers are the only undefeated team at home left in the NBA, and with Miami’s loss to the Lakers, they moved to second place in the East. 

That being said—it wasn’t pretty, and much closer than it probably should’ve been. 

“There are some good things that happened in that game and there are some poor things that happened in that game,” Brett Brown said. “My mind is completely on what do we got to do to not be in that situation. Some of it is you missed some free throws, in fact, you missed a lot of free throws. Some of it is we had poor fouls. We fouled them too much when it mattered most in the last three minutes…I thought that to end the second period—sloppy…And so, that’s my job to think like that.” 

Here are observations from win number 20. 

Tobias Is A Scorer…and All-Star? 

He’s always going to be overshadowed by franchise cornerstones Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but Tobias Harris is turning into guaranteed 20-plus points a night, reaching that seven times in the last eight games.

While it’s a small sample size, it’s undeniable Harris was the Sixers best scorer Friday, and quite frankly has been playing like a consistent All-Star. 

“All’s you got to do is repeat and write (the stat about 20-plus in seven out of eight) and there it is,” Brett Brown said. “You don’t need much more ammunition. He’s been so steady. Just responsible, like reliable, go-to-guy. And I put him kind of in a bunch of different spots…He’s having a hell of a year.” 

“Every night is an opportunity for me to go out there and do the best I can to help our team win,” Harris said. “I’d love to be an All-Star. It’s a goal of mine as a player. I felt last year I was an All-Star in the beginning of the season. It didn’t happen that way. Each and every night, especially with our team, we have an immense amount of talent and I want to play at my best every single night to help us win games. I know when I’m aggressive and when I’m getting things in the flow, I’m a very hard player to guard.” 

And it’s not just offense. Brown vouches for Harris’ defense. 

“I think he’s having a hell of a year defensively.” 

The 76ers would not have 20 wins through 27 games if it wasn’t for Harris’ play as of late. If this keeps up, put Harris in the All-Star Game. 

Embiid OK, Not Great

Joel Embiid wasted no time building off his masterful performance in Boston, scoring 10 first quarter points. But other than his fast start, Embiid didn’t show as much aggression as he did against the Celtics, not taking the ball to the rim as much, settling for jumpers around the paint area, in addition to one too many three-pointers. Pelican double and triple teams certainly made things though for the big man throughout the night. 

I’ll give Embiid credit—even in the guts of the fourth quarter during a so-so night offensively for the center, he was still trying to take it the rim, albeit unsuccessfully. Embiid also got a huge offensive rebound with just over a minute to play, turning that into two foul shots. 

I guess a positive aspects to Embiid’s evening were he didn’t turn the ball over at a ridiculous rate, and he’s clearly playing looser than he was in recent weeks. He’s having more fun, so that’s something to be happy about.  

Simmons Bounces Back 

Lost in the shuffle of Embiid’s excellence against the Celtics was Ben Simmons disappearance offensively. He only took six shots against Bostons, and that’s simply unacceptable. 

Simmons was much more aggressive against New Orleans, getting into the paint whenever he wanted to. 

No, Simmons didn’t accomplish Brett Brown’s request of one three-point attempt, but at least he looked to score more. And, he handled “Hack-A-Ben” fairly well. 

Norvel’s Block Party 

Al Horford remained out with knee soreness and hamstring tightness, which meant rare minutes for two-way player Norvel Pelle. When Pelle has played, he’s shown a dominant ability to block shots frequently, which was on display again. 

Pelle stuffed former Sixers Jahlil Okafor and JJ Redick, as well as former second overall pick Brandon Ingram. 

I’m not exactly sure what Pelle can provide offensively, but my goodness he’s an outstanding rim protector. 

JJ Returns 

I’m not going to sugarcoat it—the Sixers miss JJ Redick. They miss his sharp shooting ability and his floor spacing. No, he’s not a defensive wizard, but their offense would be significantly better if he was around to provide his strengths. That was clear in Redick’s first trip back to Wells Fargo Center since signing with the Pelicans in the off-season. 

But, those days are in the past, so we reminisce. 

Redick was an important member of the 76ers despite being here only two seasons. The first one-year contract he received was a sign that this organization was exiting the dark days of rebuilding and entering a no doubt about it win-now mentality. 

“Personally, I miss him,” Brett Brown said pregame. “I certainly miss him. And I definitely miss his game too. He was instrumental in a phase and a stage where we trying to just get over the hump. He helped us move a little bit over the hump.” 

Whether you thought he was over-paid as a Sixer or didn’t deliver based on the lucrativeness of his two contracts, it’s undeniable that he left his mark, whether it be with Brown, Joel Embiid or other players. Embiid and him had a unique two-man chemistry that is missing so far this season. 

As far as Redick is concerned, he’s committed to the Pelicans despite their dreadful _____ record. Redick has watched about five of six Sixers games from afar this season, and doesn’t sound envious at all. 

“I’m enjoying seeing what they’re doing. It’s weird to say this, but I’m enjoying their success. I really am. I will always pull for any Brett Brown coached team and obviously love Joel, and Ben and Tobias and all those other guys that I played with over the last two years.” 

And when all is said and done in terms of debating Redick’s time in Philadelphia, the fans nearly appreciated his contributions, cheering him during player introductions and giving him a standing ovation after a tribute video played during a first quarter timeout. 

Embiid’s Maturity 

It’s hard to find someone who isn’t remarkably impressed by Joel Embiid’s handling of the criticism that came from Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley earlier this week. He was humble and understanding, recognizing that while his defense remains outstanding, maybe these Hall of Famers have a point about the level of aggression he was showing offensively. 

“I just think that he knocked it out of the park,” Brett Brown said. “He did it with grace. He did it with humility. He owned stuff. He wasn’t defensive about it and he came back emphatically and made a statement.” 

JJ Redick wasn’t fully aware of all the details of the story, but wasn’t surprised by the way Embiid handled everything. 

“I think Joel has matured a lot,” Redick said. “As a young player, you have to go through some struggles. I think, obviously, you saw the emotion last year when we lost to Toronto. Him and I spoke at length this summer prior to me going to Pelicans…And I know that it hurts and I know that it matters to him and I know that he cares. And I know that he wants to be great, so it’s not surprising he had the comments, whatever that was (Thursday). Not surprised.”

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