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Jazz eclipse Suns, Embiid and Harden shine for Philadelphia 76ers

By AFP - Feb 28,2022 - Last updated at Mar 01,2022

James Harden (centre) of the Philadelphia 76ers passes the ball back to Joel Embiid in front of RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks during their NBA game in New York City on Sunday (AFP photo by Adam Hunger)

LOS ANGELES — The NBA-leading Phoenix Suns and Western Conference rivals Golden State tumbled Sunday as Joel Embiid and James Harden signalled the Philadelphia 76ers are a force to be reckoned with in the East.

The surging Utah Jazz, fuelled by 26 points from Donovan Mitchell, downed the Suns 118-114 to post their eighth victory in nine games.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert returned after missing six games with a sore right knee and non-COVID illness, scoring 16 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. That included a season-high eight offensive rebounds.

The Suns, who still own the best record in the NBA at 49-12, lost back-to-back games for the first time since dropping two on December 25 and 27.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 30 points. Cameron Johnson and Deandre Ayton added 23 apiece but Phoenix are clearly still finding their way in their third game since losing All-Star point guard Chris Paul to a broken thumb that could sideline him the rest of the regular season.

The Golden State Warriors, chasing the Suns for top spot in the West, couldn’t capitalise, surrendering a 21-point third-quarter lead in a 107-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in San Francisco.

On the eve of his 23rd birthday, Luka Doncic scored 34 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for Dallas, connecting on a pair of key baskets down the stretch and draining the clinching free-throws in the waning seconds.

Dallas out-scored Golden State 33-13 in the final period, when the Warriors made just four of their 18 attempts from the field.

Stephen Curry finished with 27 points and 10 assists for the Warriors, but without Klay Thompson and Draymond Green Golden State had no answer to the Mavs’ late charge.

In New York, Harden posted his first triple-double as a 76er and clicked again with star teammate Joel Embiid in their 125-109 victory over the Knicks.

Former Most Valuable Player Harden, playing his second game for the Sixers since arriving in a blockbuster trade from Brooklyn, notched the 68th triple-double of his career with 29 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds.

He also came up with five steals and proved the perfect complement to Cameroonian centre Embiid, who scored 37 points, pulled down nine rebounds and blocked four shots.

Tyrese Maxey got in on the offensive display, scoring 21 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

Embiid said that so far the addition of Harden — a two-time NBA scoring champion as well as a proven playmaker — was working just as Philadelphia had hoped.

“Unstoppable”, Embiid said of the Sixers’ offence with Harden in the mix. “What are you really gonna do? He’s a great passer and obviously I’ve got someone that attracts a lot of attention, too.

“So you’ve got to make a decision, do you stay on me or do you stay on him? And if you want to guard both of us, with the other guys, now you’ve got Matisse [Thybulle] driving to the rim or wide-open shooters.”

Philadelphia’s second straight victory saw them improve to 37-23. They are third in the Eastern Conference and just 2 1/2 games behind conference leaders Miami.

The Knicks seized the lead early in the fourth quarter, but seven straight Sixers points from Harden put Philadelphia back in front in the nip-and-tuck battle.

An aggressive Embiid set career highs with 23 made free throws and 27 attempts.

Harden said he was “just winging it” with his new team, but coach Doc Rivers found plenty to praise.

“The biggest thing was the steals, he had his hands everywhere, but I thought offensively, because they’re a pretty solid defensive team, they made us really think and figure things out on the fly,” Rivers said. “I thought James did a great job of orchestrating where guys should be.”

Elsewhere, Kelly Olynyk drained a jump shot from the baseline as time expired to lift the Detroit Pistons to a 127-126 overtime win over the Hornets in Charlotte.

The Los Angeles Clippers pulled out a close one in Houston, where they edged the Rockets 99-98.

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