76ers

Simmons has personal, team goals snatched away

Simmons has personal, team goals snatched away

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — It appeared Ben Simmons was just putting the finishing touches on his fourth career triple-double after a span midway through the fourth quarter when he showed off all facets of his versatile game.

Simmons and the 76ers looked to have to everything in control Monday in Chicago when they overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to build a nine-point lead with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter.

Simmons, who sparked a 13-2 fourth-quarter run, took a page out of the absent Joel Embiid's book by staring down Paul Zipser after a layup to give the Sixers a two-point lead with 7:52 remaining. Simmons then blocked Justin Holiday's shot to set up a three-pointer by Jerryd Bayless, and capped it off with another layup over Bobby Portis to extend the lead to seven. 

Simmons also gave Portis the stare-down treatment while heading into a Chicago timeout. After a pair of Bulls free throws, Simmons grabbed an offensive rebound to set up a four-point play for Bayless to give the Sixers that nine-point advantage.

Simmons’ silent trash talk was ultimately premature. Despite being unofficially credited with a triple-double, following the game his stats were altered as he finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in a 117-115 loss after Chicago put together a late 16-2 run (see observations). The loss dropped the Sixers below .500 (14-15) for the first time since Oct. 30.

Simmons had a chance to tie or get the Sixers a win, but he missed a contested layup with 0.5 seconds left on the clock (see highlights).

“I tried to get to the rim and draw a foul, but it's hard to get a foul in the final quarter of a game like that,” Simmons said. “They're not going to call anything like that. It was a chance to win, but it didn't happen.”

The Sixers had no answer for Nikola Mirotic and Kris Dunn down the stretch as the Chicago Bulls extended their improbable winning streak to six games.

The Bulls are undefeated with Mirotic in the lineup. He got knocked out by Portis in a preseason practice, and the Bulls have won all six games since his return.

Dario Saric tried to keep the 76ers in the game with 27 points and six rebounds (see highlights).

Saric made a three-pointer with 39.4 seconds left to get the game within two, but Simmons couldn't capitalize after a defensive stop.

Saric scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, and was involved in what could've been a flagrant foul when he was pounded by Portis on a layup attempt with 3:49 left.

“I thought it was, and I asked for a review,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said. “They said that Dario already had the ball at the free throw line and it was too late. But we'll see it in the light of day. It was my gut feel that it was. I'll be very disappointed if I go back and see the tape and I feel like I'm right.”

The Sixers were limited without Embiid, who sat out the first game of a back-to-back set. Trevor Booker and Furkan Korkmaz also missed game. Korkmaz is out indefinitely with a left foot injury and Booker missed the game after spraining his left ankle on Friday. 

That trio of players joined Justin Anderson and Markelle Fultz on the shelf for this matchup, which left the Sixers severely shorthanded.

Despite the lack of bodies, seven of the nine Sixers that took the court scored in double figures. 

Even with balanced effort, Brown was still in awe of Simmons’ all-around performance in the defeat.

"To think he can put up his signature on an NBA game like he does with so much room for improvement in some skill areas is exciting,” Brown said.

Is a rival upset with Embiid's ASG starter nod?

Is a rival upset with Embiid's ASG starter nod?

While Joel Embiid was sharing his first All-Star nod with his teammates and deciding to move on from his former crush, at least one person wasn’t happy that the Sixers’ center was tabbed as a starter.

Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis feels like he should have garnered that final frontcourt spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Players know,” he said, per the New York Daily News. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

True, Porzingis had more of the players’ support as he finished third in the East in that category compared to Embiid in fourth. 

However, Embiid had the trump card with a pair of third-place finishes in both media and fan voting while Porzingis came in fourth. The fan vote was the main key, as it accounted for 50 percent of the overall tally.

“I feel very blessed to be in this type of position,” Embiid said Thursday. “Thank all the fans out there for the support. It’s been a tough couple of years and I really appreciate it — everybody out there, everybody around me, the whole team, the whole organization, the fans especially, for making this happen. We can only get better from here.”

If Embiid is going to get even better, look out. He’s already averaging 23.9 points (48.7 percent shooting), 11.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 blocks per game this season. Oh yeah, he also has the Sixers with a 21-20 record and sitting in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, Porzingis’ overall numbers have gone down every month this season. He’s currently putting up 23.6 points (43.4 percent shooting), 6.9 boards, 1.2 assists and 2.4 blocks a night. And the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 15 games to fall to 20-25.

“Everybody has their own opinion,” Porzingis said. “Fans are one thing. It is what it is. There are a lot of things I could have done better also. It is what it is.”

Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

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Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

CLEVELAND -- There was none of the usual postgame chatter or music in the Cavaliers locker room.

The mood was somber and quiet, not the same place.

"Right now we're in Strugglesville," LeBron James said. "But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely."

Isaiah Thomas made two free throws with 11 seconds left and Cleveland came up with a defensive stop in the frantic final seconds after blowing a 23-point lead to beat the Orlando Magic 104-103 on Thursday night and snap a four-game losing streak.

After Thomas made his shots, Orlando's Elfrid Payton missed a contested layup with three seconds left. The three officials ruled there was an inadvertent whistle and held a jump ball at midcourt.

Magic forward Aaron Gordon grabbed the toss and sank a 45-footer as the horn sounded and Cleveland's crowd shrieked in disbelief. But Gordon committed a jump-ball violation with the move and Cleveland only had to inbound the ball to come away with a victory following a crazy and exhausting final sequence that left everyone dazed.

"No, I don't," said Thomas when asked if he knew what happened. "It was a lot of back and forth. I'm just glad we just came out with the win" (see full recap).

Rockets cruise past Timberwolves in Harden’s return
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon scored 30 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 116-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.

James Harden returned to the Rockets' lineup after missing seven games with a left hamstring strain and finished with 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting, and added seven assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes. Houston went 4-3 in his absence.

Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela added 20 points for the Rockets. Houston has won 15 of the past 17 meetings with Minnesota, including a 10-game winning streak at home.

Gordon closed out a big third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass from a step behind the half-court line. After hitting the shot under heavy pressure from Andrew Wiggins, Gordon gave a high-five to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who was sitting courtside near the shot.

Gordon's 3-pointer helped the Rockets finish the third quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 89-70 lead into the fourth with their largest advantage of the game. Gordon made 11 of 19 shots, including 7 of 13 from 3, and fell just short of his season-high 33 points against Utah on Dec. 18.

With Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza sitting out the first part of a two-game suspension for a postgame locker room incident on Monday night in Los Angeles, Luc Mbah a Moute started in Ariza's place, scoring 14 points in 32 minutes.

Along with Ariza, reserve guard Gerald Green was also serving the first of a two-game suspension for the altercation with the Clippers (see full recap).

Blazers top Pacers for 5th straight home win
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Damian Lillard scored 26 points and eight assists, Jusuf Nurkic had 19 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, and the Portland Trail Blazers won their fifth consecutive home game, beating the Indiana Pacers 100-86 on Thursday night.

C.J. McCollum added 16 points and Shabazz Napier 13 for Portland, which seems to have its homecourt mojo back, winning five straight after dropping six consecutive home games in early December. The Blazers also beat Indiana for the ninth consecutive time on their home floor.

Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison scored 23 points each for Indiana.

Portland took control late in the third quarter, when the Blazers held Indiana scoreless for more than five minutes. It was part of Portland's 21-2 run, during which Napier scored eight points to help erase a six-point deficit and give the Blazers an 89-76 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Indiana was without forward Myles Turner, the team's second-leading scorer this season. Turner has missed five consecutive games with a right elbow injury (see full recap).