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Blake Griffin does it all in Pistons debut

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Blake Griffin does it all in Pistons debut

DETROIT -- Blake Griffin had 24 points and 10 rebounds in his debut for Detroit, and the Pistons edged the Memphis Grizzlies 104-102 on Thursday night.

Griffin was impressive throughout his first game for the Pistons since they traded for him earlier this week. His teammates looked uncertain at times, but Detroit was able to outlast a Memphis team that is without Tyreke Evans and Mike Conley.

Anthony Tolliver's 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining gave Detroit a 101-100 lead, and the score stayed that way until the final seconds. Marc Gasol attempted to drive on Griffin but missed his shot, and a wild scramble led to a jump ball between Tolliver and Dillon Brooks with 10.4 seconds left.

The Pistons controlled that tip, with Reggie Bullock running the ball down in the corner. Tolliver gave Detroit a three-point lead with a pair of free throws, and then purposely fouled Wayne Selden with 2.6 seconds remaining. Selden made the first free throw and the second went in even though he was trying to miss and give his team a chance at an offensive rebound.

A free throw by Bullock closed out the scoring.

Griffin was the first Detroit starter announced before the game and received a big hand from the crowd. The arena still didn't appear full -- the Pistons have struggled with attendance for several years -- but the atmosphere was lively, especially during the tight finish (see full recap).

Butler shines as Timberwolves roll over Bucks
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jimmy Butler scored 28 points, Karl-Anthony Towns had 24 points and 11 rebounds for his NBA-best 46th double-double, and the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Milwaukee Bucks 108-89 on Thursday night.

Jeff Teague added nine points and eight assists for Minnesota, which was coming off consecutive losses at Atlanta and Toronto. The Timberwolves have lost six of their last seven road games and have returned home with back-to-back losses from their last three road trips.

Each time, Minnesota has responded at home with a victory, winning by an average of 14.25 points. The Timberwolves' 21-6 home record represents the second-most home wins in the NBA behind San Antonio's 22.

Khris Middleton scored 21 points for Milwaukee, which had won four in a row. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points and 15 rebounds, but the Bucks shot 37.6 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers.

Milwaukee had five turnovers and shot just 36.8 percent in the first quarter. Towns, who had single-digit shot attempts in five of the past seven games, was aggressive early on with nine points and three rebounds in the quarter.

The Wolves closed the first half on a 30-15 run for a 60-39 lead. The Bucks cut the lead to 12 in the third, but Minnesota responded and led by as many as 23.

In the first meeting between the two teams, Milwaukee erased a 20-point deficit in the third quarter for a 102-96 home win (see full recap).

Harden, Rockets dominate Spurs in 3rd straight win
SAN ANTONIO -- James Harden had 28 points and 11 assists, and the Houston Rockets dominated the San Antonio Spurs for the second time this season with a 102-91 victory Thursday night.

Clint Capela added 14 points and 13 rebounds in Houston's third straight win. The Rockets led by as many as 19 points in the first matchup between the Texas rivals since the Spurs' 124-109 blowout loss on Dec. 15 in Houston.

Danny Green had 22 points to lead San Antonio in scoring for the first time this season. LaMarcus Aldridge was held to 16 points on 8-for-15 shooting.

The Spurs' only lead came in the opening minutes. They trailed by double digits for much of the night.

San Antonio scored the first points of the fourth quarter to close to 82-76 with 10 minutes remaining. Chris Paul hit three jumpers to rebuild Houston's lead to 88-76.

The Rockets captured a 27-14 lead in the first quarter despite having their first four possessions end in two turnovers and two missed shots.

Ryan Anderson got Houston rolling, hitting three straight 3-pointers. Anderson's second 3 prompted San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to angrily call his first timeout (see full recap).

Sixers vs. Raptors: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Raptors: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

The Raptors (15-6) return to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since Game 6 last postseason to take on the Sixers (16-7).

Joel Embiid (right hip contusion) will return to the lineup and look to overcome his previous struggles against Marc Gasol and Toronto. Rookie Matisse Thybulle is listed as questionable after rolling his right ankle in last night's win over the Cavs. He will go through pregame warmups before determining his status, per a team source.

The Sixers will again be without Josh Richardson who will miss his sixth straight game with right hamstring tightness. Richardson did participate in full-court activity Saturday, but the team continues to exercise caution so early in the season.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 6 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch for tonight's game:

Embiid’s boogeyman

Embiid has struggled mightily against Gasol and the Raptors in his career, but nothing compared to the first scoreless game of his NBA career back on Nov. 15 in Toronto. In six career regular-season games against Gasol, Embiid is averaging just 11.7 points a game and shooting below 30 percent. 

Head coach Nick Nurse deployed a different strategy last month than he did during the seven-game series between these two teams. Embiid faced double teams fairly often in the postseason, but in the last matchup, the Raptors had an extra player on Embiid on every single post touch. Nurse was daring the other Sixers to beat them — and they didn’t.

