Since settling into their current rotation, the Philadelphia Sixers are 8-3.
Two of the three losses have come against the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, and the other defeat was a 109-108 decision in Sacramento.
Nearly all the team’s victories have been aided by the Sixers bench, with standout performances nightly or punches of energy at just the right moment. None was so obvious as Monday night’s 107-86 win over the Jazz.
The Sixers starting unit is clearly full of firepower. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are forces of nature, Robert Covington is possibly the most well-rounded player on the roster, JJ Redick is a famed sharpshooter, and Dario Saric, who is still finding his way, is the ultimate workhorse. But there are going to be nights when the starters need help — as was the case Monday.
“The bench really helped us tonight,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said after the game.
In the first half, Simmons wasn’t connecting; Embiid, a game-time decision because of knee soreness, was playing shorter spurts than he had lately; Redick missed all three of his shots; and Covington was 1 for 7 from the field.
T.J. McConnell, Amir Johnson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Jerryd Bayless came off the bench and combined to shoot 9-for-12 for 21 of the Sixers’ 47 first-half points. And defensively, they brought energy and awareness that the team was lacking.
These are the kinds of performances that the team is going to need to sustain a level of success.
“T.J. gave us a real spark in the first half, and Amir’s presence on both ends of the paint I thought was huge,” Redick said after the win.
The NBA season is long and unforgiving. There will be injuries — as there already have been for the Sixers — and slumps, and fatigue will set in. So the reserve unit has to stay ready.
The Sixers are 9-7. Over the next five games, they will face three of the Eastern Conference’s top teams — Cleveland, Washington and Boston — and the West’s fourth seed, Portland. These games will be useful in seeing how the Sixers measure up against the better teams, but also in gauging whether the bench can maintain or extend leads, or provide a spark to bring the team back into a game.
The Sixers reserves don’t rank highly in production compared to the rest of the league. They don’t have to. With such high-volume scorers in the starting unit, that responsibility has not been on the second unit. That could change quickly.
If the performances of the last few games, especially the first half against Utah, are any indication, the reserves are on the right track, and will be ready when more is asked of them.