Sixers’ Joel Embiid takes it to James Harden, Rockets

Joel Embiid relished the chance to face James Harden, and wasn’t going to let a little back tightness stop him.

Embiid had 32 points and 14 rebounds to lead the 76ers past fellow MVP contender Harden and the visiting Rockets 121-93 on Monday night.

“I love playing against guys you guys say are better than me,” Embiid said.

Harden, selected Western Conference Player of the Week earlier in the day, finished with 37 points, giving him 20 straight games with at least 30.

Philadelphia was without four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler (sore wrist), but Embiid more than made up for it.

“It was really fun for us,” Embiid said. “Don’t think it was fun for them.”

Embiid was questionable before the game with lower back soreness, and head coach Brett Brown hinted beforehand it might be best for the Philadelphia big man to sit out this one. Embiid had other intentions.

“I want to fight with my teammates,” he said. “Whatever I have to do, I’ll do.”

His 24 first-half points helped Philadelphia to a 65-50 halftime lead, and he punctuated the half by pinning Harden’s layup attempt with 7.5 seconds left for a crowd-pleasing block. They were separated with 38.7 seconds left in the half, with each issued a technical, after Harden took exception to Embiid’s foul on him.

The 76ers broke open the game in a dominant third quarter as they outscored Houston 29-13 to take a 94-63 advantage into the fourth period. Ben Simmons stole Harden’s pass, made a layup and finished a three-point play after being fouled by Harden to make it 73-52. The lead got as large as 31.

“We were due for a game like this,” Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni said.

With the game out of range, Harden sat out the fourth quarter.

“This is not a great way to rest him, but we rested him today,” D’Antoni said.

Nets 123, Kings 94: D’Angelo Russell had 31 points and eight assists, and surging Brooklyn won its fourth straight game by running away from visiting Sacramento in the second half. Reserve Bogdan Bogdanovic had 22 points and 11 assists for the Kings, but starters Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox both had quiet games.

Trail Blazers 109, Jazz 104: Damian Lillard scored 26 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 17 in the third quarter to lift visiting Portland past Utah. Nurkic finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and six blocks for the Blazers, who have won seven of nine.

Wizards 101, Pistons 87: Trevor Ariza scored 20 points, Otto Porter Jr. added 19 and host Washington turned in its best defensive performance this season in beating Detroit. Seven Washington players scored in double figures, including Bradley Beal with 16. Blake Griffin led the Pistons with 29 points and nine rebounds.

Celtics 107, Heat 99: Kyrie Irving had 26 points and 10 assists, Al Horford added 16 points and 12 rebounds and host Boston won its fourth straight game. Jayson Tatum added 19 points and Marcus Morris 17 for the Celtics, who won their ninth straight at home and improved to 18-5 at TD Garden.

Bucks 116, Mavericks 106: Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 15 rebounds, and host Milwaukee won its fifth straight game and its 12th in its past 14 to improve to 34-12. Luka Doncic had 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for Dallas, which has lost four in a row.

Pelicans 105, Grizzlies 85: Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic each scored 21 points, Jahlil Okafor and Julius Randle had 20, and balanced New Orleans beat host Memphis without injured forward Anthony Davis. Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 22 points.

Thunder 127, Knicks 109: Paul George scored 31 points and Russell Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for visiting Oklahoma City. The Knicks have lost six in a row and 14 of 15. They have dropped nine straight at Madison Square Garden.

Magic 122, Hawks 103: Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic scored 29 points apiece to lead Orlando past host Atlanta in the season’s first matchup between the Southeast Division rivals. Dewayne Dedmon led the Hawks with 24 points.

Bulls 104, Cavaliers 88: Zach LaVine scored 25 points and visiting Chicago broke a 10-game losing streak, beating Cleveland in a meeting of teams that began the day with the worst records in the NBA. Chicago did not trail and has won all three games this season against Cleveland, which has lost 16 of 17.

Anthony traded: Carmelo Anthony is going to Chicago, albeit only on paper. A source said the Rockets are trading Anthony and an undisclosed amount of cash to the Bulls in a deal that is expected to be completed Tuesday. The Bulls have no plans to play Anthony and will look either to trade him before the Feb. 7 deadline or ultimately waive him.

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