After some results fell their way, the new Eastern Conference one seed Philadelphia 76ers went head-to-head with the Western Conference one seed Phoenix Suns in a potential NBA Finals preview.

Unfortunately for the 76ers, their time on top was short-lived as the Suns' 114-104 home win sent the away side toppling down to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.

MVP favourite Joel Embiid was enormous for the 76ers, scoring 37 points on 14-of-27 shooting to go with 15 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, but it was not enough to beat a Phoenix team that has now won 61 games this season – one short of their franchise record of 62 set in 1992-93 and 2004-05.

For the Suns, Devin Booker was the star, scoring an efficient 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting (three-of-five from long range), while Chris Paul dished out 14 assists to go with his 19 points.

As a team, Phoenix shot over 51 per cent from the field, and 48 per cent from three-point range.

 

Boston takes the one seed – for now

As Philadelphia fell from the top spot, the Boston Celtics took the opportunity to assume the position atop the Eastern Conference musical chairs, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-112.

Boston's two centrepieces were both at the top of their game, with Jayson Tatum scoring 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting and dishing six assists, while Jaylen Brown had 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting with his 10 rebounds.

Boston, Philadelphia, the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks are all separated by just a half-game in a four-way race for the one seed and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern playoffs.

 

Lakers lose again despite LeBron heroics

As has become a theme this season, a terrific LeBron James performance was not enough to carry the Los Angeles Lakers to victory, going down 116-108 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

James had 39 points on 14-of-27 shooting, including seven-of-13 from long range, to go with nine rebounds and five assists in the loss.

In his first game back from a 10-match absence due to injury, Brandon Ingram was the man for the Pelicans, scoring 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting with seven rebounds and five assists, while rookie sensation Herb Jones claimed six steals.

MVP contender Joel Embiid insists the Philadelphia 76ers are not focusing on the race for top seed in the east after Friday's 122-97 win over the Los Angeles Clippers moved them within one game of top spot.

Embiid scored 27 points with 10 rebounds, with team-mate James Harden adding 29 points with four three-pointers along with a season-high 15 rebounds and seven assists.

The victory improved the 76ers to a 46-27 record and second in the east, moving within one game of Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat (47-27) who lost 111-103 to the New York Knicks.

Reigning champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, are third in the Eastern Conference with a 46-27 record, with the Boston Celtics in fourth with a 46-28 record.

"Our focus is just on getting better every single day," Embiid told reporters after the win. "Whether it's offensively or defensively, we're not worried about the standings.

"We just want to get to the point where we know what we're doing at all the times on the court, especially on the offensive side.

"That's what we've been working on. That's what coach has been on to us about focusing on the details, so we can get there."

Harden joined the 76ers last month in a blockbuster trade that saw Ben Simmons headed the other way to the Brooklyn Nets.

Friday's win marked the first time since the move that the pair had both recorded double-doubles in the same game together.

The 76ers have improved with Harden playing alongside Embiid, but the duo's synergy remains a work in progress.

"We're getting better. The one-two has to be there first. It is. The rest will follow," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said.

Harden, who is averaging 23 points and 7.6 rebounds since moving to the 76ers, added: "Things are headed in the right direction, but every single day we are focusing on execution and details.

"There are going to be different ways we are going to have to win in the playoffs, and we have to be prepared for that."

The 76ers' next two games are against last season's NBA Finals sides, the Phoenix Suns and the Bucks.

James Harden scored 29 points with a season-high 15 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers improved to 46-27 with a 122-97 road victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

Harden had four three-pointers in his 29 points, while he also dished off seven assists, with Joel Embiid adding 27 points with 10 rebounds as the 76ers flexed their muscle.

The 76ers set the tone with a 35-19 first quarter with Tobias Harris (12 points, two rebounds and two assists) hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

Harden's 15 rebounds are the most the 2018 MVP has had in a game since December 2020 with the Houston Rockets.

The win helps the 76ers close on the Miami Heat (47-27) and Milwaukee Bucks (46-27) at the top of the Eastern Conference in the jostle for top seed ahead of the playoffs.

 

Curry-less Warriors beaten again

The Golden State Warriors lost for the fourth time in their past five games since Stephen Curry's foot injury, going down 121-110 to the Atlanta Hawks despite Klay Thompson's 37 points including nine triples. Hawks guard Trae Young starred with 33 points and 15 assists.

