Joel Embiid weighs in on Sixers' dramatic road improvement

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Embiid weighs in on Sixers' dramatic road improvement originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Joel Embiid asked for and received complementary shooting from the Sixers’ new front office regime this offseason. 

It was no surprise, then, that he named Danny Green and Seth Curry Wednesday night in explaining why the Sixers have improved on the road.  

“It’s been better this year — the structure, the way we play,” he said. “Last year when you look at it, I was hurt and I missed a lot of road games. This year we’ve been doing a better job when I’m not playing and when I’m hurt. We’re going out there and we’ve got a goal. The team fits.

“I feel like we don’t talk about it enough, just the shooting that was added. Last year we didn’t have that. The court … there was not enough space. This year having Danny; Seth; Tobias (Harris) has been improved; guys coming off the bench — Furkan (Korkmaz) has been huge; Shake (Milton) … the court is way more spaced. When it comes to structure, I feel like it’s not so much about being better, we’ve just got a better-suited team.”

The Sixers are 20-14 away from Wells Fargo Center after going 10-24 in true road games last season. If they win their final two road contests — at Indiana and Miami — it would be their most away victories in a season since going 23-18 on the road in the 2002-03 campaign. The 2017-18 Sixers managed 22 road wins in a normal, 82-game season.

The Eastern Conference leaders have more road wins than every one of the 14 teams below them in the standings. 

“Listen, last year we were dying for a road win,” head coach Doc Rivers said following a 135-115 victory over an injury-decimated Rockets team, the Sixers’ sixth straight overall. “Now we just won three in a row. We’ll take them.”

In December, Rivers opted to keep some of his thoughts private on what contributed to the Sixers’ stark home-road disparity last season. He did, however, emphasize that “you can’t live on your offense."

Indeed, the Sixers this year have been strong defensively regardless of the venue. The team is third in road defensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass, and 19th in offensive rating. There’s greater collective determination to play through mistakes and missed jumpers. There’s more belief, too, that someone will make a clutch play — Ben Simmons’ game-winning tip-in on Sunday in San Antonio being the latest example — and lift the Sixers to a win even when they don’t play their best. 

The spacing and fit upgrades Embiid touched on don’t jump out in the raw statistics. The Sixers shot 36.2 percent on non-garbage time road three-pointers last year and are at 36.6 percent this season. Only 30.6 percent of the Sixers’ field goal attempts on the road are threes, a number that ranks in the NBA’s bottom five and is significantly lower than the year prior. 

Their best player is pleased, though, and he looks and feels comfortable on offense. He’s not ceding position to accommodate Al Horford post-ups or kicking the ball out to players he doesn’t entirely trust will shoot and score when open. Opponents are (or should be) wary of the players stationed around Embiid when they double team him, too.

That’s all helped Rivers’ team make important progress on a preseason goal. 

“That was one of the things we talked about (before the season): We have to win on the road,” Rivers said. “We’re doing it. We’ve got to keep doing it, though.”