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Who has the brighter future — Sixers or Celtics?

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Who has the brighter future — Sixers or Celtics?

Without Joel Embiid and T.J. McConnell, the Sixers won't be at full strength tonight against the Celtics. Then again, the Celtics haven't been at full strength all season, playing every game without $30 million man Gordon Hayward. Boston has managed to go 18-4 to lead the NBA so far without him, which serves as just another example of how well constructed the Celtics' roster is.

The teams are on two different timelines, but outside of the Warriors, there are few if any teams built better to both win now and win in the future than the Sixers and Celtics.

Which invites the question: Which team is in the better situation moving forward with players, cap space, flexibility and draft picks — Sixers or Celtics?

Jessica Camerato — Sixers
The Celtics are ahead of the Sixers in their progress toward contention, but the Sixers have the pieces to catch up and even surpass them. The Celtics have designed their roster to compete now with All-Stars like Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Hayward (pre-injury) while developing their potential future in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They face questions about the makeup of their team, though, following next season when both Irving and Horford have player options for 2019-20. 

The Sixers, on the other hand, are just beginning to lay the foundation of a bright future. Embiid and Robert Covington are locked up for five seasons. The team is being extremely methodical with its cap space to have room available when it comes time to talk contract with Ben Simmons and also be able to make a run at top-level free agents in upcoming offseasons.

While the Celtics are running the East this season, the Sixers' combination of Embiid, Covington and Simmons is the group of assets I would rather have moving forward.

Corey Seidman — Sixers (by a 51-49 margin)
I'd also take the Sixers' situation, even though I genuinely believe the Celtics can win a championship at some point in the next three years if the Warriors suffer even one key, late-season injury. 

Kyrie is one of the best ball-handlers of all-time and one of the most clutch players of the last 25 years. The Sixers don't have a player like him — nobody does. But the Celtics don't have a player like Simmons or Embiid — nobody does.

One thing that could shift my opinion with this is if Jayson Tatum takes a quick leap to stardom at some point in the next two or three seasons. Aside from Simmons, he looks like by far the best rookie in this class. There's just so little hesitation with Tatum. Most rookies defer early in their careers and pass up an open look for an even better look because they think that's what a good NBA teammate does. Tatum takes those open shots and takes advantage of open driving lanes. It makes sense for Utah's Donovan Mitchell to do it because he has so little scoring help around him. But Tatum does have a lot around him and still is confident enough in himself to drive the car when he needs to.

Markelle Fultz hasn't scratched the surface of what he might be able to do in the NBA, but it's difficult for me to envision him making more of an impact — offensively and defensively, at the rim or beyond the arc — than Tatum will over the course of his career.

But for me, the Tatum > Fultz thing isn't enough to offset the unique, superduperstar upside of the Sixers' top two players. 

The Celtics are built to win 55-ish games for the foreseeable future. But does anyone really remember a 57-win season? The Sixers are built to — if they add one more star — have one of those crazy, 66-win seasons that don't come along often.

Paul Hudrick — Celtics
This is tough.

It's hard to dispute that the team with the best record in the NBA — that also happens to be missing its prize free agent — has the better roster going forward, but there is certainly a case to be made for the Sixers. 

Embiid and Simmons have the potential to be more dominant than any player on the Celtics' roster. Fultz is the obvious questions mark. Can he live up to the billing of being the No. 1 overall pick? I believe he can. Once he gets healthy and regains his confidence, I expect an elite scorer to emerge.

For most, the comparison of Fultz and Tatum will be the key to determining this question. For me, it's Fultz vs. Jaylen Brown. Brown has already shown flashes of being an elite defender and unstoppable in the open floor. He's also hitting 41 percent of his threes on over four attempts a game. 

The Sixers and Celtics both have dynamic duos. Will Fultz or Brown become a star first to make it a trio? For now, because of his NBA track record, my money is on Brown and the Celtics.

But Fultz's presence could easily change that assessment.

Rob Ellis — Split-decision: Celtics
I love the fact that we are even discussing which organization has a brighter future. It's been too long since the Sixers could even be considered in a debate like this. While there's no question the Celtics are certainly built for now in terms of contending in the East, I believe the Sixers' rise to compete with the big boys will be quicker than some anticipate. That said, this is very difficult. I actually think both teams will win at least one title and be really good for close to a decade. 

But in terms of which team has the brighter future, certainly who and what Fultz is or will become could be a swing vote one way or the other, especially considering how well Tatum has played in his rookie season in Boston. Another unknown on the Celtics' side is Hayward and how he will respond from a pretty horrific injury suffered in his first game in green.  

I view the Sixers' core five as Simmons, Fultz, Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid. Versus the Celtics' five of Irving, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Horford.

With the exception of Horford, these two teams are scary young and talented. While I think the upside of Simmons and Embiid is greater than any combo of two on the Celtics' roster, I have to lean toward Boston. Brown projects higher for me than Covington and maybe it's just recency bias on my part but I'll go Tatum over Fultz. If Fultz is who the Sixers thought he was when moving up to one to draft him, or if Hayward is not the same player we saw in Utah pre-injury, the nod goes to the Sixers.

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).