Philadelphia 76ers veteran Danny Green will miss at least the rest of the Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Atlanta Hawks with a calf injury. 

An MRI exam confirmed a right calf strain and Green will be re-evaluated in two weeks, the top-seeded 76ers said on Saturday.

Green left the court early in the first quarter of Friday's 127-111 victory over the Hawks, which gave the Sixers a 2-1 lead in the second-round series. 

The 33-year-old has started all eight playoff games for Philadelphia and is averaging 7.0 points in 24.9 minutes per game in the postseason. 

Green has played for the NBA champions the last two seasons, winning the title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 and the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

He spent the first eight seasons of his NBA career with the San Antonio Spurs, who he helped take the championship in 2014. 

While the timetable announced by the team leaves open a potential return should the Sixers advance, Philadelphia will have to a find a way to do so without one of their leaders in pursuit of a first champion since 1983.

"The next guy has to step up," head coach Doc Rivers said Friday. "Not sure who that is going to be yet." 

The 76ers face the Hawks in Atlanta in Game 4 on Monday.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers admitted Joel Embiid is playing through pain after leading his side to a 127-111 Game 3 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in their Conference semi-final series.

Embiid scored 27 points, with nine rebounds and eight assists for the 76ers who claimed a 2-1 lead in the series with a crucial road win.

The 2021 NBA MVP runner-up has been battling knee soreness for the latter part of the season and suffered a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in Game 4 of the series against the Washington Wizards, missing Game 5.

"He's playing hard. He's giving us everything," Rivers said during his post-game video conference.

"What he's doing is incredible. He is going through a lot, I'll tell you that. It's been great to watch."

Rivers added praise for the 27-year-old Cameroonian, who defensively also had three blocks and a steal, to go with his 27 points in Game 3 against Hawks center Clint Capela.

"He was great. He was patient," Rivers said. "They were going to send two-three guys on him all night.

"I thought overall he kept his patience. We've got to do a little better job on our spacing so he can see guys better but overall I thought our movement, 10 turnovers for the game, told the story."

The Sixers lost starting forward Danny Green after only four minutes to injury and Rivers said the outlook was not positive for the 33-year-old who won NBA titles in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors and 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I have no idea [of the extent]. It's a calf injury," Rivers said. "My doctors will tell you calf injuries aren't great."

Rivers also offered praise to Australian guard Ben Simmons for his role in nullifying Hawks guard Trae Young who scored 28 points, shooting at 52.9 per cent from the field.

"It's been big. It's exhausting when you think about what we're asking Ben to do, follow Trae around and push the ball up the floor with pace," Rivers said.

"It's tough, he's young, he has endurance, he's been good for us."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said Joel Embiid was spurred on after missing out on the NBA MVP award to produce a "dominant" performance in Tuesday's 118-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Embiid posted 40 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two steals for the top-seeded 76ers, who levelled their Eastern Conference semi-final series at 1-1 in the playoffs.

All-Star Embiid's 40-point haul was a personal playoffs career high as he became the first 76ers player with 40 points in a postseason game since Allen Iverson had 45 in 2003.

Embiid is also the first 76ers player with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game since Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in 1970.

Rivers hailed Embiid's display after he finished second to Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic in the MVP race earlier on Tuesday.

"It was awesome," Rivers said during his post-game news conference. "I remember being on the other side of it the night David Robinson got the MVP and we had to play [Hakeen] Olajuwon.

"I was on that spurs team, that didn’t go well for us. Tonight you felt like that was Joel. He was that magnificent and dominant for us early on.

"It was absolutely a team effort but he set the tone for us. That's what he has to do."

Rivers lauded Philadelphia's collective effort, particularly in the second half, stretching their lead from four points to 18 when Embiid was benched at one stage.

"It was huge. You'd think it was the worst time to take Joel out," Rivers said. "We felt we'd need him down the stretch.

"The fact that the second unit, we could wait until seven minutes to put Joel back in and he's come back with an 18-point lead, that was absolutely wonderful."

Rivers reserved special praise for Shake Milton, who contributed 14 points off the bench, sparking the 76ers in the third quarter, as well as George Hill and Matisse Thybulle for their defensive efforts.

The series moves to Atlanta, with Game 3 on Friday.

"It was big because we lost Game 1," Rivers said. "We don't ever want to go down 2-0 in a series. It's 1-1, we have to go to Atlanta and get home court back."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers issued a warning about Joel Embiid's health despite his injury return, insisting "we're still not out of the woods" as the Eastern Conference top seeds look to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks.

