Giannis Antetokounmpo has career-high 52 but Joel Embiid gets last laugh (VIDEO)

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MILWAUKEE (AP) Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a career-high 52 points, but Joel Embiid had 40 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers over the Milwaukee Bucks 130-125 on Sunday.

Antetokounmpo was 15 of 26 from the field, including 3 of 8 from 3-point range, and made 19 of 21 free throws to better his previous career best by eight points.

Embiid and the Sixers weathered a late charge by Milwaukee to beat the team with the best overall record in the NBA (52-18) and the top home record (27-6). It was the fifth time this season Embiid scored 40 or more points and came in his fourth game back after missing nine straight with left knee soreness.

Jimmy Butler added 27 points, JJ Redick 19 and Tobias Harris 12 for the Sixers, near the top of the Eastern Conference standings at 45-15.

Milwaukee had a brief scare when Antetokounmpo was fouled on a driving layup and landed awkwardly late in the third. He got up favoring his right leg, but then sank one of two free throws.

Embiid scored 18 points and Butler had 14 in the fourth quarter. Antetokounmpo’s three-point play pulled the Bucks to 118-114 with 1:18 to go, but Ben Simmons then tipped in Embiid’s miss.

The Bucks got to 3 points twice in the closing seconds, but Embiid and Harris each made two free throws to seal the win.

Khris Middleton scored 13 points and Brooks Lopez added 11 for the Bucks.

Mike Scott hit a wide-open 3 to give the Sixers a 98-86 lead early in the fourth and force the Bucks to burn a timeout.

Scott also provided a fun highlight – late in the first quarter, he made a dive into the stands trying to save a loose ball. He landed in the second row, surprised a fan by taking a quick sip of her drink, and ran back on defense as play continued.

TIP-INS

76ers: Philadelphia moved to a season-high 20 games over .500

Bucks: Nikola Mirotic started for Malcolm Brogdon, who is out with a minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot. Brogdon had started 64 of 69 games and is out indefinitely. . Recalled F Christian Wood from the Wisconsin Herd.

MOMENT OF SILENCE

There was a pregame moment of silence for the victims and survivors of the New Zealand mosque attacks.

UP NEXT

76ers: Play at Charlotte on Tuesday.

Bucks: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Embiid has 21 points, 17 rebounds, leads 76ers past Kings

Associated Press
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A little rest and a taste of spring did a lot for Jimmy Butler.

Butler had 22 points, six rebounds and seven assists while playing with the type of assertiveness coach Brett Brown says the 76ers need from him in Philadelphia’s 123-114 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.

Joel Embiid added 21 points and 17 rebounds and made some big plays on both ends of the court late in the fourth quarter for the 76ers, who won their third in a row to pull even with idle Indiana for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia holds the tiebreaker with the Pacers and is trying to maintain hold of home court in a first-round playoff series, something Brown said he coveted before the contest. Fifth-seeded Boston is two games behind the 76ers and Pacers.

In order to secure home court and go deep in the playoffs, Brown knows he’ll need Butler to play the way he did against the Kings.

“He was our bell ringer,” Brown said. “We will not be as good as we can be without him playing the way he played tonight.”

Butler rested in Philadelphia’s last game, a 106-99 victory over Cleveland on Tuesday. And he felt even more refreshed by Friday’s weather in Philly, which reached 75 degrees.

“That’s all it takes,” Butler said. “Rest and good weather. It makes my knees not ache.”

And it’s only going to warm up as the postseason draws near, a great sign for 76ers fans.

“The snow is gone,” Butler said. “We’re good. We’re ready to rock.”

Tobias Harris and JJ Redick each added 19 points and Ben Simmons contributed 18 for the 76ers.

Harrison Barnes and De'Aaron Fox had 16 points apiece for Sacramento, which lost its third in a row and seventh in the last nine to further hurt its playoff push. The Kings, who last made the postseason in 2006, entered ninth in the West, five games behind the Clippers.

“We’re playing hard, we’re playing the right way, we’re playing together,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “The wins are going to come.”

And how?

“Don’t play Golden State, Oklahoma City, Denver, Philly, Boston . I can go on,” Joerger joked.

With Philadelphia clinging to a four-point lead with 3 minutes remaining, Embiid blocked Willie Cauley-Stein‘s layup attempt. Two possessions later, Embiid rejected Barnes’ close-range try before hitting a short jumper of his own to make it 121-114 with 1:45 remaining.

“At the end of the day, I think Joel Embiid made two defensive plays that were terrific,” Joerger said.

The Kings were playing one night after a 126-120 loss at Boston, a game in which they had a 17-point first-half lead.

