Philadelphia Sixers

Joel Embiid renews rivalry, takes notes in 1st All-Star Game

Joel Embiid renews rivalry, takes notes in 1st All-Star Game

LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid didn’t take home MVP honors as planned, but he leaves All-Star Weekend having made his mark on the NBA. 

While Embiid had a strong performance, he and Team Stephen fell to Team LeBron, 148-145, Sunday night.

Here are three things to know about Embiid’s first experience as an All-Star:

Hungry to make an impact
Embiid kicked off the game with a driving dunk. He drew a foul on Anthony Davis to complete the three-point play. Less than a minute later, he knocked down a jumper to score Team Stephen’s first five points.

Embiid finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes. He shot 8-for-13 from the field and 2-for-4 from three.

While he was eager to score, he also recognized the talent of his squad. So when had the ball with just seconds left on the clock and the game on the line, he passed it off instead of trying to be the hero (even if the shot didn’t go in).

"I wanted to shoot it but I felt like I had Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) on my team and (Paul George) was really pressuring me,” Embiid said. “But I felt like I had Steph and Klay on my team, so I felt like it was a better idea to pass them the ball because they’ve been doing that for years and I have a lot of respect for them, and that’s what I did.”

Embiid vs. Westbrook: Round 3
Just when it seemed like the next matchup between Embiid and Russell Westbrook would have to wait until next season, the two were crossed paths in the All-Star Game. Embiid hit a three over Westbrook and then swatted his shot (see video).

Embiid insisted it was all in good nature: “I kind of thought about staring at him and I kind of did. But you know it's all fun. I don't have anything against him. I have a lot of respect for him. He's a great competitor and I love to compete too. So I have a lot of fun playing against him.”

Westbrook, on the other hand, said he didn’t pay much mind to Embiid.

“I don’t know,” he said when asked his opinion of Embiid’s first All-Star performance. “I wasn’t really paying attention, honestly. I was paying attention to our team.”  

Let’s get the 2018-19 NBA schedule now to circle the calendars for their next meeting.

From trash talker to student
Embiid said from the time he was named a starter that he wanted to use this weekend as an opportunity to learn from his experienced teammates. And that he did. 

Check out this rundown of players on Team Stephen whose basketball know-how Embiid sought after.

“Steph, on the bench or during the game, I kind of asked him a couple questions,” Embiid said. “All the guys. (Karl-Anthony Towns) we talk a lot. Draymond (Green), of course, we talked a lot about him not being able to guard me. Of course he mentioned when we blew the lead against them, of course he had to mention that … Kyle (Lowry) was amazing. DeMar (DeRozan), always amazing. James (Harden), amazing. Al (Horford) was great; I love spending time with him. All those guys, they were great.”

Lowry was among many fellow All-Stars to appreciate Embiid’s talent so early in his career.

“(My advice is) continue to be him, and I think that’s his best trait,” Lowry said. “He’s a very hungry, humble guy, super talented, He’s just trying to figure it out and learn the game.”

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Embiid will return to Philadelphia from Los Angeles where he has one big to-do list after participating in the Rising Stars game, Skills Challenge and All-Star Game. Embiid plans to sleep.

Skills Challenge sparks Embiid's inner point guard

Skills Challenge sparks Embiid's inner point guard

LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid loves the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean the Sixers' big man is unfazed by the magnitude of the stage on which he is competing.

“I was actually extremely nervous,” Embiid said after the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. "I don’t know why. My heart was beating so fast. I have no idea why. But I thought it was fun.”

Embiid was one of eight players to test their versatility in dribbling, passing and shooting drills. Embiid defeated Al Horford in the first round and lost in the second to Lauri Markkanen. Spencer Dinwiddie took home the trophy.

Embiid pulled off a comeback victory Horford. He trailed after the dribbling and passing drills but beat out the Celtics' veteran at the three-point line to advance.

“That was wild,” Embiid said. “I lost the ball, I didn’t make the first pass and then I just threw the other two balls. That’s a good way to do it instead of wasting time. Then I was way behind and I came back and I ended up making that three and won.”

Horford was stifled when he thought his first three-point shot attempt was going in … and it didn’t. That miss opened the opportunity for Embiid to claim the round.

“The shot, which I was making before, I felt good, and then I think the pressure got to me a little bit,” Horford said. “I just wasn’t expecting that (to miss). I thought I was good. So then by that time, Joel caught up to me.”

Markkanen, the Bulls' rookie, got the best of Embiid in the next round. Embiid tried to rush through the passing drill to catch up to Markkanen, who ended up crossing in front of him at halfcourt for the clinching trey.

“After he made the layup he was a little bit in front of me,” Markkanen said. “But we couldn’t switch sides, so I had to get to the other side someway. So I tried to sprint and get in front of him and distract him a little bit. I think that worked.”

Embiid said with a big smile, "I kind of thought Lauri kind of cheated a little bit. He went in front of me, but it’s all good. It's all fun."

Even if Embiid didn’t win this contest, it wasn’t a total loss. The 7-foot-2 center has long claimed he wants to be a guard one day, and he showed off those backcourt skills. 

“I think I can still be a point guard in my future,” Embiid said.

All-Star Weekend does not end for Embiid with the Skills Challenge. After competing in the Rising Stars game Friday and this contest on Saturday, Embiid has been making sure to preserve his energy for the All-Star Game Sunday. He will start for Team Stephen.

What to watch from trio of Sixers at All-Star weekend

What to watch from trio of Sixers at All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — The Sixers have not one, not two, but three players representing the team in Los Angeles during the 2018 All-Star weekend.

Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons will be teammates in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game before Embiid moves on to the Skills Challenge and All-Star Game.

Each player likely will have different takeaways from the action-packed weekend. 

Simmons making his mark
Simmons had been the front-runner for Rookie of the Year until the Jazz's Donovan Mitchell joined the conversation (see story). The two will compete on opposing teams Friday in the Rising Stars game, Simmons on the World Team (Australia) and Mitchell on the U.S. Team.

Simmons has more to show than just a matchup between first- and second-year players. He had been considered a candidate for replacement spots in the All-Star Game. Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker were selected instead.

Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.9 steals in 34.9 minutes. He ranks third in the NBA with six triple-doubles, behind only Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. 

Embiid playing student to All-Star vets
Embiid wants to take in as much as he can being around his fellow All-Stars this weekend. On his curriculum: observing tools of professionalism as he strives to be a leader at only 23 years old.

"I still don’t know how to be a professional," Embiid said last month. "I want to go out there, hang around them, learn from them, learn their ways, get back and help my team.”

That will include learning a bit from Team Stephen mate Draymond Green. 

"Hopefully, I’m going to learn a little bit from him about trash talk because he’s one of the best," Embiid said. 

Embiid was selected to the Rising Stars game, Skills Challenge and as a starter for the All-Star Game. His status for all three events is to be determined after he missed Wednesday's game because of right ankle soreness.

Saric showcasing international pride
Saric traveled from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to show fans watching from around the world what Croatian basketball looks like in the NBA. He will play for the World Team for the second year in a row. 

“To represent the world, to represent my country, to have a flag of my country on my jersey, for me it means a lot,” Saric said when he was selected. “Maybe I cannot bring tourists to visit Croatia, but in some way, I can represent my small, beautiful country.”

Saric has scored in double digits in his last 35 straight games. He averaged 19.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in the Sixers' sweep of their five-game homestand heading into the All-Star break. 

In last year's Rising Stars game, Saric had 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting with five rebounds and four assists in the World Team's 150-141 win.