Joel Embiid enhanced his MVP credentials with a 43-point masterclass as the Philadelphia 76ers got back to winning ways with victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday.
Sixers big man Embiid had 14 rebounds and two assists as Philadelphia pulled away in the fourth quarter for a convincing 121-106 win.
It was the 10th time this season that Embiid has posted 40 points or more as well as 10 or more rebounds in a single game.
The Sixers were buoyed by the return of star signing James Harden, who was rested for Saturday’s defeat on the road to Eastern Conference leaders Miami.
Harden’s return to the starting line-up gave Embiid time and space to work his magic after he was stymied by Miami’s defense on Saturday.
“He just got it in rhythm,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of Embiid’s performance.
“We didn’t force it. We got him in the right spots. Joel one-on-one is very difficult.
“He’s healthy, he’s running the floor, he’s beating people down the floor.”
Harden finished with 16 points and 14 assists, while rising star Tyrese Maxey added 17 points — 13 of them coming in the fourth quarter.
Georges Niang caught the eye with 14 points from the bench, 12 of them coming from three-point range, including two late in the fourth.
The Sixers improved to 40-24 with the win, second in the Eastern Conference standings.
Rivers, however, believes there is plenty of room for improvement.
“We won the game, but I can’t say we played great tonight. We know that,” Rivers said.
“We’ve got to play better. We were sloppy at times on offense, stagnant. We have to figure that out and we will. We’re a team that is progressing all the time, getting better, but we’re not there yet.”
The Bulls fell to 39-26 and have now lost five straight games.
Zach LaVine led the Chicago scoring with 26 points, while DeMar DeRozan added 23.
Popovich close to record
Elsewhere on Monday, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich edged closer to owning the record for most wins in NBA history after his team defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 117-110.
The victory means Popovich is now level with Don Nelson on 1,335 career regular season wins. Popovich can pass the record on Wednesday when the Spurs face the Toronto Raptors at home.
The 73-year-old Popovich, who has been with the Spurs since 1996 and has led the team to five NBA championships during his 26 years with the club, reached Nelson’s record wins tally in 370 fewer games.
In other games on Monday, Eastern Conference leaders Miami extended their unbeaten streak to three games with a comfortable rout over lowly Houston in Florida.
Tyler Herro poured in 31 points, and Jimmy Butler finished with 21 as the Heat improved to 44-22 at the top of the standings.
Bam Adebayo added 18 points, while the Heat also welcomed back Victor Oladipo, who returned from nearly a year-long injury absence with 11 points in just under 15 minutes on the court.
In Denver, Nikola Jokic scored a 32-point triple double as the Nuggets sent the Golden State Warriors spinning to a fifth straight loss.
Jokic finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists as the Nuggets romped to a 131-124 victory against an under-powered Warriors team missing Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.