NBA

Embiid stars as 76ers stay hot and Westbrook closes in on record as Jazz reclaim lead

By Sports Desk May 05, 2021

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to six games thanks to another dominant performance from MVP hopeful Joel Embiid.

Embiid posted 34 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes as the streaking 76ers (45-21) eased past the lowly Houston Rockets 135-115 in NBA action on Wednesday.

The All-Star became the first 76ers player in franchise history with a 30/10 game in 25 minutes or less, while Embiid earned his 15th 30-point, 10-rebound game of the season – only two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has more such games (16).

Kelly Olynyk scored 27 points and Rockets rookie KJ Martin had a career-high 23 points with 10 rebounds and six assists for Houston (16-50), who own the worst record in the league.

 

History beckons for Westbrook

Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook posted another triple-double of 29 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds in an agonising 135-134 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks. Westbrook (179) is now within three triple-doubles of surpassing Oscar Robertson (181) for the all-time record. With 42 points against the Bucks, Wizards team-mate Bradley Beal tallied his 29th career 40-point game, passing Gilbert Arenas for the most in Washington franchise history. Antetokounmpo fell just short of a triple-double – 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

The Utah Jazz reclaimed the number one seed in the west behind Jordan Clarkson, who was 12-for-16 shooting for 30 points in a 126-94 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs.

The Boston Celtics routed the Orlando Magic 132-96 and the Portland Trail Blazers crushed the Cleveland Cavaliers 141-105. According to Stats Perform, it is the second day in NBA history with two road teams winning by 35-plus points after November 10, 1971.

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic's 32 points and 12 rebounds inspired the Denver Nuggets to a 113-97 victory at home to the New York Knicks.

The Memphis Grizzlies held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 139-135 after Ja Morant had 37 points and 10 assists. It was Morant's fifth 30-point, 10-assist game – the most in Grizzlies history. No other player has more than two. Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards tied a career high with 42 points.

 

CP3 struggles as sun sets on Phoenix

The Phoenix Suns were upstaged 135-103 by the Atlanta Hawks. Second in the west, the Suns slipped a game off the pace after star Chris Paul finished just three-for-11 shooting for nine points in 24 minutes. Phoenix team-mate Cameron Johnson was only one-of-nine shooting, missing all six of his three-point attempts for a measly two points in 19 minutes off the bench.

Amid uncertainty over head coach Nate Bjorkgren, the Indiana Pacers lost 104-93 to the Sacramento Kings. Aaron Holiday was two-for-nine shooting, including one-for-three from beyond the arc in a five-point display in the starting five.

The Trail Blazers made light work of the Cavaliers thanks to Damian Lillard's 32 points, but C.J. McCollum was far from his best. In 31 minutes, McCollum was three-for-14 shooting, making one of five attempts from three-point range for 10 points.

Rockets veteran Avery Bradley made just one of his six field goals, missing all three of his three-point attempts for two points.

 

The 'Greek freak'

Antetokounmpo was doing Antetokounmpo things for the Bucks, who won their fourth straight game. The Bucks superstar showcased his physicality with a powerful dunk against the Wizards.

 

Wednesday's results

Boston Celtics 132-96 Orlando Magic
Portland Trail Blazers 141-105 Cleveland Cavaliers
Atlanta Hawks 135-103 Phoenix Suns
Sacramento Kings 104-93 Indiana Pacers
Philadelphia 76ers 135-115 Houston Rockets
Milwaukee Bucks 135-134 Washington Wizards
Memphis Grizzlies 139-135 Minnesota Timberwolves
Utah Jazz 126-94 San Antonio Spurs
Denver Nuggets 113-97 New York Knicks

 

Lakers at Clippers

Bragging rights and playoff positioning will be on the line when the Los Angeles Lakers (37-28) face the Los Angeles Clippers (44-22) on Thursday. Defending champions the Lakers are sixth in the Western Conference, just a half-game above the play-in spot, while the Clippers are third and already assured a postseason berth.

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  • NBA playoffs 2021: Nets pair Irving and Harden to miss Game 5 against Bucks NBA playoffs 2021: Nets pair Irving and Harden to miss Game 5 against Bucks

    Brooklyn Nets stars Kyrie Irving and James Harden will both miss Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Milwaukee Bucks due to injury.

    Irving sprained his right ankle in the Nets' 107-96 loss in Game 4 on Sunday and underwent an MRI which confirmed he would not be available for Tuesday's clash, with the NBA playoff series in tied at 2-2.

    Nets guard Irving joins former MVP Harden on the sidelines, with the latter still absence because of a hamstring he re-injured in Game 1.

    Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash said the length of Irving's absence remains unknown.

    "I have to wait and see how it progresses, I think," Nash said.

    "And then the experts would have to wait and see how it progresses and give you a clearer picture on what the window would be for his return."

    Nash added that Harden was "working out right now" but was unclear on his return to play timeframe.

