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Sixers-Mavericks observations: Ben Simmons lifts Sixers to 1st win in Dallas since ’05

Sixers-Mavericks observations: Ben Simmons lifts Sixers to 1st win in Dallas since ’05

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DALLAS — The headlining matchup of the night was Joel Embiid against former teammate and best friend Nerlens Noel, but by the end, I was left wanting to see more of Embiid vs. Dirk Nowitzki in the Sixers' 112-110 win Saturday night over the Mavericks.

Embiid started the game against Noel. He began out on the arc early on and quickly shifted to attacking the basket. Instead up pulling up from long range, he often caught the ball behind the three-point line and drove the hoop (23 points and nine rebounds on the night).

Embiid had a clear physical edge against Noel and used it in his favor. If you go by the official listings, Embiid has 40 pounds on Noel (260 to 220), but based on the fact Embiid estimates he weighs between 280 and 285 pounds, that differential probably is much larger.

The 20-year veteran Nowitzki did a solid job defending Embiid, especially during the Mavericks’ second-quarter push. During a one-minute span, Embiid missed a jumper while guarded by Nowitzki and then Nowitzki blocked another shot attempt.

This wasn’t a battle for the ages, but it was a matchup of two different ages of NBA basketball — a 39-year-old future Hall of Famer against a 23-year-old star on the rise. Embiid hit a trio of threes in the same game Nowitzki moved into 12th place on the NBA’s all-time three-point leader list. Watching the two compete had me thinking of all the matchups they could’ve had if Embiid hadn’t missed his first two seasons.

• This game was a contest of two teams looking for their second win of the season. The Sixers found themselves in familiar territory as they had to hold on to a lead late in the fourth. Would this game turn out different than Wednesday's one-point loss to the Rockets?

The Sixers led 109-107 with 20 seconds to play. Embiid hit a shot over Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes answered with a trey. Up 111-110 with 8.9 seconds on the clock, Jerryd Bayless drew a foul on Yogi Ferrell and only hit one of two free throws. That gave the Mavs a final chance. Ferrell sprinted to the basket where he was fouled by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot with 0.2 left.

When Ferrell missed the first free throw, both teams made defensive adjustments. Embiid, Dario Saric, Noel, and Salah Mejri subbed back in for the final shot. The Mavs failed to connect.

• Overheard from the stands: “I can’t believe they’re playing Ben Simmons as a point guard.” As if on cue, Simmons dunked the ball so hard the basket still was shaking during the Mavs' possession. He played aggressively in the paint, as Brett Brown wants him to focus on finishing at the rim, and tallied 23 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a block in 34 minutes.

• Dario Saric got the start with JJ Redick sidelined by lower back tightness. He has been struggling to hit his stride early in the season and looked to find a rhythm immediately. Saric pulled up for the first shot of the game, a three, and knocked it down. He scored all of his 12 points from long range (4 for 12 from the field, 4 for 7 from three).

• As for Redick, he’s not concerned about his back. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” Redick said. “I’ll be fine. It’s not a big deal.” He started feeling tightness Friday morning.

• Embiid continued to play physical after stating earlier this week, “I’m not made of glass.” And there were still tumbles. Embiid was tripped up by Wesley Matthews, fell out of bounds and came up holding his back. He shook it off and stayed in the game.

• Nik Stauskas received playing time in the absence of Redick. He scored his first points of the season (four) and picked off a steal. Stauskas put time in before the game working on his shot.

• Both teams could attribute a large chunk of their turnovers to one player. Embiid committed seven of the Sixers' 14, while Dennis Smith Jr. was charged with six of the Mavs' 18.

• A sneaky J.J. Barea drove by Embiid for a clear look at the basket and a layup. Reminder: Barea is listed at six feet tall.

• Mavericks fans dressed for the theme Saturday night.

Best of NBA: Magic embarrassed by Celtics before Sixers game

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Best of NBA: Magic embarrassed by Celtics before Sixers game

BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving scored 17 of his 30 points in a blistering first half and the Boston Celtics jumped to an early lead and coasted to a 118-103 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

One game after ending their streak of 16 consecutive victories, the Celtics scored 40 points in the first quarter and 73 by halftime -- both season highs -- to send the Magic to their seventh straight loss. Aron Baynes finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Al Horford had 10 assists.

