Despite injuries, COVID issues and Ben Simmons' season-long absence, the Philadelphia 76ers have remained one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
They can thank Joel Embiid for much of that.
Even Embiid had a three-week COVID-19-related absence earlier this season, but he has since turned into an MVP candidate. Again. Embiid has scored at least 30 points in seven straight games, all wins for the Sixers.
Philadelphia will look for its eighth consecutive victory Wednesday when it hosts the Charlotte Hornets.
Anchored by Embiid's 31 points, the Sixers defeated the Houston Rockets 111-91 on Monday.
"I hold myself to that standard of trying to win and be the best, or one of the best ever," Embiid said. "The good thing about it is we've been winning. To be able to win every single night, I've got to show up."
The Sixers' winning streak continued even with key players out such as Seth Curry (ankle) and Tyrese Maxey (health and safety protocol). Despite short-handed rosters each night, head coach Doc Rivers could sense the wins coming.
"We've had to do it in a lot of different ways," Rivers said. "Right before this streak started, I said this team was about to get rolling. You could just feel it. Our guys have finally found a way to play no matter who is on the floor. It's also nice that our best player is playing dominating basketball right now."
The Hornets will be searching for their fourth win in a row when they visit Philadelphia. After a resounding 29-point victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Hornets twice defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in impressive efforts in Charlotte.
The Hornets followed a 114-106 win over the Bucks on Saturday with a 103-99 Monday night victory behind 27 points from Terry Rozier and 23 from LaMelo Ball. It was Ball's floater with 15 seconds left that sealed the win for the ever-improving Hornets, who were victorious without Kelly Oubre Jr. (COVID protocol).
"We are heading in the right direction at the halfway point of the season," said Rozier, who had 28 points in another victory over the Bucks on Saturday. "We're not satisfied, but we like where we are at."
The 22-19 record is the best halfway mark for Charlotte since the 2000-01 season when the Hornets started 23-18 and went on to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Hornets have been inconsistent at times this season, especially on the offensive end. During their current surge, they have tightened defensively, and the results have been evident.
"We just made enough plays down the stretch, but I'm really proud of their effort defensively," Charlotte head coach James Borrego said. "We're getting there. We're making strides. It looks like there's a value being placed on that end of the floor. We just have to continue it."
Great players are going to pile up statistics like the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo did in averaging 34.5 points in the two defeats to Charlotte. But the Hornets made enough plays in the waning minutes each night to pick up two clutch wins.
The Hornets will have to follow the same blueprint to hold off the Sixers and Embiid.
"We have to build on this win, keep the momentum going and you do that with your effort and preparation," Borrego said. "That's our challenge."
--Field Level Media