Sixers shrug off Nicolas Batum's guarantee to beat Hornets

Sixers shrug off Nicolas Batum's guarantee to beat Hornets


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Sixers are over it.

They are tired of being viewed as a so-called “easy win” or on the receiving end of victory proclamations.

When Nicolas Batum guaranteed a victory in Monday’s game in Charlotte, the Sixers had enough.

“You can’t say that with us,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re not the team that we used to be in the past few years.”

On Saturday, Batum vowed to end the Hornets’ recent struggles at the Sixers’ expense. The Hornets had lost nine of their last 10 games and were tumbling down the standings. The Sixers, Batum decided, would be their next ‘W.’ 

"We're going to win this game on Monday,” Batum said to the Charlotte Observer. “We will."

Former Hornet Gerald Henderson caught wind of this statement. He made sure his teammates were aware of Batum’s comments before the game. The Sixers responded with a 105-99 win at the Spectrum Center, their first win in Charlotte since Nov. 30, 2012 (see Instant Replay)

“It’s not the first guarantee that’s ever been issued, but it’s something I think some guys on our team would look at and use in the game for sure,” Henderson said. 

The Sixers, playing without Joel Embiid for the 10th straight game, rallied for a collaborative team win. Dario Saric led the Sixers with 18 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Robert Covington followed right behind with 17 points. Henderson, Noel, T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas also scored in double digits while Ersan Ilyasova pulled down 10 rebounds (see featured highlight).

“I know he has a lot of confidence in his team and whatnot but — I’m not calling anyone out — but I think it’s a little absurd to guarantee a win,” McConnell said. “And if you do, I think you should just back it up. I’m not taking shots at anyone by any means, but it’s disrespectful towards our team and I thought we responded well today.”

Batum scored 16 points with one board and four assists. Following the Hornets’ loss, he stood by his comments and cited the context of his guarantee. 

“I don’t know why people are getting mad about it,” Batum said. “The question was like, ‘Are you going to win the next game?’ I wasn’t going to say we were going to lose the next game.”

When asked if he had any regrets about the situation, he replied, "No, why should I regret? I have done it a couple times this season."

His previous words, regardless of how they came about, resonated with the Sixers. After losing 199 games in the last three seasons, they are finally moving toward a new phase with direction and clearer vision of what their future could look like. When an opponent points to them as a way out of a slump, they don’t take it lightly. 

“[It was] more than motivation,” Noel said. “It definitely adds to the chip on all these guys’ shoulders to come out here and show what we’re capable of. I think we have throughout the season. I’m proud of these guys for being able to come out and step up and play with a little more heart, play with a little more passion, and give it to them.”

As for Henderson, it was mission accomplished for the eighth-year player the Sixers signed to add leadership to the locker room. 

“We like to just worry about us and what we’re doing,” Henderson said. “But stuff like that happens. It’s worth a look.”

Russell Westbrook, Thunder snap Raptors' win streak

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Russell Westbrook, Thunder snap Raptors' win streak

TORONTO — Russell Westbrook had 37 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds for his fifth straight triple-double, Steven Adams scored 25 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Raptors 132-125 on Sunday, snapping Toronto's winning streak at 11.

Paul George scored 22 points and Carmelo Anthony had 15 as the Thunder extended their winning streak to six. Corey Brewer scored 10 points for Oklahoma City.

DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points and Kyle Lowry fouled out with 22 points and 10 assists as the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors suffered just their sixth home loss of the season. Toronto is 29-6 at Air Canada Centre, the best home record in the NBA.

DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Raptors coach Dwane Casey were all ejected in the final minute for complaining to the officials. DeRozan was incensed after not getting a call on his drive with 30 seconds left, and picked up two technicals in the following 22 seconds (see full recap).

Davis leads Pelicans past Celtics
NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the banged-up Boston Celtics 108-89 on Sunday night.

Second-year pro Cheick Diallo had a season-high 17 points and Nikola Mirotic added 16 for New Orleans, which was desperate to win after dropping four of its previous five while in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Davis capped his night by hitting a baseline fallaway as he was fouled by Abdel Nader to make it 106-85 with 3:35 to go. The shot brought the crowd to its feet as Davis stumbled toward the sideline, where he exchanged high-fives with several fans before walking to the foul line to hit his foul shot.

The play capped a 22-6, fourth-quarter run to blow open what had been a tight game for most of the first three quarters (see full recap).

Harden scores 34 as Rockets hold off Timberwolves
MINNEAPOLIS — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets' 26th win in 28 games.

The West's top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20 (see full recap).

Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

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Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

WASHINGTON — Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Marcin Gortat had 18 and the Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night in a possible playoff preview.

Washington (40-30) earned its second straight win to move into a tie with Indiana for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Wizards also claimed the first tiebreaker by taking two of three in the season series.

Gortat was 6 for 8 from the field and also grabbed eight rebounds. He scored a total of 17 points in his previous four games.

Washington went 10 for 20 from 3-point range and shot 54.8 percent from the field overall. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had 16 points for the Wizards, and Markieff Morris added 15 (see full recap).

Giannis' double-double helps Bucks hold on to beat Hawks
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 23 points and the Milwaukee Bucks held on for a 122-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

The Bucks finished off the Eastern Conference's worst team with a game-ending 11-5 run, pushing the pace after the Hawks lost ball-handler Dennis Schroder. The guard fouled out with 2:46 left, and was called for a technical foul after exchanging words with an official on the way to the sideline.

Middleton hit the free throw that started the run. The Hawks looked rushed on their next two possessions with a turnover and a blocked shot, allowing the Bucks to brush past them.

Trailing by 13 at one point, Atlanta put up a spirited fight before losing its 50th game of the year. Taurean Prince scored 38 points, while Schroder finished with 18 (see full recap).

LeBron gets 33 points in triple-double as Cavs beat Bulls
CHICAGO — LeBron James scored 33 points as part of a triple-double, Jordan Clarkson had a tiebreaking four-point play with 1:27 left and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Chicago Bulls 114-109 on Saturday night.

James had 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season, and Jeff Green added 21 points. Clarkson finished with 19 points to help the Cavaliers salvage a six-game split on their season-high six-game trip.

Denzel Valentine led Chicago with a career-high 34 points, hitting 8 of 11 from long range. The Bulls wiped out a 17-point halftime deficit even though they held out banged-up core players Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, only to come up short in the closing minutes.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue spent the second half in the locker room with an illness, another hit for an already short-handed team (see full recap).