Sunday's lackluster home win over the Chicago Bulls represents one of the low points of the Sixers' season. In response to loud boos, Joel Embiid told fans to "shut up" twice during the fourth quarter -- once with an expletive. Embiid's social media post on Monday further inflamed the story.
Although Tuesday began with more discussion of Embiid's social media post and a monumental lineup change, the Sixers' 110-103 win over the LA Clippers was one of their best of the season as they head into the All-Star break.
"The second part of the season," Embiid said afterward, "is going to be extremely fun."
Time will tell if Embiid's proclamation will be true. With Philadelphia, the league's best home record is contrasted by a 9-19 road record matched by the New York Knicks. Fit issues abound. Severaltrade-deadline additions are still adjusting to their new surroundings.
As the 76ers head into a much-needed All-Star break, here's an assessment of what we know and don't know about one of the league's most confusing teams.
1. Joel Embiid's return to form
In the wake of his return to social media trolling, Embiid declared that it wasn't going to be a one-time thing.
"I'm back to doing whatever I want, and saying whatever I want," Embiid said after Tuesday's performance. "That's how I used to be, and you know, I was dominating that way."
If Embiid plays every game like he did Tuesday, the Sixers will be happy to have him return to dunking on people on Instagram and Twitter. The game was a showcase of all the things that make Embiid one of the sport's best players when he is locked in and engaged. He was dominant in the paint, helping Philadelphia earn a 58-38 edge in points there, and neutralized Clippers center Montrezl Harrell.
It is that version of Embiid that the Sixers need to get on a regular basis if they are to have any hope of achieving their championship aspirations. Outings such as Tuesday's, with Embiid engaged and locked in, display the team's potential.
It didn't hurt that Embiid and Ben Simmons finally looked in sync, with head coach Brett Brown calling it "arguably the best game that those two have paired with since I've been the coach here." Tuesday's win was a reminder of the duo's ceiling, despite questions about their long-term viability.
It would make their lives easier, though, if Embiid, Simmons and the rest of the Sixers could display some consistency for a change.
2. What to expect fromAl Horford
After he spent the past decade considered one of the NBA's most versatile big men, this season -- his first in Philadelphia -- has been a trying one for Al Horford.
Horford met with Brown on Monday and was informed that he would be coming off the bench for the first time since November 2007, his rookie season.
"I just accepted it," Horford said after the game. "Obviously, not the position that I saw myself in, but it's what was best for the team."
Horford handled the situation professionally. But it was clear that he was frustrated by it.
The Sixers got Horford for two reasons. First, they thought they needed a better option to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, the team to beat in the East. Second, whenever Embiid sat last postseason, they needed a quality center.
That is why Horford was befuddled when asked Tuesday how his role will change.
"I honestly don't think it changes much from what I was doing before," he said.
Horford spent a large stretch of the fourth quarter Tuesday playing alongside Embiid before he gave way to a smaller, quicker lineup like the one that started the game. That's what made Brown's decision to take Horford out of the starting lineup questionable.
"I spoke to Al Horford about it, and we are trying to find ways to help him and help the team," Brown said. "I felt ... that the time was appropriate to do it and see if we could get that second unit going with Al."
"How I end games, to me, will be the judgment," Brown said.
If Philadelphia can't find a way to have Horford and Embiid more effectively coexist, the idea of the team's marquee free-agent signing sitting and watching in the closing minutes of the playoffs could become more of a reality.
3. The potential of the supporting cast
Josh Richardson was a major factor in the Sixers' victory Tuesday, starting for the first time since he hurt his hamstring at theToronto Raptorson Jan. 22 and scoring 17 of his 21 points in the final quarter.
Richardson finished plus-24 in 31 minutes and seemingly had an answer for every Clippers surge down the stretch.
"I kind of started attacking a little bit more," Richardson said. "I was kind of just reading the defense. Coach put the ball in my hands and gave me the freedom to read it and attack and take what I saw."
Acquired in the sign-and-trade that sent Jimmy Butler to theMiami Heatthis summer, Richardson has flown under the radar this season, but his absence the past few weeks has been a significant part of why the Sixers have struggled of late.
Horford has borne the brunt of the misgivings about Philadelphia's fit issues, but the Sixers will need more from Richardson and Tobias Harris. Through his hamstring issues, Richardson has been shooting just 33.9% from 3-point range. Harris has made admirable improvements defensively while shooting 36.7% from deep.
On a team with this many spacing issues, the 76ers need their supporting players to knock down shots. Horford and Richardson did Tuesday; Harris (8-for-19 overall, 1-for-6 from 3-point range, 17 points) did not. Support from the bench will help, too, as Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks will get their chances after being acquired from the Golden State Warriors last week.
4. The Sixers' place in the East
Coming into this season, the Eastern Conference was seen as a two-horse race between the Bucks and the Sixers. Milwaukee has lived up to its end of the bargain and is pushing toward 70 wins this season. Philadelphia? Not so much.
Rather than fighting for home court throughout the playoffs, the Sixers right now are fighting for the fourth seed. After Tuesday's triumph, Philadelphia sits three games back of the fourth-place Heatand six games back of the third-place Boston Celticsin the loss column.
A playoff run that could begin with a reunion with Butler in the first round seems like a tall order for a team with one of the worst road records in the league. With the hole they've dug for themselves, the Sixers don't have any room for error going forward.
"For me, I like to look it [as going] back to 0-0, kind of like a refresh button," Simmons said of the All-Star break. "Hopefully, everybody mentally gets that break and comes back focused and ready."
They don't have a choice. The expectations for this season were sky-high for a reason. The roster is laden with talent -- and expensive talent at that. The home wins over the likes of the Celtics, Raptors,Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Heat are proof of what this team can do. Likewise, the road losses to the Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic (twice) show how this group struggles to play to its potential.
In many ways, this Sixers team feels reminiscent of last season's Celtics -- a group that, right until they lost their fourth game in a row to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, was expected to flip the switch and have everything click into place. The prior eight months, however, proved that there was no switch to flip. The inconsistency that team showed from start to finish was, in fact, its true form.
The 76ers' playoff fate will depend on which team we see in the second half.
Embiid overcomes boos, shoves and chaos in impressive 26-point performance
Joel Embiid scores 26 points in a chaotic 110-103 victory over the Clippers in which he is showered with boos and cheers and shares an intense exchange with Marcus Morris.