This time, Sixers flip 2nd-half script

This time, Sixers flip 2nd-half script


DENVER — The Sixers on Saturday night picked up their second win of the season without Joel Embiid thanks to a third-quarter comeback that led to a 107-102 victory over the Nuggets.

They moved to 2-7 without the big man, who sat out of the first night of a back-to-back because of his medical restriction. The Sixers had not won an Embiid-less game since Nov. 7.

Jamal Murray led all players with 31 points. Dario Saric led the Sixers with 20 (see more below).

The Sixers took this game back with disciplined ball. They trailed by 14 with 7:29 to play in the third before going on a 19-4 to run to take the lead. The Sixers did not commit a turnover during that stretch. They made the push with Ben Simmons and Redick on the bench. Saric scored seven points and Jerryd Bayless added six in the quarter. Bayless finished with 14 points (6 for 10 from the field).

The game wasn't a guarantee, though. The Nuggets crept back into it, as both teams' offenses stalled in the fourth. The Sixers led 103-97 with 4:10 to play. From that point on, the Sixers didn't score again until 19.5 seconds left (Robert Covington free throws).

• Amir Johnson got the start in place of Embiid. Richaun Holmes clocked 19 minutes off the bench after not playing in the last two games. So how does Brett Brown decide who to start?

“One's better at defense, one's better at offense,” Brown said at shootaround. “It's really that simple. Amir is a better defensive player and rebounder at this stage of his career. Richaun is lightning in a bottle, can change a game, got a bounce, probably more capable in bursts offensively.” 

Johnson scored eight points, five rebounds and five assists. Holmes posted 14 points, three rebounds, three assists in 19 minutes off the bench. He fouled out with just under three minutes to play.

• Wilson Chandler said the Nuggets’ approach to Simmons was keeping him out of the paint. Simmons took (and made) one shot outside of the area. He finished the game with six points (3 for 9 from the field), six rebounds and six dimes.

• The Nuggets were game planning to limit Saric, which didn’t pan out. Before the game, head coach Mike Malone broke down why he considers Saric “a really skilled basketball player.”

• Covington started after leaving the last game with a left middle finger injury. He finished with a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Covington explained how he was hurt against the Trail Blazers.

"I got hit directly on with the ball," he said. "My finger just kind of drooped. It was weird and I didn't have feeling in it for a while. Then we had to put it in a splint right after the game."

• Justin Anderson was inactive. His status was in question leading up to the game because of shin splints. He has not played since mid-November.

• The Sixers travel to Phoenix Saturday night to take on the Suns Sunday evening.

Is a rival upset with Embiid's ASG starter nod?

Is a rival upset with Embiid's ASG starter nod?

While Joel Embiid was sharing his first All-Star nod with his teammates and deciding to move on from his former crush, at least one person wasn’t happy that the Sixers’ center was tabbed as a starter.

Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis feels like he should have garnered that final frontcourt spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Players know,” he said, per the New York Daily News. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

True, Porzingis had more of the players’ support as he finished third in the East in that category compared to Embiid in fourth. 

However, Embiid had the trump card with a pair of third-place finishes in both media and fan voting while Porzingis came in fourth. The fan vote was the main key, as it accounted for 50 percent of the overall tally.

“I feel very blessed to be in this type of position,” Embiid said Thursday. “Thank all the fans out there for the support. It’s been a tough couple of years and I really appreciate it — everybody out there, everybody around me, the whole team, the whole organization, the fans especially, for making this happen. We can only get better from here.”

If Embiid is going to get even better, look out. He’s already averaging 23.9 points (48.7 percent shooting), 11.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 blocks per game this season. Oh yeah, he also has the Sixers with a 21-20 record and sitting in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, Porzingis’ overall numbers have gone down every month this season. He’s currently putting up 23.6 points (43.4 percent shooting), 6.9 boards, 1.2 assists and 2.4 blocks a night. And the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 15 games to fall to 20-25.

“Everybody has their own opinion,” Porzingis said. “Fans are one thing. It is what it is. There are a lot of things I could have done better also. It is what it is.”

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).

Blazers top Pacers for 5th straight home win
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Damian Lillard scored 26 points and eight assists, Jusuf Nurkic had 19 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, and the Portland Trail Blazers won their fifth consecutive home game, beating the Indiana Pacers 100-86 on Thursday night.

C.J. McCollum added 16 points and Shabazz Napier 13 for Portland, which seems to have its homecourt mojo back, winning five straight after dropping six consecutive home games in early December. The Blazers also beat Indiana for the ninth consecutive time on their home floor.

Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison scored 23 points each for Indiana.

Portland took control late in the third quarter, when the Blazers held Indiana scoreless for more than five minutes. It was part of Portland's 21-2 run, during which Napier scored eight points to help erase a six-point deficit and give the Blazers an 89-76 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Indiana was without forward Myles Turner, the team's second-leading scorer this season. Turner has missed five consecutive games with a right elbow injury (see full recap).