Reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks claimed another big win on Friday as they toppled the Chicago Bulls 118-112.

Jrue Holiday came up big down the stretch to finish on 26 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points and 16 rebounds as the Bucks made it three wins on the spin.

While the Bucks are regaining form at the right time, the Bulls have now lost four on the bounce, though they hold an identical 39-25 record to Milwaukee.

Holiday hit the game-winning layup with less than two seconds left in the Bucks' win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday and he scored 15 points in the final quarter to help ensure the Bucks' 14th win against the Bulls in their last 15 meetings.

DeMar DeRozan has 29 points but was kept well contained overall, with Zach LaVine top scoring for Chicago with 30.

It was far from plain sailing for the Bucks, however, with Chicago having overturned an initial 14-point deficit to lead by seven after the third quarter.

Suns edge out Knicks as Randle's temper flares 

Next up on the Bucks' tough run are the NBA-leading Phoenix Suns, who scraped onto 51 wins for the season with a 115-114 triumph over the New York Knicks.

Cameron Johnson hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to snag a comeback victory and finish with a career-high 38 points in the process.

The Suns, without Chris Paul and Devin Booker, looked set to lose out with the Knicks leading by 14 in the third quarter, only for Julius Randle to be ejected after a confrontation with Johnson.

Sixers make it five in a row

The Philadelphia 76ers reeled off a fifth straight win as they dispatched the Cleveland Cavaliers 125-119.

James Harden had 25 points and 11 rebounds to continue his strong start, while Joel Embiid got a relatively low, by his standards, 22 points on the board. That was no matter for Philadelphia, though, as Tyrese Maxey scored 33 points, with his haul including five three-pointers.

The Utah Jazz had a shocker as they went down 124-90 to the New Orleans Pelicans, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 33 points was not enough as the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and there were victories for the Houston Rockets, the Atlanta Hawks, the Detroit Pistons and the Orlando Magic.

James Harden declared Philadelphia "feels like home" after starring on his home debut for the 76ers in their 123-108 victory against the New York Knicks.

After playing his part in road wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Knicks, all eyes were on Harden for his Wells Fargo Center bow on Wednesday.

The 10-time NBA All-Star did not disappoint as he dazzled with 26 points, nine assists and as many rebounds to make it three wins from three since arriving from the Brooklyn Nets.

Harden missed the 76ers' previous home game with a niggling hamstring injury but took little time to settle into his new surroundings, roared on by a capacity crowd.

Reflecting on his first home game for his new side, Harden said he feels extra motivated to repay supporters.

"It's just exciting. The love, the fans, it feels like home," he said. "Just the love, the support, man, from looking around, hearing, 'We love you James.'

"That right there makes me go out and play harder, and I just wanted to do whatever it takes to get the win.

"I feel like you can put me anywhere in the room and I can fit in. Here is no different. Just see what you have and try your best to fit in. 

"I've got to be the best James Harden I can be in every aspect."

 

The Sixers have now won four in a row and trail Eastern Conference leaders the Miami Heat by just three games ahead of Saturday's showdown in Florida, which comes hot on the heels of Friday's meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

"Every game for us is gonna be tough," Harden added. "We're new, we're fairly new, we're still learning each other.

"Every game is going to be a learning experience for us, and we've got to just find ways to continue to chip away, continue to get better, win or lose. 

"Obviously it's better when you win to figure it out, but it's going to be great tests for us and we're really looking forward to it."

Harden has accrued 82 points across his first three games for the Sixers, totalling 110 minutes on the court, for an average of 27.3 points per game.

That compares to 22.5 across 44 games for the Nets this season.

Despite Harden's efforts, it was Joel Embiid who led the scoring for Philadelphia against the Knicks with 27 points in another encouraging individual and team display.

While it is still early on, Embiid is just as excited as the supporters about what Harden can bring to the side.

"I mean, we all just fit together," Embiid said. "You've got someone in James that comes in with his experience and his playmaking ability, scoring ability

"You add up what he adds and he's been amazing, and what we have on the team. It all fits."

