Embiid's 'bad game' shows Sixers have his back

Embiid's 'bad game' shows Sixers have his back


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Joel Embiid will take the wins, but not with complacency. 

The Sixers’ big man knows he can play better. He’s done it before and can tell when he isn’t at his peak performance.

“In a season, you’re going to go through slumps and I feel like I’ve been playing bad recently, although the box score might not say it,” Embiid said Tuesday following the Sixers’ 128-114 win in Charlotte (see observations).

Embiid posted 18 points, five rebounds and four assists against the Hornets. Those numbers don't scream poor game, but they were below his season averages (23.7 points, 11.2 boards). Embiid didn’t reach double digits until late in the third quarter. He scored nearly half of his points in the fourth, and attempted only two free throws. 

On Sunday, Embiid didn’t hit a field goal in the pivotal third quarter while the Sixers were outscored 33-14 by the Bucks. Again, 19 points and eight rebounds is not an insufficient stat line, yet not up to the standards Embiid sets for himself, especially when the Sixers lost. 

“Jo thinks if he doesn’t score 30 and 10, it’s a bad game,” Justin Anderson said from the locker next to Embiid’s.

Embiid smiled. 

“Like he said, if I don’t score 30, that has to be a bad game,” Embiid said. “That’s the bar and I feel like every night that I come out I’ve got to do that. Some nights it might not be enough. Some nights 20 points might not be enough. Some nights I might have to score 30 and if I don’t do that and we lose, I feel like that’s on me.”

Embiid is entering an unfamiliar part of the schedule. He has played 51 games this season, 20 more than his rookie total, including back-to-backs for the first time in his career. He also is averaging 31.4 points per game with 11 contests of 35-plus minutes. The All-Star starter still is experiencing a learning curve and adjustment period.

“Going into the season, I think the plan for me was to play, I don’t know, 45, 50 games. I'm well over that," Embiid said. “It’s a change. It’s new. I’ve got to get adapted to that. Never done it in my life. I’m starting to figure it out. I’m starting to figure out that I’ve got to choose my spots. Especially offensively, I’ve got to let the game come to me."

The upside in this situation is the Sixers are learning how to win without Embiid being the go-to every night. They beat the Hornets with a collaborative effort, starting with a team-high 22 points from Robert Covington and rounding out with double-digit totals from Dario Saric (19), Ben Simmons (16), JJ Redick (14), Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova (11 each). They shot 48.5 percent from long range and scored 48 of their points from three. Covington and Saric combined to go 9 for 16 from beyond the arc.

"It’s good to know that going into the playoffs, because not every shot is going to fall, so it’s good to know that all those guys, they’re going to have my back," Embiid said.

How the Sixers can clinch a playoff spot

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How the Sixers can clinch a playoff spot

The Sixers could lock in a playoff spot Saturday night, but their postseason berth does not hinge on whether or not they beat the visiting Timberwolves.

The 41-30 Sixers would clinch if the 32-40 Pistons lose to the 24-48 Bulls. This is a meeting of two struggling teams, both who are 3-7 in their last 10 games and the Bulls are on a four-game losing skid.

The Sixers will have to wait for the results, though. The Pistons and Bulls tip off one hour after the Sixers, who have an early 6 p.m. game.

The Sixers' goal of making the playoffs would not stop with clinching a berth. They have their eyes set on homecourt advantage, a battle that could come down to the final games.

The Sixers currently sit in the fourth spot in a heated competition with the Pacers and Wizards. Keep an eye on how John Wall's health (knee) impacts this race. He practiced five-on-five Saturday.

Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

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Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell's 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs' 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah's 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Pacers use late run to edge Clippers
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles' fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games (see full recap).

Jokic, Murray lift Nuggets over Wizards
WASHINGTON -- Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 25 points to keep the Denver Nuggets' playoff hopes alive by beating the Washington Wizards 108-100 on Friday night.

The one-two punch of Jokic and Murray plus outside shooting from Will Barton allowed the Nuggets to withstand a third-quarter charge from the Wizards and maintain their sights on one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. Denver went into the night two games back of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz and shot 50 percent from 3-point territory to stay very much in the race with nine games remaining.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 24 points as it failed to gain ground in a competitive East where five teams are separated in the standings by four games (see full recap).