Against Philadelphia, Sacramento played from behind from the outset. Philadelphia increased its 62-58 halftime advantage to as many as 13 in the third quarter on Redick’s 3 that made it 93-80 with 2:13 left in the period.

The 76ers had a 10-point advantage to start the fourth, but Yogi Ferrell‘s 3 capped a 9-2 Kings run to start the period that pulled Sacramento within 101-98 with 9:25 to play. But Simmons scored consecutive buckets from close range to increase the lead to seven and Sacramento never would get closer than three the rest of the way.

 

Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid returns, dominates inside, Sixers look like playoff threat

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Joel Embiid returns, dominates inside, Sixers look like playoff threat in beating Pacers. Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler are All-Stars. Tobias Harris should have been. They are all top 25 players in the NBA.

Joel Embiid is better than any of them — a true top-10 difference maker — and the Sixers need him if they are to be a real threat in the playoffs.

How much the big man in the middle means to Philadelphia was evident Sunday in his return from an eight-game absence — he had 33 points on 21 shots (18 of those points in the fourth quarter), 12 rebounds, and dominated the paint in a critical Sixers win over the Pacers, 106-89.

Embiid was a physical force inside that got Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis in foul trouble, both Pacers big men picked up their fourth foul early in the third quarter and had to be cautious the rest of the way. Also, combined the two Pacers’ bigs shot 3-of-14. Meanwhile, Embiid shot 8-of-12 at the rim (although his outside shot showed plenty of rust, as did his entire game early). The Pacers shot 40.8 percent (20-of-49) in the paint.

The Sixers as a team cranked up the defense in the third quarter to take the lead, holding Indiana to 3-of-20 shooting for the frame.

The win moved the Sixers into a tie with the Pacers for the three seed in the East, with the Sixers likely to hold on to that spot because the Pacers have the much tougher schedule the rest of the way. For the Sixers that means avoiding Boston in a first-round series, which is something both sides wanted.

The Sixers have a lot to figure out during the last 15 games if they are going to be a genuine threat in the second round and beyond of the East playoffs. The halfcourt offense looked stagnant at points. Simmons has liked playing in the post at times this season, but that’s more complicated with Embiid out there, that dance needs to be worked out. Brett Brown has to figure out his rotations. The players just need to gel, sacrifice, and learn to trust each other.

But none of that was going to work without Embiid in the middle of it all. He is their anchor, their keystone, and the guy that makes it all work. He’s back, which means the Sixers are back to being a playoff threat.

2) Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. throws down a dunk of the year candidate. Damn. This just is not fair.

That is reminiscent of some of those old Blake Griffin dunks where he just seemed to fly and threw it into the basket. That’s what Jones does here. There are not many, if any, better dunks this season.

(By the way, if you’re going to argue it’s not a dunk because he threw it in the basket just stop, go sit in a meditative pose, and question why it is you hate fun and feel the need to be contrarian on such little things. Let it go and enjoy life and all basketball has to offer.)

3) Suns snap 18-straight game losing streak to Warriors; Kevin Durant injures ankle. The Warriors are bored, but is it morphing into more than that?

Before we question the Warriors, we have to start by propping up the giant killers, the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix is one of the NBA’s worst teams, one of the three teams with the best odds (14 percent) of landing Zion Williamson, yet they have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks and now Golden State Warriors in recent weeks. The Suns snapped an 18-game losing streak to the Warriors, coming from 16 points down at one point to win 115-111 behind 37 points from Devin Booker.

Against Denver last Friday night we saw what the Warriors can do when they focus and flip the switch. That’s the Warriors we will see in the playoffs.

But the Warriors had issues in this game.

The potentially biggest was Kevin Durant going down with an ankle injury midway through the fourth quarter.

Coach Steve Kerr said he didn’t think the injury was that bad, but as with all sprained ankles it is how things look the next morning that matters most.

Kerr was frustrated with his team and late in the game was caught saying what looks like “I’m so f****** tired of Draymond’s s*** …” — and that video went viral.

What he was referring to — attitude, missed shots, missed assignments — is unknown. Emotions were high and Kerr should have been frustrated in anyone in yellow yesterday. No Warrior played well.

Particularly on defense. Starting in the second quarter (when the boredom seemed to kick in) they had a had a lot of missed assignments, they didn’t stay in front of their man, and generally just went through the motions. It was an ugly loss. After the game, Klay Thompson tried a different tack and said the team needed more from the fans.

The fans will be deafening in Oracle if they are given something to cheer for. The players failed at that assignment.

