Sixers miss Joel Embiid's presence in 2nd night of back-to-back set

Sixers miss Joel Embiid's presence in 2nd night of back-to-back set


BOSTON — Joel Embiid hopes to be cleared for back-to-backs sooner rather than later this season. But he’s not there yet, and so the Sixers have to continue to learn to play without him.

Each one of their three games minus the big man has taught them lessons. Thursday’s loss to the league-leading Celtics shined light on ways to improve on both ends.

“It’s tough because you get into a rhythm and then he’s not there,” Ben Simmons said after the Sixers’ 108-97 loss (see observations)

The Sixers are 1-2 without Embiid this season. The most glaring void is his offensive production, a team-high 22.9 points. It’s not just that Embiid can score; he can create his own opportunities to do so down low. Amir Johnson (six points, six rebounds, four assists) got the nod to start, but his game is more defensive-minded than Embiid’s versatile shot arsenal.

“We miss him in the sense that when our offense gets stagnant, we can always kind of throw him the ball and get a bucket,” JJ Redick (17 points, five assists) said. “Tonight, I thought we moved the ball well, we shot the ball well from three, but we could have for sure used him at times — obviously, all the time — but at times just to kind of calm us down, throw it in the post, and play off that.”

The Sixers were supplemented by a team-high 18 points from Dario Saric, who maximized receiving more touches (see highlights). He also scored 25 in the previous game against the Jazz without Embiid. Brett Brown has been able to turn to Saric in a small-center scenario. 

“Tonight, Dario was playing well, so it’s easy to feed him,” Simmons, who posted 15 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five steals, said (see highlights). “But not having Jo there, a lot of the focus is taken away from that player so they’re working on somebody else. He’s a big part of this team but we’ve got to find ways to win without him.”

The hit the Sixers take on defense when Embiid is not in the game has been well-documented. The Sixers lead the league in rebounds (48.9) and out-rebounded the Celtics, 45-40. Saric pulled down 10 and Richaun Holmes added seven off the bench. Still, they were outscored 44-36 in points in the paint.

“You take away a rim defender like Joel and it’s a lot different,” Simmons said. 

Brown and the players acknowledged the strong effort despite being shorthanded against the 19-4 Celtics. The Sixers led in the third quarter and trailed by only three in the fourth while missing Embiid and backup point guard T.J. McConnell (shoulder). Their next pair of back-to-back games is coming up Dec. 9 and 10 in Cleveland and New Orleans.  

“Hopefully we don’t have to play without him too often,” Redick said. 

Russell Westbrook, Thunder snap Raptors' win streak

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Russell Westbrook, Thunder snap Raptors' win streak

TORONTO — Russell Westbrook had 37 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds for his fifth straight triple-double, Steven Adams scored 25 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Raptors 132-125 on Sunday, snapping Toronto's winning streak at 11.

Paul George scored 22 points and Carmelo Anthony had 15 as the Thunder extended their winning streak to six. Corey Brewer scored 10 points for Oklahoma City.

DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points and Kyle Lowry fouled out with 22 points and 10 assists as the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors suffered just their sixth home loss of the season. Toronto is 29-6 at Air Canada Centre, the best home record in the NBA.

DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Raptors coach Dwane Casey were all ejected in the final minute for complaining to the officials. DeRozan was incensed after not getting a call on his drive with 30 seconds left, and picked up two technicals in the following 22 seconds (see full recap).

Davis leads Pelicans past Celtics
NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the banged-up Boston Celtics 108-89 on Sunday night.

Second-year pro Cheick Diallo had a season-high 17 points and Nikola Mirotic added 16 for New Orleans, which was desperate to win after dropping four of its previous five while in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Davis capped his night by hitting a baseline fallaway as he was fouled by Abdel Nader to make it 106-85 with 3:35 to go. The shot brought the crowd to its feet as Davis stumbled toward the sideline, where he exchanged high-fives with several fans before walking to the foul line to hit his foul shot.

The play capped a 22-6, fourth-quarter run to blow open what had been a tight game for most of the first three quarters (see full recap).

Harden scores 34 as Rockets hold off Timberwolves
MINNEAPOLIS — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets' 26th win in 28 games.

The West's top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20 (see full recap).

Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

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Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

WASHINGTON — Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Marcin Gortat had 18 and the Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night in a possible playoff preview.

Washington (40-30) earned its second straight win to move into a tie with Indiana for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Wizards also claimed the first tiebreaker by taking two of three in the season series.

Gortat was 6 for 8 from the field and also grabbed eight rebounds. He scored a total of 17 points in his previous four games.

Washington went 10 for 20 from 3-point range and shot 54.8 percent from the field overall. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had 16 points for the Wizards, and Markieff Morris added 15 (see full recap).

Giannis' double-double helps Bucks hold on to beat Hawks
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 23 points and the Milwaukee Bucks held on for a 122-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

The Bucks finished off the Eastern Conference's worst team with a game-ending 11-5 run, pushing the pace after the Hawks lost ball-handler Dennis Schroder. The guard fouled out with 2:46 left, and was called for a technical foul after exchanging words with an official on the way to the sideline.

Middleton hit the free throw that started the run. The Hawks looked rushed on their next two possessions with a turnover and a blocked shot, allowing the Bucks to brush past them.

Trailing by 13 at one point, Atlanta put up a spirited fight before losing its 50th game of the year. Taurean Prince scored 38 points, while Schroder finished with 18 (see full recap).

LeBron gets 33 points in triple-double as Cavs beat Bulls
CHICAGO — LeBron James scored 33 points as part of a triple-double, Jordan Clarkson had a tiebreaking four-point play with 1:27 left and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Chicago Bulls 114-109 on Saturday night.

James had 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season, and Jeff Green added 21 points. Clarkson finished with 19 points to help the Cavaliers salvage a six-game split on their season-high six-game trip.

Denzel Valentine led Chicago with a career-high 34 points, hitting 8 of 11 from long range. The Bulls wiped out a 17-point halftime deficit even though they held out banged-up core players Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, only to come up short in the closing minutes.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue spent the second half in the locker room with an illness, another hit for an already short-handed team (see full recap).