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Pistons gain ground on Sixers for 8th seed

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Pistons gain ground on Sixers for 8th seed

DETROIT -- Andre Drummond had 23 points and 20 rebounds, and Blake Griffin made a key 3-pointer in the final minute to lift the Detroit Pistons to a 111-107 victory over the Miami Heat on Saturday night.

Ish Smith added 25 points for the Pistons, including a late 3-pointer of his own. Detroit has won three in a row, the last two with Griffin in the lineup after acquiring him in a trade.

Griffin's 3-pointer with 44 seconds to play put the Pistons ahead 108-101, but Goran Dragic responded with a four-point play, making a 3-pointer while being fouled with 32 seconds left. Detroit ran the clock down on the next possession, and Smith sank his only 3-point attempt of the game, from the right corner with 14 seconds to play.

Dragic scored 33 points for the Heat, who have lost three in a row. Miami was without center Hassan Whiteside, who was out with an illness.

Smith, who has struggled at times while trying to replace injured point guard Reggie Jackson, went 11 of 14 from the field and finished three points shy of his career high. His previous season high was 19 points.

Griffin had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists (see full recap).

Wizards win 4th straight without Wall
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Otto Porter scored 20 points and Tomas Satoransky had a career-high 19 to lift the Washington Wizards to a 115-98 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night.

Bradley Beal had 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as the Wizards won their fourth straight without injured All-Star point guard John Wall. Washington shot 54 percent and had 35 assists, the fourth straight game with 30 or more.

Mario Hezonja and Johnathon Simmons led Orlando with 15 points apiece. The Magic had seven players in double figures, including 14 points from Elfrid Payton, but couldn't keep up with Washington's unselfish play.

The Wizards were in control offensively the entire game, using crisp passing to get easy shots inside and out. Washington shot 62 percent in the first quarter and didn't go under 55 percent until the final minute of the game.

Most of that was the result of quick ball movement and unselfish play by every player on the court. Reserve point guard Tim Frazier had seven assists, Satoransky had six and Porter added five.

The Wizards seized control of the game with an 18-5 run in the middle of the third quarter that gave them a 23-point lead.

They had assists on six of the eight baskets in a run that featured four layups and ended with a resounding dunk by Markieff Morris off a pass from Satoransky. That made it 82-59 with 4:10 left in the third period and Orlando never got closer than 17 the rest of the game (see full recap).

Rockets roll past Cavs
CLEVELAND -- Chris Paul had 22 points and 11 assists, Ryan Anderson added 21 points and the Houston Rockets became the latest team to thump Cleveland on national TV, beating the disconnected Cavaliers 120-88 on Saturday night.

James Harden only scored 16 -- 15 below his league-leading average -- but Houston rolled to its fourth straight win and improved to 11-2 since Jan. 8.

Meanwhile, the Cavs' downward spiral accelerated.

Since losing at Golden State on Christmas, LeBron James and his teammates are 0-8 in network broadcasts and have been embarrassed in several matchups against quality teams. They lost by 28 at Minnesota, 34 in Toronto, 24 at home to Oklahoma City and 32 to the Rockets, who toyed with the defending Eastern Conference champs.

James finished with just 11 points and didn't play in the fourth quarter as the Rockets were too far ahead. Isaiah Thomas scored 12 for Cleveland.

The Cavs played their second game without injured All-Star forward Kevin Love, who could be out two months with a broken left hand suffered earlier this week (see full recap).

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

Now that the dust has settled on the NBA's All-Star festivities, the Sixers will reconvene this week and turn their attention back to the playoff push.

With 27 games remaining in the regular season over a 49-day stretch, it will be a sprint to the finish.

So how can the Sixers capture their first postseason berth in six seasons? Let's take a look at what the team needs more and less of down the stretch.

More: Healthy Embiid
What injury? Joel Embiid shook off right ankle soreness to participate in three events during All-Star weekend as a shining representation of the up-and-coming Sixers.

"There was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events," Embiid said Friday after the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. "It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun."

The big man is always about having fun, but now it's time to get down to business. Even though the Sixers' competition appears to lighten up after the break, the schedule does not (27 games with six back-to-back sets).

The Sixers are 27-17 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn't suit up. They need the center healthy and on the court.

Less: Turnovers
Way less, actually. 

As you know by now, the Sixers have a bit of an issue holding onto the basketball. They simply don't respect each possession enough, evidenced by their 17.5 turnovers per game. That's good enough for dead last in the NBA and it's a full 1.5 turnovers more than the closest team (Los Angeles Lakers).

And it's not just the miscues. Teams are capitalizing, too — the Sixers also rank 30th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.4).

Of the "Four Factors" statistic on the offensive end, which breaks down weighted factors that help a team win a game — shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free throws (15 percent) — the only category that the Sixers rank outside of the NBA's top 10 in is turnovers.

If they can cut down on the giveaways just a little, it will go a long way toward their goal.

More: Early execution
However, not all of those possessions end up with the Sixers running back on defense after a turnover.

With more legit scoring options on the roster this season than any previous time during Brett Brown's tenure, they have shown the ability to execute a play to perfection for a bucket.

It's a stark contrast to the days when they couldn't even get the ball in on an inbounds play.

That level of scoring punch has been particularly evident at the start of games. The Sixers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the league in first-quarter points per game (28.7) and are even with the L.A. Clippers for seventh in first-half points a night (55.2).

The Sixers must continue to apply that pressure on teams at the outset of games, especially if their woes finishing off opponents is going to persist.

Less: Bad Covington
Ah, the curious case of Robert Covington.

Has any player in NBA history ever looked like they could make a push for an All-Star spot for two months only to appear as if they belong in the G League the next few months?

Covington has always been a streaky shooter, but this season has been extreme. He shot 44.7 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three-point range in October and November to help secure his multiyear extension. 

Since that point, the swingman has connected on just 37.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long distance.

Whether it's the weight of the big contract or the nasty spill he took against the Cavs in December, Covington hasn't looked the same on the floor in several months. The team needs him to get it together and the sooner the better.

More: Killer D's
While Embiid's presence on both ends and Ben Simmons' wizardry at the point have put the Sixers in position to snag a playoff bid, the team didn't really hit its stride until a certain pairing found its footing: Dario Saric and defense.

Much like his rookie season, Saric struggled to find his role at the start. But that's long in the rearview mirror now. The second-year forward has increased his production each month and has been rolling so far in February (18.6 points, 51.7 percent field goals, 46.3 percent threes, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game).

That surge has coincided with the Sixers' tightened grip on defense. In seven games this month, they've allowed 96.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting.

The type of balance Saric offers offensively and the overall lockdown defense won't only make the Sixers a postseason team, it will also make them a tough out. 

Less: Fultz speculation
This is a big deal that the Sixers could make very small with a clear decision on the No. 1 pick's immediate future.

Markelle Fultz reportedly continues to ramp up his rehab workouts for his ailing shoulder, even after team president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month that the guard could return soon or be shut down for the season.

The franchise should obviously give Fultz every chance to come back and contribute, but that ruling should be made at the first opportunity.

It's after the All-Star break and having that type of deliberation hovering over the team isn't exactly fair to the other players. Not to mention, for a guy that has apparently dealt with questions regarding his confidence, possibly dropping him into the thick of a playoff race doesn't really do him any favors either.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”