76ers

Joel Embiid still trusts the process after Sixers net No. 3 pick

Joel Embiid still trusts the process after Sixers net No. 3 pick

NEW YORK — The Sixers didn't land the first pick at the draft lottery Tuesday night, but that wouldn't stop Joel Embiid from trusting the … you guessed it. 

"I'm excited," Embiid said. "We jumped up one more spot. I wish we would have gotten the No. 1 pick and the Lakers' pick, but we're trusting the process and it's going to be exciting to see who we're going to draft."

The Sixers received the third pick via a pick swap with the Kings, who will draft fifth (see story). That swap stems from the 2015 trade involving Nik Stauskas, which the guard cleverly tweeted about after the results (see story). The Sixers had a 14.7 percent chance to land at No. 1 between their own odds (11.9 percent) and those of the Kings (2.8). 

The Celtics, who are set to take on the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, have first dibs in the draft thanks to a pick swap with the Nets. The Lakers received the second pick. The Sixers would have received their 2017 selection had it fallen out of the top three. Instead, it will convey as an unprotected pick in 2018. 

Embiid got involved in friendly banter with Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson while they represented their teams on stage. 

"It was great," Embiid said. "I kept telling him, 'I'm about to get your pick.'"

After the results were announced, Embiid put on his scouting hat to project who the Sixers should take with their first-round selection.

"I think the two guards (Markelle) Fultz and Lonzo Ball are going to be one and two," Embiid said. "I like Josh Jackson a lot and Jayson Tatum. So I expect one of those guys to be at three with us."

Jackson and Tatum both are small forwards who would fill a need on the perimeter. They possess the two-way player skill set the Sixers covet. Like Embiid, Jackson played one year at Kansas. 

If Embiid had a wish list, he would address more offense and additional ball-handlers. After Fultz and Ball, De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith are highly-projected point guards. 

"I like Markelle Fultz a lot as a scorer," Embiid said. "I think we need someone else who can score the ball. I like him a lot. And a point guard, somebody that can run the point. T.J. (McConnell) did a great job, and that's my guy and I love him ... I think we need more depth at the point guard position. If we get the chance, that'd be exciting."

The Sixers didn't get the first pick. They ended up with one selection instead of two. They still landed ahead of their projected draft order and an opportunity to acquire a highly-touted young talent. For those reasons, yes, Embiid still trusts.

"Sometimes people don't understand the definition of the process," Embiid said. "The process is not just about getting over what we've been going through for the past three or four years. I feel like the process is going to keep on going.

"It's a process to get over that hump. Then it's a process to make the playoffs. Then it's another process to get to the conference finals and then another process to get to the Finals and win an NBA championship. 

"It applies to everything in life. We're always going to be trusting the process."

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

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USA Today Images

Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow help Heat snap skid

MIAMI — Tyler Johnson scored 23 points to lead six players in double figures, and the Miami Heat stopped a three-game slide when they beat the reeling Memphis Grizzlies 115-89 on Saturday night.

The Grizzlies lost their ninth game in a row, the longest active streak in the NBA, and their second in as many nights.

Justise Winslow scored a season-high 17 points for the Heat. Reserve Wayne Ellington went 5 for 10 from 3-point range and scored 15.

Miami's Dwyane Wade was limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble and scored six points. But the Heat, scrambling for a playoff berth, still managed to win for only the second time in the past 10 games.

Andrew Harrison scored 17 points for the Grizzlies, who played without leading scorer Tyreke Evans. He'll undergo a precautionary MRI Sunday on his injured right ribs.

The Heat took the lead for good at 28-26. Their margin reached 92-70 by the end of the third quarter.

Miami outscored Memphis 50-30 in the paint, 13-2 on fast breaks and 26-8 off turnovers (see full recap).

Irving's 31 powers Celtics past Knicks
NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn't win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Warriors avenge pair of blowout losses to OKC
OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant scored 28 points for Golden State while avenging an embarrassing home loss to his former Oklahoma City team earlier this month and another on the road in November, leading the Warriors past the Thunder 112-80 on Saturday night.

Stephen Curry added 21 points with five 3-pointers, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals as Golden State put on the kind of defensive performance coach Steve Kerr has been seeking from the defending champs.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which failed to reach 100 points for the first time in the last five games. The Thunder had scored at least 100 in 14 of their last 16.

Durant's pretty layup off a perfect pass by Curry with 3:06 left in the third put the Warriors up 75-66. That was part of a 37-11 Golden State run that included 30 points over the final 8:48 of the third -- when Zaza Pachulia subbed in to relieve JaVale McGee.

The Warriors held Paul George to five points. George's 3-pointer at the 7:52 mark of the third with Durant's hand in his face was his first basket after going 0 for 9 to begin the game. He finished 1 for 14 after going off for 38 points in the last meeting when Oklahoma City left Oracle Arena with a 125-105 rout on Feb. 6.

Golden State also lost at OKC by 17 on Nov. 22 (see full recap).

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

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AP Images

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers’ 116-105 victory over the Magic (see observations) was just that: a complete “Sixers” victory.

This wasn’t about one player taking over or the starting five carrying the weight. From players one through 10 who stepped on the court, everyone contributed. 

“It doesn’t matter who scores all the points as long as we win,” Ben Simmons said. “We all know that to get to the next level, that’s what it’s going to take.”

Enhancing the bench is a priority for the Sixers as they look to the playoffs. They are going to need depth in a postseason series, having different weapons as they face the same opponent night in and night out. 

Brett Brown was committed to counting on the second unit. The Sixers held a 22-point lead halfway through the fourth, an opportunity for starters to get a significant period of rest ahead of Sunday’s back-to-back on the road against the Wizards. 

So as the Magic chipped away at the differential and got within nine, the reserves stayed on the court. Even when Mario Hezonja attempted a trey that would have cut the lead to six with 1:21 remaining, Brown had decided the starters would remain on the sidelines.

“I wasn’t going to do it," Brown said of subbing in the starters. "I was going to go with those guys. Some of it’s just gut feel, maybe some of it’s stubbornness. But we have to grow our bench. We have to give those guys confidence that they can close out games and they did. My intention was to going to be to let them see it through.”

In total, the reserves combined for 32 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists. The bench stepped up in different ways. Marco Belinelli provided a boost on the scoreboard with 15 points. T.J. McConnell absorbed extra playing time and clocked a team-high 31 minutes. (None of the starters played more than 29 minutes.) 

Brown determined before the game he would give Richaun Holmes the nod to back up Embiid instead of Amir Johnson. He wanted Holmes, who has played in only three of his last 10 games, to get the opportunity for time on the court (see video). Holmes grabbed eight rebounds with four points in 21 minutes. 

“It shows (the bench) can hold it down,” Simmons said. “We have guys who are capable of doing that, it doesn’t have to be the starting five.”

The bench's production in this win over the Magic is only a small glimpse into what the Sixers believe they will need to succeed in the postseason. 

"Our objective is, in general, playoffs, but I want homecourt advantage," Joel Embiid said. "To know that going into the playoffs you have a bench that can come in and keep the lead or keep building the lead, it's great. In the playoffs you need that, you need a bench to come in and keep it up for the starters, and finish it."