Sonny Hill: Joel Embiid can be 'young Wilt Chamberlain'

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Sonny Hill: Joel Embiid can be 'young Wilt Chamberlain'

After nearly every home game, it's common to see Joel Embiid having a conversation at his locker. Sonny Hill, a fixture in Philadelphia basketball for nearly 60 years, is seated next to the Sixers' star center and chatting away. 

Hill recognized the immense potential in Embiid early on and he is staying closely involved in the big man’s journey through the NBA. 

“I mentioned to Joel before he started playing — I could see the beautiful shot, the rotation, how soft it is — I said to him, ‘You’ve got a chance to be a young Wilt Chamberlain,’” Hill said. “I’ve never, ever told that to anybody before. What he is doing right now, I kind of saw that before he even got healthy.”

Embiid is averaging 23.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 blocks in his first 19 games this season. He has career averages of 21.3 points, 9.1 boards, 2.5 assists and 2.2 blocks in only 50 games played. Embiid is on pace to dominate for years to come and poised to set statistical marks along the way.

Chamberlain posted 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists while playing 45.8 minutes in over 1,000 NBA games. The Hall of Famer was a two-time champion, four-time MVP and one-time NBA Finals MVP. A reference to Chamberlain is not to be taken likely, especially since Embiid got a late start playing basketball. And especially not from someone as closely associated with Chamberlain as Hill was.

“It’s the most phenomenal thing that I’ve ever seen in basketball, and I’ve seen just about everything,” Hill said of Embiid. “On all sides, not just in the NBA but the history of the game of basketball. I have never ever seen anyone with the limited amount of playing time being involved in the game that has developed his skills at the level that Joel Embiid’s skills are at this point. And with the horizon, the best is yet to come. Not just for him, but for the Philadelphia 76ers.”

The Sixers celebrated Hill on Saturday for his contributions to basketball in Philadelphia. They announced the Sonny Hill Legacy Award, created to recognize youth with high character on and off the court, in his honor. Allen Iverson was in attendance to participate in the ceremony.

“It’s beyond my wildest dream,” Hill said. “You have to understand that when I was born in 1936, none of this could have been even thought about. To be on the journey that I’ve been on is phenomenal.” 

Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell questionable

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Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell questionable

UPDATED: 2:10 P.M.

The Sixers might get some reinforcements back to help try to halt their losing streak.

Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell are listed as questionable tonight in Minnesota (9:30 p.m./NBCSP+).

Embiid (back tightness) sat out Saturday night’s loss because of load management and then was a last-minute scratch against the Pelicans Sunday. Covington (lower back contusion), who was injured diving into the stands for a loose ball against the Cavs Saturday, also missed Sunday night’s loss. McConnell suffered a sprained AC joint in the Sixers’ win over the Wizards back on Nov. 29. He came back and played 18 minutes in the team’s loss to the Lakers, but then missed the first two games of the road trip in Cleveland and New Orleans.

Embiid’s injury is not believed to be serious. The big man himself didn’t seem too concerned.

“If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone,” Embiid said Sunday. “But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers will look to snap a four-game losing streak — their longest of the season — against the reloaded Timberwolves (16-11). 

Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

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Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

HOUSTON -- Clint Capela had a career-high 28 points and James Harden scored 12 straight points for Houston in the fourth quarter as the Rockets rallied for a 130-123 victory to extend their winning streak to 10 games on Monday night.

The game was tied with about three minutes remaining after Harden made two free throws. Those were the first of seven straight points by Harden that put Houston's up 124-119 with 1:30 left.

Jrue Holiday made a basket after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer seconds later to push the lead to 127-121. Harden stole the ball from E'Twaun Moore after a timeout by New Orleans. He was fouled and made both free throws to make it 129-121 with 34 seconds left.

After scoring 48 points in Houston's last game, Harden finished with 26 on Monday, but he tied a career-high with 17 assists, finding the 6-foot-10 Capela under the basket again and again.

Holiday had a season-high 37 points for the Pelicans. Moore had a career-high 36 points and made a career-most six 3-pointers on a night New Orleans set a franchise record with 18 3-pointers (see full recap).

Mirotic, Portis help Bulls blow out Celtics
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, Bobby Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA's worst record, the Bulls built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms. The 6-foot-10 forward hit 9 of 14 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in his third appearance.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Before Monday night, Mirotic and Portis had only made headlines together this season for the wrong reasons. Mirotic missed the first 23 games with facial fractures he suffered in a fight at practice with Portis.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston. Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics' most lopsided loss of the season (see full recap).

Howard, struggling Hornets roll past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dwight Howard scored 23 points to help the Charlotte Hornets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-103 on Monday night.

Kemba Walker had 19 points for the Hornets, who had lost seven of eight. Marvin Williams scored 18, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 17 points.

It was Charlotte's second road win of the season in 12 tries.

Russell Westbrook had 30 points and seven assists and Paul George scored 20 points for the Thunder after missing the previous two games with a right calf contusion.

Charlotte shot 53 percent from the field against one of the league's best defensive teams. The Bobcats made 13 of 25 3-point attempts (see full recap).