76ers

Best of NBA: LeBron James, Cavaliers rally past winless Bulls

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Best of NBA: LeBron James, Cavaliers rally past winless Bulls

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 34 points in a rare start at point guard and the Cleveland Cavaliers, using another early season lineup, awakened after a sluggish first half and beat the Chicago Bulls 119-112 on Tuesday night.

Although he often handles the ball and runs Cleveland's offense, James had not officially been listed as a guard since 2012 with Miami. He added 13 assists, including a no-look, behind-the-back dish to Jae Crowder for a 3-pointer during Cleveland's 15-3 spurt in the third quarter.

Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Dwyane Wade, who asked Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to take him out of the starting lineup, came off the bench and added 11 points.

Justin Holiday scored 25 and rookie Lauri Markkanen 19 for Chicago, which made a season-high 17 3-pointers. The 7-foot Markkanen became the first player in NBA history to make 10 3-pointers in his first three career games (see full recap).

Balanced Celtics keep Knicks winless
BOSTON -- Jaylen Brown scored 23 points, Jayson Tatum added 22 and the Boston Celtics beat the New York Knicks 110-89 on Tuesday night.

Kyrie Irving added 20 points and seven assists. Al Horford finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

After dropping their first two games to open the season, the Celtics have won two straight. The Knicks remain winless through their first three games.

Enes Kanter led New York with 16 points and 19 rebounds. But he got most of them in a first half in as his team struggled mightily from the field. The Knicks scored the first basket of the night, but never led again. They shot just 42 percent and went 1 of 12 from the 3-point line (see full recap).

Gordon scores career-high 41 in Magic comeback
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Aaron Gordon scored a career-high 41 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 35 seconds remaining, and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Orlando Magic to a 125-121 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.

Evan Fournier added 28 points in game that went back and forth late in the fourth quarter. He finished the scoring with two free throws with 15.5 seconds to play.

D'Angelo Russell scored 27 points for the Nets, while DeMarre Carroll had 19 and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 18.

The Magic trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half, but Gordon and Fournier led Orlando on an impressive comeback down the stretch to follow their win over Cleveland with another victory. Orlando fought through a six-point deficit during the final five minutes as Gordon, Fournier and Nikola Vucevic began to attack the paint.

The Nets broke away from a 61-all tie at halftime, with Carroll hitting a couple of 3-pointers to help Brooklyn extend its lead to 12 points. But Gordon, who sat out with an injury when the Nets beat Orlando in Brooklyn last week, and Fournier responded in the final three minutes of the third quarter to pull the Magic to 96-87 going into the fourth quarter (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.