Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers insisted the team "have accomplished nothing" as they eye the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

The top-seeded 76ers lead the Washington Wizards 2-0 in the opening round of their NBA playoff series following Wednesday's 120-95 rout.

Philadelphia – eyeing their first championship since 1983 – are in a commanding position as they head to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday.

The 76ers have not advanced to the NBA Finals since 2001, with Philadelphia failing to make it beyond the Conference semi-finals in 2003, 2012, 2018 and 2019, while they were swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics last season.

Rivers – a championship winner during his time in charge of the Celtics – is taking nothing for granted, with the 76ers desperate to end their title drought this season.

"We have done nothing," Rivers told reporters after Friday's practice.

"We have won two games, you don't get anything until you win four, so we have accomplished nothing as far as we're concerned."

The 76ers are featuring in the playoffs for the fourth successive season – the franchise's longest streak since making the postseason in five straight campaigns from 1999-2003.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (22 points apiece) combined to guide the 76ers past the Wizards in Philadelphia midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019, while it was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019 – the streak tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

Tobias Harris has also been a key contributor for the 76ers against the Wizards after backing up his playoff career-high 37 points in Game 1 with 19 points and nine assists on Wednesday.

"They have grown and that’s key for us," said Rivers. "I think, through the year, you just see so many different coverages on how they're going to defend Ben. Every night, they're going to defend Ben in a different way."

Rivers also attempted to allay fitness concerns over Harris and Seth Curry.

"Tobias, I think he'll be good," added Rivers. "He went through most of the stuff today. Seth didn't go through anything, but we think he'll be good, but we just don't know."

Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons insisted he is "here to win" not to prove doubters wrong following his aggressive display as the Eastern Conference top seeds seized control against the Washington Wizards.

Simmons' shooting and scoring have been scrutinised since entering the league, but the NBA All-Star was influential in the 76ers' 120-95 rout of the Wizards in Game 2 on Wednesday.

In 29 minutes, Simmons posted 22 points – including 12 in the opening quarter – on 11-for-15 shooting, to go with nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and one block in Philadelphia midweek.

It was Simmons' fourth career 20-plus point playoff game and his first since 2019 as the Australian dismissed his critics.

"I'm not trying to stick to anybody in Philly," Simmons said, with the 76ers on track to progress from the first-round series. "I thought it was pretty hard to get 15 assists and 15 rebounds in the NBA in the playoffs.

"I thought that was pretty impressive. And we won. What y'all want? You want to win? For me, I'm here to win and I'm doing what I need to do to help my team win whatever it is.

"I'm not trying to prove anybody wrong or anything like that. I'm trying to do my job to win. I want to win a championship."

Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers described Simmons as "special" following his Game 1 performance.

"It didn't motivate me because what I did in the first game, my guys are feeling it," Simmons added. "Tobias [Harris] was scoring, Joel's [Embiid] scoring. That's the point of basketball right? People who have it going, you got to give them the ball.

"I'm not surprised Doc said that because Doc knows the game. A lot of these people who are saying that have never even touched a basketball or never played the game at a high level."

MVP hopeful and 76ers team-mate Joel Embiid also had 22 points at home to the Wizards, who will host Game 3 on Saturday.

It was Embiid's seventh consecutive 20-plus point playoff performance, dating back to 2019. The streak is tied with Allen Iverson for the 10th longest in Philadelphia postseason history.

Embiid hailed Simmons, saying: "I told him 'you've got all the space and all the time in the world. Just attack. He's physical and he's athletic and he can make plays."

Rivers also heaped praise on Simmons as the 76ers eye their first championship since 1983.

"We scored 125 points the first game," said Rivers. "It's all about us scoring points and whichever way we do it, I'm good with that.

"If we had scored 130 and he had the same numbers as the first game, that would have meant he was great in doing something else. That's what I mean. His value to us is almost, you can't measure it."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers labelled Ben Simmons "special" after the Eastern Conference top seeds made a winning start in the NBA playoffs.

Simmons, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid starred as the 76ers topped the Washington Wizards 125-118 in Game 1 of the first-round series on Sunday.

