Tobias Harris is in awe of team-mate Joel Embiid, who continues to scale new heights for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Embiid, a four-time NBA All-Star, is having an MVP-worthy season and finished with a double-double of 38 points and 12 rebounds in the 76ers' 115-109 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

The 27-year-old has now surpassed 1,000 points for the season, becoming the 10th player to do so in the NBA this campaign.

Only LeBron James (29.0) and Kevin Durant (29.3) are averaging more points per game than Embiid (28.7) across the league.

After his efforts on Sunday, when he shot 16 for 32 from the field in 32 minutes, Embiid has now scored 25 points or more in 14 successive games, earning the high praise of Harris.

"What he's doing is special," Harris told reporters.

"We rely on him night in and night out. He's the anchor for our team. The anchor for our offensive flow out there.

"I thought tonight he just did a great job of picking the game apart. Really getting everyone involved out there in their spots and still being able to get the shots that he wanted."

Harris also contributed 18 points as the 76ers claimed a seventh straight win over the Spurs.

Jakob Poeltl was San Antonio's standout performer with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Harris acknowledged the 76ers still gave up too many opportunities defensively.

"We still had too many defensive mistakes in the fourth quarter," Harris added.

"We've got to clean that up. We've got to be able to really make a stand and hold our ground there."

Doc Rivers gave a cold response when his coaching methods were questioned following the Philadelphia 76ers' loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Sixers slipped to 26-19 after giving up a 24-point lead on Friday, with Reggie Jackson's 19 points, including two free throws with a little over 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter, securing a 102-101 victory for Los Angeles.

The collapse drew comparisons with last season's Eastern Conference semifinals, when Philadelphia blew a 26-point advantage at home to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5. The Hawks went on to win the series 4-3.

With the Clippers missing Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for Friday's game, the defeat led to increased frustration on social media among a fan base that has never wholly warmed to Rivers since he took charge in 2020.

That the loss came against the team he spent seven years with from 2013, one sitting eighth in the East, only made matters worse.

However, Rivers took exception to a question suggesting his coaching was to blame, arguing Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs would never be asked the same.

 

"Would you ask Pop that question? No, you wouldn't," he said. "So don't ask me that question. I've earned that.

"It's a game we should have won, and we didn't."

Joel Embiid followed up his 50 points on Wednesday with 40 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but his efforts proved in vain.

"We have a lot of guys out and that could contribute, but that's not an excuse," he said.

"We've got to be better prepared. We got to know our assignments. We just got to be focused."

Tobias Harris, who posted 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists, simply said: "Honestly, we just blew this one and we all know that in the locker room."

The Sixers are at the Spurs on Sunday.

Joel Embiid inspired the Philadelphia 76ers to a thrilling 108-103 road win over the Boston Celtics with 41 points including 17 in the fourth quarter on Monday.

Embiid's remarkable final period also included a steal from a last-ditch Celtics inbound with 3.9 seconds on the clock and the 76ers leading 106-103.

The 76ers center made 14 of 27 shots from the field (52 percent) and collected 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocks.

Tobias Harris (25 points, seven rebounds and three assists) and Seth Curry (26 points, four rebounds and seven assists) provided good support for Embiid.

Jayson Tatum had a down game for the Celtics, only managing 17 points, while Jaylen Brown scored 30 points with five rebounds and four assists.

 

Draymond's season-first triple-double

Stephen Curry scored 30 points including four three-pointers but Draymond Green (16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) stole the show with his first triple-double of the season as the Golden State Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings 113-98. Green also had two blocks and two steals.

Dejounte Murray became the first player in San Antonio Spurs history to reach six triple-doubles in one season, with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists as they won 116-92 over the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul George returned from an elbow injury with 25 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert dominated with 23 points and 21 rebounds as the Utah Jazz improved to 21-9 with a 112-102 win over the Charlotte Hornets. LaMelo Ball (21 points, 11 assists and six rebounds) and Miles Bridges (21 points and 11 rebounds) were good for the Hornets.

