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Sixers-Cavaliers observations: LeBron proves King once again

Sixers-Cavaliers observations: LeBron proves King once again

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CLEVELAND — The game had the makings of a bounce-back win for the Sixers.

Then, the Cavs snapped back into Cavs-mode and took over the game late in the fourth quarter Saturday night to defeat the Sixers, 105-98, at Quicken Loans Arena. 

The Sixers could have beat both the Suns and the Lakers at home had they played with the same level of energy and intensity they demonstrated against the Cavaliers on the road … and without Joel Embiid, who is sidelined because of his back-to-back restriction. 

Ben Simmons put the Sixers up 96-91 with a dunk, but he fouled LeBron James on the drive the next possession. James connected for the and-one, sparking an 8-0 Cavs run that reclaimed the game.

James led all scorers with a 30-point, 13-rebound, 13-assist triple-double. (More on James below.) The Sixers lost their third straight game, dropping to 13-12. The Cavaliers improved to 18-8. 

• A scary moment late in the game when Robert Covington hustled to save a possession and tumbled out of bounds. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop from the court to the area where he fell. Covington was down on the ground for a while, as players and staff surrounded him. He got up and walked off the court with the help of his teammates. More information as it becomes available.

• The matchup between James and Ben Simmons was just a small glimpse into what their duels will be like for years to come. The rookie held his own against his big-brother type (and future Hall of Famer). James pulled up for threes over Simmons. Simmons used his own size to drive the basket. Imagine being a fly on the wall if they played one-on-one in their offseason workouts together. Simmons recorded a double-double with 14 points, 10 assists and six boards.

"I thought his distance was good," Brett Brown said of Simmons after the game. "I thought him sitting in a stance was good. I’m always on him and all of our guys on their hand activity. I think by in large, Ben did a good job on him."

• The trade for Trevor Booker came at the right time. Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes got into foul trouble in the first half and the Sixers needed Booker to help fill those minutes. Booker stepped in like he had spent weeks, not hours with his new team. He scored 12 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench while being aggressive at the basket.

• #GogglesDario may be a new thing. Dario Saric sported goggles to play with an eye injury and posted 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists over 34 minutes. 

• Kevin Love was scratched for left hip soreness. Ante Zizic got the start in his place. The rookie ended up playing just five minutes, as the Cavaliers turned to their deep bench in Love’s absence. Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye all played more than 19 minutes.

• The Cavaliers were hungry for a win and probably hungry for sleep. They lost to the Pacers Friday night in Indiana and their flight back was delayed so long they didn't get home until 4:30 a.m.

"This was a big win for us, " James said. "After everything we went through last night … your whole day is just kind of screwed up. Your whole routine and your whole regimen is just kind of screwed up. But you've still got to be professionals. No one is going to feel sorry for you."

Warriors win in Finals rematch

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USA Today Images

Warriors win in Finals rematch

CLEVELAND — Kevin Durant scored 32 points, Stephen Curry added 23 and the Golden State Warriors extended their road winning streak to 13 games with a 118-108 Martin Luther King holiday victory Monday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, their struggling NBA Finals foes.

Durant scored 16 in the third quarter for the defending NBA champions, who haven't lost outside Oracle Arena since Nov. 22.

LeBron James scored 32 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, which had its home winning streak stopped at 13. Isaiah Thomas, getting his first taste of the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry, had 19 points in a season-high 32 minutes as he works his way back from a hip injury.

It was Golden State's second straight win over the Cavs, who have dropped eight of 10 dating to a loss to the Warriors on Christmas Day. Cleveland was down just 93-91 entering the fourth, but the Cavs missed 17 of 19 shots to open the period, allowing Golden State to throttle away.

The Warriors and Cavs have met in the Finals each of the past three years. There's no guarantee there will be a fourth matchup, and at this point only one of them looks prepared for June (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo posts 27 points, 20 rebounds in Bucks' win
WASHINGTON — Now that he has this basketball thing figured out, Giannis Antetokounmpo showed he wouldn't make a bad long snapper in football, either.

Antetokounmpo hiked the ball through his legs to teammate Khris Middleton for a fast-break dunk and the highlight of his all-around dominant performance as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Washington Wizards 104-95 on Monday. Antetokounmpo scored 27 points and grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds in the Bucks' second road victory against the Wizards in 10 days.

"It's not important," Antetokounmpo said of his 20 rebounds. "I was just in the right spot, and the ball just came into my hands."

