76ers

Best of NBA: Balanced Pacers hand Cavaliers 4th straight loss

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Best of NBA: Balanced Pacers hand Cavaliers 4th straight loss

CLEVELAND -- Thaddeus Young scored 26 points, Darren Collison had 25 and the Indiana Pacers sent the Cleveland Cavaliers to their fourth straight loss, 124-107 on Wednesday night.

LeBron James had 33 points and 11 assists, but it wasn't enough to keep Cleveland from losing for the fifth time in six games and falling to 3-5.

The Cavaliers held a lengthy meeting before Tuesday's practice to discuss their struggles, but the defending Eastern Conference champions have lost by a combined margin of 58 points in their losing streak.

James was upbeat about the meeting, but the Cavaliers still have issues to work out, especially on the defensive end. Cleveland led 69-68 in the third quarter, but Indiana hit four straight 3-pointers and built an eight-point lead.

Indiana was 16 of 26 from 3-point range. Cleveland had allowed the second most 3-pointers in the league going into the game.

Victor Oladipo scored 23 points for the Pacers. Bojan Bogdanovic added 17, and Domantas Sabonis had 15 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Irving, Brown spark Celtics to 6th straight win
BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown each scored 22 points in three quarters, and the Boston Celtics coasted past the skidding Sacramento Kings 113-86 on Wednesday night for their sixth straight victory.

It was the Celtics' 11th consecutive win over the Kings in Boston, dating to their last loss on Jan. 19, 2007. Terry Rozier added 12 points, and Daniel Theis had 10 points with 10 rebounds.

Buddy Hield scored 17 points and Zach Randolph 16 for the Kings, who lost their sixth in a row -- the last three by an average of 24 points.

Boston led 58-45 at halftime and took complete control early in the third quarter, pushing it to 66-47 on Irving's second 3-pointer in the opening two minutes.

Brown hit consecutive 3-pointers -- 27 seconds apart -- during a 17-2 run that made it 87-56 late in the third. Irving had seven points during the spree, including his third from beyond the arc in the quarter.

The Celtics led 89-60 after three (see full recap).

Hornets top Bucks despite Middleton’s 43 points
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kemba Walker had 26 points, rookie Malik Monk had a huge fourth quarter and the Charlotte Hornets put the clamps on the NBA's leading scorer to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 126-121 on Wednesday night.

Walker was 8 for 12 from the field, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range and 7 for 7 from the foul line as Charlotte won its third straight game. Monk, the team's first-round draft pick from Kentucky, had 18 of his 25 points in the pivotal fourth quarter to help the Hornets build a double-digit lead with Giannis Antetokounmpo forced to sit out with five fouls.

Antetokounmpo came in averaging 33.7 points per game, but struggled with foul trouble and finished with a season-low 14 points along with 13 rebounds. He was limited to five points in the final three quarters.

Khris Middleton led Milwaukee with 43 points on 15-for-28 shooting and Malcolm Brogdon added 20.

The Hornets trailed 86-85 when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Hornets went on a 21-9 run to start the fourth quarter behind rookies Monk and Dwayne Bacon. Monk had four 3-pointers early in the fourth and Bacon made some clutch shots to help stretch the lead (see full recap).

Imagine how good the Sixers will be once this trio gets rolling

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Imagine how good the Sixers will be once this trio gets rolling

As we collectively bask in the glow of the Southern California smackdown the Sixers administered to the Clippers and the Lakers to close out their road trip at 3-2, let’s take a little inventory of just what they’ve accomplished overall this season.

Through 14 games, they are 8-6. That’s two wins shy of their total amount of victories just two seasons ago and we’re still in November. The times they have a changed in Sixer-land.

The team has not one, but two transcendent stars who are capable of taking over games.

Joel Embiid’s last two performances have been pure dominance. 78 points, 31 rebounds, eight blocks and nine assists, while shooting 25 of 40 from the floor and averaging 35 minutes. He’s made whomever is guarding him look foolish, including one of the better defenders in the game, DeAndre Jordan.

From game one Ben Simmons has looked like a 10-year veteran. His poise belies his years. Simmons is a double-double machine and a triple-double threat every night. He’s posting gaudy early numbers of 20.3 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Despite not being a threat beyond 12 feet, Simmons' ability to get to the rack and finish with either hand more than compensates for his outside shortcomings. That duo has been awesome.