James Harden continued his impressive start to life with the Philadelphia 76ers by dazzling in Wednesday's 123-108 victory against the New York Knicks on his home debut.

The 10-time NBA All-Star starred with 26 points, nine assists and nine rebounds to make it three wins from three since arriving from the Brooklyn Nets last month.

Joel Embiid led the scoring with 27 points, while Tyrese Maxey added 25 as the 76ers won for a fourth game in a row and improved to 38-23 for the season.

Doc Rivers' side now sit two games back of the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings after the latter lost 120-119 to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Heat led by 14 points with six minutes to play but could not see out a fifth victory in a row, with Jrue Holiday's driving layup with 1.9 seconds to go completing the comeback.

Defending NBA champions Milwaukee had Giannis Antetokounmpo to thank for the much-needed win, the two-time MVP registering 28 points, 17 rebounds and five assists.

 


Suns reach milestone mark

The Phoenix Suns became the first team to reach 50 wins this season by easing to a 120-90 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at Footprint Center.

Cam Johnson scored 20 points and Deandre Ayton added 18 as the Suns made light work of being without Chris Paul and Devin Booker, the latter entering the league's health and safety protocols.

Portland briefly put up a fight and were ahead early in the second quarter, but the hosts rallied to lead 63-48 at half-time and pulled further ahead to keep a two-game lead over the Chicago Bulls atop the Eastern Conference.


Pelicans show unity with Ukraine

The New Orleans Pelicans wore yellow socks for their 125-95 win over the Sacramento Kings in a show of solidarity with Ukraine after the country was invaded by Russia.

"It's a big mess," said Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 17 points and 14 rebounds. "We're just trying to bring more attention. The enemy is still out there. Innocent people are still dying. 

"The whole world is talking about sanctions, support, prayers – but something else has to be done because the war is still going on. It's been a tough seven days."
 
Elsewhere on Wednesday, injury-depleted Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off a surprise 119-107 win over the Denver Nuggets, while Donovan Mitchell scored 37 points as the Utah Jazz held off the Houston Rockets 132-127.

The Cleveland Cavaliers lost for a fifth time in six games with a 119-98 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, despite the return of Darius Garland from injury, and the Indiana Pacers beat the Orlando Magic 122-114 thanks to Malcolm Brogdon's 31 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

James Harden recorded his first triple-double for the Philadelphia 76ers who flexed their muscle with a dominant 125-109 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday.

Harden had 29 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists, while Joel Embiid top scored with 37 points along with nine rebounds and four blocks.

Embiid made a season-high 23 free-throws, heading to the line 27 times across the game as the 76ers relentlessly attacked the rim.

The 76ers made 39 free-throws for the game, which was the most of any team this season.

Philadelphia had contributions from beyond their star pair, though, with Tyrese Maxey scoring 21 points with seven rebounds

 

Doncic leads Mavs comeback win

Luka Doncic helped the Dallas Mavericks overcome a 21-point third-quarter deficit to win 107-101 over the Golden State Warriors. The Slovenian had 34 points and 11 rebounds for the Mavs, while Stephen Curry finished with 27 points and 10 assists.

The Utah Jazz claimed their eighth win from their past nine games and condemned the Chris Paul-less Phoenix Suns to their second straight defeat in a 118-114 defeat, with Rudy Gobert scoring 16 points with 14 rebounds.

Kelly Olynyk scored a match-winning buzzer beater in overtime as the Detroit Pistons beat the Charlotte Hornets 127-126, while the in-form Boston Celtics were shocked 128-107 by the Indiana Pacers.

 

Lakers demolished on home court

The Los Angeles Lakers were humiliated 123-95 by the New Orleans Pelicans at home, giving up 23 turnovers for the game, which was the team's most this season. LeBron James and Russell Westbrook combined for 14 turnovers which was their worst return as teammates. The only positive was James scored 32 points, marking his 500th career game with 30 points or more.