Embiid returned from a meniscus tear in Philadelphia's shock 128-124 loss at home to the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the NBA Eastern Conference semi-final opener on Sunday.

MVP finalist Embiid sat out the series-clinching win over the Washington Wizards due to the right knee injury, which he sustained in Game 4 of the opening-round matchup.

The 76ers outscored the Wizards by 31.6 points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the court but were outscored by 7.5 points per 100 possessions when he went to the bench (excluding Game 5), according to Stats Perform.

Embiid led all scorers with 39 points on 12-for-21 shooting, while he also had nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal against the visiting Hawks in Philadelphia.

Gearing up for Tuesday's Game 2 at Wells Fargo Center, Rivers provided an update on All-Star Embiid following Monday's practice, telling reporters: "He looked pretty good.

"Obviously, we didn't do much today, but just my observation, without being a real medical doctor, is that he looked pretty good. We were happy with everything."

Embiid has been averaging 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game in this season's playoffs, while he boasts career highs in field-goal percentage (61.6), three-point percentage (43.8) and free-throw percentage (90.5).

In 2020-21, Embiid has averaged a career-high 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

"I think we always have to worry," Rivers added. "I don't think we're out of the woods, I'll put it that way. I think after each game he's gonna be evaluated for a while.

"I don't know how long that lasts, there may be three or four or five games, but we're still not out of the woods, I guess, would be the best way to describe it."

The 76ers were blown away by Trae Young and the Hawks, who led 75-54 at half-time. According to Stats Perform, that is the highest first-half point total by a road team in a postseason series opener in history.

Young had 25 of his 35 points in the first half as the Hawks outscored the 76ers 42-27 in the first period.

Philadelphia's Ben Simmons (17 points and 10 assists) had a double-double but it was a disappointing outing for the 76ers, who are eyeing their first championship since 1983.

However, All-Star Simmons remains upbeat, adding: "The confidence has always been there. I think it's just more so we got to lock in and be ready for whoever comes in the building because it's not going to be easy.

"It's the playoffs and this is a good team we're facing right now. They play the right way. They share the ball, and they play together. We got to come together and play the right way."

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid vowed to "keep pushing until I can't" in his pursuit of an NBA championship after returning from a knee injury in Sunday's shock loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

After sitting out the series-clinching win over the Washington Wizards due to a meniscus tear in his right knee, Embiid made his comeback in the 128-124 defeat to the fifth-seeded Hawks in the Eastern Conference semi-final opener.

Embiid, who hurt his knee in Game 4 against the Wizards, led all scorers with 39 points but his presence was not enough to help the top-seeded 76ers overturn a 26-point deficit at home to the Hawks.

"Playing on a torn meniscus is not easy," said Embiid, who was 12-for-21 shooting while also collecting nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal. "All I got to do is keep managing it. Do my best.

"Get as much treatment as I can. Try to manage it to make sure that it doesn't swell up too much. Obviously, the pain is going to be there. That's normal.

"But it's all about managing it, doing whatever it takes to win. Because my goal is to win the championship. I'm going to put my body on the line to make sure that happens. I'm going to give everything I got."

MVP finalist Embiid added: "I can adjust to any style of play. We just played Washington that played fast. This team, they were physical. They play fast. I can adjust to it. It's the playoffs.

"You can't worry about how many minutes someone is supposed to play or is going to play. You got to go with your best guys.

"As long as I'm OK to be out there and I'm going to give my best and I'm going to keep pushing until I can't.

"But as long as I'm out there, I'm going to play hard. I'm going to dive for loose balls. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win."

Embiid played a team-high 38 minutes for the 76ers at Wells Fargo Center, where the hosts were upstaged by Trae Young (35 points and 10 assists) and the Hawks.

Tobias Harris (20 points and 10 rebounds) and Ben Simmons (17 points and 10 assists) both had double-doubles for the 76ers, while Seth Curry added 21 points as Philadelphia's bench struggled.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was not happy with Embiid's game time, telling reporters: "I didn't like him in, even though we had to have him in.

"But when we were trapping and running around in that last three minutes and obviously we made a run, I did not like him on the floor at that point because I didn't want him doing those things, if you want to be honest. That's why we told him to just stand back. Because those are the ones that you get injured on."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said no decision has been made on Joel Embiid's status for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the NBA playoffs.

The top-seeded 76ers are set to open their second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday with doubts over the fitness of All-Star Embiid.

Embiid suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee during Monday's Game 4 loss to the Washington Wizards, forcing him to sit out Wednesday's Game 5 as the 76ers won 129-112 to clinch the opening-round series 4-1.

