Recent success has Joel Embiid thinking playoffs after Sixers' win over Nets

Recent success has Joel Embiid thinking playoffs after Sixers' win over Nets

NEW YORK -- The Sixers have won three of their last four games, and their recent success has Joel Embiid eyeing the playoff standings in early January.

“I think we’re seven or eight games from the eighth place, so I think that’s a goal. I think we have a chance,” Embiid said. “We’ve been hot lately. … We’re really figuring things out, we’re starting to learn how to win games.”

The Sixers moved up to 10-25 with a 105-95 win over the Nets (8-28) on Sunday (see Instant Replay). The Wizards currently are in eighth in the conference at 18-18. The Sixers are second-to-last in the East (ahead of only the Nets), half a game behind the Heat, with five teams between them and the Wizards.

Embiid views this mathematical scenario with a glass-half-full perspective.

“It’s an amazing thing to really have this mindset of potential playoffs in just a matter of a year,” Nerlens Noel said of Embiid's thoughts. “Guys are really looking forward to it. Presuming everything stays on the right road with health and the direction we’re going now, we’re playing good basketball, that’s definitely a possibility.”

This season is not about making the playoffs. The most pressing objectives are developing young talent and sorting out roster balance. The Sixers’ veterans want their teammates to focus on the other ways they can be successful.

“I don’t think that should be our concern as much,” Gerald Henderson said. “Even now, teams that are going to make the playoffs, they’re not thinking about the playoffs. They’re thinking about staying healthy, what it looks like out on the court so they can prepare themselves to play after the season. We just need to focus on playing consistently, taking care of our fourth quarters and contributions from everyone.”

Ersan Ilyasova echoed, “We do have potential but we have to consider all those obstacles obviously during the whole season. I’m not going to say we’re not going to be in the playoffs, but a season’s long … From now on, we have to take care of our business first. Obviously if we win the games, we have a chance.”

Embiid is encouraged by the Sixers' progress. They tied last season’s win total in their 35th game on Sunday. For a team what hasn't made the postseason since 2011-12, the goal is that victories this year will translate into building toward a postseason contender.

“We are winning basketball games more frequently than we have been,” Brett Brown said. “But for us it’s still, ‘How are we doing what we do? Are we doing our job? Are we not skipping steps? Are we putting in good days?’ We believe as simple as that might sound, that they will add up, they do count for something.”

Sixers-Bulls 5 things: Time to match physicality of playoff-hungry team

Sixers-Bulls 5 things: Time to match physicality of playoff-hungry team

The Sixers (26-45) will hit the middle of their five-game road trip when they face the playoff-hunting Chicago Bulls (34-38) at the United Center on Friday (8 p.m./CSN, and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. Licking their wounds
That escalated quickly.

The Sixers were blitzed in their lone visit of the season to Oklahoma City on Wednesday when they suffered a 122-97 loss. Russell Westbrook notched his 35th triple-double of 2016-17 in just three quarters.

The overriding theme from the game was the Thunder were far more physical than the Sixers. OKC shot 54.5 percent from the field, scored 76 points in the paint and outrebounded the Sixers by 34.

"It's a fantastic example for our young guys on the physicality of playoff-type teams," Brett Brown said (see story). "That side of it stood out to me more than it has in a long time. You look at (Steven) Adams and you look at (Enes) Kanter and you look at Taj Gibson and you look at the discrepancy on the boards, the rebounding differential, and it felt that. It's just a reminder, if you want to play late in April and May, maybe June one day, that's the physicality the playoffs bring."

2. Bully Bulls
The Bulls are hoping to still be playing during that timeframe Brown laid out. They are currently one game behind the Miami Heat for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago is in that position mainly thanks to its own physicality, particularly in the rebounding department. The Bulls are third in the NBA in rebounding behind Oklahoma City and Denver with 45.9 boards per game. They are No. 1 in offensive rebounding with 12.3 a night, which is also a big reason the Bulls lead the league in second-chance points with 15.4 a game.

The Bulls don't have a specific player that carries the load on the glass. Seven different guys average at least four rebounds for the team.

Moral of the story: the Bulls will fight you down low. Literally.

Starting center Robin Lopez will return to the lineup against the Sixers after serving a one-game suspension for his run-in with Toronto Raptors big man Serge Ibaka.

3. Butler is a baller
Jimmy Butler is one of those eight players who averages at least four boards for the Bulls. He also happens to do a bit more for Chicago.

Butler continues to be an all-around threat. He is averaging 23.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this season.

The three-time All-Star has been just as sharp against the Sixers this season. Butler has put up 27.0 points, 6.0 boards and 5.0 assists per game in the two previous matchups this season.

The Sixers will need a big effort from rugged defender Robert Covington and anyone else who guards Butler to contain him.

4. Injuries
Tiago Splitter (calf), Joel Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Cristiano Felicio (back) is a game-time decision. Dwyane Wade (elbow) is out for the Bulls.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 12 straight to the Bulls.

• The Sixers have committed 32 turnovers in two games against the Bulls.

• Ex-Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams has averaged 18.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in three games against his former team.

• Jahlil Okafor has recorded 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in four games against his hometown Bulls.

Best of NBA: DeMar DeRozan goes for 40 points again in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeMar DeRozan goes for 40 points again in Raptors' win

MIAMI -- DeMar DeRozan scored 40 points, marking the first time he's had that many in consecutive games, and the Toronto Raptors pulled off their 19th double-digit comeback of the season to beat the Miami Heat 101-84 on Thursday night.

DeRozan shot 14 for 25 from the field and 12 for 13 from the line. He needed 38 shots to score 42 against Chicago on Tuesday.

Norman Powell scored 14 and Delon Wright added 13 for Toronto, which never led until midway through the third quarter. The Raptors allowed 33 points in the first quarter, then held Miami to 35 points over the next 27 minutes.

Playing with 13 stitches in his right hand, Hassan Whiteside scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for Miami. Rodney McGruder and Goran Dragic each had 13 points for the Heat, with Dragic shooting just 5 for 18 (see full recap).

Nets crush Suns for first two-game win streak
NEW YORK -- Brook Lopez scored 19 points, K.J. McDaniels had a season-high 16 and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Phoenix Suns 126-98 on Thursday night to give them consecutive victories for the first time this season.

Trevor Booker added 14 points for the league-worst Nets, who beat Detroit on Tuesday.

Devin Booker scored 28 points and Marquese Chriss had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns. Alex Len had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Brooklyn took a commanding 84-65 lead into the fourth quarter as Lopez scored 12 points in the third quarter. Brooklyn held Phoenix to 15 points, the fewest points the Nets have allowed in the third quarter this season.

Phoenix opened the game with a 17-4 run and led 32-22 after the first quarter. However, Brooklyn turned the tide in the second quarter and took a 52-50 lead into the halftime (see full recap).

Spurs top Grizzlies in possible playoff preview
SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge scored 23 points, Kawhi Leonard added 19 and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Memphis Grizzlies 97-90 on Thursday night in a possible first-round playoff preview.

San Antonio opened a four-game homestand by moving two games behind idle Golden State for the league's best record. The Spurs (55-16) close the homestand against the Warriors (57-14) next Wednesday.

Memphis (40-32) is seventh in the Western Conference, which would result in a first-round matchup with San Antonio if the standings remain.

Mike Conley had 22 points and six assists for Memphis, which lost its third straight to fall 1 games behind Oklahoma City for sixth place.

Marc Gasol, who had 13 points, was the only other Grizzlies player in double figures (see full recap).