The Minnesota Timberwolves clinched their 11th win from their past 14 games as they got the Dallas Mavericks 116-95 led by Karl-Anthony Towns' 20 points and nine rebounds. Luka Doncic had 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Mavs.

The Charlotte Hornets responded after their shock defeat to the New York Knicks with an impressive 107-101 win over the Utah Jazz, with Miles Bridges scoring 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Terry Rozier added 25 points.

 

Knicks' remarkable run downs Heat

The Miami Heat looked set to gain some breathing space on top of the Eastern Conference before the New York Knicks closed on a remarkable 38-13 run to claim a stunning 111-103 victory. Immanuel Quickley scored 20 of his 23 points in the last quarter.

LeBron James is deserving of MVP consideration but the Los Angeles Lakers' 31-42 record will work against him according to head coach Frank Vogel.

The four-time MVP has had an outstanding season for the Lakers, averaging a career-high 30.0 points per game, which is also the best in the NBA this season ahead of Joel Embiid (29.8) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.7).

James has played 54 of the Lakers' 73 games, shooting at 52 per cent from the field while averaging 8.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks.

The 37-year-old, however, has single-handedly carried the Lakers, who are 10th in the Western Conference and scrapping to make the Play-In Tournament.

"He is as deserving for MVP consideration as anybody in the league," Vogel told reporters on Friday.

"I know how the voting goes - the team with the best record or top couple of records usually gets most of those considerations, so the win-loss record definitely would probably hurt him.

"But you can't tell me that anybody has played a better season than LeBron James has this year."

Embiid, whose Philadelphia 76ers are 45-27, and Nikola Jokic, whose Denver Nuggets are 43-31, are the current favourites for the MVP, with James believed to be behind the likes of Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, DeMar DeRozan and Devin Booker.

The 76ers center is averaging 29.8 points with 48 per cent shooting from the field along with 11.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season.

Reigning MVP Jokic is averaging 26.2 points at 57 per cent shooting with 13.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists and has had a league-high 18 triple-doubles.

James Harden has backed his Philadelphia 76ers teammate Joel Embiid to be named as the NBA's MVP.

Embiid has been one of the top performers in the league this season, and his points per game average of 29.8 is second only to LeBron James (30.0), also averaging 11.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Harden – who moved to the Sixers in a blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets in February – has been impressed with Embiid since arriving in Philadelphia.

When asked about the Cameroonian's MVP prospects, Harden told ESPN: "He deserves it, man. I've only been here for a few weeks, but I already see his mindset. He wants to win.

"Some guys just want numbers, but he has both. He has the mentality of winning, and he scores the ball at a high level. I think he's prepared himself, especially coming off last year, for this year to be one of his best years.

"Most of the games he's played this year, we've been fighting for the number one seed.

"And he's not only top two, top three in scoring, but he's impactful to our team winning."

Harden is averaging 22.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists across the season, and has won nine of his 12 appearances for the Sixers so far.

Embiid and Harden recorded 54 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists between them in Wednesday's 126-121 win at the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving delivered big performances, but the Memphis Grizzlies were unstoppable in the first half on the way to a 132-120 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Irving finished with 43 points (15-of-27 shooting, six-of-11 from three) and eight assists, while Durant posted figures of 35 points (12-of-28 shooting, 10-of-10 from the free-throw line) with 11 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and two steals.

But the Grizzlies would not be denied in front of their home fans, clicking on all cylinders early to jump out to a 76-62 half-time lead.

It was yet another stunning showing without MVP candidate Ja Morant who missed again through injury, with seven Grizzlies scoring double figures to pick up the slack.

Desmond Bane (eight-of-17 shooting) and De'Anthony Melton (eight-of-13 shooting) led the way with 23 points each, while Jaren Jackson Jr swatted away four shots as he continued his charge for Defensive Player of the Year.

With the win, the Grizzlies moved to 50-23 for the year, and an incredible 15-2 in games Morant has missed.

 

Warriors 'punk' the Heat

A day after Draymond Green said his Golden State Warriors were being "punked" in recent losses, they responded in style, beating the Miami Heat 118-104 without Green and injured star Stephen Curry.

