PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 2: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 2, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Coming off four losses in their last six games, the Golden State Warriors got back on track with a 120-117 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Saturday.

During the Warriors’ recent swoon, they lost back-to-back games against the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. Continuing their Eastern Conference road trip against one of the best teams in the NBA didn’t seem like the right opportunity to turn things around.

Both teams were playing at less than full strength. The Warriors didn’t have Klay Thompson because of a sore knee. Joel Embiid remains out of action with with a knee injury of his own.

After trailing by 12 points at halftime, the Warriors outscored Philadelphia 65-50 over the final 24 minutes to steal the win.

Kevin Durant scored a game-high 34 points, in addition to grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists. Stephen Curry had 28 points on 10-of-23 shooting. DeMarcus Cousins added 25 points and eight rebounds.

Ben Simmons posted a triple-double of 25 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. Tobias Harris finished with 20 points but was held to just four after halftime. Jimmy Butler was inefficient with 21 points on 5-of-16 shooting.

Warriors’ Limited Depth Leaves Door Open for Other West Contenders

One hallmark of the Warriors during this run of three championships in the past four seasons has been an uncanny ability to overcome every seemingly insurmountable hurdle in their way. 

Whether it was trailing 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference Finals or facing elimination twice against the Houston Rockets in last year’s conference finals, the Warriors have never wavered. 

The one exception came in the 2016 NBA Finals when Golden State blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that has proven to be an anomaly. 

This season, though, has seen the Warriors endure more valleys than at any point in the Steve Kerr era. After a modest 23-13 start, they caught fire with 17 wins in 19 games from Jan. 5 through Feb. 21. 

One reasonable explanation for why the Warriors look more vulnerable this season than they had at any point since 2014-15 is a lack of depth. Durant, Curry and Cousins had 87 of the team’s 120 points against the 76ers. 

“It gets harder every year,” Kerr told reporters after Golden State’s 103-96 loss to the Orlando Magic. “But we’re still in a great position and put ourselves in a good spot.”

One positive sign is Cousins looks like he’s starting to get his legs back under him. The 28-year-old has scored at least 20 points and is shooting 56.5 percent (26-of-46) in each of his past three games. 

It’s not time for the Warriors to panic. Even coming off this recent cold stretch, they have kept pace with the Denver Nuggets for the top seed in the Western Conference, and not having home-court advantage doesn’t exactly spell doom for the Warriors, who won Game 7 against the Rockets on the road last season.

But there is also more competition in the Western Conference to contend with. The Rockets have won 26 of their last 37 games since an 11-14 start. A healthy Chris Paul may have been the only thing standing between them and a trip to the NBA Finals last summer. 

The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, ranked fourth in efficiency, and Paul George has become an MVP candidate on the strength of his all-around ability. 

Even in a victory over the Sixers when its top three players performed well and the other team didn’t play up to their full potential, Golden State had to hang by the skin of its teeth. 

The Warriors will rightly be favored to win the NBA championship for a third straight season. But their margin for error has gotten smaller because they have to depend on their normal starting five to dominate every night in the postseason.

Red-Hot Ben Simmons Makes Sixers East’s Most Dangerous Team

With Embiid sidelined, Simmons has taken over as the best player on Philadelphia’s roster. He’s recorded back-to-back triple-doubles against arguably the top two teams in the Western Conference. The second-year point guard had 11 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. 

Andrew Favakeh of Liberty City Ballers noted that in the Sixers’ first two games after the All-Star break, Simmons was being more aggressive and diverse on the offensive end:

“Another aspect the big point guard is slowly improving upon is those turnaround hook shots. They’re great because it adds a dimension to his game when defenses don’t guard. How he’s getting them, not why, is key, though.

“Against Miami, the smaller Winslow guarded Simmons for nearly every possession down the court. Simmons noticed. Big time. When the Australian wasn’t dribbling from end-to-end, he was carving out post-positioning against the 6-foot-5 guard.”

It’s been easy to get hung up on what Simmons doesn’t do—take jump shots—but that ignores so many ways he impacts a game. 

Even though the Sixers ultimately came up short against the Warriors, there are reasons to be optimistic as they head into the final stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs. They stood toe to toe with the two-time defending NBA champions without Embiid and with Butler and Harris having bad nights. 

When Harris was at his best in the first half, scoring 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, the 76ers were in complete control of the game with a 67-55 lead. 

Going back to the first meeting between these two teams on Jan. 31, Simmons was an unstoppable force against Golden State for six quarters:

The second-half swoon for Philadelphia does ruin the narrative, but the Warriors won’t be on the schedule again until a potential NBA Finals showdown. 

Assuming the 76ers are able to get Embiid back healthy for the playoffs, Simmons’ current hot streak gives them a ceiling that few teams in the league can match. 

The Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks are the most complete teams in the Eastern Conference, but Philadelphia’s potential and still-developing chemistry makes it the most dangerous squad heading into the final 19 games of the regular season and playoffs.

     

What’s Next?

The Warriors will continue their string of matchups against playoff contenders when they host the Boston Celtics on Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET. The 76ers will host the Orlando Magic on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.

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