PHILADELPHIA — It happened, again.
The 76ers faced and defeated an undermanned team for the eighth consecutive game. This time, their opponent was the Eastern Conference’s last-place Detroit Pistons.
But the Sixers also joined in the act this time, playing without starters Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, and reserve Furkan Korkmaz in a 118-114 victory.
Joel Embiid had another solid game, finishing with 29 points on 11-for-13 shooting in less than 23 minutes. Tyrese Maxey added 22 points while starting in place of Simmons at point guard. Embiid’s backup, Dwight Howard, added 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Saturday night’s win at the Wells Fargo Center extended the Sixers’ winning streak to a season-long eight games. It also gave the conference-leading Sixers (47-21) a 3 1/2-game cushion over the second-place Milwaukee Bucks with four games remaining in the regular season. The third-place Brooklyn Nets took the same record as the Bucks (43-24) into their late Saturday night game against the Denver Nuggets.
The Sixers’ magic number to clinch the top seed is two — any combination of Sixers wins or Bucks losses.
Saturday’s victory was never seriously in doubt even without Simmons (back tightness), Curry (left hip injury recovery), and Korkmaz (right ankle sprain).
Simmons and Curry had the night off, while Korkmaz missed his third game after re-injuring his ankle on Monday against the Chicago Bulls.
“It’s all about health,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of holding players out of a game in the midst of a battle for the No. 1 seed. “We have to keep it that.”
Well, they definitely picked the right night to hold out Simmons and Curry.
The Pistons (20-48) have lost eight of their last 10 games. And against the Sixers, they were without Hamidou Daillo (personal reasons), Josh Jackson (tooth surgery), Rodney McGruder (right elbow sprain) and Dennis Smith Jr. (left knee soreness). Three others — Wayne Ellington (calf strain), former Sixers Jerami Grant (right knee soreness) and Corey Joseph (left ankle soreness) — were all cleared to play after being listed as questionable.
It didn’t really matter who played as the Sixers had five double-figure scorers.
Tobias Harris (18 points, six rebounds, four assists) and Danny Green (11 points, three rebounds, and three assists) joined Embiid, Maxey, and Howard.
Grant and former Villanova star Saddiq Bey paced the Pistons with 14 points apiece.
Embiid and Harris set the tempo from the start.
Driving to the basket, Harris scored on layups, floaters, and turnaround jumpers early on. The power forward ended up with 11 first-quarter points on 5-for-7 shooting. Embiid wasn’t far behind with eight points while making 3 of 4 shots.
Following their lead, the Sixers combined to shoot 63.6% to take a 34-17 cushion into the second quarter.
Embiid added 10 points in the second quarter as the Sixers took a 56-43 advantage into the half. Harris only had one point in the second quarter while not attempting any shots.
Harris had four points while struggling through 1-for-7 shooting in the third. However, Embiid, Maxey. and Howard took up the slack. All three had seven points in the quarter as the Sixers took an 89-73 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The highlight was when Howard hit a corner 3-pointer, which gave the Sixers an 89-72 lead with 54.6 seconds left in the quarter. It was the 17th-year veteran center’s fifth 3-pointer of the season and just the 14th of his career.
The Sixers went on to lead by as many as 24 points before taking the 14-point victory.