Embiid's ankle better as he embarks on lofty ASG goals

Embiid's ankle better as he embarks on lofty ASG goals

LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid isn’t just going to play Sunday in the NBA All-Star Game. He is aiming to be named Most Valuable Player.

“On Sunday, I expect to go harder,” Embiid said following the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game Friday. “I’m going for that MVP. Guys better make sure they find me because I’m looking to have a good game.”

Embiid is participating in three days of events, including the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday. His availability had been in question after he missed Wednesday’s game against the Heat because of right ankle soreness. That night, Brett Brown said the decision would be based on a collaboration between Embiid and the Sixers’ medical staff.

“The other night, my ankle didn't feel so good,” Embiid said Friday morning. “I've been pushing in the previous games, so it was a little bit [sore]. But the last two days it's been feeling better. But there was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events. It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun.”

Embiid took it easy Friday, clocking the least amount of minutes (8:41) of the 20 participants. He scored five points (2 for 6 from the field, 1 for 4 from three) and pulled down two rebounds.

The Sixers' big man has much more than that to show. He is averaging 23.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. He plans to double that in order to accomplish his goal of MVP honors.

“Score about 40 points and 20 rebounds,” Embiid outlined. “I’ve gotten close before, so it’s possible.”

Embiid was victorious on Day 1 of his competitions. Team World beat Team USA, 155-124. His teammates from the Sixers chipped in for the victory. Dario Saric scored 18 points with five rebounds. Ben Simmons recorded an 11-point, 13-assist double-double along with six rebounds and four steals (see story).

Next up for Embiid is the skills challenge on Saturday before he steps into the starting lineup for Team Stephen on Sunday. With the way he has been playing in less than two full seasons, Embiid is likely to be a familiar face at All-Star weekend. He is already thinking about which other events he’d like to showcase his versatile skills.

“At some point in my career, I want to do everything,” Embiid said. “The dunk contest, that’s a long, long shot, although I’ve got bounce. I can jump, but it doesn’t look as good because I’m too tall. But the three-point contest in the future, definitely, I’ve got to do that.”

Brett Brown believes Ben Simmons is the 'stone cold' Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown believes Ben Simmons is the 'stone cold' Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown made his case for Ben Simmons to win top rookie honors, and Simmons agrees.

“He is the stone cold Rookie of the Year,” Brown said.

The Sixers head coach’s strong words came after Simmons recorded his 10th triple-double of the season Saturday in the Sixers' win over the Timberwolves (see observations).

With 15 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists in just under 30 minutes, Simmons posted a stat line that is becoming routine for the 6-10 point guard.

“I think the play I’ve had over the season has been pretty consistent,” Simmons said. “I’m doing some things that haven’t been done in a while.”

Simmons is right. He already passed Magic Johnson for second-most triple-doubles by a rookie in NBA history and trails only Oscar Robertson in that category. The 21-year-old currently is averaging 7.9 assists, putting him on track to join Robertson as the only rookies to average at least 16 points, seven rebounds and eight assists per game.

In comparison to rookies around the league this season, Simmons ranks first in rebounds, assists and steals and second in scoring. 

For as well as Simmons is playing, there will be a tough competition for the award.

Like Simmons, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell is leading his team in the hunt for the playoffs. Mitchell is averaging 20.3 points (first among rookies), 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He has scored 30-plus point in seven games, including a 40-point performance.

Forward Jayson Tatum also has been mentioned in Rookie of the Year consideration. Tatum is posting 13.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists on the Eastern Conference second-ranked Celtics.

"I’m not worried about putting up points every game,” Simmons said. “As long as we win, that’s all I’m worried about. I think everything else will come along with it. But that’s just not the way I play. I don’t need to score 30, 40 points every game. Now I can create 40 points by passing the ball, that’s easy to me."

The conversation about this award is far from over.

Pistons keep Sixers from clinching playoff spot

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Pistons keep Sixers from clinching playoff spot

DETROIT — Anthony Tolliver scored 25 points, and the Detroit Pistons made 13 3-pointers in the first half on their way to a 117-95 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.

The Pistons have won three of four, with the only loss in that span in overtime at Houston, but Detroit still trails Milwaukee by 5 1/2 games for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls have lost five straight.

The Pistons went 13 of 27 from 3-point range in the first half and led 66-47 after two quarters. Tolliver scored 16 points in the half.

Tolliver made six 3-pointers for Detroit and Reggie Bullock made four. The Pistons were 16 of 36 from beyond the arc through three quarters, but they missed all six of their attempts in the fourth. The franchise record for a game is 17 (see full recap).

Rockets set franchise wins record with victory over Pelicans 
HOUSTON — James Harden scored 27 points in three quarters and the Houston Rockets routed the New Orleans Pelicans 114-91 on Saturday night for their eighth straight victory.

The NBA-leading Rockets improved to 59-14 to overtake the 1993-94 championship team for the most wins in franchise history.

Houston never trailed and already had a huge lead to start the fourth before scoring seven straight points early in the period to make it 92-63 with 10 minutes remaining. Clint Capela had four points and a steal to lead Houston in that stretch. Capela finished with 18 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and tied a career high with six blocks.

The Pelicans, who were playing their fifth game in seven days, finally ran out of gas, and looked worn out from the start. Entering Saturday's game they had played on three consecutive nights from Tuesday-Thursday because of a rescheduled game and won all of them to extend their winning streak to four in a row (see full recap).

Gordon dishes out career high in assists in Magic win over Suns
ORLANDO, Fla. — There hasn't been a lot for the Orlando Magic to cheer about this season, so a victory over the Phoenix Suns and a couple of near triple-doubles by Aaron Gordon and D.J. Augustin were nearly cause for celebration.

Gordon had 29 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high eight assists in what could have been the first triple-double of his career in Orlando's 105-99 victory Saturday night. Augustin was even closer, getting 15 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds to help the Magic end a three-game losing streak.

Nikola Vucevic had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

"That was a pretty good all-around game," Gordon said. "If I draw attention from the defense, I pass and once the defensive attention leaves, I can score again so it's a balance that I'm still working on as a young player." (See full recap.)