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Kuzma's career night helps Lakers cool off Rockets

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Kuzma's career night helps Lakers cool off Rockets

HOUSTON -- Rookie Kyle Kuzma set career highs with 38 points and seven 3-pointers, and the Los Angeles Lakers overcame 51 points from James Harden to end the Houston Rockets' 14-game winning streak with a 122-116 victory Wednesday night.

It was Houston's first loss since Nov. 14 and snapped a three-game skid for the Lakers.

The game was tied before Los Angeles scored 10 straight points -- while Houston missed seven shots in a row -- to go up 110-100 with about four minutes left.

Houston ended an almost four-minute scoring drought when Harden made a free throw, and he added three more after being fouled on a 3-point attempt a few seconds later to cut it to 110-104. But former Rocket Corey Brewer made a 3-pointer before Lonzo Ball hit two free throws to make it 115-104.

Harden powered Houston on a night when Chris Paul had just eight points before leaving early in the fourth quarter with a sore left leg.

The Rockets made seven free throws down the stretch but hit just four field goals in the last eight minutes -- all in the final 1:05.

Kuzma was unstoppable in the first half, making all nine of his shots, including six 3-pointers. He cooled a bit after the break and finished 12 of 17 overall and 7 of 10 from deep (see full recap).

Olynyk goes off on former team as Heat top Celtics
BOSTON -- Kelly Olynyk scored a career-high 32 points in his rousing return to Boston, and the undermanned Miami Heat hung on Wednesday for a 90-89 victory over the Celtics.

On a night when the Celtics honored their former forward in his first game back, the popular Olynyk received a standing ovation from Boston fans and led the Heat (16-15) to another win against the top team in the Eastern Conference. Josh Richardson had 19 points and six assists for Miami, which took two of three in the season series. The Heat ended Boston's 16-game winning streak earlier this season with a victory at home.

Olynyk signed with Miami as a free agent during the offseason. His previous high was 30 points on Dec. 15, 2014.

When this one was over, he took photos with fans.

Kyrie Irving paced the Celtics (26-8) with 33 points, but missed a jumper from the right wing that bounced off the rim at the buzzer. Jaylen Brown scored 16 and Marcus Smart had 15 (see full recap).

Bulls blast shorthanded Magic for 7th straight win
CHICAGO -- Denzel Valentine had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Nikola Mirotic had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and the Chicago Bulls beat the Orlando Magic 112-94 on Wednesday night for their seventh straight win.

The Bulls had lost 10 straight with Mirotic out of the lineup prior to his return Dec. 8, and they haven't lost since to improve to 10-20.

Nikola Vucevic scored 18 points for Orlando, which lost its sixth in a row.

Facing the league's fourth-worst scoring defense, the Bulls took a 43-27 lead with 9:05 left in the second quarter on Mirotic's layup, one of many easy baskets. Chicago's strong ball movement resulted in easy looks inside and out, and the team had assists on 10 of its first 15 shots.

Robin Lopez connected on his first four attempts for a club averaging 111.1 points per contest since Mirotic returned to the lineup -- up from 95.7 points in 23 games without the forward.

Injury-riddled Orlando, which played without leading scorers Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, struggled to keep pace. The Magic made only 3 of 15 first-half 3-point tries en route to their 17th loss in 20 games (see full recap).

Joel Embiid has trouble with mask, not Heat in Sixers' Game 3 win

Joel Embiid has trouble with mask, not Heat in Sixers' Game 3 win

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — "We're not here to make friends. We're here to win the series." 

With those two sentences, Joel Embiid made it known what he is all about in the playoffs.

The big man fought to return from an orbital fracture to help the Sixers win, and that’s exactly what he did in his first game since March 28. Embiid led the team with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal over 30 minutes in his NBA postseason debut … while wearing a mask with goggles (see story)

“I was excited,” Embiid said following the Sixers’ 128-108 victory Thursday in Game 3 (see observations). “Worked really hard for it. Promised the city that and made it happen. I was kind of sad that I couldn’t play in that first at home because we have a special connection. But I’m glad, came back today and we got a win.” 

Embiid sent a message — he is back, and not backing down. Sitting at the podium with a calm confidence, he talked about everything from his desire to return to in-game chippiness to defending his teammates. 

“I hate sitting out,” Embiid said. “I felt like it was time to come back, especially after watching how physical the game was, Game 2. I love this moment, I love being physical, I love attacking, I love contact.” 