Joel Embiid is feeling good about the new-look Philadelphia 76ers labelling his partnership with James Harden as "unstoppable" after Sunday's 125-109 win over the New York Knicks.

In Harden's second game for the 76ers since his trade from the Brooklyn Nets, the 2018 MVP recorded a triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists.

Embiid added a game-high 37 points with nine rebounds and four blocks, as the 76ers put on 125 or more points for the second straight game.

"Unstoppable," Embiid said after the game. "What are you really going to do?

"He's a great passer, and obviously I've got someone [next to me] that attracts a lot of attention to him, 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] diving to the rim or wide-open shooters that have got one job to do, and that's make shots. That's all we got to keep doing.

"Like I was saying in the locker room, I'm happy I don't have to post up every single possession, so it's great."

The Knicks had no answer for the pair, with Embiid getting to the stripe 27 times, making 23 free-throws, while Harden made 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.

"That's our job every single night, is to put pressure on that rim," Harden said. "That creates opportunities for ourselves and our teammates.

"There's a lot of opportunities Joel had with and-ones where he just didn't convert, but that pressure night-in and night-out consistently is going to be tough for teams to cover."

In another ominous sign for the 76ers, who improve to 37-23, Harden said he was feeling the best he has physically for a long time, having endured hamstring issues during his time with the Nets.

"I feel good. It's my second game in damn near a month, but just my body feels great," Harden said. "Feels great. I haven't felt this way in a really, really long time.

"So just my pop, me getting to the rim, my extra step, feels really great. So just got to continue to work, continue to build my body and legs and keep pushing."

James Harden scored 27 points with 13 assists on his Philadelphia 76ers debut and formed a strong partnership with Joel Embiid in a 133-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.

Harden, who crossed from the Brooklyn Nets in an NBA Trade Deadline move earlier this month, almost registered a debut triple-double, with eight rebounds.

Embiid has been in irrepressible form this season, although there had been some concern Harden's arrival may blunt some of his offensive impact, but the center contributed 34 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

The new-look 76ers had immediate cohesion, scoring 65 points in the first half, before a 41-point final quarter with Tyrese Maxey finishing with 28 points while Harden also drained five three-pointers, shooting seven-of-12 from the field.

The 76ers recorded a season-high 19 three-pointers for the game, with head coach Doc Rivers admitting "that was pretty good" when asked post-game if Harden's debut could have gone any better.

 

Lakers fall to Clippers again

Terance Mann led the way with 19 points and 10 rebounds as the Los Angeles Clippers won a tight game with the Los Angeles Lakers 105-102, the sixth time in a row they have beaten their local rivals.

LeBron James top scored with 21 but was unable to stop the Clippers from taking charge in the closing moments, with Amir Coffey adding 12 of his 14 points for the night in the fourth quarter.

The San Antonio Spurs edged the Washington Wizards 157-153 in double over-time, with both teams setting season-highs in scoring. Spurs guard Dejounte Murray recorded a triple-double, although he missed potential winning shots in both regulation and the first over-time.

RJ Barrett scored 46 points including six three-pointers but the New York Knicks went down 115-110 to the Miami Heat, while Donovan Mitchell scored 33 points and Rudy Gobert had a double-double (14 points and 17 rebounds) as the Utah Jazz beat Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks 114-109.

 

Suns streak halted

The table-topping Phoenix Suns' eight-game winning streak came to an end, going down 117-102 to the lowly New Orleans Pelicans. Devin Booker top scored with 30 points for the Suns, who were without injured veteran guard Chris Paul. CJ McCollum scored 32 points for the Pels as he continues to thrive following his trade.

Joel Embiid could not hide his smile in the fourth quarter of the Philadelphia 76ers' 133-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves as his partnership with debutant James Harden thrived.

Harden was making his 76ers debut after his NBA Trade Deadline move from the Brooklyn Nets, with the 2018 MVP scoring 27 points including five three-pointers along with eight rebounds and 12 assists.

