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Best of NBA: Celtics hold off Lakers for 10th straight win

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Best of NBA: Celtics hold off Lakers for 10th straight win

BOSTON -- Aron Baynes matched his career high with 21 points, Kyrie Irving scored 19 and the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 107-96 on Wednesday night for their 10th straight victory.

Baynes also had eight rebounds and three assists, and Boston improved to 10-2 even as Al Horford sat out after being placed in concussion protocol earlier in the day. The Celtics also lost rookie forward Jayson Tatum late in the second quarter, when he went to the locker room with a sore right ankle.

Boston led by 20 in the second quarter before letting the lead shrink to two in the third. Los Angeles then struggled down the stretch, shooting 5 of 18 from the field with six turnovers in the final period.

Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson led the Lakers with 18 points apiece. Julius Randle had 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Celtics fans gave rookie Lonzo Ball an icy welcome in his first trip to TD Garden. They booed the No. 2 overall pick throughout the night whenever he touched the ball. He finished with nine points, six assists and five rebounds, making just 4 of 15 from the field (see full recap).

Warriors win 5th straight, snap T-Wolves’ streak at 5
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Klay Thompson scored 28 points with six 3-pointers, Stephen Curry had 22 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 125-101 on Wednesday night for their fifth straight win.

Even without injured Kevin Durant, the defending champs began to look like their dominant old selves.

Draymond Green posted another all-round balanced performance with seven points, six rebounds, six assists and two blocks for the Warriors, who played without NBA Finals MVP Durant as he nursed a bruised left thigh.

Andre Iguodala started in place of Durant, and the 2015 Finals MVP scored a season-high 11 points. The Warriors notched a season-best quarter with 44 points in the third to pull away after leading 51-50 at halftime.

Andrew Wiggins scored 17 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 16 points and 12 rebounds as the Timberwolves had their five-game winning streak snapped (see full recap).

Pistons roll over Pacers to keep momentum going
DETROIT -- Tobias Harris scored 23 points and the first-place Detroit Pistons won for the sixth time in seven games, beating the Indiana Pacers 114-97 on Wednesday night.

Andre Drummond added 14 points and 21 rebounds for the Pistons, who lead Cleveland by three games in the Central Division. Indiana lost its fourth straight.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 21 points, but Indiana has allowed at least 100 points in 10 of 12 games this season. The Pacers were without injured big man Domantas Sabonis.

Detroit led 59-52 at halftime, and after the Pacers fought back to tie the game at 65, the Pistons went on a 13-0 run to take control. Harris made a 3-pointer to put Detroit ahead by 11, and Drummond capped that streak with a putback that he made despite being hit in the face by Indiana's Thaddeus Young. Drummond was momentarily shaken up but played on.

It was 82-75 after three quarters, then the Pistons scored eight straight points to start the fourth, including 3-pointers by Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver (see full recap).

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

CAMDEN, N.J. — In some ways, Joel Embiid is a dream to coach. You can go to him in the post whenever you need a bucket, rely on him to erase defensive mistakes, sit back and watch as he takes over games.

But in other ways, coaching Embiid is not an easy job. Brett Brown has to constantly weigh Embiid’s health with the immediate desire to win. That balancing act has never been more difficult for Brown, who commented Wednesday on how he plans to manage Embiid with the playoffs in sight.

“Everything is still, and it should be, delivering him to a playoff round,” Brown said. “It’s not cramming for the exam and doing whatever you can to get home court, it’s not that at all. And so I feel like the path that we’re all on is both professional and responsible. So it’s that more than trying to cram for an exam.”

The Sixers have six back-to-back sets in their final 27 games. Embiid played his first ever back-to-back on Feb. 2 vs. Miami and Feb. 3 at Indiana. Since then, he’s had an injury scare with his right knee (on Feb. 10 vs the Clippers) and missed the Sixers’ final game before the All-Star break with a sore right ankle.

That said, Embiid’s obviously taken major steps forward. After being sidelined for his first two NBA seasons and playing just 31 games (and only 25.4 minutes per game) in his rookie year, he’s played in 44 of the Sixers’ first 55 games, and is averaging 31.4 minutes per game.

But the Sixers are 3-8 when Embiid doesn’t play. Without Embiid, the Sixers don’t look like a playoff team. With him, they look like a team which could earn home-court advantage. The Sixers are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference at 30-25, two games behind the fourth-seeded Washington Wizards.

When asked how he’ll generally manage his players’ minutes in the final third of the season, Brown referred to his time as a Spurs assistant, implying that the Sixers will approach things more aggressively than a championship contender.

“In my old life, when you felt like you were going to be in the finals and win a championship, you definitely started managing stuff differently in this final third,” Brown said. “That’s not where we’re at now. We are fighting to get in the playoffs.

“And we’re in a fist fight, we want a little bit more than that. And we’re going to play with that in mind, and when the opportunity arises when I can rest some of our guys, I will. But it’s not about being conservative right now or feeling like we’re entitled and we’re in the playoffs; we aren’t. So we’re still fighting to do that, and I’ll coach it accordingly.”

It might sound like there’s a contradiction between that desire to fight for the postseason and Brown’s goal of “delivering [Embiid] to a playoff round.” The Sixers probably need Embiid to play the majority of their final 27 games to make the playoffs in the first place. On the other hand, nothing in Embiid’s past suggests that he’s capable of playing all six remaining back-to-backs and suiting up fully healthy in Game 1 of the postseason.

The key for Brown is finding the perfect middle ground between riding Embiid hard every night and babying his 7-foot-2 star to the detriment of the team. With the playoffs finally in sight after five seasons of processing, that’s going to be one of Brown’s greatest challenges in the home stretch.  

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

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Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

Donovan Mitchell continues to creep closer to Ben Simmons in the NBA Rookie of the Year race, and the gap in Bovada's odds for the two is as close as it's been all season.

Simmons is now -250 to win the award, meaning a $250 wager is required to win $100. 

Mitchell is at +170, meaning a $100 wager wins you $170.

In the most recent odds update in January, Simmons was at -650; Mitchell was +400.

It's a clear two-man race at this point.
 
Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks this season. No player in recorded history has hit all five criteria in the same season.

Mitchell, however, has been on fire for the NBA's hottest team. The Jazz have won 11 straight games to test the Pelicans for the 8-seed, and over that span, Mitchell has averaged 21.3 points, albeit on 41 percent shooting.

For the season, Mitchell is at 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He's made 35.4 percent of his threes and 83.6 percent of his free throws.

Both are stars in the making, but it's worth noting that the Jazz are playing better than they have all season and Simmons is still the favorite. Where Utah ends up will be a determining factor in the Rookie of the Year race — if the Jazz can somehow end up the 7-seed in a loaded West, arguments for Mitchell will grow louder.

Both Simmons and Mitchell were two of five guests this week on NBA TV's Open Court: Rookies Edition. Interesting talking points from the special: 

• Mitchell referenced former Sixer Jrue Holiday as an under-the-radar tough player to guard, saying he watches film of Holiday every day.

• Simmons recalled LeBron attacking him frequently in the first quarter of their first meeting, saying he wasn't surprised LeBron wanted to send a message by going right at him.

• The Morris twins were mentioned by Simmons and Jayson Tatum when asked about the most imposing players in the league. Everyone cited DeMarcus Cousins.

• Simmons downplayed the importance of his NBA redshirt season, saying you don't really know what it's like to play back to back and deal with the hectic travel schedule until you're involved in it every day.