One thing became abundantly clear early on in the contest between the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks on Monday night: the Mavericks didn't have an answer for Joel Embiid. Dallas was without Kristaps Porzingis, so they entered the game down a big man, which isn't a place you want to be when Embiid is in town. Let's be honest, it's not like Porzingis would have been an Embiid-stopper if he did play, but he could have at least helped to limit the big man's production. Without him, the Mavs didn't have a chance.
Embiid dominated the Mavericks' stable of bigs. Maxi Kleber, Boban Marjanović, Josh Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein all spent time on Embiid, and all four walked away feeling frustrated. The Mavericks tried double teams, and sometimes even triple teams, but Embiid had his way. He drew foul after foul, and knocked down 14 of his 15 free throws. Embiid finished the game with 36 points and seven rebounds in just 26 minutes of action. He didn't play at all in the fourth quarter, because he had put the Sixers in such solid position through three quarters. In the process, he made some Sixers history by playing the second-fewest amount of minutes in a 35-point performance in team history.
When Embiid went down with a knee injury last month, many wrote him off when it came to the MVP race. I even wrote that an extended absence due to the injury would likely cost him the award. Embiid only missed 10 games though, and now he's back reminding everyone why he was the odds-on favorite for the award prior to the injury. Plus, other leading candidates for the award -- like James Harden and LeBron James -- have also missed significant time. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is the lone candidate that hasn't been bothered by injury issues. Some voters will likely still hold the games missed against Embiid, but he's still in the race, and performances like the one he delivered on Monday night certainly help his case.
With the win, the Sixers swept the season series with the Mavericks, as they also won when the two teams met in Philadelphia in February. With that said, here's a look at three takeaways from the Sixers' victory over the Mavericks on Monday night.
1. Doncic needs some help in Dallas
Stop me if you've heard this before this season, Mavs fans -- the lone bright spot in the game for Dallas tonight was the play of Doncic. Doncic had 20 points in the first half and he fished with a total of 32 on 10-of-20 shooting from the floor. After him, Jalen Brunson was the team's leading scorer with 15 points and Dorian Finney-Smith had 12. Other than them, no member of the Mavs scored in double figures. It's really tough to win in the NBA today when only three players score in double digits, and it has been an issue all season for Dallas when it comes to finding ancillary offense around Doncic. Porzingis has been in and out of the lineup since he arrived in Dallas, and he has yet to prove that he can be a legitimate long-term sidekick to Doncic and the rest of the roster has been inconsistent. Dallas will try to make a run over heading into postseason play, but it's clear that the team is a piece, or two, away from being a true contender. General manager Donnie Nelson will have his hands full over the offseason trying to build a better roster around Doncic.
2. Seth Curry has Joel Embiid to thank for good looks early on
Seth Curry has had his shooting struggles recently, but he got off to a solid start against the Mavericks. Curry knocked down two shots in the first frame, but while the shooting was nice, the passes leading to the shots were equally impressive. Both of Curry's first quarter makes were the direct result of Embiid doing a good job of handling Dallas' double, or triple teams. On Curry's first shot, Dallas sent three defenders at Embiid in the post, and the big man read it perfectly. After catching the pass in the post, Embiid quickly rocketed it back out to Tobias Harris, who then swung the ball to Curry. Curry knocked the shot down, but he was as open as he was because of the attention drawn by Embiid.
On Curry's second first quarter make, Embiid found him directly with a pinpoint pass across the court as soon as Dallas' double team converged on him. Curry hit a scrambling Dallas defender with a quick pump fake and then knocked down the shot.
Embiid finished the game with only two assists, but he kept the ball moving and only had one turnover. He has improved compared to years past when it comes to handling double teams, and that was on display early on in Dallas.
3. Pop the Kork(maz)
Sixers reserve forward Furkan Korkmaz dropped 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor against Dallas. It was the second straight 20-point performance for Korkmaz, who has scored 40 points and shot 14-of-23 over the last two games for Philadelphia.
Korkmaz has always been able to shoot, but he's improved markedly on the defensive end, and also at putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket. These are solid developments for Korkmaz and for the Sixers, who are always looking for consistent shooting around Embiid and Ben Simmons. If Korkmaz can continue to shoot the ball at a high clip while also doing other things on the floor, he'll likely carve out a spot for himself in Philadelphia's postseason rotation. After the game, Korkmaz said that he finally feels like he's found a role with the Sixers.
"I've been through a lot of tough situations. I've been in this organization for four years," Korkmaz said. "Finally I'm glad, the last two seasons I'm really showing myself. When I'm able to help this organization, it makes me really happy. Finally, I found my role."