Embiid's influence remained as strong as ever, finishing with a game-high 34 points along with 10 rebounds and three assists.

The 76ers piled on the points showing Embiid and Harden had struck immediate cohesion with 65 first-half points, while they added another 41 in the fourth quarter.

"You should’ve seen my face every single time especially in the fourth," Embiid told NBC Sports after the game. "The first three quarters obviously making plays for all of us.

"That was probably the most wide open I've ever been in my career. I had a lot of easy baskets.

"I used to have to work for everything but I the fourth quarter the shot-making ability and shot creation, you should’ve seen my face.

"I've never had this. Nothing close to it. Hopefully it continues. We didn’t even play our best. I think we can be way better than that."

The combination quelled fears that Harden's arrival may stifle Embiid's offensive impact, which has him among this season's MVP candidates.

Instead, Harden's influence enabled others to make strong impacts, including Tyrese Maxey who finished with 28 points, while the Sixers managed a season-high 19 three-pointers.

"Easy shot after easy shot. You've just got to be winning shooters. That's what we were tonight," Embiid added.

"[Harden] attracts a lot of attention. When you've two guys on the floor who do that, me and him, it becomes a little easier for everybody else. it's on everyone else to just make shots."

Seth Curry does not want an apology from Ben Simmons as the pair start a new chapter with the Brooklyn Nets.

Curry and Simmons were team-mates on the Philadelphia 76ers, although the former first overall pick had not played this season.

Simmons has now cited a difficult period with his mental health as his reason for staying away from the 76ers until a trade was agreed with the Nets.

The Australian was the subject of intense criticism following the team's playoff defeat to the Atlanta Hawks last season, in which he was deemed to have shirked responsibility and passed up shooting opportunities.

With James Harden leaving the Nets for the 76ers, Curry and Andre Drummond joined Simmons in the deal going the other way.

It means Simmons must now play with team-mates he abandoned earlier in the season, but Curry does not see that as a problem.

"Business is business," Curry told ESPN on Thursday ahead of the NBA's resumption after the All-Star break.

"I said from day [one], even when he was out early in the season, people were asking me if I feel like, if Ben comes back, should he apologise to us or whatever?

"I understand the business; he doesn't need to apologise to anybody. When he's on the court, I know he's going to do his job and he's going to do what he does. So I understand the business.

"He was doing what he felt was best for himself business-wise and personal-wise. And the team's going to do the same thing as far as making trades or whatever, so I understand it, I've been around it; I don't take anything personal.

"When we're on the court, we're team-mates. Everything's fine, and we depend on each other to do good things. There's been nothing negative he's done to me personally, so I'm fine."

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid says the way he has been playing speaks for itself about his credentials to win the coveted NBA MVP this season.

The five-time All-Star has enjoyed a dominant season for the Sixers despite the Ben Simmons trade saga, averaging 29.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and a career-high 4.5 assists.

Powered by Embiid who has been joined by James Harden in Philadelphia, the Sixers sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23 record.

The 27-year-old finished third in MVP voting behind winner Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry last season.

"I don't want to push for the whole thing, but the way I've been playing speaks for itself," Embiid told reporters on Saturday ahead of Sunday's All-Star Game where he will play for Team Durant.

"Especially with everything we went through, the drama this whole year, obviously missing a big piece and then everything that happened to our team and the way our team is set up.

"I knew had to take my game to another level whether it was offensively, defensively or playmaking and I've got great teammates that are coming in every single day and giving their all on the floor.

"But it always goes back to winning. As long as we win I'll be at that level and have a chance to win it all and win the MVP.

"But to answer your question, the play speaks for itself. Every single night that's what I've been doing offensively and defensively and I don't plan on stopping."

Embiid, who was drafted by the Sixers with pick three in 2014, added that he felt this season was his best to date.

"There's still another level that I can get to, that I believe I can get to and I plan to keep working to reach that level," Embiid said.

"Last year was great [but] this year I really had to take my game to an even higher level than last year. I would say yes, so far, but still another level I can get to."