As the 76ers continue their championship bid against the fifth-seeded Hawks, Rivers was asked about MVP finalist Embiid – who missed 10 regular-season games due to bone bruising in his left leg – on Friday.

"He went through a lot of the stuff today," said Rivers. "He didn't do a lot of live stuff obviously, we're not gonna allow that yet.

"Nothing's changed. He's got to go through his treatment, but as far as when we were doing shooting and stuff like that, he looked great.

"It's too early [to rule him out]. I don't want to say one way or the other. We'll just find that out."

It has been a stellar season for Embiid, who has averaged career highs for points (28.5), field-goal percentage (41.3), three-point percentage (37.7) and free-throw percentage (85.9).

The 27-year-old has also been averaging 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a career-best 0.98 steals per game to lead the 76ers – eyeing a first NBA title since 1983 – to their first Eastern Conference championship since 2001.

Philadelphia team-mate Dwight Howard, gearing up for a reunion with former team the Hawks, added: "He looked good. His movement looked good and laterally, he was able to move around so he looked good.

"I think he should be ready to go. Now he can make sure he gets his body right and I don't want him to rush back or anything like that because we need him.

"We want to make sure we hold down the fort until he's back, but he looked great."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers hailed the "absolutely amazing" defensive improvement made by Tyrese Maxey following the rookie guard's starring role in his side's progression to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

Maxey laid on 13 points, six rebounds, two assists and claimed one steal during his 26 minutes on the court in Wednesday's 129-112 series-closing win against the Washington Wizards.

The 20-year-old has posted double digits in successive playoff games, but Rivers was more impressed by the other aspect of the youngster's performance against the Wizards.

"I think he is a hell of a player," Rivers said. "I think he has found himself. He figures out now how we need him to play. 

"That makes not only him a good player, but everybody else good on the floor when he is on the floor."

With star man Joel Embiid again absent for Game 5 due to a knee problem, Maxey has stepped up for the 76ers when needed after struggling during the regular season on defense.

"He was our worst defender and it wasn't close – the numbers said that to you," Rivers added. 

"The last month he has turned a corner defensively. He made so many little plays defensively – rebounds, digs, getting steals. Obviously, the offensive energy was there but watching him grow defensively for this team has been absolutely amazing."

Seth Curry's playoff career-high 30 points, a triple-double from Ben Simmons and a 28-point showing courtesy of Tobias Harris helped the 76ers past the Wizards.

The Atlanta Hawks await in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and Rivers is hopeful Embiid will be back in contention for Game 1 on Sunday.

"He's a competitor. The fact that he's not playing tonight or whenever he can't play, it bothers him," Rivers said. "He's really not in a great place that way, but he's good. He'll be fine.

"I don't know exactly when he will be back. At least I'm hopeful. I think that's be a better way of putting it. He's going do his treatment, and we're going to assess the day-to-day and see when we can get him."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers does not know when Joel Embiid will return after the All-Star was diagnosed with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in a huge blow for the NBA championship contenders.

The top-seeded 76ers were eagerly awaiting the results of an MRI following Monday's 122-114 Game 4 loss to the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference opening round.

Embiid hobbled off the court midway through the first quarter in Washington after landing awkwardly and the MVP finalist did not return, having grimaced in pain.

Now, Embiid – considered day-to-day – will sit out Wednesday's Game 5 against the Wizards due to a small tear, with the injury to be managed with a physical therapy and a treatment program.

Asked about Embiid as the 76ers, who lead the playoff series 3-1, look to seal a spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, Rivers told reporters: "I have no expectation other than I hope for him to be back.

"I can't give you a timeline. I can just tell you he's willing to go through whatever it takes to get back on the floor.

"He's a warrior. And if there's a way for him to get back on the floor, he will find his way."

It is another setback for Embiid and the 76ers after the four-time All-Star missed 10 games in the regular season due to bone bruising in his left leg.

It has been a stellar season for Embiid, who has averaged career highs for points (28.5), field-goal percentage (41.3), three-point percentage (37.7) and free-throw percentage (85.9).

The 27-year-old has also been averaging 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and a career-best 0.98 steals per game to lead the 76ers to their first Eastern Conference championship since 2001.

"He couldn't be in better shape," Rivers added. "For this to happen at this point, going through the whole year, it's really difficult."

"We've talked a couple of times. He is what you think he would be. He's a competitor. The fact that he's not playing tonight or whenever he can't play, it bothers him. He's really not in a great place that way, but he's good. He'll be fine."

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."

Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons insisted he is "here to win" not to prove doubters wrong following his aggressive display as the Eastern Conference top seeds seized control against the Washington Wizards.

