Prediction: 56-26 record, second seed in East.
The connection between the 76ers and their fans was already solid before Wednesday night.
The fight between star center Joel Embiid and Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns midway through the third period of an eventual 117-95 victory at the Wells Fargo Center only served to strengthen that bond.
The Philly faithful appreciate toughness and aggression, and love how Embiid dominated Towns during the game, then didn’t hesitate to tangle once things escalated from pushing to an all-out fracas.
After a lengthy officials’ review, Embiid shadow boxed and exulted upon learning he and Towns had been ejected, further inciting the sellout crowd of 20,204.
“I was built for this city and they were built for me,” said Embiid afterward. “The love they have for me – I can’t thank them enough. I really appreciate all the love. It’s crazy. That type of reaction was probably the loudest I ever heard them. I heard the ‘M-V-P’ chants from the locker room. It’s great. That’s what the city of Philadelphia is about.
“You got to come in here (and) you got to fight. You got to play hard. You got to be gritty. You got to a Broad Street Bully. That’s what it’s about. We’re going to keep on fighting and trying to accomplish the goal we have set for us.”
That goal would be the franchise’s first NBA title since 1982-83.
Brett Brown, who became the Sixers’ second-longest tenured coach (496 games) Wednesday, also noted how the team’s rugged personality fits the city.
“If you went into our practice facility, it’s our creed,” Brown said. “It’s Philly hard. It’s Philly edge. And there’s an authenticity. It’s real.”
The fans liked how Ben Simmons rushed in and subdued Towns, putting him in a choke hold of sorts and acting as a peacemaker, according to the officials. The Wolves disagreed with that assessment Thursday, citing his “dangerous choke hold,” according to an ESPN report. ESPN claimed the Sixers stressed the perception that Towns was the aggressor.
Embiid appreciated how Simmons and other Sixers immediately came to his aid. Towns missed with a right-handed punch, the two locked up and Embiid gouged Towns’ left eye with his right hand during the scrum.
“That’s what I love about this team,” Embiid said. “We love each other. We love playing with each other. We have each other’s backs. It’s great to see. It goes a long way.”
For his part, Towns repeatedly answered questions about the fight by saying it was the result of “a competitive game.”
While Mike Scott encouraged and congratulated Embiid following the skirmish, general manager Elton Brand didn’t look too thrilled as he stood by the Sixers’ bench when Embiid headed to the locker room.
Veteran Al Horford wasn’t raving about what transpired, either.
“It’s just one of those things that you don’t want to see in a game,” Horford said. “Our game is a great game. That happened and it was unfortunate, but I do hope that they both learn from this. There’s just no place for that in our game.”
The NBA gave the Sixers a hand with their “load management” of Embiid by suspending him — and Towns — for two games apiece, which was what I expected. Embiid will miss Saturday evening’s start to a four-game Western Conference swing in Portland and Monday’s contest in Phoenix.
Horford will move from starting power forward to center in Embiid’s absence.
Embiid didn’t help his case with the league by his post-fight WWE act, or by saying, “I shouldn’t get suspended, but they have a history of overruling anything that comes to me in a certain way” or by ripping Towns on Instagram later.
“Go ahead using that pic of me caring (crying) about losing in the second round OF THE PLAYOFFS,” Embiid wrote. “Oh wait you’ve never been there. You don’t know what it’s like. … You’ve been (soft) your whole life. That’s why you were treated like a (softie) by you know who (presumably Jimmy Butler). … I OWN YOU.”
While that’s not exactly taking the high road, the majority of Philly fans undoubtedly loved every word.
Tom Moore: email@example.com; @TomMoorePhilly