With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out, the Sixers’ matchup with Brooklyn Saturday night lost a little luster.

Still, the Sixers took care of business, beating James Harden and the Nets, 124-108. It improves the team’s East-leading record to 17-7. When the starting lineup is intact, they’re 13-0.

Here are a few takeaways from the win.

Simmons Changes the Game

To start the game off, Doc Rivers opted to put Danny Green on Harden. Rivers explained postgame that the move was to conserve Ben Simmons’ energy and keep him out of foul trouble. The Sixers led by just three at the half after Harden had a nice close to the second quarter.

With the game still close at the beginning of the third, Rivers had seen enough and put Simmons on Harden. The result was a 14-0 run that essentially put the game out of reach. Simmons was outstanding, not allowing Harden to get where he wanted to go without fouling.

But it wasn’t just Simmons that contributed to slowing down Harden. Joel Embiid did a much better job handling the pick-and-roll between Harden and DeAndre Jordan. The trio of Simmons, Green and Matisse Thybulle gave the Sixers’ the ability to switch among those three players, something that clearly frustrated Harden as he hunted mismatches.

While many wanted to see the Simmons-Harden matchup from opening tip, Rivers’ strategy worked. Rivers even said postgame that he could tell Simmons was fresher in the second half, which allowed him to guard Harden at a high level and also push the pace offensively (Simmons was also strong on that end with 16 points and eight assists).

That strategy will be more difficult to deploy when the Sixers are forced to face the Nets at full strength, but on Saturday, it was effective.

The Big Three

The Sixers might have three All-Stars this season – and all three played like it Saturday.

It was another ho-hum 33-point, nine-rebound performance for Embiid. Coming off the game Thursday in which he hyperextended his knee, Embiid was questionable coming in. While he was dominant at times and said postgame that he’s fine, there were signs that perhaps his knee was giving him trouble. He attempted seven threes, his highest total this season and most since taking six on Dec. 29 against Toronto. He also turned the ball over five times, tying a season-high. Still, the idea that this was Embiid at not 100 percent is scary.

As mentioned, Simmons was excellent all night. He pushed the pace and aggressively attacked the rim offensively. He changed the game defensively. A small concern is that Simmons has turned the ball over 11 times in his last two games, but a decent chunk of those have been offensive fouls where he’s been overaggressive. Those turnovers are the kind you can live with.

Last but not least, Tobias Harris continues to be a steadying force for the Sixers. Coming off one of his few down games of the season Thursday, this was a solid bounce-back effort. With his 21 points Saturday, Harris has scored in double figures in every game this season. He’s scored at least 17 in all but three games. The most impressive thing has been the efficiency in which he’s done it. He’s shooting 51.4 percent on the season. He’s hit over 50 percent of his shots in all but six games. A 50/40/90 season is a tough feat, but Harris has a chance.

Curry Looks Healthy

Nothing in the box score will excite you about Seth Curry’s performance, but the fact that he looked like himself was encouraging enough. In the eight games since returning from his bout with COVID-19, Curry was shooting below 30 percent from three and below 40 percent overall. While he didn’t light it up by any means, there were plenty of positive signs against the Nets.

Curry said postgame that he felt like he got some of his burst and energy back. While he went just 4 of 11, the fact that he had the energy to take 11 shots is encouraging. After Curry left the loss against Portland early, Rivers said postgame that his starting shooting guard has looked tired. It was easy to see the difference considering how well Curry had played before his positive test.

The torrid rate Curry was playing at pre-COVID was not sustainable, but he’s clearly a better player than he’s shown recently. His shooting and his ability to handle the basketball open up so many things for the Sixers offensively.

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