The Wizards got 27 points and nine assists from John Wall and 19 points off the bench from Kelly Oubre. But just like on Jan. 6 when these teams last met, Antetokounmpo was the difference in Milwaukee pulling away in a tight game late (see full recap).

Porzingis, Beasley help Knicks beat Nets
NEW YORK — Though it hardly appeared like it with thousands of blue-and-orange-dressed fans standing and screaming for them, this was a road game for the New York Knicks.

"It feels like we're playing at home, so it was a good atmosphere for us," Kristaps Porzingis said.

It gets harder from here.

Porzingis had 26 points and nine rebounds, Michael Beasley added 23 points and 10 boards, and the Knicks opened their longest road trip in nearly 30 years by beating the Brooklyn Nets 119-104 on Monday (see full recap).

Schroder leads Hawks over Spurs
ATLANTA — Dennis Schroder loves taking charge with the outcome uncertain in the closing seconds.

It means even more when he can push the Atlanta Hawks to a rare victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

"I'm glad we got the win, first off," Schroder said. "I hit my shots in crunch time. Dewayne Dedmon set great screens and got me open. I just shot with confidence, so it feels great."

Schroder scored 26 points, Ersan Ilyasova added 20 and the Hawks held off the Spurs in the closing seconds to win 102-99 on Monday.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 25 points and 11 rebounds for San Antonio, which lost guard Manu Ginobli to a right thigh contusion in the first quarter and played without Kawhi Leonard as the star forward comes back slowly from injuries (see full recap).

#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

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AP Images

#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

Well, it certainly doesn't feel like the Philadelphia 76ers never trailed in that game against the Toronto Raptors, does it? The Sixers technically held on for the wire-to-wire 117-111 victory against Toronto, despite that lead getting Cliffhanger precarious down the stretch, getting back to .500 on the season thanks to big efforts from Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell and Joel Embiid. 

Of course, if the Raptors were on their game, the Sixers might not have escaped with this one. Following a hard-fought loss to the Warriors (and in Kyle Lowry's first game back since missing a few games with a bruised tailbone), the Raps seemed out of rhythm for most of the afternoon. The Sixers' stout defense certainly played a part in that, but the Raps also just missed shots, and generally lacked the tenacity they attacked Philly with in their two meetings this December. 

Nonetheless, the Sixers played well enough to win for three quarters, and snapped out of their usual late-game momentum funk in time to not totally give the game away. Credit for that part has to go to Simmons, who rolled in a layup and the kicked out to Dario for an open three with minutes to go, expanding a dangling one-point Sixers lead to a relatively secure six they were able to protect from there. He also made the Raps pay for intentionally hacking him late, calmly sinking two to keep Toronto at bay. Embiid also helped clinch things with late free throws, part of his 34-point, 11-rebound afternoon (see video), and with mighty defense around the basket that closed things off for the surging Raps. 

And yet, this was once again the T.J. McConnell game. He tangled early with Raptors star (and professional Sixers torturer) DeMar DeRozan, and that seemed to ignite an unusually aggressive T.J., as Timothy John went on to score a career-high 18 on 8-13 shooting, to go with eight dimes, six boards and three steals (see video) — also helping to hold DeMar to a manageable 24 points for the afternoon. He did get passive late, which he kicked himself for a little in his post-game interview, but it was still a magnificent afternoon for Teej, and his buckets were invaluable on an afternoon where our shooters weren't hitting much (6-25 from deep) and nobody besides JoJo was doing much in the half-court. 

Even though they had to work for it at the end a little more than we'd like, there's no denying the size of this win for the Sixers. Aside from giving them a statement W over one of the East's elite, it keeps them from falling too far back of the playoff pack, while the Pacers are surging and while the Sixers still have some tough games immediately ahead of them, I figured if they got one win in their four-pack against the Celts, Raps, Celts again and Bucks, they'd be in decent shape — now, they have two more chances to come out with a split. 

What's more, you can now add Toronto to the list of very good teams the Sixers don't have to worry about playing again this season — a list that already includes the Warriors and Rockets, and is one game away from also including the Celtics. Though it's dampened their 20-20 record until this point, it's pretty incredible to be halfway through January and already be done playing arguably the league's four best teams, two of which are in their division. Smooth sailing is on the horizon, and in the meantime we're officially in the midst of #SixersJanuary. Salvation is free.