76ers

Shocker! Sixers blow another huge lead

Shocker! Sixers blow another huge lead

BOX SCORE

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Sixers surrendered an 18-point lead and were outscored 19-0 in a fourth-quarter spurt as the Trail Blazers staged a 114-110 comeback Thursday night at the Moda Center. 

The Sixers came off a 34-point third quarter to only fall flat minutes after the break between periods. The Trail Blazers transformed the Sixers’ 88-74 lead with 11:11 to play into a 93-88 deficit halfway through the fourth. The Sixers committed five turnovers and shot 0 for 5 from the field during that stretch.

Joel Embiid hit a flurry of threes (see more below) to cut the deficit to 111-108 with 9.2 seconds to play. The Sixers were whistled for a line violation, however, after Dario Saric went over the line to defend the inbound pass. C.J. McCollum pushed the lead to four with a technical foul free throw. The Trail Blazers scored 42 points in the decisive quarter. 

• The Trail Blazers pulled off the win without All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. He missed his third straight game with a right hamstring strain. They had to make up for his 25.2 points, 6.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds and did that with a trio of 20-plus point performances. 

• McCollum scored a total of five points over 36 minutes in his first game against the Sixers this season. The shooting guard would not have a repeat performance. McCollum posted 14 points in the first quarter alone en route to 34 points, seven rebounds and four assists on the night.

• Jusuf Nurkic recorded a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double while fill-in point guard Shabazz Napier dropped 23 points, including a massive 15 in the fourth. 

• Embiid started off the game settling in beyond the arc. He went 3 for 5 from three in the first quarter and drained 5 of 11 on the night, including three in the final 2:06. Embiid fell just shy of a double-double with 29 points and nine boards in 35 minutes. 

• Dario Saric bounced back from his poor shooting performance against the Knicks with an efficient 25 points (10 for 12 from the field, 5 for 6 from three), nine rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. One of his assists was to McConnell, keeping the #TrustTheFriendship mantra going.

• Robert Covington suffered a left middle finger injury and did not return to the game. He attempted just two field goals in 24 minutes (four points) and did not take his first three attempts until two minutes remaining in the first half (he made it). 

• Justin Anderson (shin splints) was cleared to play for the first time since Nov. 15. Brett Brown explained before the game it was unlikely Anderson would have a major role in this game given the fact he has been through only one practice and the coach is using a tight rotation. 

• Anderson, Richaun Holmes and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot did not play. At shootaround, Brown noted the physicality and size of Nurkic (7-foot, 280 pounds) wasn’t favorable to a matchup with Holmes. 

• The Sixers, who entered the game last in the NBA in turnovers, had better control over the ball through three (six turnovers). They gave up 12 points off eight turnovers in the fourth.

• The Trail Blazers took 47 free throw attempts compared to only 14 by the Sixers.

Following the game, McCollum said, "Basketball gods looking out for us. I think that was big."

McCollum and Nurkic combined for 30 attempts.

• The Sixers dropped to 15-19 while the Trail Blazers improved to 18-16. The Sixers’ next game is Saturday in Denver against the Nuggets.  

Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

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Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

CLEVELAND -- There was none of the usual postgame chatter or music in the Cavaliers locker room.

The mood was somber and quiet, not the same place.

"Right now we're in Strugglesville," LeBron James said. "But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely."

Isaiah Thomas made two free throws with 11 seconds left and Cleveland came up with a defensive stop in the frantic final seconds after blowing a 23-point lead to beat the Orlando Magic 104-103 on Thursday night and snap a four-game losing streak.

After Thomas made his shots, Orlando's Elfrid Payton missed a contested layup with three seconds left. The three officials ruled there was an inadvertent whistle and held a jump ball at midcourt.

Magic forward Aaron Gordon grabbed the toss and sank a 45-footer as the horn sounded and Cleveland's crowd shrieked in disbelief. But Gordon committed a jump-ball violation with the move and Cleveland only had to inbound the ball to come away with a victory following a crazy and exhausting final sequence that left everyone dazed.

"No, I don't," said Thomas when asked if he knew what happened. "It was a lot of back and forth. I'm just glad we just came out with the win" (see full recap).

Rockets cruise past Timberwolves in Harden’s return
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon scored 30 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 116-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.

James Harden returned to the Rockets' lineup after missing seven games with a left hamstring strain and finished with 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting, and added seven assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes. Houston went 4-3 in his absence.

Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela added 20 points for the Rockets. Houston has won 15 of the past 17 meetings with Minnesota, including a 10-game winning streak at home.

Gordon closed out a big third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass from a step behind the half-court line. After hitting the shot under heavy pressure from Andrew Wiggins, Gordon gave a high-five to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who was sitting courtside near the shot.

Gordon's 3-pointer helped the Rockets finish the third quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 89-70 lead into the fourth with their largest advantage of the game. Gordon made 11 of 19 shots, including 7 of 13 from 3, and fell just short of his season-high 33 points against Utah on Dec. 18.

With Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza sitting out the first part of a two-game suspension for a postgame locker room incident on Monday night in Los Angeles, Luc Mbah a Moute started in Ariza's place, scoring 14 points in 32 minutes.

Along with Ariza, reserve guard Gerald Green was also serving the first of a two-game suspension for the altercation with the Clippers (see full recap).

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

BOX SCORE

BOSTON -- What a difference two games make.

The Sixers entered this week 0-8 against the top three Eastern Conference teams: the Celtics, Cavaliers and Raptors. By Thursday night, they had picked up two straight wins over them.

The Sixers followed up Monday’s victory over the Raptors with an 89-80 win over the Celtics (see observations)

“I think we are in a good position right now,” Ben Simmons said. “Still a lot of improvement, a lot of things we’ve got to pick up on, but I think we are doing really well and getting better.” 

All season long, a downfall of the Sixers has been giving up leads. Ten, 15, 20 points have been erased just like that. 

The Sixers’ largest advantage was 21 points in the last two games, and in both instances their opponents fought back. The Raptors cut the lead to one with three minutes to play; the Celtics got within seven with two minutes on the clock.

Unlike in the past, the Sixers held on for wins.

“We’ve been in that situation too many times,” Joel Embiid said. “We just have to stay calm and keep moving the ball. We made a couple mistakes, but everything was fine and we got the win.” 

The game was missing two key players. The Celtics were shorthanded without their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving (shoulder). The Sixers were down starting shooting guard JJ Redick (leg). Brett Brown considered their absences “almost a wash.” 

Newly-announced All-Star starter Embiid led all players with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, his 19th double-double of the season. 

“They are still a great team,” Brown said of the Celtics. “For us to come in here and build a lead, hold onto the lead, close out the game, and at times not in a pretty way, is a fantastic result for us.” 

With the win, the Sixers snapped a seven-game losing streak at TD Garden dating back to April 4, 2014. They also avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics. 

The Sixers moved above .500 (21-20) and into the eight spot in the East. The Celtics and Raptors could be postseason pairings if the Sixers hold their ground in the standings, a scenario they are well aware of in these regular-season games. 

“I don’t know what seed we are going to be, but that’s a potential matchup in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “We always want to come out and try to dominate and let them know that’s it’s not going to be easy.”