In a game where Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler had to be physically separated from coach Erik Spoelstra during a time-out, the Miami defence simply could not get stops in the second half as tempers flared.

Jordan Poole shone yet again for the Warriors, scoring 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting, going three-of-seven from long range, while rookie Jonathan Kuminga, All-Star Andrew Wiggins and bench player Damion Lee chipped in with 22 points each.


Ayton and the Suns shine in Minnesota, Davion dominates

A 42-point fourth quarter capped off a terrific 125-116 comeback win for the Phoenix Suns on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Trailing 64-51 at the halfway stage and by five at three-quarter time, the Suns got 11 points from centre Deandre Ayton down the stretch to cap off a big 35-point (15-of-24 shooting), 14-rebound performance.

Devin Booker controlled the contest for the Suns, scoring 28 points on only 15 field goal attempts, going 13-of-16 from the free throw line while also dishing out seven assists.

Meanwhile, rookie top-10 pick Davion Mitchell starred in the Sacramento Kings' 110-109 away win against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting and collecting seven assists in arguably his best game as a professional.

Joel Embiid scored 30 points and had 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks for the Philadelphia 76ers in their 126-121 win over a Los Angeles Lakers side who were without LeBron James.

LeBron James will miss Wednesday's showcase game between his Los Angeles Lakers and the visiting Philadelphia 76ers.

The team is calling it knee soreness after he also missed a string of games in February with left-knee swelling.

James, 37, has played 54 out of a possible 72 games so far this season for the Lakers, and currently leads the league in points-per-game at 30.0, leading Joel Embiid (29.8) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.7).

If James were to hold off Embiid and Antetokounmpo, it would be just the second scoring title of his career after he also averaged 30.0 in the 2007-08 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Embiid will need to score 45 points to finish the night in the lead for the scoring title.

In the four games the Lakers have won since the All-Star break, James is averaging 45 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

The Lakers are ninth in the Western Conference with a 31-41 record going into the game.

The stars will be out on Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena when the Philadelphia 76ers roll into town to take on the Los Angeles Lakers.

After sitting out the second leg of Monday's back-to-back against the Miami Heat, superstar duo Joel Embiid and James Harden should be back in the line-up for the 44-27 76ers as they jostle with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference two seed.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are fighting to keep their head above water, with their 31-41 record leaving them five games behind the eight seed Los Angeles Clippers as they prepare for the impending play-in tournament.

The Sixers are in the midst of a stylistic metamorphosis since the arrival of Harden at the All-Star break, completely re-shaping their offensive profile.

 

As was expected, the 76ers' free-throw rate (FTR) skyrocketed when it paired arguably the two greatest shooting-foul magnets of this generation.

Their 0.259 FTR – which means Philadelphia was shooting free throws on nearly 26 per cent of their possessions prior to Harden's arrival – was good for fourth in the NBA, with the Houston Rockets leading that category at 0.291.

While league-wide FTR is significantly up since the All-Star break, primarily due to it being artificially low to start the season as referees cracked down on players milking free throws, the 76ers have taken it to the extreme, leading the league at 0.374 following Harden's arrival – with only Philly and the New York Knicks (0.363) above third-placed Denver's 0.310.

No team has posted a FTR higher than 0.374 since Harden and Dwight Howard's 2013-14 Houston Rockets (0.386)

To say the 76ers have relied on free throws to sustain their scoring production is an understatement – since the trade, their 41.4 points in the paint per 100 possessions is the worst in the league, all while the offense revolves around a seven-foot-two behemoth in Embiid.

As has been the case with Harden's teams, specifically during his tenure in Houston, his offenses will live and die with free throws and three-pointers, with the 76ers upping their long-range attempts from 31.7 per 100 possessions to 35.6, moving from 26th in the league up to 11th.

It is irrefutable that Harden has changed this offense but, while Philadelphia's offensive efficiency has increased from 111 points per 100 possessions up to 115.4, their attack remains the 14th-best as league-wide efficiency is up across the board due to shooting fouls increasing and teams finding their rhythm.

On the other side, the Lakers are learning to live without injured centrepiece Anthony Davis, and the numbers have not been pretty on both ends.

Lacking a true interior presence since the All-Star break, the Lakers' FTR has plummeted from eighth in the league (0.251) to 26th (0.239), and their once-vaunted defense has become one of the league's worst.

