Jan. 6—Montrezl Harrell described himself as "blessed."

The 76ers reserve center believes he is blessed to be playing basketball in his eighth NBA season.

"I had a lot of stuff transpire ... especially in the beginning of the season," Harrell said following Wednesday's 129-126 overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center. "So just to be able to be out here and play this game and still be able to call it my job is a blessing."

The Sixers (23-14) are also blessed that he has played steadily over the last three weeks. That became apparent when the Sixers announced that Joel Embiid will remain sidelined with left foot soreness and miss Friday night's game against the Chicago Bulls at the Wells Fargo Center. The perennial All-NBA center also missed Wednesday's overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers because of the injury.

The team will look for Harrell to continue playing at an elite level, especially with their best player sidelined.

There was no guarantee that the 28-year-old would find himself in this spot.

On Aug. 31, Harrell had a felony marijuana charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Prior to that, he was facing a felony charge after Kentucky officers found three pounds of cannabis in his car during a traffic stop in June. Harrell pleaded guilty. With that behind him, the 2020 sixth man of the year signed with the Sixers in September.

However, the 6-foot-7, 240-pounder was third on the depth chart behind Embiid and Paul Reed in training camp. He and Reed split time as Embiid's backup at the start of the season, with one holding the position until the other struggled and was replaced by the other.

Now Harrell appears to have settled into that role. Wednesday, he played a season-high 27 minutes, 59 seconds as the Sixers went with a small-ball starting lineup with P.J. Tucker at center.

"I don't take any day for granted," Harrell said. "It's a lot of ups, a lot of downs throughout the whole season, but I just try to stay ready and kill, make sure I get my work in."

He definitely was killing it against the Pacers (21-18), finishing with season highs of 19 points and four blocks along with five rebounds, one assist, and one steal.

Harrell made his first eight attempts en route to shooting 8-for-9 from the field. His lone miss came on a layup tip with 55.6 seconds remaining in overtime.

Harrell became the first Sixers reserve to post at least 15 points and four blocks in a game since Spencer Hawes in 2012. Harrell is also the fourth Sixer since 1995 to accomplish that feat.

The 28-year-old's play was needed with Embiid out. He showed why the Sixers signed him to be an emotional spark off the bench. His energy, endless activity, and level of ferociousness while attacking the basket were unmatched.

"He did it all," Matisse Thybulle said. "He was vocal and moving on defense, playing the low man, cleaning up messes, and on offense, he was kind of dominating the paint."

Now, the Sixers will look to extend two winning streaks when they face the Bulls (17-21). They've won 11 consecutive games at home. The Sixers also have a 12-game series winning streak against Chicago.

While Embiid can't be replaced, one has to assume that Harrell's performance gives the Sixers at least a bit of comfort.

"He was there all night," Doc Rivers said. "And then we X'd out for him. I was really happy with the way he played. He just has great hands. James [Harden] really trusts when he rolls. He comes up with the ball, and that's good for us."

The Bulls are led by All-Star small forward DeMar DeRozan, who has averaged 30.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in his last five games against the Sixers.

Meanwhile, Chicago's three centers are former Sixers and the first two could provide a stiff challenge even if Embiid were to play.

Starter Nikola Vučević, who played in Philly as a rookie in the 2011-12 season, is averaging 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds, seventh in the league. In 15 career meetings against Embiid, both players are averaging 11.0 rebounds.

Bulls backup Andre Drummond played for the Sixers last season before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets as part of a package for Harden in February. He's averaging 6.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 13.9 minutes. Third-stringer Tony Bradley had a short stint with the Sixers during the 2020-21 season before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 25, 2021.

Friday's matchup will mark the teams' second of four meetings this season.

The Sixers defeated the Bulls, 114-109, on Oct. 29 at the United Center. Embiid was the savior that night. He shook off his missed free throws in a tied game with 61 seconds remaining and buried a 25-foot three-pointer with 18.1 seconds left. Then, on the ensuing possession, he made a defensive play at the rim to alter an opponent's shot.

After a Tucker turnover and an Alex Caruso steal and missed three-pointer, Tobias Harris iced the game with a pair of foul shots with four ticks left.

Harrell had three points, four rebounds, and two assists in that game. He'll be looked to provide more offense Friday.

His season averages of 5.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 12 minutes are the lowest of his career since his rookie season with the Houston Rockets in 2015-16.

But Harrell has been getting consistent minutes over the last 12 games, and things have started to click.

"I'm just playing as hard as I can, man," he said. "Just doing all of the little things I know that I can do. There's nothing different from any of my other workouts, my regime or any other way I approach the game. I approach the game to play it like it's my last game. I leave it all on out there and just play it the right way, because nine out of 10 the basketball gods reward that."


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