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Joel Embiid shows off his skills in NBA Africa Game

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Joel Embiid shows off his skills in NBA Africa Game

It’s only August, but Joel Embiid’s celebrations are in midseason form. His handles don’t look too bad either.

Embiid, a Cameroon native, starred in the NBA Africa Game Saturday in Pretoria, South Africa, posting a game-high 24 points on 9 for 18 shooting to go with eight rebounds and four assists. Team Africa fell to Team World in the third edition of the NBA Africa Game, 96-92.

Embiid spent the past week taking part in various community outreach events honoring Nelson Mandela’s legacy. He also showed the campers in the Basketball Without Borders program a few of his dance moves and threw down a fierce dunk on the Hornets’ Bismack Biyombo (see story)

In 2011, Embiid himself participated in the Basketball without Borders program. That’s the year he began playing basketball. He looked a little different. 

“I feel [it’s] a way for me to kind of give back, and show them how it’s done,” Embiid said, per Sixers.com’s Brian Seltzer. “At the same time, it’s also a way for me to grow the game of basketball in Africa. I feel like we have a lot of talent, undiscovered talent, that can have a chance just like I did. They just need an opportunity.”

There were plenty of highlights on Saturday for Embiid, who was the last player introduced and sounded like he got the loudest cheers from the crowd. 

When Hassan Whiteside checked in, it felt just like the playoffs all over again, with Embiid drawing two quick fouls on the Miami Heat center and going coast-to-coast for a layup after picking off a pass intended for Whiteside. 

Embiid connected with former Sixer Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot late in the first quarter, finding Luwawu-Cabarrot for an open three-pointer. Luwawu-Cabarrot, now a member of the Thunder after the Sixers’ mid-July trade, scored 16 points, second-most on Team Africa.

Embiid’s smooth behind-the-back move and step-back jumper on JaVale McGee in the third quarter was a crowd-pleaser. 

And he added a few of his patented and-one celebrations. 

At the end of the game, Embiid went back and forth with the Clippers’ Danilo Gallinari, another Basketball without Borders alumnus. Embiid kept Team Africa close throughout the game, but Gallinari sealed the win for Team World, nailing a number of tough step-back jumpers. He earned MVP honors with 23 points on 9 for 10 shooting.

You don’t want to read too much into how Embiid played, given the All-Star Game-like setting. After all, he often brought the ball up the floor, playing a point-center role, and the game wasn’t played with much intensity until the final few minutes when the outcome was in the balance. But Embiid’s performance was a reminder of his immense talent. His MVP ambitions don’t sound so crazy when you watch him gliding down the floor, finishing with authority inside, and crossing up defenders.

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Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (15-6), winners of four in a row and eight of their last nine, will look to get to the .500 mark on the road when they visit the Wizards (6-13) Thursday night.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) remains out. He did individualized workouts the last two days at practice, but the team is being cautious as Richardson will miss his fourth straight game. Shake Milton (right hip discomfort) will be available.

Washington will be without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction) and veteran wing C.J. Miles (left wrist). Backup bigs Ian Mahinmi (right Achilles strain) and Moritz Wagner (left ankle sprain) are available. 

Here are tonight's essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Capital One Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

The competition

Rookie Matisse Thybulle has wreaked havoc on the defensive end in almost every one of his appearances this season. He leads all rookies with 29 steals and is third among them in deflections — despite playing far less minutes than the other first-year players at the top of the list.

But it hasn’t just been Thybulle that’s been so disruptive. Ben Simmons, who looks well on his way to earning some type of All-Defensive team honors, leads the NBA in steals and is second in deflections.

A competition has formed.

“I’d say it’s me, him and J-Rich when it comes to steals, trying to see who can get the most, within reason, without trying to put guys in tough positions,” Thybulle said after practice Tuesday. “I think it’s cool that we have that competitiveness. You’ve seen it with Ben, he’s changed games — he’s won games — with steals down the stretch. I think it’s cool to have that little competition within ourselves.”

The caveat of not “trying to put guys in tough positions” is important here. Thybulle has been walking the fine line all season of being disruptive and not leaving his teammates out to dry. To Thybulle’s credit, you can see the improvement. And to Brett Brown’s credit, he admitted before the Jazz game that he needs to be more tolerant with Thybulle.

Despite playing at the fastest pace in the NBA, the Wizards are one of the better teams in the league at taking care of the basketball. Something will have to give Thursday night.

Feed Embiid

Joel Embiid is the focal point of the Sixers’ offense and that shouldn’t change against Washington. He’ll likely see plenty of rookie Rui Hachimura playing the five with the Wizards’ frontcourt so banged up. With that, Embiid is likely to see plenty of double teams and possibly even some zone.

It’ll be on the other Sixers to make plays and shots around Embiid, who has improved greatly in navigating double teams. They should be able to expose Washington’s defense. The Wizards have the worst-rated defense in the NBA and give up the third-most points per game.

Beal is the real deal

News flash: Bradley Beal is really freaking good. And he’s having one of his best seasons. He’s averaging 28.7 points and 7.2 assists a game — both marks would be career highs. He’s taking the most threes he ever has so his percentage is down, but he’s getting to the line just a little under seven times a game. 

And Beal’s supporting cast is no joke on the offensive end. The Sixers will have their hands full with how Davis Bertans (44.6 percent) and Isaiah Thomas (41 percent) are shooting from three. With that said, both players can be exposed on the defensive end.

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There's a giant statue of Joel Embiid in Brooklyn, but why?

There's a giant statue of Joel Embiid in Brooklyn, but why?

As many Philadelphia Sixers fans know, watching Joel Embiid play basketball can be awe inspiring.

Now, for tens of thousands of Brooklyn, New York residents who will pass by a recently unveiled sculpture, they'll have the chance to be inspired by Embiid in a different way.

New York artist Hank Willis Thomas created a 22-foot tall sculpture that was actually inspired by an image he saw of a Harlem Globetrotter standing in front of the Statue of Liberty. But when it came time to make the giant bronze sculpture, he used a three-dimensional scan of Embiid's arm, according to Brooklyn Paper.

The sculpture is titled "Unity" and was written about in the New York Times last month when it was unveiled:

“Unity” was originally called “We’re No. #1,” a more assertive title, perhaps recalling the historical competition between the boroughs that reaches back to the 19th century. “Unity” is a traditional and fairly conservative work, accompanied in the official news release by a statement that sounds politician-worthy: “This sculpture is a homage to, and celebration of, the unique and multifaceted character of the borough of Brooklyn,” Mr. Thomas says. “The spirit of Brooklyn has always been about upward mobility and connection to roots.”

The piece was five years in the making. On his Instagram page, the artist added, "It's about the process!" That can't be a coincidence can it?

Turns out, Embiid modeled for the sculpture quite some time ago (he's probably more jacked by now). Thomas was asked about Embiid's involvement by the folks at Tisch:

The sculpture is modeled after Philadelphia 76er Joel Embiid’s arm. How did he become involved in this piece?

HWT: I had a studio visit with some people and they saw that I was doing a sculpture, so I was doing molds and casts with body parts of NBA players. They were like, “Do you need anybody else?,” and I was like, “Sure!” Then they said, “Well there’s this kid, he hasn’t started playing yet, but I’m pretty sure he’s gonna’ be good. You should reach out to him.” And that was Joel Embiid.

We reached out to Mr. Thomas to follow up but have yet to get a response.

"It's beautiful in a way, in terms of form, agility, suppleness," one New Yorker told Eyewitness News of the statue.

Philadelphians would agree. I'm curious what Nets fans think of Embiid flashing the No. 1 in their city for years to come?