The 76ers (42-27) will seek their fourth straight win Sunday, facing the Portland Trail Blazers (32-39) inside the bubble.
Friday against the Orlando Magic, Al Horford stepped into the starting lineup in place of Ben Simmons and shone.
The All-Star big man finished with 21 points, nine rebounds (including five offensive boards), two assists, and a block.
“[Al brought] a smash-mouth, physical presence that we needed tonight,” Brett Brown said afterwards. “It’s not a statistic to me – although his stats are pretty damn good. It’s more that physical presence that he brings to this group.”
Horford sensed the urgency of the moment.
“We’re at this point in the season where we’re getting ready to get the playoffs started, and we need to set the tone,” Horford said.
The Sixers also saw strong performances from Tobias Harris (23 pts, 15 reb, 4 ast), Alec Burks (22 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast), and Joel Embiid (23 pts, 14 reb) in the win. Harris’ 15 rebounds tie a season-high, while Burks’ 22 points marked his highest scoring outing as a Sixer.
Horford credited Embiid’s intensity for the team’s impressive second half.
“I think Joel changed the game for us in the second half. He didn’t care what was going on, what they were throwing at him – he was going to go dominate & be assertive.”
“When he does that, and he has that mindset… All I can say is good luck.”
Moving forward, the Sixers will continue to count on all of their contributors to rally without one of their All-Stars, but it’s a challenge the team will welcome.
“We’re going to have a next man up mentality like we’ve had all year,” Josh Richardson said.
Sunday’s matchup tips at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Battling through a heated playoff race in the Western Conference, the No. 9 Trail Blazers are 1.5 games behind the No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies (33-37).
The Blazers have won three of their first five games inside the bubble, and will face the Sixers on the second day of a back-to-back. In Portland’s 122-117 loss Saturday to the Clippers, CJ McCollum led the team with 29 points, four rebounds, and eight assists.
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