 

Grizzlies cannot win with Morant

Ja Morant could not lift the Memphis Grizzlies upon his return from injury, managing only 16 points in a 102-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had rookie Josh Giddey (19 points and 11 assists) impress. The Grizzlies bizarrely went 10-2 without Morant during his three-week absence, having been 9-10.

Joel Embiid is "not even close" to feeling fully fit despite producing his best performance of the season to inspire the Philadelphia 76ers past the Charlotte Hornets on Monday.

Last season's MVP runner-up posted a season-high 43 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in his fifth game back following a three-week spell on the sidelines with COVID-19.

Embiid scored six of Philadelphia's eight points in the 127-124 overtime win as he recorded his 10th career 40-point, 15-rebound game for the 76ers – only Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain (30) has more in franchise history.

He took 20 shots in total from the field and missed just five of them, while also knocking down 12 of his 14 attempts from the foul line, but the 27-year-old feels he still has more to give once fully over his recent bout with coronavirus.

"I'm not even close," he said in his post-game interview when asked if he is now feeling 100 per cent. "I'm still feeling it. I get tired easily, feel pretty weak, but every single day I'm slowly getting better. 

"I've just got to keep pushing myself. My teammates, they push me. They want me to be making all the plays offensively and defensively, so as long as I got that trust I'm still going to keep pushing."

The returning Tobias Harris had 21 points and 11 rebounds as the 76ers moved to 13-11 for the season with their first back-to-back wins in a month.

Harris was particularly impressed by the performance of team-mate Embiid, who is averaging 23.9 point per game in 2020-21, down on the 28.5 across 51 games last time out.

"He's so dominant out there, especially when he is able to get his position on the floor," Harris said. "He's able to punish a team.

"They threw different guys at him, but he's so much bigger and stronger."

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks are locked together at 2-2 in the NBA playoffs as their battle to reach the Eastern Conference Finals continues on Wednesday.

After losing the opener at home, the 76ers appeared to assume control by taking the next two games to forge ahead.

However, with Joel Embiid enduring a second half to forget, the Hawks hit back on Monday, a 103-100 triumph leaving the situation delicately poised as the series switches back to Philadelphia for Game 5.

For a franchise linked with the catchphrase "trust the process", the key for the 76ers – who are the top seeds in the East – is believing in each other, according to head coach Doc Rivers.

Asked for the reason behind his team's loss in Atlanta, he said: "We stopped passing. I thought we started the game that way, then got back into ball movement, then went to hero basketball.

"Basically, everybody wanted to be the hero, rather than trusting the team and trusting each other.

"If you do that, you usually lose, especially when the other team outworks you the whole game, and that's what they did."

Embiid – a player who arrived via the draft amid a patient rebuild that prioritised long-term planning over immediate results – endured a difficult outing in Atalanta, going 4-for-20 as he missed all 12 of his shots in the second half. That run included an unsuccessful lay-up in the closing seconds that would have put his team ahead.

Bothered by a knee injury suffered in the opening round against the Washington Wizards, Embiid saw his offensive production drop dramatically.

A temporary blip or a greater cause for concern? Only time will tell, but the 76ers will not want to fall behind knowing they have to travel to Atlanta for Game 6.


PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Tobias Harris – Philadelphia 76ers

Harris is averaging 23.2 points per game in the playoffs, easily a career high. He is shooting at 40 per cent from deep too, becoming a consistent contributor for his team on offense. However, with Embiid not at full power, the 28-year-old may have to ease the strain on his ailing team-mate by taking on an even greater workload.

Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks

Young created NBA history in Game 4, becoming the youngest player to have 18 or more assists in a postseason game. He also scored 25 points, with his fifth double-double of the playoffs demonstrating his importance to this Hawks outfit. No individual had managed both 25 points and 18 assists in a playoff outing since Tim Hardaway back in May 1991.

KEY BATTLE – Embiid against his ailing knee

"I'm just trying to do the best I can," Embiid said when talking to the media after Game 4. The center – runner-up to fellow big Nikola Jokic in the MVP race – is having to deal with a partially torn meniscus at just the wrong time in the season.

He sat out Game 5 against the Wizards as the 76ers sealed a semi-final spot, but with this series so delicately balanced there is little time to take a break.