As well as being 27th in overall defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, the Lakers are the league's second-worst team when it comes to allowing points in the paint.

So what happens when a movable object – the Lakers' paint defence – meets a stoppable force – Philadelphia's paint scoring?
 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS 

Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid

While Harden is a former MVP, Embiid is the favourite for this year's award, and his level of play is usually the deciding factor in whether the 76ers win or lose.

In wins this season, Embiid is averaging 31.7 points and 4.6 assists on 51 per cent shooting from the field, with those numbers dropping to 25.9 points and 3.7 assists on 43 per cent shooting in losses.

Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James

Simply put, since the All-Star break, the Lakers only win when James dominates.

In that period, the Lakers have a record of 4-9 when James plays, with the four-time champion averaging 45 points, 9.3 rebounds and seven assists in the four wins.


KEY BATTLE – Who wants to run?

A glaring weakness of both teams since the All-Star break has been transition defense, with the Lakers dead last, allowing 18.7 fastbreak points per 100 possessions.

The 76ers have not been much better, coming in at 28th, allowing 16.6 per 100 possessions.

Philadelphia have been criticised for being slow, while the Lakers have been criticised for being old, but which team is going to take advantage?

The Lakers appear more equipped to play an up-tempo style, coming in at fifth in the NBA in fastbreak points per game (14.9), and it is worth noting that no player has more fastbreak dunks this season than LeBron James' 36.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The 76ers won this season's only meeting, coming away with a 105-87 home win in a January game where Anthony Davis played, and played well for the Lakers in the critical absence of James.

Philadelphia won both meetings in the 2020-21 season, with the Lakers' last triumph coming on March 3, 2020.

LeBron James scored 38 points and notched up another triple-double upon his return to Cleveland, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 131-120 win over the Cavaliers on Monday.

Other than this season's All-Star Game, it was Akron-born James' only home visit. Having played 11 seasons in two stints with the Cavs, he was warmly received as he added 10 rebounds and 12 assists to those 38 points.

Russell Westbrook and D.J. Augustin added 20 points each for the Lakers, who moved three games clear of the 10th-placed San Antonio Spurs for Western Conference play-in calculations.

Meanwhile, the Cavs only just remain in sixth in the Eastern Conference at 41-31, one game clear of the Toronto Raptors in the first play-in spot.

Durant gives Jazz the business in Brooklyn

Kevin Durant was at his talismanic best, as the Brooklyn Nets won 114-106 at home to the Utah Jazz.

Durant had 37 points on 15-of-23 shooting, including four-of-seven from beyond the arc, as well as coming up with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Brooklyn look set to secure an Eastern Conference play-in spot at 38-34 in eighth, and despite 30 points for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell couldn't stop the Nets from snapping their three-game win streak.

Maxey catches fire in Heat win

Tyrese Maxey scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, propelling the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers to a 113-106 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.

Without Joel Embiid and James Harden, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz added 20 and 18 points respectively, while Maxey made critical buckets down the stretch.

In a game that was tight throughout, the 21-year-old came up big in the clutch, scoring on a drive plus the foul to give the Sixers a 106-101 lead with 2:18 remaining.

The Philadelphia 76ers confirmed star pair Joel Embiid and James Harden were sitting out Monday's game with the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.

Embiid was out with back soreness and Harden was missing as part of his right hamstring recovery amid the 76ers' sequence of three games in four nights.

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rovers had replied "possibly" when asked on Friday if either of the pair could be rested during their busy run of games.

However, Harden said after Sunday's 93-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors he was expecting to face the Heat.

The Heat lead the East with a 47-24 record, with the 76ers third ahead of Monday's games at 43-27.

Embiid is in MVP contention this season, averaging a league-high 29.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Harden, who switched to the 76ers from the Brooklyn Nets in February, is averaging 22.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists across the season.

The ascending Boston Celtics added another scalp to their resume, holding reigning MVP Nikola Jokic to his season-worst shooting percentage in a 124-104 win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

In a stunning year-on-year improvement, the Celtics have been the best defence in the NBA this season after finishing 17th in that department this past season.

With new coach Ime Udoka going all-in on a switching defensive system, it was theoretically going to be tested against the best passing big man in league history, and arguably the league's most dominant offensive force.