While Simmons only finished with six points on three-for-nine shooting, the All-Star tallied 15 rebounds and 15 assists at home to the eighth-seeded Wizards in Philadelphia.

Simmons joined Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain as the only 76ers players ever with 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a playoff game, earning praise from Rivers.

"I thought he was special," said Rivers. "Whoever he guarded struggled scoring, he created so many points for us, off the glass to three, off transition to three, creating switches that they didn’t want to have.

"He is just a treasure. He is something that you don't see a lot in this league and he has such a skill set that's so different. There's a lot of people that can't make what of him.

"All I see is his greatness and I just want him to keep doing what he's doing."

Simmons – as the 76ers eye their first championship since 1983 – added: "I just try to make winning plays and do what I can to help this team and be the point guard and run the team.

"Put guys in the right positions, run the right sets, if somebody’s feeling it, keep giving them the ball. I think overall today we did a good job of that."

Harris and MVP hopeful Embiid also flexed their muscles in front of a capped but vocal crowd at Wells Fargo Center.

A playoff career-high 37 points from Harris set the tone, while Embiid had 30 points, six rebounds and three assists.

Harris and Embiid became the first pair of 76ers to score 30-plus points in a playoff game in 31 years since Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins.

"Tobias, I have full faith in," Rivers said. "I said it early, I think he struggled the first couple of games, and just from the body of work, coaching them with the Clippers and knowing him and watching him what we are trying to do with him in the training camp, I just really believe it would take over at some point and it has."

Harris is bracing for a challenging playoff campaign, starting with Russel Westbrook, Bradley Beal and the in-form Wizards.

"Yesterday [Saturday] I was watching NBA games, and I was kind of surprised. I said, 'Man, all these games are really close.' It wasn't like a real big spread in any of them," Harris said. "And I think this whole playoffs, game in and game out, you're gonna see dogfights from all around the league.

"I mean, Washington, you know they've been one of the hottest teams after the All-Star break in the whole NBA, so for us, we know the power that they have and the guys that can make shots on the team. So that just adds to our focus as a group and knowing how locked in we need to be for this whole series, and that's only going to help us into where we're trying to go."

The 76ers, who were swept by the Boston Celtics in last season's first round, are dreaming big as they look to progress beyond the Conference semi-finals for the first time since 2001.

"You know we've been there," Embiid said. "And we also have a goal, and to get to that goal, we got to get through these guys. So you know, the mindset is just me, it doesn't matter if it's a week or two weeks off, it doesn't matter if we haven't played in a while. That should not be an excuse."

Doc Rivers told his Philadelphia 76ers team to be proud of clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference but says the accomplishment is only one part of their ultimate goal.

Just five years since the 76ers recorded a 10-win season, a 122-97 triumph over the Orlando Magic on Friday secured top billing in the East for the first time in 20 years.

Seth Curry put up 20 points while Joel Embiid contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds as the 76ers made certain of home-court advantage for the playoffs.

Head coach Rivers was keen to talk up what his team have done, while also ensuring minds stay focused on the main prize: a first NBA title for the franchise since 1983.

"It's an accomplishment. I don't want to downplay it, but I told our guys to enjoy, I don't want to call it a moment, I told them to enjoy the second, because it's not what we want, but it's part of what you can get on the way to what you want," Rivers said.

"I think for this team, as young as we are, to have home-court [advantage] is really important. It's nice to have. We should feel proud of it."

The last time the 76ers topped the Eastern Conference ahead of the postseason, Philadelphia – led by MVP Allen Iverson – went on to reach the NBA Finals, though they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1.

Philadelphia have not advanced that far since, failing to make it beyond the conference semi-finals in 2003, 2012, 2018 and 2019, while they were swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics last season.

The 76ers round out their regular season with another clash against the Magic on Sunday.

The Philadelphia 76ers got back to winning ways as Doc Rivers hailed the returning Ben Simmons and his defensive combination with Matisse Thybulle.

After losing four in a row, Philadelphia were more like their old selves in a 121-90 drubbing of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.