The Hawks, who have won only three of 24 best-of-seven series in which they found themselves 2-1 down – will sense the chance to strike on the road as they aim to reach the Conference Finals for the first time since 2015.

HEAD TO HEAD

This is the third playoff series between the teams, with the 76ers progressing in both 1980 and 1982. They also won two of the three meeting in the regular season, though the Hawks have already prevailed once in this series in Philadelphia.

Joel Embiid expressed his disappointment after losing out to Nikola Jokic in the MVP race, though the Philadelphia 76ers star insisted "if and when I'm holding that trophy, anything else won't matter" in pursuit of an NBA championship.

Denver Nuggets star Jokic was crowned the league's Most Valuable Player on Tuesday with 91 first-place votes and 971 total points, ahead of runner-up Embiid (586).

In response to the snub, Embiid posted 40 points and 13 rebounds to lead the 76ers past the Atlanta Hawks 118-102 as the top seeds levelled the Eastern Conference semi-final series at 1-1.

Embiid became the first 76ers player with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game since Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in 1970, while his postseason career-high points haul saw him become the first Philadelphia player with 40-plus points in a playoff contest since Hall of Famer Allen Iverson in 2003.

Reacting to Jokic's MVP victory, Embiid – who missed game time during the regular season due to a knee injury – told reporters following Game 2: "There's only some things I can control. Obviously, we as a team we had a good year and I was a part of it.

"It's disappointing because as a player, you worked hard for moments like this, but then again, it's out of my control. There's nothing I can do about it. I just got to come out every year, and just be ready and do my job."

Embiid, who has been dealing with a small meniscus tear as the 76ers chase their first NBA title since 1983, added: "I'm focused on the playoffs, focused on winning the championship.

"I've been saying all season we got a good chance, so I'm not worried about those awards and stuff. If and when I'm holding that trophy, anything else won't matter."

Tobias Harris chipped in with 22 points, six rebounds and four assists for the 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, where he had 16 first-quarter points on eight-for-nine shooting.

"We're not really worried about that," Harris said in response to Embiid missing out on MVP honours. "Jokic had a great year. Congrats on MVP for him.

"Joel Embiid has had a great year, he's been the MVP for our team. Obviously, there was a period of time where he didn't play X amount of games. I think that played a factor into it, but we get to the Finals and that's the goal for our team. Go get the MVP there so that's just our mentality. We don't only focus on those things anymore."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers insisted the team "have accomplished nothing" as they eye the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The top-seeded 76ers lead the Washington Wizards 2-0 in the opening round of their NBA playoff series following Wednesday's 120-95 rout.

Philadelphia – eyeing their first championship since 1983 – are in a commanding position as they head to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday.

The 76ers have not advanced to the NBA Finals since 2001, with Philadelphia failing to make it beyond the Conference semi-finals in 2003, 2012, 2018 and 2019, while they were swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics last season.

Rivers – a championship winner during his time in charge of the Celtics – is taking nothing for granted, with the 76ers desperate to end their title drought this season.

"We have done nothing," Rivers told reporters after Friday's practice.

"We have won two games, you don't get anything until you win four, so we have accomplished nothing as far as we're concerned."

The 76ers are featuring in the playoffs for the fourth successive season – the franchise's longest streak since making the postseason in five straight campaigns from 1999-2003.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (22 points apiece) combined to guide the 76ers past the Wizards in Philadelphia midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019, while it was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019 – the streak tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

Tobias Harris has also been a key contributor for the 76ers against the Wizards after backing up his playoff career-high 37 points in Game 1 with 19 points and nine assists on Wednesday.

"They have grown and that’s key for us," said Rivers. "I think, through the year, you just see so many different coverages on how they're going to defend Ben. Every night, they're going to defend Ben in a different way."

Rivers also attempted to allay fitness concerns over Harris and Seth Curry.

"Tobias, I think he'll be good," added Rivers. "He went through most of the stuff today. Seth didn't go through anything, but we think he'll be good, but we just don't know."