Simmons' shooting and scoring have been scrutinised since entering the league, but the NBA All-Star was influential in the 76ers' 120-95 rout of the Wizards in Game 2 on Wednesday.

In 29 minutes, Simmons posted 22 points – including 12 in the opening quarter – on 11-for-15 shooting, to go with nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and one block in Philadelphia midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019 as the Australian dismissed his critics.

"I'm not trying to stick to anybody in Philly," Simmons said, with the 76ers on track to progress from the first-round series. "I thought it was pretty hard to get 15 assists and 15 rebounds in the NBA in the playoffs.

"I thought that was pretty impressive. And we won. What y'all want? You want to win? For me, I'm here to win and I'm doing what I need to do to help my team win whatever it is.

"I'm not trying to prove anybody wrong or anything like that. I'm trying to do my job to win. I want to win a championship."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers described Simmons as "special" following his Game 1 performance.

"It didn't motivate me because what I did in the first game, my guys are feeling it," Simmons added. "Tobias [Harris] was scoring, Joel's [Embiid] scoring. That's the point of basketball right? People who have it going, you got to give them the ball.

"I'm not surprised Doc said that because Doc knows the game. A lot of these people who are saying that have never even touched a basketball or never played the game at a high level."

MVP hopeful and 76ers team-mate Joel Embiid also had 22 points at home to the Wizards, who will host Game 3 on Saturday.

It was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019. The streak is tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

Embiid hailed Simmons, saying: "I told him 'you've got all the space and all the time in the world. Just attack. He's physical and he's athletic and he can make plays."

Rivers also heaped praise on Simmons as the 76ers eye their first championship since 1983.

"We scored 125 points the first game," said Rivers. "It's all about us scoring points and whichever way we do it, I'm good with that.

"If we had scored 130 and he had the same numbers as the first game, that would have meant he was great in doing something else. That's what I mean. His value to us is almost, you can't measure it."

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."

Doc Rivers told his Philadelphia 76ers team to be proud of clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference but says the accomplishment is only one part of their ultimate goal.

Just five years since the 76ers recorded a 10-win season, a 122-97 triumph over the Orlando Magic on Friday secured top billing in the East for the first time in 20 years.

Seth Curry put up 20 points while Joel Embiid contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds as the 76ers made certain of home-court advantage for the playoffs.

Head coach Rivers was keen to talk up what his team have done, while also ensuring minds stay focused on the main prize: a first NBA title for the franchise since 1983.

"It's an accomplishment. I don't want to downplay it, but I told our guys to enjoy, I don't want to call it a moment, I told them to enjoy the second, because it's not what we want, but it's part of what you can get on the way to what you want," Rivers said.

"I think for this team, as young as we are, to have home-court [advantage] is really important. It's nice to have. We should feel proud of it."

The last time the 76ers topped the Eastern Conference ahead of the postseason, Philadelphia – led by MVP Allen Iverson – went on to reach the NBA Finals, though they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1.

Philadelphia have not advanced that far since, 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.

The 76ers round out their regular season with another clash against the Magic on Sunday.

The Philadelphia 76ers got back to winning ways as Doc Rivers hailed the returning Ben Simmons and his defensive combination with Matisse Thybulle.

After losing four in a row, Philadelphia were more like their old selves in a 121-90 drubbing of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.

Simmons missed the string of losses due to what he described as "a viral thing", but he returned with six-of-eight shooting, four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Rivers is convinced Simmons and Thybulle have a big role to play in paving the way for success this season.

"I don't think I've ever had that," Rivers said of the wing defence strength.

"I've had an incredibly great defensive team... but not at those positions. It's pretty awesome to watch. Those two guys, their closing ability on shots is excellent, absolutely remarkable to watch."

Simmons looked as good as new, according to Rivers.

"He had great energy, great pace. It was Ben being Ben," said the coach. "We lose a lot of pace when he's not on the floor, that's for sure."

As for Simmons, the 24-year-old All-Star welcomed his coach's words, saying: "That means a lot. [Thybulle] has got a high IQ on the floor and it's tough for teams to score when there's two guys like that on the floor."

Simmons added: "I'm just glad to be back. I missed being with the fellas. The energy was great tonight."

The Sixers sit second in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Brooklyn Nets.

"It's going to be on us to take care of business down the stretch," Simmons said. "We've got a lot of games that are going to be all-important at this stage.

"We're looking forward to the challenge and obviously we need to get in the playoffs. I'm glad I'm back now and we have a few games left to really get that first seeding and I think we can do it.

