While playing on national television, the Philadelphia 76ers improved to 14-2 at the Wells Fargo Center and 22-11 overall Thursday night in a 111-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

The Sixers may have won, but they saw a key piece leave early. That big key was Tobias Harris, who diagnosed with a right knee contusion and exited the game in the third quarter diagnosed with a right knee contusion, the Sixers announced, and he did not return.

Harris, who missed three games earlier in the season because of health and safety protocols, is clearly an important part of the Sixers as a late-game scoring option, besides Joel Embiid. Harris entered Thursday’s game with averages of 20.7 points on 61.3% true shooting, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. 

On a higher note, Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 23 points on five-for-20 shooting and had nine rebounds and four assists. Ben Simmons posted 15 points and seven assists. He was also big on defense as he held Luka Doncic to 19 points on six-for-13 shooting and four assists. 

Here are three takeaways from Thursday night’s win:

Embiid versus Boban, for only a half

As Kristaps Porzingis out because of lower back tightness for the Mavs, Boban Marjanovic started his first game of the season. He caught up with some old friends pregame, as did former Sixers Josh Richardson and Trey Burke.

Marjanovic accepted that Embiid could take about any jump shot he wanted. Embiid’s shooting struggles from the Toronto mini-series lingered, though, as he missed his first four mid-range attempts and six of his first seven shots overall. 

Despite that, the Sixers did well against Dallas’ big starting lineup, earning an 11-5 lead. Nobody besides Luka Doncic seemed to have a serious challenge to the Sixers’ defense, and Simmons’ defensive talent meant it wasn’t necessary to send risky double teams. 

Embiid was bound to find a groove eventually, and he did in the second quarter. Both Embiid and Simmons were great on both ends of the floor as the Sixers closed the second quarter on a big run to take a 16 point lead into halftime. 

Dallas ended up scrapping its starting lineup in the second half, using James Johnson and sitting Marjanovic. That adjustment was mostly effective in limiting Embiid as more frequent double teams helped the Mavs, too. While plenty of Embiid’s misses were looks he’d typically expect to make, Maxi Kleber and Johnson were better to contest Embiid’s shots and bother Embiid better than the seven-foot-four Marjanovic.

Simmon’s defends well on yet another star

Simmons was very strong against Doncic, at times guarding him very tight near half court and disrupting his usually brilliant pick-and-roll game while avoiding fouls. Head coach Doc Rivers overturned what was initially called Simmons’ first foul with a challenge in the second quarter, as replays showed Simmons had stripped Doncic cleanly. Doncic’s skills tend to enable him to get where he wants, but that didn’t happen because of Simmons. 

Any matchup against a star is a chance for Simmons to work toward his stated goal of winning Defensive Player of the Year, and he boosted his case Thursday night. A steal on an unprepared Willie Cauley-Stein and shooting a pass to Embiid for a fast-break dunk was the highlight of the game.

Ah, I could watch that all day.

Simmons surprisingly wasn’t the team leader in steals. It was Seth Curry, who picked up three steals and had a good night overall with 15 points on six-for-nine shooting. The player he was traded to Philly for (along with the 36th pick), Richardson, had 13 points on five-for-11 shooting and six rebounds in his return to the Wells Fargo Center.  

Bench has a good game

It was very strange to write that header, but it’s true.

The Sixers turned to an all-bench unit of Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott, and Dwight Howard at the end of the first quarter. Isaiah Joe later shortly replaced Thybulle when he was whistled twice for fouling Dallas jump shooters.

Rivers had admitted his hesitance to use these all-bench lineups, saying it was necessary to have Embiid, Simmons, or Harris on the floor at all times, but maybe he felt his bench had a better chance to het a few extra minutes with Milton healthy again and Korkmaz confident after his 19-point game Tuesday.

The bench ultimately competed well, even though the offense wasn’t fluid and there were clear defensive mistakes. Howard converted an and-one following an offensive rebound, and did it again shortly after coming off a nice pick-and-roll pass by Milton. 

When Milton doesn’t have the ball in his hands, the Sixers’ bench has often looked lost offensively. Milton’s shots aren’t dropping the way he’s used to yet (he went four-for-13 Thursday), which makes life tougher for the Sixers. Howard scored 14 of the bench’s 46 points against the Mavs. Scott knocked down a pair of three-pointers and was solid as Harris’ second-half replacement. 

The 22-11 Sixers’ next game is Saturday night against the 12-21 Cleveland Cavaliers.