The Memphis Grizzlies did not follow the script in their shock 112-109 victory over the top-ranked Utah Jazz in the NBA playoffs, while the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns drew first blood in their first-round openers.

Utah secured sole possession of the best record in the NBA for the first time in franchise history, having topped the Western Conference with a 52-20 record.

But in the continued absence of All-Star Donovan Mitchell (ankle), the Jazz were upstaged by the eighth-seeded Grizzlies in Sunday's opener on home court.

Dillon Brooks (31 points), Ja Morant (26 points) and Jonas Valanciunas (15 points and 13 rebounds) fuelled the visiting Grizzlies in Utah.

Brooks became the sixth player in the last 10 postseasons to score 30-plus points in his playoffs debut, joining Devin Booker (2021), Luka Doncic (2020), Kyrie Irving (2015), Anthony Davis (2015) and Damian Lillard (2014).

Kyle Anderson also registered a Grizzlies single-game playoff record with his six steals, surpassing the previous mark set by Mike Conley – who now plays for the Jazz – in 2013.

The Jazz were led by Bojan Bogdanovic (29 points), Conley (22 points and 11 assists) and Rudy Gobert (11 points and 15 rebounds).

 

Harris and Embiid flex muscles, Booker stars as Suns sizzle

Eastern Conference top seeds the 76ers overcame the Washington Wizards 125-118 in Game 1 of their first-round series. A playoff career-high 37 points from Tobias Harris set the tone, while MVP hopeful Joel Embiid had 30 points, six rebounds and three assists. Harris and Embiid became the first pair of 76ers to score 30-plus points in a playoff game in 31 years since Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins. All-Star team-mate Ben Simmons (six points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists) joined Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain as the only 76ers players ever with 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game. Double-doubles from Bradley Beal (33 points and 10 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (16 points and 14 assists) were not enough for the eighth-ranked Wizards.

The Suns trumped defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 99-90 behind Booker (34 points) and Deandre Ayton (21 points and 16 rebounds). Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10, the Suns used a 32-25 opening quarter to see off the seventh seeds in the series opener in the west, despite Chris Paul's shoulder injury. LeBron James had 18 points and 10 assists in a double-double display for the Lakers.

 

Randle struggles

All eyes were on All-Star Julius Randle after leading the New York Knicks back to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13. While he collected 12 rebounds, Randle was far from his usual best in the 107-105 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks. Randle finished six-for-23 shooting for 15 points in 36 minutes. The Knicks star made just two of his six three-pointers.

Anthony Davis was five-for-16 shooting in a team-high 39 minutes of action as the Lakers star recorded just 13 points against the Suns. He missed both of his attempts from beyond the arc. As a team, the Lakers were just 26.9 per cent from the three-point line after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made just one of his seven shots.

 

Ice Trae!

Trae Young was the hero for the Hawks, who edged the Knicks in their series opener at Madison Square Garden. Young nailed the game-winner with 0.9 seconds remaining to silence the New York crowd in a thriller between the fourth and fifth seeds in the east. The Hawks guard finished with 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. According to Stats Perform, Young is the first NBA player to make a game-winning field goal in the final five seconds in his playoff debut since Dwyane Wade in 2004.

 

Sunday's results

Philadelphia 76ers 125-118 Washington Wizards
Phoenix Suns 99-90 Los Angeles Lakers
Atlanta Hawks 107-105 New York Knicks
Memphis Grizzlies 112-109 Utah Jazz

 

Heat at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to extend their lead over the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference first-round series on Monday.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers labelled Ben Simmons "special" after the Eastern Conference top seeds made a winning start in the NBA playoffs.

Simmons, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid starred as the 76ers topped the Washington Wizards 125-118 in Game 1 of the first-round series on Sunday.

While Simmons only finished with six points on three-for-nine shooting, the All-Star tallied 15 rebounds and 15 assists at home to the eighth-seeded Wizards in Philadelphia.

Simmons joined Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain as the only 76ers players ever with 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game, earning praise from Rivers.

"I thought he was special," said Rivers. "Whoever he guarded struggled scoring, he created so many points for us, off the glass to three, off transition to three, creating switches that they didn’t want to have.