"If everyone's healthy and able to play, I think we're able to get that. Looking forward, we've got to take control and get that first seeding."

The Milwaukee Bucks have been the regular season pacesetters in the NBA's Eastern Conference in recent seasons, but they sit third heading into the closing stages of the 2020-21 campaign.

It is the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets who instead lead the way, tied with 39-20 records - 2.5 games clear of Milwaukee.

Yet the Sixers had first place outright prior to Thursday's game against the Bucks in which they failed to recover from a tough first quarter.

Philly do not have to wait long for revenge, though, with the two teams meeting once more at Fiserv Forum on Saturday.

MVP challenges are on the line as well as seedings in the East as two potential title contenders get prepared to go again.

TOP PERFORMERS

Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid was the MVP favourite until a knee injury at the start of March that forced him to miss almost a month of action.

He was averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and the 76ers had a 24-7 record with him on the floor. They were 2-5 in the seven games Embiid missed prior to his extended lay-off.

The center returned earlier this month, seemingly with enough time to wrestle the top individual award back from Nikola Jokic, and he has since averaged 30.1 points, missing only a single game.

But the Sixers have now lost three in a row and Embiid's hopes appear to be fading after he was outshone by the reigning MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks

It does not appear there will be a third MVP win in a row for Antetokounmpo after his momentum was checked by sitting six straight games.

But the 'Greek Freak' was back to his best against the 76ers, scoring a game-high 27 points, and can focus instead on a first title triumph in the postseason.

And Antetokounmpo feels playing a fellow challenger again on Saturday "prepares you for the playoffs".

"Playing teams back to back is awesome," he said.

"On Saturday, they're going to come out and they're going to play harder, they're going to try to execute. We've got to do the same. We've got to do exactly the same."

KEY BATTLE - SLOW START CAN SINK SIXERS

For the 76ers, "playing harder" will have to start from the tip-off. Their 14-point first-quarter deficit proved too significant against such a talented team.

As the Sixers missed one of the best defensive players in the league in Ben Simmons due to illness, Milwaukee firmly had the upper hand early on.

Philadelphia had no answer as they allowed 40 points, their second-worst mark in a first quarter this year. This came as the Bucks shot at 73.7 per cent from the field through 12 minutes, the best rate among the Sixers' 2020-21 opponents.

Jrue Holiday, a star on both ends, had seven of his 12 points in the first three minutes alone.

"That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted," Doc Rivers said. "We didn't offer any resistance."

HEAD TO HEAD

Thursday's game was the teams' second this season and the second Milwaukee victory after they won in overtime in March, again led by Antetokounmpo (32 points, 15 rebounds).

Antetokounmpo has averaged 20.8 points for his career but 22.6 against the 76ers, against whom he boasts a 19-5 record and posted a career-high 52 in 2019.

The Bucks have a 113-102 lead over Philadelphia all-time in the regular season.

The Philadelphia 76ers are back on top in the Eastern Conference and All-Star Ben Simmons said the NBA championship hopefuls intend to stay there.

Simmons scored 17 points to complement MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who led the way with 39 points and 13 rebounds in Wednesday's 123-117 victory over short-handed rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

The 76ers almost surrendered a 22-point lead before holding to improve to 38-17 at the top of the east, ahead of the star-studded Nets (37-18), who were without Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin.

"We want that one seed," Simmons told reporters post-game.

"We have a pretty tough schedule coming up with Milwaukee and the Clippers, but I believe we're more than capable of it."

76ers head coach Doc Rivers attempted to rest his two stars in the fourth quarter against a depleted Brooklyn team, but All-Star duo Simmons and Embiid had to return late and close out the win. 

"They should not have had to come back in," Rivers said. 

Philadelphia were not about to risk letting the game slip away considering the stakes.

The 76ers are now 21-5 at home and remaining on top in the east would keep them there throughout the early rounds of the playoffs. 

Embiid had his 11th game this season with 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds. It is tied with Denver Nuggets star and fellow MVP contender Nikola Jokic for the second most in the NBA, only behind Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"That fourth quarter, that come back, it was just weird," Embiid said. "I will say, I felt like I sat too long and I kinda lost my rhythm. Them fronting and trapping had nothing to do with how our play in that stretch when I came back.

"We just didn't have the same physicality that we had for the first three quarters."

Should the 76ers meet the Nets in the playoffs, Philadelphia know they will see a far different team than they did Wednesday, but he is not concerned. 

"We know exactly who they are and they know exactly who we are," Rivers told reporters.

"When the playoffs start, it's a whole new beast. We'll be ready for them and I'm sure they'll be ready for us."

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