Simmons missed the string of losses due to what he described as "a viral thing", but he returned with six-of-eight shooting, four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Rivers is convinced Simmons and Thybulle have a big role to play in paving the way for success this season.

"I don't think I've ever had that," Rivers said of the wing defence strength.

"I've had an incredibly great defensive team... but not at those positions. It's pretty awesome to watch. Those two guys, their closing ability on shots is excellent, absolutely remarkable to watch."

Simmons looked as good as new, according to Rivers.

"He had great energy, great pace. It was Ben being Ben," said the coach. "We lose a lot of pace when he's not on the floor, that's for sure."

As for Simmons, the 24-year-old All-Star welcomed his coach's words, saying: "That means a lot. [Thybulle] has got a high IQ on the floor and it's tough for teams to score when there's two guys like that on the floor."

Simmons added: "I'm just glad to be back. I missed being with the fellas. The energy was great tonight."

The Sixers sit second in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the Brooklyn Nets.

"It's going to be on us to take care of business down the stretch," Simmons said. "We've got a lot of games that are going to be all-important at this stage.

"We're looking forward to the challenge and obviously we need to get in the playoffs. I'm glad I'm back now and we have a few games left to really get that first seeding and I think we can do it.

"If everyone's healthy and able to play, I think we're able to get that. Looking forward, we've got to take control and get that first seeding."

The Milwaukee Bucks have been the regular season pacesetters in the NBA's Eastern Conference in recent seasons, but they sit third heading into the closing stages of the 2020-21 campaign.

It is the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets who instead lead the way, tied with 39-20 records - 2.5 games clear of Milwaukee.

Yet the Sixers had first place outright prior to Thursday's game against the Bucks in which they failed to recover from a tough first quarter.

Philly do not have to wait long for revenge, though, with the two teams meeting once more at Fiserv Forum on Saturday.

MVP challenges are on the line as well as seedings in the East as two potential title contenders get prepared to go again.

TOP PERFORMERS

Joel Embiid - Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid was the MVP favourite until a knee injury at the start of March that forced him to miss almost a month of action.

He was averaging 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and the 76ers had a 24-7 record with him on the floor. They were 2-5 in the seven games Embiid missed prior to his extended lay-off.

The center returned earlier this month, seemingly with enough time to wrestle the top individual award back from Nikola Jokic, and he has since averaged 30.1 points, missing only a single game.

But the Sixers have now lost three in a row and Embiid's hopes appear to be fading after he was outshone by the reigning MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo - Milwaukee Bucks

It does not appear there will be a third MVP win in a row for Antetokounmpo after his momentum was checked by sitting six straight games.

But the 'Greek Freak' was back to his best against the 76ers, scoring a game-high 27 points, and can focus instead on a first title triumph in the postseason.

And Antetokounmpo feels playing a fellow challenger again on Saturday "prepares you for the playoffs".

"Playing teams back to back is awesome," he said.

"On Saturday, they're going to come out and they're going to play harder, they're going to try to execute. We've got to do the same. We've got to do exactly the same."

KEY BATTLE - SLOW START CAN SINK SIXERS

For the 76ers, "playing harder" will have to start from the tip-off. Their 14-point first-quarter deficit proved too significant against such a talented team.

As the Sixers missed one of the best defensive players in the league in Ben Simmons due to illness, Milwaukee firmly had the upper hand early on.

Philadelphia had no answer as they allowed 40 points, their second-worst mark in a first quarter this year. This came as the Bucks shot at 73.7 per cent from the field through 12 minutes, the best rate among the Sixers' 2020-21 opponents.

Jrue Holiday, a star on both ends, had seven of his 12 points in the first three minutes alone.

"That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted," Doc Rivers said. "We didn't offer any resistance."

HEAD TO HEAD

Thursday's game was the teams' second this season and the second Milwaukee victory after they won in overtime in March, again led by Antetokounmpo (32 points, 15 rebounds).

Antetokounmpo has averaged 20.8 points for his career but 22.6 against the 76ers, against whom he boasts a 19-5 record and posted a career-high 52 in 2019.

The Bucks have a 113-102 lead over Philadelphia all-time in the regular season.