The Philadelphia 76ers had to "send a message" against the Milwaukee Bucks, according to Joel Embiid, who is excited about what the future might hold.

Embiid was on top form on Thursday, scoring 42 points and adding 14 rebounds and five assists in a supreme display.

Fittingly, he nudged the 76ers ahead for the final time in the fourth quarter, with Philadelphia holding firm to seal a 123-120 victory and snap a six-game losing streak against the Bucks, despite the efforts of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP fell just short of a triple-double, finishing on 32 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

It was a much-needed win for the 76ers heading into the All-Star break, however, with Philadelphia having been thrashed 135-87 by the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

"Man, it sucked, but then again, look at the big picture, they were making everything," Embiid told ESPN when asked how important a response to that defeat was.

"We learned a lot from it, we had to get back to our game and send a message."

Philadelphia beat the Bucks without new arrival James Harden, who is out with a hamstring injury he sustained earlier in February while still playing for the Brooklyn Nets.

"I'm just excited for us to be healthy, for us all to be together," continued Embiid.

"I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing and I'm sure my team-mates will follow. We're pretty excited about what we can accomplish."

Embiid came out on top in the battle of two of the NBA's finest performers. He leads the way in the league for points per game (29.6), just ahead of Antetokounmpo (29.4).

"You know, Finals MVP, an MVP of the regular season, so I live for this type of matchup, it's always fun battling against him, a great player, just glad we got the win," Embiid added.

Antetokounmpo told reporters: "We had a lot of open looks, good shots that did not fall, shots that we usually make down the stretch."

Philadelphia's talisman only managed 19 points against Boston, which ended a run of 23 straight games in which he had at least 25 points.

However, he has now had nine games this season with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. That is the second-most in a season by a Philadelphia player, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 18 in 1965-66, according to the 76ers' official data.

The 76ers are third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23 record for the season.

"The one thing the later All-Star break does, when you come out, it's a sprint," 76ers coach Doc Rivers told reporters.

"It's no longer the midway point, where you can ease back from the break. It's a full sprint when you come back."

Joel Embiid had 42 points as he inspired the Philadelphia 76ers to a 123-120 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

With James Harden having arrived to bolster the 76ers' championship bid, but still missing due to a hamstring injury, Embiid served up a reminder of just how crucial he is with another supreme display on Thursday.

This time, it was reigning NBA champions the Bucks who were on the receiving end of a masterful showing from the 27-year-old, who also tallied up 14 rebounds and five assists.

The Bucks came close, though, and had their own MVP to thank for that – Giannis Antetokounmpo helping himself to a double-double of 32 points and 11 rebounds, while also contributing nine assists.

Embiid, fittingly, put Philadelphia ahead for good with a 10-foot shot in the final quarter. 

It marked a valuable return to form for the 76ers, who can enter the All-Star break on a high despite Tuesday's dismal 135-87 defeat to the Boston Celtics. They are third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23 record, while the Bucks sit fifth (36-24).

Doncic downs Pelicans

Anything Embiid or Antetokounmpo can do, Luka Doncic is out to do it better.

The Dallas Mavericks star had 49 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a 125-118 defeat of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Doncic has now had 45 points or more in three of his last four games for Dallas, who enter the break in fifth place in the West.

Nets back to losing ways

After snapping an 11-game losing streak with victories over the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets fell to a 117-103 reverse in Washington.

Rui Hachimura led the way for the Wizards with 20 points, as they moved to 2-2 for their series against the Nets this season.

The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Houston Rockets to win for a third time in their last four games, while the Miami Heat were overtime winners over the Charlotte Hornets.

The Eastern Conference feels like a closer contest than the west at the moment, which should be on show when the Milwaukee Bucks host the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

It will be Giannis Antetokounmpo versus Joel Embiid at Fiserv Forum, the players with the two best points-per-game averages in the league this season (29.4 and 29.3 respectively), which perhaps indicates how close this game could end up being.

The defending champions in Milwaukee are currently third in the East on 36-23, while the Sixers sit fifth on 34-23.