Not to be overlooked is Robert Covington. The 26-year-old, who transformed himself into a top-10 defender in the league, is putting up monster offensive stats after an inconsistent season from the floor last year. Covington is scoring 18.3 points, while shooting 50 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three-point land. Couple that offensive production with his defensive prowess and the Sixers got a pretty good bargain for a reported four years, $62 million.  

But what’s even more remarkable when considering the Sixers' good start is who they are doing it without. First overall draft pick Markelle Fultz has yet to play a game this season as he continues to battle a shoulder issue. Take a look at the contribution the NBA’s best team thus far, the Celtics, have gotten from third overall pick, Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old is scoring nearly 14 points per game and pulling down more than 5.5 rebounds, while shooting close to 50 percent from the field and 48 percent from three. He’s been an integral piece in their 14-game winning streak. The Sixers have not had that luxury.

Beyond Fultz, Dario Saric has not been able to find a rhythm all season. Saric averaged 15.8 points per game over the final three months of last season. He hasn’t rebounded or shot it as well this season either. No doubt there were going to adjustments and growing pains incorporating with Simmons and with more availability from Embiid, but as the season progresses they will need more from Saric.

The other crazy thing about the wins against the Clippers and Lakers was the manner in which JJ Redick struggled. He shot 7 of 25 from the floor and 1 for 15 from three-point land. He did make some late buckets inside in the Lakers game, but he’s here to knock down shots.

I believe Brett Brown will figure out a way to get more out of Saric. The Croatian works way too hard and cares far too much to not get going. With Redick, shooters can be streaky, it happens. And even when he is not making shots, he provides a lot in terms of leadership and example. How Fultz will fit in and what his shooting form will look like is anybody’s guess but they didn’t give up a lot to move up two spots for nothing. He wasn’t the consensus first overall pick by accident. My sense is in addition to the shoulder issue, he is struggling mightily with his confidence. So it could be a process with him when he’s ready to return.

To be winning without much of a contribution from these players, speaks volumes about how good the Sixers big three (Embiid, Simmons, Covington) have been. And it’s been noticed nationally. The Laker win was a coming party of sorts for those on the fringes. They are coming to the realization that we’ve known in this city for some time now.

This team is a playoff contender now. The question is how much better will they be at full compliment?

Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

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Best of NBA: Celtics surge past Warriors for 14th straight win

BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving had 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including two free throws that put Boston ahead in the closing seconds, and the Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors 92-88 on Thursday night for their 14th straight victory.

Jaylen Brown had 22 points and seven rebounds, and Al Horford added 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Kevin Durant has 24 points for Golden State. The defending champion Warriors had won seven in a row.

Playing his second game since suffering a facial fracture, Irving shed his protective mask in the second quarter. Then, with the game tied at 88, he was fouled on his layup attempt and calmly made a pair of free throws. Durant then came up empty on his jumper on the other end.

Golden State led by as many as 17, but had to lean heavily on its reserves as its trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant struggled offensively.

Curry, who returned to action after missing a game with a bruised right thigh, was the most ineffective. He was 3 of 14 from the field -- 2 of 9 from the 3-point line -- and had nine points (see full recap).

Harden’s 48 points ignite Rockets’ rout of Suns
PHOENIX -- James Harden had 23 of his 48 points in the second quarter while the Houston Rockets scored 90 points in the first half en route to a 142-116 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

Houston dominated with Chris Paul back in the lineup after missing 14 games with a knee injury. The Rockets made 61 percent of their first-half shots to get the second-most points in a first half in NBA history.

Houston came up 14 points shy of the franchise record for points in a game. The Rockets knocked down 21 of 44 3-point attempts, and Harden made all 18 of his free throws (see full recap).

Harden, the NBA's leading scorer, had 33 points at halftime. Houston used a 13-1 over the final 3:08 of the first quarter to take control and was never threatened after that, leading 45-23 going into the second.

Paul, who hadn't played since the season opener, got the start and didn't miss a beat, scoring 11 points and handing out 10 assists in limited action.

Coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game that getting the two stars, Harden and Paul, in sync will "take care of itself over the next week or so." D'Antoni planned to play Paul for 20 minutes; Paul saw 21 minutes of action and sat out most of the fourth quarter.

Ryan Anderson added 24 points for the Rockets, who have won seven of eight (see full recap).