The Philadelphia 76ers are back on top in the Eastern Conference and All-Star Ben Simmons said the NBA championship hopefuls intend to stay there.

Simmons scored 17 points to complement MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who led the way with 39 points and 13 rebounds in Wednesday's 123-117 victory over short-handed rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

The 76ers almost surrendered a 22-point lead before holding to improve to 38-17 at the top of the east, ahead of the star-studded Nets (37-18), who were without Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin.

"We want that one seed," Simmons told reporters post-game.

"We have a pretty tough schedule coming up with Milwaukee and the Clippers, but I believe we're more than capable of it."

76ers head coach Doc Rivers attempted to rest his two stars in the fourth quarter against a depleted Brooklyn team, but All-Star duo Simmons and Embiid had to return late and close out the win. 

"They should not have had to come back in," Rivers said. 

Philadelphia were not about to risk letting the game slip away considering the stakes.

The 76ers are now 21-5 at home and remaining on top in the east would keep them there throughout the early rounds of the playoffs. 

Embiid had his 11th game this season with 30-plus points and 10-plus rebounds. It is tied with Denver Nuggets star and fellow MVP contender Nikola Jokic for the second most in the NBA, only behind Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"That fourth quarter, that come back, it was just weird," Embiid said. "I will say, I felt like I sat too long and I kinda lost my rhythm. Them fronting and trapping had nothing to do with how our play in that stretch when I came back.

"We just didn't have the same physicality that we had for the first three quarters."

Should the 76ers meet the Nets in the playoffs, Philadelphia know they will see a far different team than they did Wednesday, but he is not concerned. 

"We know exactly who they are and they know exactly who we are," Rivers told reporters.

"When the playoffs start, it's a whole new beast. We'll be ready for them and I'm sure they'll be ready for us."

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid believes he is still in consideration for the NBA's MVP, insisting he has been the best player all season when fit.

Embiid was reportedly the frontrunner for the league's Most Valuable Player award before missing 10 games with a knee injury.

The four-time All-Star scored 24 points in his return against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 3, and he followed that up with 35 points in a win over the Boston Celtics.

Embiid struggled in Friday's loss against the New Orleans Pelicans – posting 14 points on just five-for-15 shooting – but he was close to his best with 27 points and nine rebounds as the 76ers took down the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-93 on Saturday.

"When it comes to the MVP stuff, I feel like I'm still right there," Embiid said post-game.

"When I'm on the floor, I feel like I've been the best all season, just doing my thing.

"Just dominating with the help of my team-mates and the coaches putting me in the right positions to succeed."

Embiid finishing 10-of-17 from the field, making seven of nine free-throws to lift the 76ers on the road against the Thunder.

The 76ers big man had 21 points in the first half – his 12th 20-point first half of the season – matching Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic for the most in the NBA.

Embiid is now one of three players with at least 20 20-point halves (first or second), joining Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors superstars Stephen Curry.

"To get 21 by half-time, I was shocked by that," said 76ers head coach Doc Rivers. "I didn't see that 21 which tells you how efficient he was being.

"I thought he did a great job of facilitating tonight as well. The brace bothers him, there's no doubt about that. He's gonna have to wear it for a couple more weeks I think, hopefully, less, but he's getting through it, and he's doing the best that he can."

In 2020-21, Embiid is averaging 29.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the 76ers – who are top of the Eastern Conference alongside the Brooklyn Nets.

On wearing a knee brace, Embiid added: "It just feels like every shot that I take, I just have a hitch and it's not a full motion or it's not as smooth as it was in the past, even though the makes, when I make him. I just got to get used to it and get back to where I was before.

"When you have a brace cutting that blood flow and blood circulation on your legs, my legs get tired fast. It's an adjustment, but it's there to protect me so I just got to keep doing it."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said it was an easy decision to sit Joel Embiid for the NBA clash with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Embiid was absent from Sunday's frustrating 116-100 defeat at home to the Memphis Grizzlies after returning from a 10-game injury lay-off on Saturday.

All-Star and MVP candidate Embiid posted 24 points, eight rebounds and two assists in Philadelphia's 122-113 loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves, having been sidelined due to bone bruising to his left knee.

