76ers

Robert Covington (back) to return for Sixers' game vs. Thunder

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Robert Covington (back) to return for Sixers' game vs. Thunder

Robert Covington kept his wish list very simple when asked by Joel Embiid what he wanted for his birthday.

“A ‘W’ tomorrow,” said Covington, who turned 27 on Thursday.

Realistically, the swingman will be happy just getting back on the court. Covington is expected to play after missing the last two games of the Sixers’ road trip following a scary back injury he suffered during last Saturday’s 105-98 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With 1:08 remaining, Covington attempted to save a ball near the sideline before he tumbled out of bounds and over the courtside seats near the Cavaliers’ bench. He kept falling off the four- to five-inch dropoff from the Quicken Loans Arena court to the ground and hit a metal object as he landed. Covington walked off the court with help from his teammates and was labeled with a lower-back contusion.

Now a few days of rest and rehab has him ready for a return in Friday’s home matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“It’s feeling good,” Covington said of his back after Thursday’s practice at the Sixers’ training complex. “The past few days, I’ve done a lot of rehab, acupuncture stuff. My back today, I felt really great. … I felt great coming into practice. Acupuncture yesterday, did a lot of movement, a lot of stuff that really opened up my back so I feel really good today.”

Covington’s return couldn’t come at a better time for the Sixers. 

Sure, a team can always use a player that has averaged 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and shot 42.7 percent from three-point range this season. However, it will be Covington’s defense that will come in handy the most against the dangerous Thunder trio of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Whether Covington comes out strong or struggles to find a rhythm after his injury, the Sixers will still be happy just to have him back on the floor healthy.

“It’s his birthday today, so he looked a little bit older. But he looked good,” head coach Brett Brown said.

Joel Embiid shows Celtics why he's an All-Star

Joel Embiid shows Celtics why he's an All-Star

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — The Sixers narrowly avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics with a 89-80 win Thursday night.

The Kyrie Irving-less Celtics cut the Sixers’ 21-point lead down to seven with two minutes to play, a margin that seemed closer because of Boston’s swarming defense.

The Sixers went scoreless for two minutes before T.J. McConnell hit a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left. They snapped a seven-game losing skid at TD Garden dating back to their last road victory there on April 4, 2014.

The Sixers are back above .500 at 21-20. The Celtics dropped to 34-12. 

• On the night Joel Embiid was named an All-Star starter (see story), he posted his 19th double-double and 24th 20-point game of the season. Embiid finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes.

• Celtics leading scorer Irving did not play because of a sore left shoulder.

“It’s nothing too crazy,” Irving said. “It was just giving me a little discomfort over the last few weeks. I’ve been playing through it.”

Irving averaged 25.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists in three games against the Sixers this season.

• The Celtics struggled offensively in the second quarter (13 points). The Sixers held them to 32 points in the first half, the fewest first-half points by the Celtics against the Sixers since Dec. 28, 2012. Overall, the Celtics’ 80 points were a season low.

• The Sixers led the Celtics, 71-53, after the third quarter. In all of their storied meetings, this was only the fourth time in Sixers history they held the Celtics to 53 points or less through the third.

• The Celtics entered the night tied for eighth-fewest turnovers per game (13.3). They uncharacteristically committed 15 in the first half alone (19 on the night).

• Dario Saric added 16 points and six rebounds. Ben Simmons recorded eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.

• McConnell gave another boost off the bench (15 points). He scored nine points (4 for 4 from the field) in the third alone.

• Bigs Al Horford and Marcus Morris led the Celtics with 14 points each. Jaylen Brown broke out of a scoreless first half to finish with 12 points.

• Justin Anderson saw increased minutes (16) in the absence of JJ Redick (left fibula injury). Jerryd Bayless started at shooting guard.

• Two-way contract player James Young returned to Boston, where he spent his first three NBA seasons with the Celtics.

Embiid, Simmons get their fate for ASG starters

Embiid, Simmons get their fate for ASG starters

BOSTON — Joel Embiid is an All-Star starter.

The Sixers' big man is joined by LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan to represent the Eastern Conference.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are the Western Conference starters.

These players were selected by fans (50 percent of the votes), current NBA players (25 percent) and a select group of media (25 percent).

Embiid finished third among fans, fourth among players and third among the media for frontcourt guys.

Embiid is averaging 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in his second NBA season. He has stressed making the playoffs is his main goal.

"I feel like my play is gonna do the talk," Embiid said at shootaround Thursday prior to the Sixers' game against the Celtics. "So if I’m an All-Star starter, that’d be great. But I feel like I have the résumé to be an All-Star. But tonight my focus is about beating a Celtics team that’s 3-0 against us. I don’t want to [be swept in] the series. I want to win tonight." 

Ben Simmons, who had been third among backcourt players in the last voting returns, still could be named a reserve. Head coaches will vote for those players, announced Jan. 23. Simmons is averaging 16.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 dimes. 

"I think both of them are All-Stars in their own right," Brett Brown said of Embiid and Simmons. 

This season, the All-Star teams will be chosen in a draft format of all players instead of East versus West. The top two vote getters from each conference, James and Curry, will be team captains to select the squads. The rosters will be announced Jan. 25. 

The 2018 All-Star Game will be played Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.