76ers

Best of NBA: Kyle Lowry returns, Raptors beat Pistons

Best of NBA: Kyle Lowry returns, Raptors beat Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kyle Lowry had 27 points and 10 assists in his return from a wrist injury and the Toronto Raptors rallied to beat the Detroit Pistons 105-102 on Wednesday night.

Back in the lineup after missing 18 games, Lowry helped the Raptors overcame a 20-point first-half deficit. Toronto moved a half-game ahead of the Washington Wizards for third place in the East.

Jonas Valanciunas had 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter for Detroit, Ish Smith and Tobias Harris had 16 points each, and Cory Joseph added 15. The Pistons dropped to 11th in the conference, three games behind Miami, Chicago and Indiana with four games to play.

Serge Ibaka's 3-pointer gave Toronto its first lead of the game with 1:20 to play, but Marcus Morris answered with a 3-pointer to tie it at 100 with 1:09 left (see full recap).

Westbrook misses triple-double, Thunder beat Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Russell Westbrook fell a rebound short of an historic triple-double, but he scored 45 points, including a late 3-pointer that helped seal the Oklahoma City Thunder's 103-100 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

Westbrook's 3-pointer - his eighth in the game - with 14 seconds left and two free throws in the final second gave the Thunder their second win in a row. Oklahoma City solidified its hold on the Western Conference's sixth seed, holding a 3 1/2-game lead over the Grizzlies.

Westbrook had 10 assists and nine rebounds, leaving him tied with Oscar Robertson's 55-year-old record for triple-doubles in a season with 41 (see full recap).

James dominates, Cavs beat Celtics 114-91 in East showdown
BOSTON -- LeBron James had 36 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and the Cleveland Cavaliers ran past the Boston Celtics 114-91 on Wednesday night to move back into first place in the Eastern Conference.

The teams had identical records entering their final regular-season matchup, but Cleveland (51-27) now has a one-game lead over Boston (50-28) with only four games to play. Cleveland also holds the tiebreaker with the Celtics for the top seed, if needed.

Kyrie Irving added 19 points and five assists.

The Cavaliers played without starting center Tristan Thompson, who was out with a sprained right thumb. But they made due without him, surging at the start of the second quarter and taking as much as a 29-point lead in the third quarter. They also outrebounded Boston 51-38 (see full recap).

Tyler Ennis scores 19 points, Lakers top Spurs 102-95
SAN ANTONIO -- Tyler Ennis had 19 points in place of injured starter D'Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers never trailed in a 102-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.

The Lakers led by as many as 26 points in snapping an eight-game skid against the Spurs.

Making his first start of the season, Ennis had six assists and only one turnover to help Los Angeles snap San Antonio's three-game winning streak. Russell missed the game after experiencing soreness in his knee during shootaround.

The Spurs pulled within 100-95 on back-to-back 3s by Kyle Anderson and Davis Bertans, but David Nwaba's follow slam shut the door on the rally. Bertans and Tony Parker led the Spurs with 14 points each (see full recap).

Banged-up Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year.

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said. 

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.