The 76ers did not take any risks with Embiid, however, as they prevented their star from featuring in back-to-back games.

"His first game back was yesterday [Saturday]," Rivers explained prior to the 76ers' defeat to the Grizzlies in Philadelphia.

"I would say, any player, not just Joel, any player who's been out for three weeks and plays in a game, you probably don't play on the next night. It's just smart."

Rivers added: "This one is pretty simple. I don't think this is a hard decision for any of us.

"All the other ones, we go by game by game and day by day, but this one didn't take a lot of thought."

The 76ers and Brooklyn Nets share identical 34-16 records atop the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers says Joel Embiid is "close" to a playing return after more than a fortnight on the sidelines with bone bruising in his knee.

Embiid, 27, has not played for the 76ers since their March 13 win over the Washington Wizards, when he went down injured.

The 76ers have remained top of the Eastern Conference in his absence but lost their second straight game on Tuesday, going down 104-95 to the Denver Nuggets.

"Whenever Joel comes back, we’re going to go back to our normal rotation, but I have no idea," Rivers said.

"He’s close. I can tell you that. He’s working every day, I get reports back daily, and he looks good. He’s doing well."

Given Philadelphia's position on the standings, the franchise is focusing on ensuring the Cameroonian forward is fully fit for the play-offs.

"He has to clear certain medical steps," Rivers said. "I don’t even know what those are, but he has to.

"Then the other thought with us, and the way I’ve always tried to do it, if you can come back and just keep playing, then you’re healthy, but if you can come back and play one game or two games and then have to sit, then you’re not ready yet. If you know what I’m saying.

"We want to make sure when Joel comes back, he’s back. Not in and out and I think that’s very important."

Doc Rivers has backed his old team the Los Angeles Clippers to battle it out with the LA Lakers to take the honours in the Western Conference.

The Clippers spoiled Rivers' return as they downed his Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers 122-112 on Saturday.

It was Rivers' first meeting with the Clippers since he was fired in the offseason, having let slip a 3-1 series lead in the second round of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets.

But it was not a warm welcome on the court, where the 76ers had their four-game winning run brought to a grinding halt.

Kawhi Leonard put up 19 of his 28 points in a dazzling first half, with Paul George contributing 24.

It left Rivers in no doubt as to who the leading contenders are in the West, with the Clippers and the Lakers getting the nod ahead of the Utah Jazz – who currently lead the way in the standings – the Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers.

"I thought Denver had a great trade deadline – they did great moves," Rivers said. "Utah is playing unbelievable basketball, so they are going to be right there. Portland, I thought improved their team as well.

"But I still think it's the Lakers and the Clippers."

With Ty Lue now at the helm, Rivers acknowledged there are many differences to the team he coached, but pointed out that the Clippers had a solid platform to build on following his departure.

"They're a different team," Rivers said. "They don't have a lot of the same guys, [but] they run a lot of the same stuff that I run.

"Going through [their plays at] shootaround today, I thought we were going through our shootaround at times. But I wouldn't have changed much offensively, either. I mean, they were pretty darn good last year.

"The difference is they've had a chance to practice together, you know? And you can see that. I think they've given the ball to PG [George] more, which I think has helped him. So they've made some good changes.

"The biggest change I see also is defensively. I think they are a better defensive team. It's funny, the numbers don't exactly say that, but when I watch them, I think they're going to be a better defensive team, one of the better defensive teams when the playoffs start."

Terance Mann had a season-high 23 points for the Clippers on 10-of-12 shooting from the field, while he made both of his three-point attempts.

The 76ers had a six-game road winning run ended, despite a game-high 29 points from Tobias Harris.

The Los Angeles Clippers spoiled Doc Rivers' return as they topped the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers 122-112 in the NBA.

Rivers reunited with the Clippers for the first time since being fired and joining the 76ers in the offseason, having led the Los Angeles franchise to six playoff appearances.

But Rivers did not have much to celebrate after the 76ers had their four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday.

