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3 observations after Embiid posts 30 in 23 minutes, Sixers cruise to victory

3 observations after Embiid posts 30 in 23 minutes, Sixers cruise to victory originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Joel Embiid dominated Saturday night and the Sixers easily handled business in Memphis, cruising to a fourth win in a row.

The Sixers picked up a 116-96 victory over the Grizzlies and Embiid notched 30 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 12 rebounds. He reached the 12,000-point mark for his career.

Kelly Oubre Jr. had 17 points, five assists and five rebounds.

The Sixers were still down Tobias Harris (left knee contusion), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress), Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) and Mo Bamba (illness).

The 27-51 Grizzlies were without a slew of core players, including Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Sixers improved to 43-35 and remained eighth in the Eastern Conference behind the 43-34 Heat and 44-34 Pacers. Those teams will face each other Sunday night and the Sixers will play their final road game of the regular season against the Spurs.

Here are observations on the Sixers' blowout win against the Grizzlies:

A highlight-packed Embiid half 

On Thursday night in Miami, the Sixers’ starting lineup of Tyrese Maxey, Kyle Lowry, Oubre, Nicolas Batum and Embiid sprinted to a 17-2 lead.

On Saturday in Memphis, they built a 12-2 advantage. Though the same game-opening play call resulted in a missed Maxey three-pointer this time, the Sixers had early success working around Embiid in the middle of the floor. He nailed his first two jumpers. Lowry and Oubre both scored layups in transition.

Embiid’s long layoff was still evident in his third game back from a left lateral meniscus injury. He made a patient, smart pass fake and spotted Lowry open in the corner, but Embiid then threw the ball at the veteran guard’s feet. His first stint also included a missed layup through traffic and an offensive foul in the post against 24-year-old Grizzlies big man Trey Jemison.

Embiid committed eight turnovers Saturday. Health permitting, his rhythm and instincts should be a bit sharper by the playoffs.

Already, he's shown many of the tools that had him on track for a third consecutive scoring title. Embiid’s slick footwork gave him space to drain a baseline jumper on the Sixers’ first play of the second quarter. He then got Jemison on his heels before hitting another shot from the nail. Embiid leaped up to deny a bold Jemison dunk attempt early in the second period, too.

He flexed his open-floor passing skill at the tail end of the second quarter, starting a stylish give-and-go with Lowry by tossing a behind-the-back dish.

Court repairs required

The officials stopped the action early in the second quarter because of loose court panels near the scorer’s table.

Buddy Hield and GG Jackson Jr. amusingly teamed up to help restore solid footing.

Hield, who’d shot 0 for 6 from the field and played only 12 minutes against the Heat, broke his ice with a corner three late in the first quarter. He posted seven points on 3-for-12 shooting in the game. Cameron Payne (1 for 7 from the floor) also had a rough shooting night off the Sixers' bench.

Jackson, a 19-year-old rookie forward, recorded his 14th straight double-figure scoring game with 17 points. Scotty Pippen Jr. was Memphis’ top scorer, posting a career-high 24 points. The Sixers didn’t play an exemplary defensive game, but the Grizzlies were clearly light on resources (in addition to playing the second night of a back-to-back).

Fortunately, with assistance from Jackson and Hield, the Sixers and Grizzlies were able to play the full 48 minutes Saturday night.

Back to the stars watching the fourth

Leading by 20 points at halftime, the Sixers got outplayed by Memphis in the third quarter.

Jackson and Pippen made threes early in the third, Embiid missed three foul shots in a row, and the Grizzlies trimmed their deficit as low as 11 points.

The Sixers never seemed in real danger of squandering their lead, though. They played some zone in the third, which might occasionally be a useful way to limit the defensive energy Embiid needs to expend in the playoffs. Drawing free throws never hurts on that front either. Embiid, who’s averaged 11.7 free throw attempts per game over the past three seasons, shot 10 for 13 at the foul line in Memphis.

Saturday's game was a reminder of the comfortable wins that were borderline routine months ago for the Sixers. They subbed in Jeff Dowtin Jr. (11 points, five rebounds) late in the third quarter and brought Ricky Council IV in to open the fourth.

The Sixers were able to close out the win without playing any starters in the fourth quarter. Oubre's 26 minutes and 32 minutes led the team, which is obviously ideal on the first leg of the season's last back-to-back.