Joel Embiid starred again with 38 points as the Philadelphia 76ers picked up a sixth straight win with a 118-109 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
The 76ers, third in the East just a place ahead of the Cavs, were in a close contest until the end when Tyrese Maxey sunk a three-pointer and Philadelphia put away five free throws in the final 51 seconds to secure the win.
That all came after Embiid was initially ejected after being called for his sixth foul for pushing off on Evan Mobley with four minutes 12 seconds left on the clock.
But 76ers coach Doc Rivers challenged the call successfully and while he had to be careful for the remainder, Embiid helped steer his side to a significant victory.
Embiid, who also had 18 rebounds and four blocks, said he had been given the benefit of the doubt by the officials.
The six-times All Star is a contender for this season’s MVP award but said his focus was elsewhere.
“I am just trying to win, to get as many wins as we can and to kind of get the group together, doing our job. My team-mates are making my job easy. We are doing it as a team,” he said.
“I am excited about the post-season but we have a lot of games coming up in the regular season, we have to take them one at a time and try to get better every day,” he added.
Embiid was supported by James Harden, who had 28 points, and Maxey, who put up 23.
Philadelphia are now just half a game behind the second-placed Boston Celtics and own the tie-breaker over Cleveland.
The Celtics had their work cut out in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves, finally emerging with a 104-102 win.
Jaylen Brown put up 35 points and Jayson Tatum scored 22 with the latter making sure of the win with two free throws at the end.
‘Whatever it takes’
The Celtics struggled with their shooting — they were 40.5% from the field and 12 of 40 from three-pointers, but their defense delivered enough to grind out the win.
“We just stayed the course. I think defensively we won the game,” said Brown.
“Whatever it takes to get a win. We have got to trust each other as team-mates, that is part of being a good team, we have got to keep building those habits,” he added.
Elsewhere, Steph Curry erupted for 50 points but could not prevent the Golden State Warriors falling 134-126 to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Curry made 20-of-28 from the field including eight three-pointers but the Warriors were undone at the other end by a balanced Clippers offense that saw six players in double figures.
Kawhi Leonard led the Clippers scoring with 30 points.
The Miami Heat routed the Western Conference’s third-placed team, the Memphis Grizzlies, 138-119.
The Grizzlies remain without their star guard Ja Morant, who on Wednesday was suspended eight games after streaming a video of himself holding a gun while intoxicated in a nightclub.
The suspension covers the six games Morant has already missed followed disciplinary action from his team and he will be eligible to play again from Monday.
Without him the Grizzlies found themselves down 28 points at the end of the third quarter, allowing Miami to rest Jimmy Butler, who had made 23 points, for the fourth quarter.
Bam Adebayo scored 26 and Tyler Herro 24 as the Heat produced season-best shooting of 59.8%.
The injury-hit Los Angeles Lakers fell to a 114-110 defeat to the Houston Rockets, the bottom team in the West.
The Lakers were without star LeBron James and key man Anthony Davis and shot just 37.4% from the field.
Austin Reaves top-scored for the Lakers, coming off the bench to make 24 points, while Kevin Porter top-scored for Houston with 27 points.
The Dallas Mavericks, without their injured stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, won a scrappy game with the San Antonio Spurs 137-128.
De’Aaron Fox drained a three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left to give the Sacramento Kings a 117-114 victory at the Chicago Bulls.
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