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Three things to know: 76ers block Bulls comeback at the rim, pick up quality win

Ashley Nicole Moss joins Michael Smith and Michael Holley as they scrutinize the Eastern Conference standings and explore the possibility of the Heat and Knicks being among the top teams in the East and NBA once again.

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) 76ers block Bulls comeback at the rim, pick up quality win

Elite teams find ways to win when they are shorthanded. Elite teams find ways to win when their stars have an off night shooting the ball.

Wednesday night, Philadelphia was unquestionably shorthanded. The 76ers were without Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols, and Doc Rivers said he is experiencing symptoms and will miss some time), Danny Green (hamstring), and Ben Simmons (mentally not ready to play).

Philadelphia’s star and anchor Joel Embiid was held in relative check Wednesday by Chicago big man Nikola Vucevic, shooting 3-of-9 in the first half and finishing the night with 18 points on 18 shot attempts, although Embiid added nine rebounds and seven assists.

Despite all that, the 76ers found a way to win, beating a hot Bulls team to improve to 6-2 on the season. This is what elite teams do, they find ways to win (Philly is doing it with more small ball) and maybe last season’s No. 1 seed in the East needs to be considered on that level — they have the third-best net rating in the NBA so far, +9.3 (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers to filter out garbage time).

Seth Curry stepped up with 22 points and was clutch late in the game.

Georges Niang added 18 points off the bench for Philly. Tyrese Maxey had 14 points and six assists. Guys found a way to get it done.

Then, in the end, Embiid was there to shut down DeMar DeRozan at the rim with a block that sealed the win (Bulls fans would like you to know they think that was clearly a foul, but the review gave Embiid the clean block and the Sixers the win).

Chicago got 37 from DeRozan (his second game in a row with that total) and Zach LaVine added 27. The rest of the Bulls outside those two shot 38.9% on the night and 4-of-13 from 3. Chicago falls to 6-2, still an impressive start, and they are 2-2 against the better teams in the East (after a soft schedule to start the season). It’s early, but Chicago looks like a top-six playoff team in the East.

Philadelphia was left out of the elite teams in the East conversation before the season — Brooklyn and Milwaukee got those nods — mostly because nobody was sure what to make of the Simmons situation and how it would impact the team. The reality is Joel Embiid is the kind of star who can lift the guys around him, make an impact in areas outside just his points total, and help a team win. Shorthanded Philly is doing that so far, and while there are Simmons-related questions to answer still, maybe this team shouldn’t be left out of the conversation about the elite in the East.

2) Boston has players-only meeting, but what helps more is playing Orlando

Following an ugly 39-11 fourth quarter collapse and loss to the Bulls — after which Marcus Smart called out young Celtics’ stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for not getting their teammates involved enough — the Celtics conducted a players-only meeting.

Here’s the dirty little secret about players-only meetings — they are overrated. More often than not, they do not get to the core issues holding a team back or change much of anything. Even the reporting out of this Celtics’ meeting was it got emotional but was not terribly productive.

What helps more? A win against a bad team. A chance to gain some confidence, see the ball go through the basket, execute a game plan against a weaker opponent and pick up a needed W.

Enter the Orlando Magic.

The Celtics held the Magic to 32.1% shooting Wednesday night and cruised to a 92-79 win. Jaylen Brown had 28 points to lead a balanced Boston offense.

Boston improved to 3-5, but the real test comes tonight (Thursday) against a Miami team playing better than anyone in the NBA right now.

3) Jordon Poole, Gary Payton II step up on off-night for Curry, Warriors win

What did we say in item No. 1 on our three things today? Elite teams find ways to win when their stars have an off night shooting the ball.

Stephen Curry shot 3-of-11 from 3 and had 15 points on 15 shots against Charlotte Wednesday. He looked, dare I say, human (although he had key shots in the fourth to help seal the win).

Jordan Poole stepped up with 31 points and was playing so well the Hornets started trapping him to get the ball out of his hands — despite Curry being on the court.

Gary Payton II had 14 points off the bench on 6-of-9 shooting, plus he had three steals that helped spark the Warriors’ defense.

The Warriors are winning with defense — the best defense in the NBA this season (they passed the Heat with this win, using Basketball-Reference numbers). And they are winning with strength in numbers as they wait for some injured vital players to get back in the lineup.

Highlights of the night:

Ja Morant is impossible to take your eyes off — for my money, he is the most dynamic, entertaining player in the league right now. Against the Nuggets Wednesday, he pulled off an in-game 360 layup that was audacious even to try.

Memphis picked up a 108-106 win over a good Denver team (despite 34 and 11 from Nikola Jokic).

Last night’s scores:

Cleveland 107, Portland 104
Indiana 111, New York 98
Boston 92, Orlando 79
Philadelphia 103, Chicago 98
Toronto 109, Washington 100
Brooklyn 117, Atlanta 108
Memphis 108, Denver 106
L.A. Clippers 126, Minnesota 115
Dallas 109, San Antonio 108
Golden State 114, Charlotte 92
Sacramento 112, New Orleans 99