Sixers-Thunder rematch could get chippy

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Sixers-Thunder rematch could get chippy

It’s been 43 days since the Sixers and Thunder took part in the best NBA game of the regular season so far.

A quick rewind shows you the teams battled in a triple-overtime thriller at the Wells Fargo Center back on Dec. 15 that resulted in a 119-117 Oklahoma City win. 

However, a closer look reveals that both squads learned much more about themselves that night in South Philadelphia.

For the Sixers, they perhaps realized for the first time that Joel Embiid isn’t in fact made of glass. Embiid went the distance … and then some. He gutted through a sore back to play a career-high 49 minutes. 

And Embiid wasn’t just moving up and down the court. The big fella was putting in work as he poured in 34 points along with eight rebounds, six assists and two blocks.

“He felt good about playing and we listened to him,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the loss. "As a staff, we thought that was going to work. Maybe, in the light of day, we could have given him a minute here or there.”

Embiid was a little more certain that he could handle the workload.

“I’ll be fine,” he said.

Sure, the center missed the next three games to recover from the back pain, but the big man hasn’t sat out since. He’s moved beyond the injury-riddled first two seasons of his career and is locked in at 31.4 minutes a night.

What better way to show just how far Embiid’s come from a minutes and injury standpoint? By playing in the first — and possibly both — games of a back-to-back set, which starts Sunday. 

Whoa, whoa, whoa. We know, pump the brakes. Embiid said he would like to play in games on consecutive nights by month’s end, but that’s hardly his decision alone. Anyway, just mark it down as potentially another lesson learned about his progression.

On the other end of the court, the Thunder found out about their squad as well, particularly who should lead OKC’s three-headed monster.

During the first two months of the season, Russell Westbrook spent a lot of time deferring to new star teammates Paul George and Russell Westbrook. However, the reigning MVP took the lead that night.

While Westbrook shot just 10 of 33 for 27 points — which Embiid reminded him of after the final buzzer — the point guard came through when it counted most. He connected on 6 of 15 shots during the three extra sessions for 14 points to secure the win.

“We live for it,” Westbrook said of the level of competition after finishing with a triple-double. “On the road, great environment. To come out and get a win like this, you live for stuff like this.”

And despite Westbrook’s shot attempts per game not drastically increasing (20.1 before facing the Sixers and 22.4 since), the Thunder have certainly benefited from him clearly being the No. 1 option. Entering Saturday, they were 14-6 since topping the Sixers.

But perhaps the main thing unearthed in the season’s first matchup: the rematch will definitely be a heated affair.

In that December clash, Embiid had words with Anthony in the fourth quarter and waved goodbye when OKC center Steven Adams fouled out during the third overtime.

That didn’t sit well with Westbrook, who waved goodbye to Embiid after the Thunder notched the win.

“I was telling him, ‘Go home,’” Westbrook said.

Embiid wasn’t impressed with point guard’s copycat act — or his performance in the game.

“He told me to go home,” Embiid said. “And this is my home and I ain't going nowhere.

“The dude shot like 10 for 33. I wish I would have shot 33 times. I guess we would have had a better chance of actually winning the game.”

We’re not sure about Embiid’s shot attempts making a difference in the first tilt. One thing that is certain: there will be a whole lot of buckets and even more trash talk taking place at Chesapeake Energy Arena Sunday night.

Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as second female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

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Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as second female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

The Sixers have made a historic hire in their scouting department.

The team has hired former WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout starting next season. 

"I think when you have this goal in mind, your gender shouldn't even matter," Harding told ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne. "It should be about if you can do it, if you're good, you're experienced, if you know what you're doing and what you're talking about."

Harding, a Duke product and the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 WNBA draft, is just the second woman to be hired by an NBA team as a scout after a career in the WNBA. Jenny Boucek, who is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, was the first former WNBA player to be hired as a scout back in 2006 by the Seattle SuperSonics. Becky Hammon, one of Harding's former opponents who urged Harding to pursue this path, was hired as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Hammon has since been interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks' GM job and been promoted to Gregg Popovich's top assistant.

Harding completed the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season after retiring in 2017. The 34-year-old guard spent nine seasons in the WNBA and represented Belarus in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

"Lindsey has quickly become one of the game's bright young minds in basketball operations," Sixers head coach and interim GM Brett Brown said to Shelbourne. "Having graduated from the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season, Lindsey is applying the same grit and basketball IQ she used as a player in her move to the front office. We look forward to the work Lindsey will do to help grow our program and further solidify a culture of winning.

"It's no secret how much I value the culture we've built in Philadelphia and how much a family-like atmosphere means to our program. Lindsey is a leader, and she is a welcomed addition to the 76ers family. I look forward to working with her."

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Metta World Peace tweets that Joel Embiid will win MVP next season

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Metta World Peace tweets that Joel Embiid will win MVP next season

Joel Embiid didn’t wait long to share his expectations for next season.

“This is my first year going into a summer healthy and I’m excited about it. I feel like next year is definitely going to be a type of MVP season for me,” Embiid said during the Sixers’ exit interviews just one day after being eliminated from the playoffs.

The summer months haven’t done much to curb the All-Star center’s enthusiasm.

“I want to win the MVP because if I play better I think the stats show that my team plays better too,” Embiid said during an interview with KweséESPN prior to this month’s NBA Africa Game. “That’s the goal. I’ve got to set the bar high if you want to go somewhere.”

You can’t blame the man for being confident in himself. And now Embiid even has the support of a former colorful NBA player in his own right.

Metta World Peace (or Tru Warier or The Panda’s Friend or Ron Artest) sent out a simple tweet earlier this week.

That’s about as cut and dry as you can get. Although World Peace did have another hot take this week that might call his crystal ball skills into question.

Whoa. You lost us on that one, World Peace.

Embiid has a much better chance at earning MVP honors than those two teams (mainly the Knicks) have of reaching the Eastern Conference finals. In Bovada's MVP odds released this week, the center came in at 16/1 (seventh best) to win the award.

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