Embiid has done better handling double teams in general this season. This will be an interesting test.

Simmons shooting

For the first couple years of Ben Simmons’ career, Brett Brown has been fairly diplomatic when discussing his All-Star point guard’s shot.

After Simmons hit his second career three Saturday night, Brown was much blunter.

This is what I want, OK — you can pass this along to his agent, his family and his friends and to him — I want a three-point shot a game, minimum. The pull-up twos, I'm fine with whenever he's open but I'm interested in the three-point shot. And the mentality that he has where he's turning corners and taking that long step, that gather step and bringing his shoulders to the rim and trying to dunk or finish tight, will equal higher efficiency or getting fouled. That's the world that interests me the most — those two things. And when you say, 'OK, what's the number?' I immediately throw out eight [free throws]. For whatever reason, I'm not sure, but that's a number that I think is attainable.

It was against a bad basketball team, but it still provided a blueprint for how Simmons should be playing and attacking. Embiid needs all the help he can get.

Looking to stay perfect … but it won’t be easy

The Sixers are a sparkling 11-0 at home, but they’re facing an opponent that’s played well on the road. The Raptors are 6-4 away from Scotiabank Arena.

Philly native Kyle Lowry has returned to the lineup. While Toronto has lost the two games since, Lowry has been playing well. Kawhi Leonard is in L.A. but this Raptors team is still mighty dangerous in general. Pascal Siakam is playing at a superstar level while Fred VanVleet has put up career-best numbers as a starter.

The biggest thing will be slowing down Toronto’s three-point shooting. The Raptors are the second-best team percentage wise in the league while hoisting a healthy amount beyond the arc. Six of their regulars are shooting 37 percent or better from distance. Meanwhile the Sixers are allowing the fewest threes per game.

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Brett Brown makes it clear what he wants from Ben Simmons

Brett Brown makes it clear what he wants from Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons had arguably the finest game of his young NBA career. He set a career high in points (34) and made his second NBA three. He also made 9 of 12 from the free throw line.

Yes, it was against a bad team in disarray in the Cavaliers who the Sixers crushed in a 141-94 win at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night (see observations).

But it showed us the blueprint of what Brett Brown is looking for out of his All-Star point guard.

This is what I want, OK — you can pass this along to his agent, his family and his friends and to him — I want a three-point shot a game, minimum. The pull-up twos, I'm fine with whenever he's open but I'm interested in the three-point shot. And the mentality that he has where he's turning corners and taking that long step, that gather step and bringing his shoulders to the rim and trying to dunk or finish tight, will equal higher efficiency or getting fouled. That's the world that interests me the most — those two things. And when you say, 'OK, what's the number?' I immediately throw out eight [free throws]. For whatever reason, I'm not sure, but that's a number that I think is attainable.

After an abysmal performance Thursday night where he was indecisive and turned the ball over seven times, Simmons was the complete opposite against Cleveland.

Missing Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson, the Sixers needed this version of Simmons. He attacked the rim, got to the line, hit midrange jumpers and, of course, made another three.

But what happens if/when Embiid returns to the lineup in a juicy matchup against the Raptors Sunday night? The pair have always been an imperfect fit with Simmons’ ability to push the basketball and Embiid’s dominance on the block.

If the evolution of Simmons’ game is what we saw Saturday, it could go a long in way in the duo figuring things out.

“Just learning with Jo,” Simmons said. “It’s great to have somebody like that that’s so dominant and helping him with the double teams, and just putting him in the best position to help us win games. So, having him back tomorrow is going to be great.”

For the record, there’s been no official update on Embiid, who missed the game against the Cavs with a left hip contusion.

But one the biggest things that could help Embiid navigate double teams and aid him against his boogeyman Marc Gasol is Simmons consistently attempting outside shots.

Much like the first three of his NBA career, Simmons reacted as if he’d hit 1,000 before it.

“What do you want me to do? Jump up and celebrate?”

Simmons has taken two legitimate threes this season and buried both, so the confidence isn't totally irrational. If it gets to the point where it truly isn’t newsworthy that Simmons hits a three, look out.

While Brown has been careful not to make too big a fuss over it and chosen his words carefully when talking about Simmons shooting, he couldn’t help but ponder what it would mean for Simmons — and for his basketball team as a whole.

I think the drama of it is overblown,” Brown said. “The reality that he can shoot and it ultimately, it's going to need to come into his game in a more pronounced way just from an attempt standpoint, that's not overblown. I think the drama surrounding it is completely overblown. When I just put on my coaching hat and I'm looking at a 23-year-old young man trying to grow his game, it's completely — first in his wheelhouse and secondly, he will be liberated. His world will open up. And I think, in many ways, so will ours.

His coach gave him the blueprint. Now it’s up to Simmons to implement it.

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