    The second-seeded Nets – eyeing their maiden championship – have battled injuries throughout the 2020-21 campaign, with Harden missing 21 games late in the regular season due to his troublesome hamstring.

    "It's tough to lose great players but we've lost guys all season," Nash said. "If there's any silver linings, it's that we've continued to win games regardless of who's been available.

    "We've been able to adapt on the fly which is difficult to do sometimes. That's something we have some experience with. We should have some comfort and belief."

    The absence of two-thirds of the 'Big Three' puts a heavy burden on Kevin Durant, although Nash insisted it was not just about him.

    "This does not fall on Kevin, this falls on the Nets," Nash said. "We've got to find a way together to play great basketball on both ends of the floor. We've proven we can do it.

    "We try to stick to our principles and fundamentals, which is connectivity, competitive spirit, embracing the opportunity and playing together as a team."

  • Magical Messi served Chile pain again as Martinez misfires Magical Messi served Chile pain again as Martinez misfires

    It was a modest record for a player as magnificent as Lionel Messi: three games, two final defeats, one red card, no goals.

    But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

    There have been moments of magic, of course, but just 15 goals across 46 Copa America and World Cup appearances ahead of this game. Meanwhile, not since 2007-08 has Messi fallen short of averaging a goal every two games for Barca, let alone one every three.

    Even Messi himself could not reasonably argue his international displays have come close to the standard set at club level.

    And while World Cup failures will always remain at the forefront of any such discussion – his achievements in contrast to Diego Maradona's one-man show in 1986 – the Copa America has provided its fair share of pain.

    The final defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016 were among three for Messi and four for Argentina since their 14th and most recent title in 1993.

    Those two in consecutive years both came courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. Messi scored his spot-kick in the first match but missed the following year, setting his side on their way to another sore setback.

    It was fitting then, it seemed, that this latest campaign – surely one of Messi's last – would start against Chile and initially start in much more encouraging fashion.

    Neymar had set the standard against Venezuela the previous day.

    In front of empty, hushed stands that make it impossible to ignore the influence of politics in football – a popular topic of debate in 2021 – the pace was ponderous until the world's most expensive footballer got to work.

    Neymar scored one and created another in a 3-0 Brazil win. Along with five shots, he created seven chances – the most of any Selecao player in a Copa America match since his debut.

    It took 33 minutes, in which the absence of an atmosphere again jarred, but Messi rose to that challenge when presented with a free-kick in a central position, dipped over the wall and beyond the grasp of Claudio Bravo.

    That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

    By full-time, though, it was a frustratingly familiar tale, as the supporting cast proved unable to suitably assist their superstar.

    Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

    Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

    Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

    The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

    And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

    The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

    Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

    Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

    Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

    In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

    As on those occasions, there were no heroics from either on Monday. Di Maria, now 33, had two shots but neither troubled Bravo. Aguero, also 33, was caught offside once.

    Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

    But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

    If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

  • Argentina 1-1 Chile: Vargas salvages a point after Messi moment of magic Argentina 1-1 Chile: Vargas salvages a point after Messi moment of magic

    A sublime Lionel Messi free-kick was not enough for Argentina to start the Copa America with a victory as Chile striker Eduardo Vargas salvaged a 1-1 draw.

    Argentina had much the better of the first half and mercurial captain Messi put them in front with a brilliant free-kick in the Group B encounter at Estadio Nilton Santos.

    Vargas came to Chile's rescue after the break, heading home the rebound after Emiliano Martinez saved Arturo Vidal's penalty.

    Nicolas Gonzalez was particularly wasteful as Argentina were unable to secure what would have been a deserved victory in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.

    Messi is yet to win a trophy with Argentina following back-to-back runners-up performances at the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, having also fallen short in the 2007 final against Brazil.

    Giovani Lo Celso was Chile's chief tormentor in a promising start from the Albiceleste, setting up chances that Lautaro Martinez and Gonzalez were unable to take.

    Gonzalez headed over the crossbar after his shot was palmed away by Claudio Bravo and the forward also failed to beat the Chile goalkeeper with a tame finish when the lively Lo Celso sent him clear with an incisive pass.

    Messi produced yet another moment of magic to put Argentina in front, though, bending a brilliant free-kick into the top-right corner after 33 minutes.

    An unmarked Martinez spurned a glorious chance to add a second when he scuffed a shot wide and Lionel Scaloni's side were made to pay for their profligacy when Chile levelled 12 minutes into the second half.

    Vidal was awarded a spot-kick for a rash challenge from Nicolas Tagliafico after referee Wilmar Roldan checked the pitchside monitor and although the midfielder's penalty was brilliantly tipped against the crossbar by Martinez, Vargas nodded in following up.

    Bravo palmed away Messi's drive 20 minutes from time and Gonzalez headed over the bar when his skipper presented him with another golden opportunity in a frustrating start for Argentina.

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