Watch James Harden score 31 to help Rockets rout slumping 76ers 107-91

Associated Press
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HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets are finally healthy and it has them on a roll.

James Harden had 31 points and 10 rebounds and the Rockets extended their winning streak to a season-high seven games with a 107-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

While Harden has missed just four games this season, fellow stars Chris Paul and Clint Capela have missed 15 and 19 games, respectively, with injuries.

“I think it’s very obvious with Clint, Chris and James playing together and they’re all healthy and in rhythm we’re pretty hard to beat,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Houston improved to 21-9 this season in games when all three play after going 42-3 in such games last season.

“Our pace and energy has been really good and it always helps to be healthy,” Paul said.

The Rockets had a big lead for most of the night after a 37-point first quarter and were up by 22 entering the fourth. Philadelphia had trouble containing Capela with Joel Embiid out for the eighth straight game with a sore left knee, and Houston’s big man had 18 points and nine rebounds.

“They did an excellent job at defending us,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “I just think that first period sort of set the table and we found it difficult to respond after that.”

The victory came after Philadelphia won the first meeting this season 121-93 behind 32 points from Embiid.

Gerald Green and Iman Shumpert each made a 3-pointer to power a 6-2 run in the fourth quarter and extend the lead to 96-72 with nine minutes left. Philadelphia scored the next five points before Harden wowed the crowd with a between-the-legs bounce pass to Capela, but he was fouled on the shot and missed both free throws.

Houston led by 16 with about five minutes left when Harden had a dunk to make it 99-81 and give him at least 30 points in his NBA-leading 30th game this season. Coach Mike D’Antoni cleared the bench soon after that with the game in hand.

Tobias Harris had 22 points for the 76ers, who dropped their second straight. Ben Simmons played despite dealing with stomach flu and added 15 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Philadelphia shot just 3 of 26 on 3-pointers with JJ Redick going 1 for 9 and Mike Scott missing all of his five attempts.

The 76ers opened the third quarter with a 9-6 run to cut the lead to 12 points, but Houston scored the next six points with 3s from Harden and Eric Gordon to push it to 71-53 with about six minutes left in the quarter.

Harden left briefly in the second quarter after crashing to the court after a collision with Simmons while attempting a shot. He remained on the court on his back writhing in pain for a couple of minutes before getting to his feet and going to the locker room. He appeared to have injured his right wrist and had it taped when he returned to the court.

It didn’t seem to be bothering him much after he returned to the game and he provided a highlight-reel play when he used a crossover to shake Jimmy Butler at the 3-point line and drove into the lane for a layup to leave Houston up 59-44 at halftime.

D’Antoni said that Harden was OK, but a team official said that he was getting a precautionary X-ray after the game and wasn’t available to reporters.

 

76ers owner Josh Harris: Joel Embiid ‘our most important player. He’s clearly our future’

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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In the last 30 years, three pairs of under-age-25 teammates have been All-Stars together:

Shaq and Penny broke up before winning a title together. So did Durant and Westbrook.

Will Embiid and Simmons rise together in Philadelphia?

There have been some indications of strife between the young stars. The way both express cockiness, it’s not difficult to envision an eventual power struggle for control of the team.

If so, it sounds clear which player Philadelphia would pick.

76ers owner Josh Harris on Embiid, via Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

He’s our most important player. He’s clearly our future — they’re all an important part of the future — but Joel is exceptional. We generally talk to him about how we are oriented, and what type of players we might be bringing in. We get his advice. In terms of specific conversations, we give him a heads-up. At times, it’s not always appropriate because of the other parties involved. You don’t want to compromise who we are talking to or put [Embiid] in an awkward position. “But we’re certainly thinking all the time about how to complement his skill set, which is 3 and D wings, people who spread the court. He’s a dominant presence defensively and he’s dominant in the paint. We need to take the pressure off him so people don’t collapse on him.”

Simmons is a good player. But he’s not at all a floor spacer. His skill set doesn’t complement Embiid particularly well.

How does Simmons fit into the 76ers that Harris described?

On-court fit matters. But so does talent. Simmons brings plenty of the latter. He has great size for a lead ballhandler and excellent court vision. His defense is strong.

Philadelphia should continue trying to get Embiid and Simmons to mesh. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to listen for a trade that returns better-fitting talent. But selling low on Simmons just because of his fit with Embiid would be a mistake.

Simmons will be eligible for a contract extension this offseason. Harris’ words matter, but actions speak louder. Extension negotiations will be our best opportunity to gauge how the 76ers value Simmons.

That said, he’d still hold plenty of trade value on a max extension.