Let's say the Sixers' glass is half full ...

slideshow-021913-sixers-team-uspresswire.jpg

Let's say the Sixers' glass is half full ...

I recently had a conversation with someone who works for the Sixers. He had a lot to say. This was the short version: The team’s glass “isn’t half empty, it’s half full.” He actually used those words.

Cheery clichés generally make me recoil, but he’s a naturally positive guy so I let it go. The attendant implication was that I’m a negative guy. It hurt the black cavity where my feelings should be.

Ah well. If you can’t beat 'em, pander to 'em. (Pretty sure that’s how the old adage goes.) As the Sixers (22-29) prepare to return to the court on Wednesday, here are some (mostly) positive points. Also: rainbows and unicorns and puppies! Hooray.

Lavoy Allen: He’s averaging 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds in 23.3 minutes this season. All of those numbers are up from a year ago. If/when Andrew Bynum returns, Allen will likely see his court time dip and his bench time increase, but less responsibility might actually help his game. He’s been better as a reserve than he was when Doug Collins used him as a starter earlier in the year.

Kwame Brown: Oh, man. Already testing me here. OK. Staying positive. He’s 6-foot-11, 290 pounds. He has been consistently large all season. Every night, every game, he shows up and he’s big. And he convinced the Sixers to give him a contract with a player option for the second year. That’s impressive.

Andrew Bynum: After a long, long (long) wait, Bynum said he hopes to practice in the next week or two. Rinse. Repeat. Ugh. But we’re being positive, so … The Sixers are 20th in rebounds and 25th in points in the paint. Bynum would obviously help in both areas. When he’s right, he’s one of the top-three centers in the NBA. Plus, he has a sweet Pop-A-Shot game, which is important.

Spencer Hawes: Some people (not me) might point out that a 7-foot-1 center should spend less time taking mid- and long-range jumpers and more time down low. Some people (not me) might note that Hawes is a large human who is only averaging 6.4 rebounds, 50th in the NBA. Some people (not me) might even question his sometimes-suspect defense. Some people (not me) are such downers. Hawes had that sweet quasi-mullet earlier this year, and he wore an excellent headband too. What more do you want?

Jrue Holiday: Unquestionably the best player on the team. Among all NBA point guards, he’s second in minutes per game, fourth in assists and fifth in points. And he’s only 22 years old. This season marked his first All-Star game, but it won’t be his last.

Royal Ivey: His name is Royal Ivey and he’s a professional basketball player. As lives go, his is pretty good.

Jeremy Pargo: The Sixers recently signed him for the remainder of the season. In his first game with Philly, Pargo had 12 points, six assists and four rebounds. And then there’s this.

Arnett Moultrie: There were high expectations for Moultrie. The Sixers acquired him from Miami, who took him with the 27th overall pick after the former Mississippi state power forward led the SEC in rebounding. Moultrie struggled to start the season and was sent to the D-League. He could have gotten discouraged. He could have pouted. He didn’t do any of those things. To his credit, he’s done what’s been asked of him without becoming a problem in the locker room. Acting like a professional is underrated. And with Thaddeus Young out (hamstring), Moultrie had some solid outings. He put up a career-high 12 points against the Pacers, and he grabbed 21 total rebounds in three games against the Bobcats, Clippers and Bucks.

Jason Richardson: He’s out for the season (knee). But –- as the Sixers reminded everyone all year -- he’s still No. 13 on the NBA’s all-time list of most three-pointers made. Huzzah.

Evan Turner: He’s having his best season as a pro. Turner is averaging 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists over 36.2 minutes -- all career highs. By his own admission, he needs to be more consistent -- not taking those four or five random bad shots per game would be a start –- but at least he’s aware of it.

Damien Wilkins: He’s NBA royalty. Son of Gerald, nephew of Dominique. That’s good work if you can get it.

Dorell Wright: He’s starting to get more court time, and he plays better defense than some people on this list (some people who might be listed directly below). He once led the NBA in three-pointers. The guy has more skill than he’s been allowed to show so far.

Nick Young: Since getting benched, Young is suddenly playing better. Maybe all his detractors were wrong about him.

Thaddeus Young: After sitting on the bench for long stretches against the Celtics in the playoffs, Young bulked up in the offseason and dedicated himself to playing better defense and rebounding (he leads the team with 7.4 per game). He’s been excellent this year. It’s a shame he hurt his hamstring. At least the other one still works.

Sixers frustrate Raptors, finding 'defensive identity'

Sixers frustrate Raptors, finding 'defensive identity'

The Toronto Raptors were the latest victims of the red-hot Sixers on Wednesday.

The Sixers held the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference to more than 20 points below their average in a 94-89 win at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

The visiting Raptors were visibly and vocally frustrated after the game.

"They're a good team, they've been playing well, no disrespect to them, but we missed a lot of wide-open shots," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "Those are shots we normally make but we knew we had our hands full coming in here. We knew it was gonna be a grind-it-out game."

Blaming it on bad luck and missing "wide open shots" seems to be oversimplifying it just a tad. Toronto was held to 39.5 percent from the field and went just 6 of 24 from three.

A big factor in slowing down the Raptors is containing the dangerous backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Villanova product Kyle Lowry. DeRozan finished with 25 points, below his average of 28.2, which was in the top five in the league coming in.

Lowry was even more frustrated by the Sixers' swarming defense. He finished with 24 points but on just 5 of 13 from the field. He also committed five turnovers, picked up a technical foul and fouled out in the final seconds. When asked what the Sixers did to slow him down, Lowry wasn't buying into the hype.

