Ben Simmons and Seth Curry watched from the sidelines and didn’t need to worry about anything with the second-half leads Saturday night. The Sixers who suited up were comfortable, too. With Simmons (back tightness), Curry (left hip flexor injury recovery) and Furkan Korkmaz (right ankle sprain) out, the Sixers beat the Detroit Pistons at the Wells Fargo Center, 118-104.

Joel Embiid scored 29 points on 11-for-13 shooting. Dwight Howard posted 19 points on six-for-nine shooting and 14 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey started and had 22 points, five rebounds, and four assists.

The Sixers’ magic number to eliminate the Brooklyn Nets from contention for the Eastern Conference’s number one seed is down to one. The Nets will tip off against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday at 10 P.M. E.S.T. To eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks from the running for the top seed, the Sixers’ magic number is two. The Bucks will play the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.

Here’s three takeaways from the win:

Thybulle highlights and bright Maxey moments 

The Sixers started the game on an 11-2 run capped by a Matisse Thybulle steal and ensuing slam dunk.

When Thybulle is on the court, he’s a near-guarantee at this point to cause trouble for the opponent. Teams know of his presence have their offensive rhythm disrupted, while opponents who aren’t cautious enough feed into his constantly growing package of highlight steals and blocks.

Thybulle finished with five steals. His 105 on the season are tied with Jimmy Butler for second in the NBA.

Early in the third quarter, Thybulle poked the ball away from Grant and then dove on the floor in pursuit of another steal. He appeared to hurt his left hand on the play but returned later in the third after being looked at in the locker room.

Maxey, the Sixers’ other spot starter, played a team-high 35 minutes. More often than not, he’s been a bright spot when he’s gotten extended playing time. A floater from the foul line, catch-and-shoot wing three-pointer and fast-break lefty dunk were among his nice moments Saturday. 

Maxey has developed well over his rookie year and, at 20 years old, still has a ton of room to grow. 

Yet another nice stretch for bench 

Perhaps aware of the Philadelphia’ struggles against the New Orlean’s Pelicans’ zone defense Friday night, Detroit turned to a zone late in the first quarter after George Hill and Howard entered the game.

The Sixers started with three empty, somewhat hesitant trips before Tobias Harris broke the zone with a drive through the middle and lob to Howard for a dunk.

Rivers continued to employ an all-bench lineup in the opening half, which meant the first rotation minutes in a long time for rookie Isaiah Joe. In addition to bench regulars Howard, Hill and Shake Milton, Mike Scott was the other member of the Sixers’ Saturday night second unit. 

Isiah Joe air-balled a corner three attempt and didn’t play in the second half until garbage time.

As a whole, the Sixers’ bench did not play well in the second quarter, allowing a 22-point lead to drop as low as eight. Missed threes and a dip in defensive execution both contributed to the poor stretch. In the first half, the Sixers shot one-for-11 from distance.

Stars stay reliable

Harris picked up where he left off in Friday night’s fourth quarter, scoring 11 first quarter points. Though he cooled off after that, it was still important for the Sixers to jump out to a double-digit lead after a win over the Pelicans that seemingly satisfied no one.

A missed second-quarter free throw makes it nearly impossible for Harris to have a 50-40-90 shooting season. Before the miss, he would’ve finished the season at exactly 90.0% from the foul line with 10 consecutive makes. 

Still, he’s improved as a passer, defender and clutch scorer in a strong year. He’ll be judged in large part on whether he carries over this level of production to the playoffs. 

As is the norm, Embiid didn’t need many shots to do damage. When he’s able to size up his defender, his mid-range jumpers have looked automatic this season. His fadeaways are a weapon, too.

Embiid’s backup also had an efficient night. Howard even made a corner three in the third quarter, the 14th long-range make of his career. Howard moved into 11th on the NBA’s all-time rebounding list Saturday night, passing Walt Bellamy. He’s fashioned a highly unique, Hall of Fame-worthy career for himself. 

Up next

The 47-21 Sixers will have will two days off before facing the 31-36 Indiana Pacers.