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NBA Notes: Kyrie Irving returns as Celtics run win streak to 13

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NBA Notes: Kyrie Irving returns as Celtics run win streak to 13

NEW YORK -- Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup and scored 25 points while wearing a mask, and the Boston Celtics beat the Brooklyn Nets 109-102 on Tuesday night for their 13th straight victory.

The Celtics remained unbeaten since an 0-2 start heading into their showdown Thursday in Boston against the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

Marcus Morris added 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Jayson Tatum scored 19 points for the Celtics.

Irving missed one game with a minor facial fracture after he was hit by teammate Aron Baynes on Friday. He fiddled with the mask frequently, but it didn't seem to affect his play much. He made a jumper with 3:40 left after the Nets had closed within four points and drove for another basket about 35 seconds later.

Boston then finally put it away with Jaylen Brown's alley-oop feed to Tatum before Irving hit two free throws to make it 106-96.

Joe Harris scored 19 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Nets, who are without leading scorer D'Angelo Russell because of a bruised left knee. Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert added 15 points apiece (see full recap).

Raptors ride huge early lead to win over Rockets
HOUSTON -- DeMar DeRozan scored 27 points and the Toronto Raptors built a big lead in the first half and held on for a 129-113 win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.

James Harden had 38 points and made 19 of 19 foul shots for the Rockets, who ended a six-game winning streak.

Houston scored six straight points, including three free throws from Harden, to make it 108-103 with about 7 1/2 minutes left.

Delon Wright made a free throw for the Raptors soon after that, and OG Anunoby connected for Toronto's first field goal in more than three minutes on a 3-pointer with 6:25 remaining. After Wright's layup, Kyle Lowry stole the ball from Harden, and DeRozan finished on the other end with a dunk to make it 116-103.

Harden got Houston going again with a four-point play. The free throw was his 19th, setting a franchise record for most foul shots without a miss in a game.

DeRozan and Serge Ibaka had back-to-back dunks after Harden's big play to make it 120-107 with about three minutes left and send many of the home fans toward the exits.

Harden had 11 assists and six rebounds. He has scored at least 20 points and had seven or more assists in every game this season (see full recap).

Spurs beat Mavs to give Popovich milestone victory
DALLAS -- LaMarcus Aldridge scored a season-high 32 points in his hometown and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks 97-91 on Tuesday night.

Gregg Popovich became the fastest NBA coach to 500 road wins. He got there in 835 away games, 41 fewer than Pat Riley.

Aldridge, a product of Dallas' Seagoville High School, scored eight points during a decisive stretch of the fourth quarter. Patty Mills added a season-high 19 points for the Spurs.

Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. led Dallas with a career-high 27 points, and J.J. Barea and Harrison Barnes had 16 each. The Mavericks are 2-13 for the second straight season and fifth time overall.

Just like in a loss to Cleveland on Saturday, the Mavericks cut a double-digit second-half deficit to one point, but couldn't gain the lead.

After Dallas got within 62-61 early in the fourth, Mills hit a long 3 and a driving layup, then Aldridge scored eight of his team's next 13 points to put the Spurs up 82-71 with 5:03 to play. Dallas never got closer than four points down the stretch (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Thunder carry George to win in Indiana return

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Best of NBA: Thunder carry George to win in Indiana return

INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left but committed a turnover and then fouled George.

The Pacers' winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer's blockbuster trade, didn't go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn't have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists (see full recap).

Wizards top Grizzlies in Wall’s return
WASHINGTON -- Bradley Beal scored 18 points and John Wall had 13 in his return from a sore knee to help the Washington Wizards hold off the Memphis Grizzlies 93-87 on Wednesday night.

Beal scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, hitting three 3-pointers. Otto Porter Jr. added 14 points, and Marcin Gortat had 12.

Wall missed nine games, with Washington going 4-5 in his absence.

After the Grizzlies took their first lead of the night, 67-65, on James Ennis III's 3-pointer with 8:53 left to play, Washington responded with a 13-0 run and Memphis got no closer than 83-80 the rest of the way.

Andrew Harrison led Memphis with 20 points, JaMychal Green had 15 points and15 rebounds, and Marc Gasol had 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Grizzlies have lost five straight and 16 out of 17 (see full recap).

Lillard leads way as Blazers rally past Heat
MIAMI -- Damian Lillard scored seven of his 18 points in the final 3:16, and the Portland Trail Blazers overcame a 16-point second-half deficit to break their five-game losing streak, beating the Miami Heat 102-95 on Wednesday night.

Lillard, who came into the game averaging 26.6 points, had only one field goal in the first 31 minutes. But he converted a three-point play put the Trail Blazers ahead to stay, 98-95, and sank two free throws on their next possession for a five-point lead.

CJ McCollum scored 28 points for the Trail Blazers (14-13). They climbed back above .500 and improved to 7-5 on the road. The Heat (13-14) fell below .500 and dropped to 5-7 at home.

Miami reserve Wayne Ellington sank seven 3-pointers and scored a season-high 24 points. Dion Waiters added 17 points for the Heat, who were hurt by three missed free throws down the stretch.

Both teams were short-handed. Heat forward Justise Winslow left the game in the first half with a left knee strain and did not return, and guard Tyler Johnson sat out because of a migraine.

Miami was also without center Hassan Whiteside for a seventh consecutive games because of a bone bruise in his left knee (see full recap).

Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

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Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

Joel Embiid doesn't want the Sixers to end up like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Not the 2017-18 Thunder, but OKC circa 2011-12.

Embiid is convinced that at some point soon, the media will turn on him and the Sixers. 

Speaking specifically about the core trio of Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, Embiid told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:

"I think with everything, the main thing we have to do is just stay together because I feel like there's going to be some type of situation where people say who is better between us three. And that's how it splits."

Shelburne, who wrote a long and interesting feature on Embiid this week, told more of the story Wednesday on Zach Lowe's podcast.

She recalled talking to Embiid about his social media presence at All-Star weekend in 2016, when he told her, "I'm just trying to have as much fun before everybody turns on me."

Shelburne pointed out the uniqueness of a then-22-year-old — who had been in the United States just seven years — understanding the "fame cycle" well enough to know that things could soon turn.

"I saw what happened in Oklahoma City with (James) Harden, (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant and I don't want that to happen here," Shelburne recalled Embiid saying.

If the Sixers get to that point ... it'll probably be a good problem to have. Just prior to the 2012-13 season, the Thunder traded Harden to Houston in one of the worst trades in recent NBA history. OKC did it for several reasons — salary cap, personalities, only having enough shots to go around. And really, who knows if Harden would have been able to grow into this superstar had he been sharing the ball the next handful of seasons with two other alphas?

Embiid and Fultz have already grown close, and it's important to Embiid that the three young Sixers don't get caught up in the "Who takes the last shot?" conversations or "Who should be the All-Star" questions that inevitably come up. 

Luckily for the Sixers, Embiid, Simmons and Fultz have different enough skill sets that they should be able to coexist. It's not directly analogous to the OKC situation where all three players needed the ball in their hands. The Sixers were built this way for a reason. 

Right now, it's clear Embiid is the alpha of the group. He's the go-to guy in crunch time and again has a top-five usage rate. When Simmons eventually becomes more comfortable with his jump shot and Fultz finally makes his impact on the court, we'll see whether or not Embiid was prescient.