"He is just a treasure. He is something that you don't see a lot in this league and he has such a skill set that's so different. There's a lot of people that can't make what of him.

"All I see is his greatness and I just want him to keep doing what he's doing."

Simmons – as the 76ers eye their first championship since 1983 – added: "I just try to make winning plays and do what I can to help this team and be the point guard and run the team.

"Put guys in the right positions, run the right sets, if somebody’s feeling it, keep giving them the ball. I think overall today we did a good job of that."

Harris and MVP hopeful Embiid also flexed their muscles in front of a capped but vocal crowd at Wells Fargo Center.

A playoff career-high 37 points from Harris set the tone, while Embiid had 30 points, six rebounds and three assists.

Harris and Embiid became the first pair of 76ers to score 30-plus points in a playoff game in 31 years since Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins.

"Tobias, I have full faith in," Rivers said. "I said it early, I think he struggled the first couple of games, and just from the body of work, coaching them with the Clippers and knowing him and watching him what we are trying to do with him in the training camp, I just really believe it would take over at some point and it has."

Harris is bracing for a challenging playoff campaign, starting with Russel Westbrook, Bradley Beal and the in-form Wizards.

"Yesterday [Saturday] I was watching NBA games, and I was kind of surprised. I said, 'Man, all these games are really close.' It wasn't like a real big spread in any of them," Harris said. "And I think this whole playoffs, game in and game out, you're gonna see dogfights from all around the league.

"I mean, Washington, you know they've been one of the hottest teams after the All-Star break in the whole NBA, so for us, we know the power that they have and the guys that can make shots on the team. So that just adds to our focus as a group and knowing how locked in we need to be for this whole series, and that's only going to help us into where we're trying to go."

The 76ers, who were swept by the Boston Celtics in last season's first round, are dreaming big as they look to progress beyond the Conference semi-finals for the first time since 2001.

"You know we've been there," Embiid said. "And we also have a goal, and to get to that goal, we got to get through these guys. So you know, the mindset is just me, it doesn't matter if it's a week or two weeks off, it doesn't matter if we haven't played in a while. That should not be an excuse."

Tobias Harris insisted the Philadelphia 76ers will not be celebrating their playoff berth as he and All-Star team-mate Joel Embiid eye an NBA championship.

The 76ers clinched in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, joining rivals and leaders the Brooklyn Nets in cementing their spot in the postseason thanks to a 127-83 rout of the Atlanta Hawks.

Seth Curry (20 points), Harris (17 points, seven rebounds and six assists) and MVP hopeful Embiid (17 points and seven rebounds) fuelled the 76ers to an easy win midweek.

The 76ers (41-21) – chasing their first NBA title since 1983 – clinched a playoff position for the fourth successive season, the franchise's longest streak since making the postseason in five straight campaigns from 1999-2003.

But Harris has his sights set on bigger things, saying: "That's expected to clinch the playoffs.

"This is Philadelphia basketball where greatness is really something that is expected from our fans, it's expected from us as a group, and it's one of our goals, day in and day out so we understand that.

"We're not a team in the locker room celebrating for clinching the playoffs right now.

"We want to celebrate when we're able to win, and win big, in this postseason. That's our goal."

Philadelphia posted another crushing win, having defeated the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder by 31 points on Monday. The 76ers have won their last two games by a total of 75 points, their largest margin of victory over a two-game span in franchise history.

The 76ers were swept by Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics in the opening round last season, after back-to-back semi-final exits in 2018 and 2019.

Embiid added: "Coming into this season, our goal was to win a championship, but there's a lot of steps to get there.

"You got to make the playoffs and you gotta win the first round, second, conference finals, and then you get to the Finals and it's a long road.

"You got to be focused for it and I think we have everything we need to make it happen. It's all about us coming in and dominating every game."

There is light at the end of the NBA tunnel. A difficult regular season played out amid the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic is drawing towards a conclusion.

However, there is still plenty to play for in the closing weeks. For some teams it is about jostling for position as a play-off seed, while others are just frantically trying to make it into the postseason.

For those who have found the pace too tough, there comes the chance to give players opportunities to prove their worth. A strong finish can make all the difference to your career prospects.