Still wearing a mask after breaking a bone in his face on Nov. 10, Irving was 9 for 15 from the floor and sank all 10 of his free throw attempts, many with the sold-out crowd chanting "M-V-P!"

Orlando scored the first four points of the game and trailed by just four with less than four minutes left in the first before Boston scored 16 of the next 20 points to take a 40-24 lead. Leading 42-30 early in the second, the Celtics went on an 11-2 run and later got back-to-back 3-pointers from Rozier to open a 28-point lead.

Rozier had a career-high 23 points for Boston, which also topped its season-high for points.

Jonathon Simmons scored 14 points for Orlando, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 11 rebounds (see full recap).

James has triple-double, Cavs beat Hornets for 7th straight
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James had 27 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists, J.R. Smith made the tiebreaking free throw with 48 seconds left, and the Cleveland Cavaliers extended their winning streak to seven straight with a 100-99 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

James had season highs in rebounds and assists in his 57th career triple-double. He's 41-6 in the regular season against Charlotte and the Cavaliers have won 12 of 13, including eight straight against the Hornets.

After Smith split a pair from the line, both teams missed 3-point attempts and Charlotte called time with 11.1 seconds left. Jeremy Lamb missed a 3-pointer after the Hornets inbounded at midcourt and the rebound was tapped out to Kemba Walker, but his 3-point attempt fell well short.

For Black Friday, the Cavaliers wore black uniforms. Cleveland also wore black jerseys when it won the first championship in franchise history, but the current edition is minus the sleeves from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

James also switched from yellow to black shoes after scoring six points in the first half.

Smith had 16 points, while Kevin Love had 11 points and 13 rebounds for Cleveland (see full recap).

Pistons overcome 15-point deficit to beat Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Andre Drummond had 17 points and 14 rebounds and the Detroit Pistons overcame a 15-point deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 99-98 on Friday night.

Russell Westbrook had his sixth triple-double of the season for Oklahoma City with 27 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds. He missed a long 3-point attempt on the final possession to finish 1 of 10 from 3-point range and 10 of 29 from the field.

Down 10 at the half, the Pistons took their first lead on Ish Smith's jumper in the fourth and expanded it to four on Luke Kennard's only basket of the night, a 3-pointer that made it 88-84.

Oklahoma City had numerous chances, missing three shots on one possession in the final minute. The Thunder had the final possession and Westbrook's 26-footer bounced off the rim.

It was the eighth double-digit lead given up by the Thunder this season on their way to a loss (see full recap).

Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

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Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid sometimes looks like he’s having a party on the basketball court. It’s no surprise, then, he credits some actual partying with turning around his season.

Yes, that’s right. After Sixers practice Friday afternoon, Embiid said hitting the town in Los Angeles on the team's recent road trip helped him out of a funk.

“All my close friends live in L.A., so before that, I wasn’t really doing anything, I was frustrated because I wasn’t in basketball shape and I wasn’t having fun on the court,” Embiid said. “So I won’t lie, I decided to go out, have fun a little bit. And that just kind of gave me the energy back, and the next game against the Clippers, I had more than 30 points [32], and then the following game I had more than 40 [46], so I think it’s just about having fun and making sure I can control what I can.”

For what it’s worth, Embiid is averaging 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks since the Sixers arrived in Los Angeles. The Sixers are 5-1 in those six games.

As the Sixers keep winning, the expectations keep growing. Is this a legit playoff team? Contenders in the near future? Embiid deals with the pressure that sort of attention can bring the same way he does just about everything else.

“Just be myself," Embiid said. "Have fun on the court. You know, just be myself, and I know it’s going to come, I know the guys are going to find me whenever they have to find me, I know coach is going to call plays for me. I think I kind of figured out if I’m not having fun on the court, I’m not going to play well, so I really need to have fun, and that’s the main thing for me. From there, I’m going to be dominant.”

A big part of having fun on the court for Embiid is trash talk. He insists he doesn’t initiate it, but he’s more than happy to give it back. He’ll be without Ben Simmons Saturday night against Orlando, but he’s eager for some banter with the Magic.

“Me talking trash, it doesn’t usually happen because I want to, it’s because the other guys start talking trash. So if any of the guys want to, I’m up for it. It elevates my game, it makes me play better because I know if you talk trash to me I’m going to talk back, and I’m going to back it up, and that’s going to make me play better. I can’t wait, I really hope they do [trash talk]. It’s going to be exciting.”