76ers

Best of NBA: Celtics squeeze past Hawks for 9th straight win

uspresswire-celtics-kyrie-irving.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Celtics squeeze past Hawks for 9th straight win

ATLANTA -- Kyrie Irving scored 35 points, Jayson Tatum added 21 and the Boston Celtics held off the Atlanta Hawks 110-107 Monday night for their ninth straight victory.

Irving's 3 from the right wing put the Celtics up 104-103 -- the game's 25th lead change -- with 1:37 remaining, and Boston led the rest of the way.

Dennis Schroder had 23 points for the rebuilding Hawks, who dropped to 2-9 a night after a surprising two-point win at Cleveland.

Boston improved to 9-2, best in the NBA, and has its longest winning streak in seven years.

Al Horford had 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in his best game against the Hawks. Horford spent his first nine seasons in Atlanta before leaving as a free agent ahead of last season and had totals of 20 points and 17 rebounds in three games against the Hawks (see full recap).

Warriors overcome cold shooting to beat Heat
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Kevin Durant had 21 points and eight rebounds to help the Golden State Warriors overcome their shooting woes and beat the Miami Heat 97-80 in a rare low-scoring outing Monday night.

Draymond Green scored 18 points with a season-high four 3s to go with nine rebounds as the defending NBA champions won for the seventh time in their last eight games, including three straight in lopsided fashion on their recent road trip.

The Warriors had scored 100 points in every regular-season game since their second-to-last matchup last season, a 105-99 defeat to Utah as the regulars rested or played limited minutes ahead of the playoffs. Golden State is 3-11 over the past three seasons when held below 100 points.

Stephen Curry added 16 points and Klay Thompson 13. The Warriors shot just 36.8 percent and 11 for 32 from deep. Durant added six assists and three blocks.

James Johnson scored 21 points off the bench and Goran Dragic contributed 19 points for Miami a night after squeaking out a 104-101 road win against the Clippers (see full recap).

Russell sparks Nets’ road win over Suns
PHOENIX -- D'Angelo Russell had 23 points and nine assists, Joe Harris scored a season-high 18 points and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Phoenix Suns 98-92 on Monday night.

The Suns rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to lead 75-74 after Jared Dudley's layup with 9:17 to play, but the Nets went back ahead moments later and held on to end a four-game skid.

Russell scored 13 points in the fourth quarter. DeMarre Carroll added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

T.J. Warren had 20 points as the Suns lost their third straight. Devin Booker scored 18 points before fouling out late in the game.

The Suns made just 34.9 percent of their field goal attempts despite starting well, with Booker scoring 11 points in the first seven minutes. The Nets used a 16-0 run to go up 28-16.

Phoenix cut the lead to one twice in the second quarter but finished the half making 10 of 40 shots. The Nets, behind 14 first-half points from Harris, led 47-41 at the break (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

ap-ben-simmons-donovan-mitchell-sixers-jazz.jpg
AP Images

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.