Kawhi Leonard posted 28 points – 19 in the first half – and Clippers team-mate Paul George added 24 of his own in Los Angeles.

Terance Mann had a season-high 23 points for the Clippers on 10-of-12 shooting from the field, while he made both of his three-point attempts.

The 76ers had a six-game road winning run ended, despite a game-high 29 points from Tobias Harris.

 

Mitchell sparks Jazz

Donovan Mitchell put up 35 points as the NBA-leading Utah Jazz defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 126-110. Mitchell was efficient in Utah, where he was 12-of-17 shooting from the field, to go with his five three-pointers from seven attempts in 28 minutes. All-Star team-mate Rudy Gobert (16 points and 14 rebounds) contributed a double-double.

Gregg Popovich became the third coach in NBA history to reach 1,300 regular-season wins following the San Antonio Spurs' 120-104 victory against the Chicago Bulls. Only Don Nelson (1,335) and Lenny Wilkens (1,332) have had 1,300 wins or more. All-Star Nikola Vucevic had 21 points and nine rebounds in his debut for the Bulls after being traded by the lowly Orlando Magic.

Zion Williamson's 38 points led the New Orleans Pelicans past the Dallas Mavericks 112-103. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 30 points off the bench for the beaten Mavericks.

Russell Westbrook's triple-double of 19 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists fuelled a 106-92 win for the Washington Wizards against the Detroit Pistons.

The Milwaukee Bucks were upstaged 102-96 by the New York Knicks despite double-doubles from two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (23 points and 10 rebounds), Jordan Nwora (21 points and 10 rebounds) and Brook Lopez (12 points and 10 rebounds).

 

Awful Richardson

The Mavericks went down to the Pelicans and Josh Richardson struggled. The shooting guard finished one-of-11 from the field. Richardson missed all four of his attempts from beyond the arc for a measly four points in 34 minutes.

Mike Scott – in the starting five for the 76ers – finished with just three points in Los Angeles. He was one-of-six from the field, making just one three-pointer in 29 minutes.

 

Barnes calls game!

With the Sacramento Kings trailing 98-97, Harrison Barnes nailed a buzzer-beating three after catching a full-court pass to sink the Cleveland Cavaliers. De'Aaron Fox's 36 points set the tone for the Kings, who edged the Cavaliers 100-98.

 

Saturday's results

Washington Wizards 106-92 Detroit Pistons
New York Knicks 102-96 Milwaukee Bucks
Houston Rockets 129-107 Minnesota Timberwolves
San Antonio Spurs 120-104 Chicago Bulls
New Orleans Pelicans 112-103 Dallas Mavericks
Boston Celtics 111-94 Oklahoma City Thunder
Utah Jazz 126-110 Memphis Grizzlies
Los Angeles Clippers 122-112 Philadelphia 76ers
Sacramento Kings 100-98 Cleveland Cavaliers

 

Suns at Hornets

The high-flying Phoenix Suns (30-14) – second in the west – will visit the in-form Charlotte Hornets (23-21) on Sunday. Charlotte have won three straight games to sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers did little to disguise his irritation after Dwight Howard was ejected on his return to the Staples Center.

Howard and fellow former Los Angeles Laker Danny Green were presented with their 2020 championship rings before Thursday's encounter, which the Sixers won 109-101.

That was little thanks to Howard, who was dismissed by referee Jane Fitzgerald between the first and second quarters after intentionally walking into the Lakers' Montrezl Harrell.

Howard and Harrell had already been called for double technical fouls and the former's punishment as the altercation resumed meant an automatic disqualification

"Clowns. Guys just joking around. It's ridiculous on both parts. I didn't like, it, bottom line," Rivers said in an immediate reaction on the court and victory over the slumping Lakers did not soften his view too much.

"I just thought it was a very selfish play," he said, per ESPN.

"You got one tech, you can't get another one. We just have to have better discipline.

"I get it. I know there's a lot of emotion. But we had one center on our team, and he got thrown out.

"I was not very happy with that one. I know it's an emotional game. But he's a veteran. We got to have better discipline."

Harrell joined the Lakers in the immediate aftermath of Howard's surprise switch to Philadelphia.

