Sixers vs. Mavs: James Harden and Joel Embiid return, Sixers snap losing streak

3 observations after Sixers get their stars back, snap losing streak originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers got their stars back and got back in the win column Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

With a 116-108 victory over the Mavericks, the team snapped a three-game losing streak and earned its 50th win of the season.

Joel Embiid had 25 points and nine rebounds. James Harden recorded 15 points and 12 assists.

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Tyrese Maxey added 22 points.

The Mavs were led by Luka Doncic (24 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) and Kyrie Irving (23 points, six rebounds, five assists).

Harden returned after sitting out four games with left Achilles soreness. Embiid was back in action after missing the Sixers’ loss Monday to the Nuggets because of right calf soreness.

Next up for the 50-26 Sixers is a home matchup Friday with the Raptors. Here are observations on their win Wednesday over Dallas:

Getting back in the swing of things

Harden started the night like someone who hadn’t played a game in over a week.

On the Sixers’ first possession, Harden’s pocket pass intended for Embiid trickled out of bounds. The 33-year-old was also whistled for a travel and came up empty in isolation against Doncic, putting up an unsuccessful contested runner. The Mavs turned that miss into a Dwight Powell fast-break dunk and took a 7-3 lead.


Though Harden was able to play the entire first quarter, he certainly wasn’t close to his top level. He began 0 for 5 from the floor and the Sixers’ half-court offense lacked pace, rhythm and decisiveness for the majority of the first half.

Embiid was unsurprisingly the team’s go-to guy early. He posted the Sixers’ first seven points, attacked from the middle of the floor, and drew Powell’s second foul with 8:23 left in the first quarter. Even when everything isn’t flowing for Embiid, he’s habitually an efficient scorer who prevents his team from suffering prolonged droughts.

His final stat line wasn't sparkling, but Harden certainly appeared to be reading the game significantly better and trusting himself more by the fourth quarter. The Sixers will hope he continues trending up (and stays healthy) the rest of the regular season.

Harden played 38 minutes Wednesday, which is a number to monitor moving forward. Head coach Doc Rivers noted pregame that the Sixers want to "ramp up" their stars so they're capable of playing 38-40 minutes per game in the postseason without being affected by fatigue.


Familiar first-half issues vs. Dallas stars 

On March 2, the Sixers allowed both Doncic and Irving to reach 40 points and conceded 38 first-quarter points in their loss to Dallas.

They didn’t begin Wednesday night much better on defense. Reggie Bullock got free for a wide-open layup on the Mavs’ first play, which was one of several defensive lowlights in the opening quarter. Among the others were Josh Green slamming in a dunk off of a baseline out-of-bounds play and Christian Wood storming down the heart of the court before an and-one finger roll. And to cap the quarter, Georges Niang gave up a four-point play to Green. Replays showed Niang’s contact on Green came with 0.2 seconds left on the clock, so the officials ruled that the basket counted despite Green releasing the ball after the buzzer. His free throw extended Dallas’ lead to 37-28.

Maxey had a difficult time early against Irving, who drained his second three-pointer by curling around a pin-down screen and firing his jumper before the 22-year-old could recover. Maxey picked up two quick fouls, while Irving posted 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting in his initial stint of slightly over eight minutes. The Sixers were a touch fortunate that Irving’s teammates missed their first seven three-point tries.


De’Anthony Melton was next up on Irving. Both he and Niang had strong shooting starts; at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter, each was 3 for 4 from three-point range. While the team’s execution often wasn’t smooth, the Sixers’ second unit had a decent, high-energy run early in the second quarter. Melton did well to tip out a Maxey miss and then maximize that extra possession by nailing a three. Paul Reed poked the ball away from JaVale McGee right after the veteran center pulled down a defensive rebound.

Tobias Harris started the night guarding Doncic and the Sixers played aggressive pick-and-roll defense on the four-time All-Star. Doncic facilitated well, dishing out six first-half assists. He also had a classic “hockey assist” in the first quarter when he accepted a Sixers blitz and threw the ball out to Green at the top of the key. Green swung the ball to Maxi Kleber and the big man knocked down a three.

Sixers ride out strange stretch

In a scene reminiscent of last February’s basket malfunction delay when the Sixers visited Dallas, the second half did not start on schedule.


Fortunately, the net problem Wednesday night didn’t require a lengthy stoppage.

The Sixers looked good immediately after that odd delay, scoring the second half’s first four points on a Maxey fast-break lay-in and Embiid jumper from the nail. Harris also made a post-up jumper over Bullock and had a nice start to the third quarter overall.

Harden had a comfortable stretch conducting the Sixers' offense with 6-foot-3 rookie guard Jaden Hardy defending him. Against a young player he's previously worked out with and offered tips to, Harden got downhill a bit more and ran fruitful pick-and-rolls with Embiid and P.J. Tucker. The Sixers grabbed a 74-71 edge on Tucker's layup.


The game took a wild turn with 3:24 left in the third quarter when Embiid was called for his fourth foul and Reed checked in. Somehow, the Sixers outscored Dallas by a point while Embiid sat and trailed by only three when he re-entered with 8:09 to go in the fourth. The team survived possessions with Irving and Doncic isolated against Niang, as well as a chaotic play where the Mavs chased down two offensive rebounds before Bullock stepped out of bounds in front of the Sixers' bench. Threes by Melton, Jalen McDaniels, Niang and Harden enabled the Sixers to keep pace with Dallas during that strange stretch.

Upon returning, Embiid had an instant impact. He kicked off a 10-0 Sixers run with a three and a mid-range jumper, and his team built its lead to 110-103 on a driving Maxey layup.

Doncic hit a tough three over Embiid to cut the Mavs' deficit to 111-108, but the Sixers regularly forced the ball from his hands and Dallas' role players couldn't deliver clutch shots. Kleber and Bullock missed open jumpers late.

Meanwhile, Melton (17 points, six rebounds) played over Tucker and was a valuable piece of the Sixers' closing lineup. He gave the team 33 good minutes and helped the Sixers secure their first home win since March 12 over the Wizards.