"I think we got everything we wanted," Lowry said. "We got every shot we wanted. We just didn't convert it.

"They won the game. Give them credit. They played with passion and energy. That's one thing they got us on tonight."

You don't win seven out of nine games and take down the second-best team in the conference with sheer will. The Sixers have become a strong team on the defensive end of the floor.

They're currently 10th in the NBA in defensive rating. A big part of that has been the emergence of Joel Embiid as an elite rim protector. For as great as "The Process" has been offensively, his largest impact is really on the defensive end.

He wasn't the only rookie engaged on defense Wednesday night. Dario Saric came through with consecutive blocks of Norman Powell and Jared Sullinger in the early fourth quarter, denying the Raptors a chance to cut into the Sixers' lead (see video).

"Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row," Embiid said. "Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years."

Taking the torch from Saric, Embiid's block on a Lowry drive with 22.9 seconds left sealed arguably the Sixers' biggest win of the season, moments after Covington rejected a Lowry three (see video).

"One thing I care about is defense," Embiid said. "Everybody around me has to follow my lead because I am the last line of defense. One thing I care about in my career is winning Defensive Player of the Year. These guys know they can go for steals, and make stops, since I am the last guy there to block the shot.

"I don’t think it’s a fluke. We’re competing, playing great defense, winning games, and we found what we’re looking for. Everybody was trying to find themselves, and we all still have a lot to learn. We have some great players that are coming together."

Prior to the game, Casey had some lofty praise for the rookie big man. He compared Embiid to a former Rookie of the Year and 2016 inductee into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Shaquille O'Neal.

He walked away from this game even more impressed.

"He's a very talented player," Casey said of Embiid after the game. "He made a difference at the rim. Challenging shots. Offensively, he's different because if you go out on him too quick, he's gonna drive by your big. His ability to attack the rim and shoot the three, his post play. And again, he's becoming a better passer so he's gonna be a handful. We know that."

Like any season, there are going to be ups and downs. For the Sixers it's been mostly downs for three straight years. This recent run has breathed new life into this franchise and this fan base.

Embiid's ascension into a legitimate superstar has been a huge help. Dario Saric coming from overseas to provide his grit, skill and basketball IQ has been key. T.J. McConnell's promotion to the starting lineup and the additions of veterans like Ersan Ilyasova and Gerald Henderson have steadied the ship.

But as Brett Brown has said many times, the Sixers bread is buttered on the defensive end of the floor.

"I get very excited and proud of our group when they hear me talk so much about defensive identity," Brown said. "You know, who are we? How are you going to build a program? How are you going to grow the program? Words are cheap. I think results are real. And lately, they're buying in and executing our defensive game plan and they're playing with a tremendous spirit and togetherness, they really get into playing defense. That is beyond exciting for me."

Best of NBA: Harden's 38-points fuels Rockets past Bucks

Best of NBA: Harden's 38-points fuels Rockets past Bucks

HOUSTON -- James Harden had 38 points, eight assists and six rebounds, and the Houston Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-92 on Wednesday night.

Harden drilled a straightaway 3-pointer with six minutes left to give Houston a 13-point lead and shimmied his shoulders down the court in a celebratory dance as the Bucks called timeout.

After losing three of four, the Rockets regained their form while improving to 17-4 at home this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks for Milwaukee (see full recap).

Rose powers slumping Knicks past Celtics 117-106
BOSTON -- Derrick Rose matched his season high with 30 points, and the slumping New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics 117-106 on Wednesday night.

New York played without injured starters Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah, but Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Willy Hernangomez each scored 17 points to help make up for their absence. It was just the third win in 14 games for the Knicks.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 39 points, his 13th time this season with 30 or more points. Jae Crowder added 21 for the Celtics, who lost for only the fourth time in 17 games.

Al Horford, Boston's big free-agent acquisition during the summer, had five points on 2-of-14 shooting. He was 1 for 8 on 3-point attempts.

Boston closed to 97-96 on Jaylen Brown's two free throws with just under eight minutes to play, but Justin Holiday and Courtney Lee nailed 3-pointers 29 seconds apart, pushing New York's lead back to seven. Rose then capped an 8-0 spree by putting in his own miss after Thomas missed a jumper -- his seventh straight shot that was off (see full recap).

Home cooking: Wiz top Grizz 104-101, 13th win in row in DC
WASHINGTON -- A vastly different team at home, the Wizards won their 13th consecutive game in Washington by edging the Memphis Grizzlies 104-101 Wednesday night behind two late layups from John Wall, who finished with 25 points and 13 assists.

James Ennis III missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer for Memphis.

The Wizards are just 4-13 on the road but now 18-6 at home, where they've compiled their longest winning streak since a 15-game run in the 1988-89 season.

Washington never trailed and led by as many as 19 points in the first half, then held on after a 10-0 run by Memphis made it a two-point game with 2 1/2 minutes left. That's when Wall took over, scoring on consecutive drives (see full recap).

Walker, Hibbert lead Hornets past Blazers 107-85
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kemba Walker scored 23 points, Roy Hibbert provided a huge boost off the bench, and the Charlotte Hornets stopped a five-game slide with a 107-85 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Nicolas Batum added 17 points for the Hornets, who limited the Trail Blazers to 35 percent shooting and snapped an eight-game streak of allowing at least 100 points. But it was the 7-foot-2 Hibbert who stole the show.

Hibbert, who came in averaging 5.2 points per game, had a season-high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

Damian Lillard scored 21 points and C.J. McCollum had 18 for Portland, which has lost three straight and 16 of 22 since Dec. 5 (see full recap).