Following a busy week that has seen some big names return to action, Stats Perform highlights those who have starred – as well as a few who have struggled – between April 19-25.


RUNNING HOT...

Paul George 

With team-mate Kawhi Leonard sidelined due to a foot injury, George has picked up the slack. The seven-time All-Star sat out a win for the Los Angeles Clippers over the Memphis Grizzlies, but scored 33 points against both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Houston Rockets last week.

He also recorded double-digit rebound totals in those outings, helping the Clippers remain firmly in the hunt to finish as the top seeds in the Western Conference. For the season, George is averaging career highs in points per game (24.0), rebounds (6.5) and assists (5.4). He is also shooting 89.1 per cent from the free-throw line.

OG Anunoby

A see-saw season for the Toronto Raptors still may yet wind up with a postseason appearance, though the 2019 champions have some work to do if they are to get inside the top 10 in the East.

Anunoby looks to be set for a strong finish to his campaign, having scored 52 points in his previous two outings following a short spell out of action - the London-born forward had averaged 14.78ppg going into the week. His six three-pointers made against the New York Knicks was a career high, though the landmark came in a losing cause.

Oshae Brissett

Brissett has seized the opportunity to impress for the Indiana Pacers while making four consecutive starts. He reached double figures for points in all of them, including posting a career-high 23 against the Oklahoma City Thunder to celebrate signing a long-term deal with the franchise.

The second-year prospect out of Syracuse played a total of 135 minutes in his rookie season with the Raptors, but nearly matched that number in a week that saw the Pacers win three out of four. Brissett also contributed when it came to rebounds, averaging 9.25 per outing.

GOING COLD...

Anthony Davis

Davis admitted it felt like the Lakers were "starting from zero" after the second outing on his return from an Achilles issue. Prior to his two-month absence, he was averaging 22.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the season.

However, unsurprisingly considering the amount of time spent off the court, the eight-time All-Star has struggled upon his return (albeit on a minutes restriction). Having shot 2-for-10 from the floor in the first of back-to-back meetings with the Dallas Mavericks, Davis followed up by going 5-for-19 in the second game between the teams.

Gary Trent Jr.

After a ridiculously hot start to life with Toronto following his involvement in a deadline-day trade, Trent Jr. has cooled off in recent outings. That is in part due to a drop in his minutes following the return of some of the regular starters for the Raptors, including back-court duo Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

The former Portland Trail Blazer still had 23 points against Oklahoma, but then dipped to a combined total of nine in limited action against the Brooklyn Nets and the Knicks. The three-point shooting is also a reason for a dip in points, as he made just one of his nine attempts from the beyond the arc during the past week.

Tobias Harris

Harris' drop in production in recent times has had less to do with him going cold and more to do with injury management. A bothersome right knee kept him out of games against the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns, both of which the Philadelphia 76ers lost.

His return in a double-header against the Milwaukee Bucks - one of Philadelphia's major rivals in the East - failed to help his team get back to winning ways. Harris had 18 points in the opening game but then just nine in the second, the first time he had recorded a single-digit outing in a game since February 25.

The Philadelphia 76ers' trip to the Los Angeles Lakers is not quite the blockbuster clash it might have been, but Thursday's game should prove no less intriguing.

Rather than seeing MVP candidates Joel Embiid and LeBron James battle it out at Staples Center, the Sixers and the Lakers will attempt to show how they can cope without their leading men.

Embiid has been on the sidelines since March 12, over which time Philly have gone 5-1, but they crucially have the benefit of Ben Simmons, their second All-Star now fit and firing.

LA do not have the same luxury, as Anthony Davis is also out, with the team beaten by the Atlanta Hawks as James went down and again in his absence in Tuesday's game with the New Orleans Pelicans.

This could still be an NBA Finals preview, though, and the matchup will undoubtedly draw plenty of interested eyes...
 

TOP PERFORMERS

Los Angeles Lakers - Dennis Schroder

Schroder was a Sixth Man of the Year contender last year - missing out to now team-mate Montrezl Harrell - but now finds himself as the most important player in the champions' team with both James and Davis out.