Although the source of their bad blood remains unclear, Harrell was unrepentant afterwards, having theatrically waved Howard off the court as he remonstrated with Fitzgerald.

"I'm not backing down from nobody, man. I don't take that lightly. I don't take none of that disrespect," he said.

"You're not gonna push me all around the court and just feel like you're gonna big-boy me and just attack me or whatever.

"It's not in my blood, it will never be in my blood. I don't care what nobody feels about it, I don't care who don't like me. It is what it is."

James Harden believes Brooklyn Nets have found good chemistry on the court despite the absence of key men Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said Durant will not be risked for road games against Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons this week but is the final phase of rehabilitation.

Durant has been sidelined by a hamstring strain since mid-February and was absent from the team that topped the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112 on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old averages 29 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists from 19 games, but Nash said he will be absent again for the trips to Utah and Detroit on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

Harden led the way for the Nets against the Trail Blazers with a double-double as they go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia 76ers the Eastern Conference.

He posted 25 points and a career high-tying 17 assists to fuel the Nets in Portland as they won without Durant and fellow superstar Irving, who was absent for personal reasons.

Harden claimed the Nets have clicked into gear ahead of meeting with the Jazz on Wednesday.

"The team chemistry, it's there. It's right where we need it to be," the 31-year-old told NBA.com

"Obviously missing Kevin and Kyrie, I think everyone else has a sense of what their roles are, and they're doing it to the best of their ability every single night. 

"I'm really proud of the guys. In order to be a special team like we're more than capable of being, we've got to have a sense of urgency every possession.

"Our sense of urgency in the way we play and our effort and our intensity on the defensive end, has to be there no matter what."

On the Jazz's recent improvements Harden added: "I think they're healthy. They're healthy and they finally have clicked.

"I think that loss in the playoffs in the bubble last year got to them a little bit and so they have a fully healthy team that's well coached and everybody knows their role and they have a great system and it works for them."

The Nets (30-14) remain within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (31-13) who held on to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-98 on Tuesday.

Behind Tobias Harris' 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons' 22 points, the 76ers earned their fifth consecutive road victory – the team's longest winning streak away from home since winning seven straight in 2018.

76ers coach Doc Rivers was pleased with the natural rhythm to the way in which Harris performed as he turns his attention to Thursday's game with the LA Lakers.

Rivers said: ''What I liked about his game, he didn't force it, he kind of just let the game come to him. And he made plays, not just with his shot but with the pass.

''As a group, we've won nine out of 10 games, the guys are playing good basketball - no need to talk about it."

Tobias Harris was inspired to prove the Philadelphia 76ers can compete without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons after leading his team to a 129-105 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Embiid missed a fourth straight game with a bruised left knee, while Simmons was a late omission after experiencing knee soreness on Saturday morning.

With fellow starter Seth Curry (ankle) also missing, the 76ers were heavily depleted but managed to chalk up the win with Harris in supreme form – falling just shy of a triple double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Shake Milton tallied 28 points and Danny Green chipped in with 18 as the 76ers rallied in the absence of their key men.

For Harris, it was about making a point about the strength in depth of the roster.

"Are we willing to fall into the distraction of, 'hey, we don't have two of our top dogs?', or are we willing to embrace it?" Harris said.

"I take that stuff personal when people believe we can't win without those guys, because I know how much talent we have as a group and I know how well we play together as a team as a whole.

"We have a culture and a system here that works. When we trust it and do what is asked of us, we're a hell of a team."

Philadelphia's stats sheet was impressive. In the first quarter alone, they went 16-of-26 shooting and made six of their eight three-pointers to race into a 42-21 lead.

Late in the third they led by as much as 26 points and by the end of the game were 48 of 86 on shooting, making 11 of 23 from downtown.

Coach Doc Rivers said of Harris: "He really set the tone tonight with his attitude and then obviously his play. His total play was phenomenal.

"With all those guys out, what we did was execute well."

The 76ers are top of the Eastern Conference and now have a 29-13 record. They have a short road trip on Sunday to face the New York Knicks, seventh in the division, at Madison Square Garden.

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