However, Jokic was bottled up similarly to everyone else the Celtics have played in 2022, going 8-of-23 (34.7 per cent) from the field in the blowout loss.

Jokic, who is shooting 57 per cent from the field for the season, had previously had his worst shooting performance when he went 6-of-17 (35.3 per cent) in an early-December loss against the Chicago Bulls.

Boston's two superstar wings combined for 60 points, as Jayson Tatum posted 30 points (11-of-17 shooting, 6-of-10 from three) with seven assists, while Jaylen Brown had 30 points (12-of-19 shooting, 3-of-6 from three) with six rebounds.

The ascending Boston Celtics added another scalp to their resume, holding reigning MVP Nikola Jokic to his season-worst shooting percentage in a 124-104 win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

In a stunning year-on-year improvement, the Celtics have been the best defence in the NBA this season after finishing 17th in that department this past season.

With new coach Ime Udoka going all-in on a switching defensive system, it was theoretically going to be tested against the best passing big man in league history, and arguably the league's most dominant offensive force.

However, Jokic was bottled up similarly to everyone else the Celtics have played in 2022, going 8-of-23 (34.7 per cent) from the field in the blowout loss.

Jokic, who is shooting 57 per cent from the field for the season, had previously had his worst shooting performance when he went 6-of-17 (35.3 per cent) in an early-December loss against the Chicago Bulls.

Boston's two superstar wings combined for 60 points, as Jayson Tatum posted 30 points (11-of-17 shooting, 6-of-10 from three) with seven assists, while Jaylen Brown had 30 points (12-of-19 shooting, 3-of-6 from three) with six rebounds.

Joel Embiid will keep playing through the pain as the Philadelphia 76ers push towards the NBA playoffs.

The five-time All-Star scored 32 points as the Sixers scored a 111-101 win against the Dallas Mavericks in their latest assignment, complementing 24 from James Harden.

A back problem is causing Embiid to feel the strain as he leads the team towards the postseason, but coach Doc Rivers believes the 28-year-old can stand the physical toll for now.

At 43-26 following Friday night's win, the Sixers are three games behind the Miami Heat, who lead the Eastern Conference, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Embiid added eight rebounds and tied a career-high with five steals, then offered some insight into his fitness state.

"I'm OK," he said. "I've just got to keep pushing. What, 13 more games? We're almost there. Then we will figure out the rest later. I'm fine. We've just got to keep pushing."

He added: "We did a really good job tonight. I think the activity we all had, especially the guys at the top of the zone, was huge, recovering, doing what they do best. It was good to see."

Despite the back bothering him of late, Embiid has played 19 consecutive games, only once dipping under 22 points in that stretch (19 points against Boston Celtics on February 15).

"He's just playing through everything," coach Rivers said, quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I go back to the same thing. He's in great shape. Conditioning allows you to play through injury, allows you to play through pain, and he's doing that."

Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

Joel Embiid and James Harden scored a combined 56 points as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Dallas Mavericks 111-101 on Friday.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Embiid scored 21 of his 32 points in the first half, including a fadeaway three on the buzzer to give the Sixers a 58-53 lead at the interval.

Luka Doncic put up a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists but was held to 25 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from the perimeter, in a poor shooting night.

At 43-26, the Sixers are now three games behind the Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference leaders, while the Mavericks are fifth in the Western Conference at 43-27.

Westbrook lifts Lakers to overtime win in Toronto

Russell Westbrook's three-pointer at the end of regulation propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to a 128-123 road win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime.

With 10.3 seconds remaining, the much-maligned Westbrook forced a turnover off a Raptors inbound before draining a contested triple from the wing, to tie the game at 116-116.

Both sides remain firmly placed in play-in calculations, though, with the Lakers ninth in the Western Conference at 30-40, while the Raptors are seventh in the East on 39-31.

Short-handed Hawks snap Memphis win streak

Without their two scoring leaders, the Atlanta Hawks secured an important win at home to the Memphis Grizzlies, emerging 120-105 victors.

In John Collins and Trae Young's absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic came up big with a season-high 30 points, while Delon Wright and Clint Capela also added 18 each.

Despite 29 points from Ja Morant on 11-for-23 shooting, the Grizzlies had a four-game win streak snapped, but still hold the NBA's second best record at 48-23.

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