The point guard has started all but four of LA's games this season, his absence coinciding with a four-game losing streak.

Defeat on Thursday would mean another stretch of four straight defeats and it will be up to Schroder to ensure that does not happen.

Coach Frank Vogel talked up Schroder's importance after the Hawks game and his 15 points against the Pelicans maintained his seasonal average at the same mark, third-most for the Lakers behind their big two.

Philadelphia 76ers - Ben Simmons

As the only remaining All-Star in this clash between two of the league's top teams, Simmons will be expected to make the difference.

The former first overall pick has previously been tasked with guarding James but should be freed in the absence of superstar opponents, perhaps able to focus his efforts instead on scoring and creating shots for others.

In a strange quirk, Simmons' four best scoring games this season have come in defeats. Fifth on that list, however, is the win against the Golden State Warriors last time out when he put up 22.

One of his four triple-doubles this season came in the previous game against the Lakers.
 

KEY BATTLE - CAN LAKERS HALT HARRIS?

That sole other matchup between the teams this season was settled by Tobias Harris' 15-footer with three seconds remaining as he switched onto the more diminutive Alex Caruso.

Harris' 10-for-16 shooting in that game was vital and the Lakers, without their best defender in Davis, must more effectively guard the forward.

While Simmons is the star name in this encounter, Harris is second only to Embiid on the Sixers with a career-high 20.8 points per game this year.

The Lakers will at least know to pay attention to Harris in 'clutch' moments, his two points in February among 71 this season that have him 18th in the league in such situations.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Lakers have the slight edge in the teams' all-time regular season record with 146 wins to the Sixers' 138 going back to their respective beginnings in Minneapolis and Syracuse.

Philly's dramatic 107-106 success earlier this year was their fifth meeting with LA since James moved to the Western Conference outfit, in which time the Sixers are 4-1 - albeit the four-time MVP missed the first defeat.

Embiid has only faced the Lakers six times, with a 4-2 record. LA are 4-3 in the seven Philly's main man has missed in his time in the league.

Tobias Harris was inspired to prove the Philadelphia 76ers can compete without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons after leading his team to a 129-105 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Embiid missed a fourth straight game with a bruised left knee, while Simmons was a late omission after experiencing knee soreness on Saturday morning.

With fellow starter Seth Curry (ankle) also missing, the 76ers were heavily depleted but managed to chalk up the win with Harris in supreme form – falling just shy of a triple double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Shake Milton tallied 28 points and Danny Green chipped in with 18 as the 76ers rallied in the absence of their key men.

For Harris, it was about making a point about the strength in depth of the roster.

"Are we willing to fall into the distraction of, 'hey, we don't have two of our top dogs?', or are we willing to embrace it?" Harris said.

"I take that stuff personal when people believe we can't win without those guys, because I know how much talent we have as a group and I know how well we play together as a team as a whole.

"We have a culture and a system here that works. When we trust it and do what is asked of us, we're a hell of a team."

Philadelphia's stats sheet was impressive. In the first quarter alone, they went 16-of-26 shooting and made six of their eight three-pointers to race into a 42-21 lead.

Late in the third they led by as much as 26 points and by the end of the game were 48 of 86 on shooting, making 11 of 23 from downtown.

Coach Doc Rivers said of Harris: "He really set the tone tonight with his attitude and then obviously his play. His total play was phenomenal.

"With all those guys out, what we did was execute well."

The 76ers are top of the Eastern Conference and now have a 29-13 record. They have a short road trip on Sunday to face the New York Knicks, seventh in the division, at Madison Square Garden.

Giannis Antetokounmpo inspired the in-form Milwaukee Bucks to a 120-113 win over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA.

Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 26 points and a joint career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth successive victory on Saturday.

Two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo also had eight rebounds as the Bucks overturned a 14-point first-half deficit – Milwaukee celebrating their 11th win in 12 games.

Khris Middleton added 23 points, while Donte DiVincenzo contributed 12 points and 13 rebounds in Milwaukee.

Lonnie Walker scored a career-high 31 points for the Spurs, who also had 22 points and 13 assists from DeMar DeRozan.

No Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Seth Curry? No problems for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, who eased past the Sacramento Kings 129-105.

Tobias Harris picked up the slack in the absence of the injured star trio, putting up 29 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and two steals as he fell just short of his first career triple-double.

Harris shot nine of 13 for 23 points in the first half. It was a season high for any half and the fifth time he has scored at least 23 points in a half in his career.

Shake Milton finished with 28 points for the 76ers, who improved to 19-4 at home this season – the most wins in the NBA.

 

Hawks soar

The Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to eight games after upstaging defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers 99-94. It is the first time the Hawks have won eight straight games since the 2014-15 season, when they celebrated 19 in a row. John Collins (27 points and 16 rebounds) and Trae Young (14 points and 11 assists) had double-doubles for the Hawks.

Paul George fuelled the Los Angeles Clippers to a crushing 125-98 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. George posted 21 points and 10 assists at home to the Hornets.

 

Lakers lose LeBron

LeBron James will be sidelined for an indefinite period after suffering a high ankle sprain in the loss to the Hawks. James exited in the second quarter after Solomon Hill collided with his right ankle at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The 36-year-old fell to the court and screamed before rolling around in agony.

It was a forgettable game for Terry Rozier and the Hornets. Rozier was two-of-10 from the field – he only made two of nine three-point attempts – for eight points against the Clippers. Charlotte only shot at 38.8 per cent throughout the game.

 

George and Kawhi combine

Star Clippers duo George and Kawhi Leonard led the way at home to the Hornets, teaming up for a dunk in the second half.

 

Saturday's results

Atlanta Hawks 99-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia 76ers 129-105 Sacramento Kings
Memphis Grizzlies 111-103 Golden State Warriors
Milwaukee Bucks 120-113 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 125-98 Charlotte Hornets

 

Lakers at Suns

With James and Anthony Davis sidelined, the Lakers (28-14) will limp into Sunday's clash against Western Conference rivals the Phoenix Suns (27-13). The Lakers are third in the conference, behind the second-placed Suns.

The Philadelphia 76ers cruised in their first game without injured superstar Joel Embiid as Tobias Harris highlighted the team's collective effort.

NBA MVP candidate Embiid will spend at least two weeks on the sidelines due to a left knee bone bruise.

The 76ers were sweating on Embiid's fitness after he appeared to hyperextend his knee in a scary fall following a dunk in the third quarter of Friday's 127-101 rout of the Washington Wizards.

But Embiid escaped major damage and the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers crushed the San Antonio Spurs 134-99 in his absence on Sunday.

"We need everybody," Harris – who led the 76ers with 23 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals – said post-game. "Everybody has to stay ready and be ready to step up night after night.

"With Joel being out for some time, it's on us to find different things and make our chemistry even stronger until he comes back.

"We know how important he is and the impact he brings to the game night in, night out with the level he has been playing at. We want to be able to maintain that type of intensity.

"It's a culture and attitude we've been building day after day, a winning-type attitude; next guy up mentality. It's been huge for us all year long, especially tonight and the games without guys."

Goodnight, Sixers Twitter. pic.twitter.com/hWgKZKm6UX

— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 15, 2021

Embiid, who posted 23 points before exiting against Washington, is averaging a career-high 29.9 points per game – second only to Wizards star Bradley Beal (32.1) in the NBA.

Philadelphia's Embiid is fourth in the league points, assists and rebounds per game (44.6), behind Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic (46.8), reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (46.7) of the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (45.8).

The 26-year-old Embiid has also been averaging career highs in field-goal percentage (52.5) and three-point percentage (42.2).

"I was happy with the news," said 76ers head coach Doc Rivers. "It looked bad, but, obviously, we never know and that's what I was saying that night. We had to wait and see and it turned out in our favour, in a lot of ways."

Rivers added: "He's great. I don't think anybody's in great spirits, but he was happy that it wasn't as bad as a lot of people thought it was probably, including himself in that so he was in a pretty good place.

"Now that he knows all it takes is rehab, he has a game plan, we have a game plan, and we're moving forward with it."

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