Returning meant wearing a protective mask on his face. Though irksome in some ways, Embiid noted his game is too strong to be held back. 

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player. If the shots aren’t falling and it gets foggy or I can’t see, there’s a lot of different stuff I can do, especially defensively because I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the league.”

There was plenty of contact in Game 3, and his mask wasn’t safe from it either. At one point, Embiid’s goggles landed on the court. Justise Winslow stepped on them, downplaying it after the game. 

“He kept throwing it on the ground, so I don’t know if he didn’t like it or what,” Winslow said. “But I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

Embiid didn’t quite see the situation as “throwing it on the ground.” He added an extra punch to the end of his recount. 

“Justise stepped on it and tried to break it with his hands,” Embiid said. “But little do they know is that I have about 50 of them. So it’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. 

“I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.” 

When the game was in hand, Embiid was eager to see the Sixers finish with as large a margin of victory as possible. He thought back to Game 2 when Goran Dragic scored a layup with 1.2 seconds to play, and how Jordan Clarkson had thrown a ball at Dario Saric for scoring similarly during the regular season in Cleveland. So on Thursday, Embiid wanted them to run up the scoreboard. 

“I wish I was there in that Game 2 because I was kind of pissed about it,” Embiid said. “It’s basketball. It’s always good to blow a team out. I think we were up 18 or 20. If you could get that lead up to 22, I think it’s good. I love blowing teams out. I like the fact that we did that.” 

There's less than 48 hours until the Heat will look to bounce back in Game 4 and even up the series. Embiid knows the Sixers are in for a battle. 

And he likes that. 

“Game 4, they’re going to try to do what they did at Game 2, come out and be really, really extra aggressive and try to punch us in the mouth,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to be ready for that and I’ll for sure be ready.” 

Joel Embiid's return sparks Sixers' physical Game 3 win in Miami

Joel Embiid's return sparks Sixers' physical Game 3 win in Miami

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Joel Embiid is 1-0 in the playoffs.

The Sixers beat the Heat, 128-108, Thursday with their mask-wearing center back in the starting lineup to take a 2-1 lead on the series. 

• Embiid made his long-awaited return, playing in his postseason debut and first game since March 28. Donning a face mask with goggles (see story), Embiid rejoined the starting lineup. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes. 

He looked eager as well as affected at times by the long layoff from the left orbital fracture and concussion. He was aggressive at getting to the line (and drawing fouls on Hassan Whiteside), but shot 10 for 15 once there. Embiid knocked down threes (3 of 4), at the same time committing a 24-second violation trying to back down to the basket. Considering how long it’s been since he played, Embiid’s conditioning looked better than expected. 

• This game was not decided until the final quarter. The Sixers led, 96-94, after three. Brett Brown started Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova and Embiid to open the fourth. That group outscored the Heat 9-1 to push the lead to 10 and change the tone of the remainder of the game. 

• First it was Kelly Olynyk. Then it was Dwyane Wade. In Game 3, Justise Winslow was the offensive spark plug off the Miami bench. Winslow scored 19 points in the first half, seven more than the Heat’s next leading scorer. He also was an agitator throughout the game, continuing to try to get under the Sixers’ skin as he had done in the previous games. Check out what happened with the goggles from Embiid’s mask.

• Justin Anderson looked like he had been waiting for this defensive assignment all season. Brown tasked him with defending Wade in the first half, and that matchup turned chippy. Anderson and Wade both were called for physical taunting technical fouls after Anderson pushed off on Wade and Wade grabbed his arm and flung him around. Anderson had played less than two minutes in the series prior to Game 3. 

• The game was physical with whistles and double techs throughout the night. Just how physical was it?

• Late in the third quarter, the Sixers rolled out the lineup of T.J. McConnell, Marco Belinelli, Anderson, Ilyasova and Embiid. None of these players are hesitant to mix things up. At one point a play culminated with Embiid and Anderson jumping up to block an Olynyk shot with the Heat forward landing on the ground. 

• Brown had planned to play Markelle Fultz more than the five minutes he clocked in Game 2. That didn’t happen. Fultz was on the court for 4:21 in the first half without a shot attempt (one rebound, one assist, two fouls). McConnell got the backup point guard minutes in the second half. 

• Game 4 will be played at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon on NBCSP in Miami.