Sixers win battle for top spot in East, Doncic hits clutch winner

PHILADELPHIA: DeAndre Jordan #6 of the Brooklyn Nets fouls Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the third quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. – AFP

LOS ANGELES: Joel Embiid finished with 39 points as the Philadelphia 76ers won the battle for first place in the Eastern Conference, holding on to beat the short-handed Brooklyn Nets 123-117 on Wednesday. Philadelphia, who are seeking their first NBA championship since 1983, are looking to earn the top seed and home court advantage in the postseason and Wednesday’s win gives them the upper hand, at least for now, over the second-place Nets.

The 76ers improved to 38-17 on the season, just one game ahead of Brooklyn at 37-18. Embiid also shot 13-of-29 from the floor and pulled down 13 rebounds as the 76ers saw their 22-point lead slashed to just three in the fourth. Tobias Harris added 26 points and Ben Simmons finished with 17 points, nine assists and three steals for the Sixers, who won their third straight. Shake Milton had 15 points.

The depleted Nets played without offensive star James Harden, who is recovering from a strained hamstring, and Kevin Durant who sits out when the team has games on back-to-back nights. Durant had eight turnovers in his last game, a one-sided 126-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kyrie Irving led the Nets with 37 points and nine assists while Landry Shamet added 17 points and Jeff Green had 15. Bruce Brown scored 14, and DeAndre Jordan finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Irving was a late addition to the lineup after he took time off for “personal reasons.”

The Nets have been playing with all or a portion of their “Big Three” out for most of the season but they are hoping that everyone gets healthy for the postseason. With the Sixers up by double digits in the second half, Embiid was hoping to have an early night and rest for the fourth quarter. But the Nets had other plans, making a late run to cut a 22-point lead to just three. “The last three games I sat out the fourth and I thought it would be the same. We made a bunch of mistakes and turned the ball over. It can happen,” said Embiid.

Elsewhere, Luka Doncic delivered another clutch game winner, sinking an off-balance three pointer to beat the buzzer and lift the Dallas Mavericks to a 114-113 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Doncic scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half and finished with nine assists to help Dallas end a two-game losing streak. Kristaps Porzingis chipped in 21 points for the Mavericks. “I was kind of falling down. It’s kind of lucky, but we’ll take it,” Doncic said.

Doncic scored the Mavericks’ final six points of the contest with a layup, free throw and then capping his incredible performance with a falling three pointer. “He’s a really hard cover and that why he’s an MVP candidate. He turned it on in the second half and I give him a lot of credit,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of Doncic.

Seventh place Dallas gave themselves a bit of a buffer with the victory, extending their lead in the standings to 2 1/2 games over the eighth-place Grizzlies. “The last play was amazing. You look at the last minute or so. In those situations, you pull off a miracle in a game like that once in a blue moon. It just doesn’t happen very often,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle.

Also, Khris Middleton scored a team high 27 points as the Milwaukee Bucks led wire-to-wire and won their second straight game without star Giannis Antetokounmpo in a 130-105 demolition of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Middleton also had eight rebounds and seven assists in just over 25 minutes of playing time as he seized control of the offense, with Antetokounmpo missing his sixth consecutive contest with a sore knee.

The Bucks improved to 34-20 on the season and are 3-3 in games without the two-time NBA MVP. Anthony Edwards scored 24 points to lead the Timberwolves, who lost while playing without two-time all-star Karl-Anthony Towns for the second straight day. Rookie Towns was out after he reportedly opted out of playing against the Nets to spend time with his family on the one-year anniversary of his mother’s death due to COVID-19. Towns’ mother was one of seven family members who died from complications of the coronavirus in 2020. – AFP


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