The Bucks ended a two-game losing streak with a 128-119 victory against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, with an ominous 50-point performance from Giannis.

It is the first time the Greek has scored 50 points this season, while Khris Middleton (19 points) and Jrue Holiday (14 points) also played their part, and they will be key again against the Sixers.

Embiid also managed 50 points last month in Philadelphia's win against Orlando Magic and has hit 40+ points in four other games since then.

Doc Rivers will be looking for a response after his team were crushed by the Boston Celtics 135-87 on Tuesday, where Embiid (19) and Tyrese Maxey (11) were the only Sixers to hit double figures.

There is still no James Harden following his blockbuster trade from the Nets, with his debut apparently coming against Minnesota on February 25, but the other arrival in that deal, Paul Millsap, made a good impression in his first game against the Celtics.

"He looked good," said Rivers. "After the game, he said he felt pretty good. I was surprised… He will add some toughness to us, there's no doubt about that, he'll be able to step out and make threes for us at the five spot. That'll be something we work on."

A victory for Philadelphia will open up the Eastern Conference even more, but with Giannis in such form, getting a win in Milwaukee will very much be easier said than done.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo

It is a team sport, but the Greek sensation will always be vital to the Bucks, particularly in big games like this one.

Having gone 23 games in a row scoring at least 20 points, Giannis only managed 18 in last week's defeat to the Phoenix Suns, only to follow it up with his best scoring performance of the season against the Pacers.

The danger for Philadelphia is if their concentration on Giannis allows the likes of Middleton and Holiday to do damage, but coach Rivers is experienced enough to know that and plan accordingly.

Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid

As predictable as it is, it's difficult to go with anyone else for the Sixers right now. If they want to win in Milwaukee, Embiid has to thrive.

While his 19 against Boston was comfortably his team's highest score, it also saw a streak of 23 straight games with at least 25 points come to an end, and he'll likely want to begin a new streak right away.

Although he's slightly behind Giannis for points-per-game, the Cameroonian does have the edge in free-throws made, leading the league on 410 ahead of Giannis in second on 389.

KEY BATTLE – Will it be three and easy for the winner?

The Bucks enjoy a shot from downtown and are currently third in the league for three-pointers made (835), behind only the Golden State Warriors (846) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (841), while only the Washington Wizards (560) have fewer threes than the Sixers (620).

Having said that, only the Wizards and the Dallas Mavericks (both 613) have conceded fewer threes than Philadelphia (641) while no team has conceded more than the Bucks (833).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Bucks have enjoyed an excellent recent record against the Sixers, winning the past six meetings, including a 118-109 win in Philadelphia in November. The last Sixers victory came on Christmas Day 2019 (121-109).

All-Star pair Devin Booker and Chris Paul led the way as the Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers 103-96 to make it six wins in a row.

Booker scored 26 points and Paul added 17 and 14 assists for the NBA-leading Suns, who have now won 17 of their past 18 games and are 47-10 for the season.

The Clippers had defeated the Golden State Warriors in their previous game and led the Suns 90-88 with six minutes to play at Footprint Center.

But Booker and Paul took control to give the hosts a slender lead and restricted their opponents to just one point in the final 2:53 to put another victory on the board.

Reflecting on a hard-fought win, Suns head coach Monty Williams said: "Our past experiences are helping us now, even the hurt that we felt last year is helping us now."

 


Giannis guides Bucks past Pacers

The Milwaukee Bucks snapped a two-game losing run with a 128-119 victory over the Indiana Pacers thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo's latest impressive showing.

Two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo scored 50 points on 17-of-21 shooting, with those 21 attempts the fourth-fewest in a 50-point game in NBA history.

It is the first time the 27-year-old, returning from an ankle injury that kept him out of the loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, has hit 50 in the regular season since November 2019.

The Bucks improve to 36-23 for the season, with a winning percentage of .610, while the Pacers have now lost seven successive games.

Celtics continue strong form

The Boston Celtics eased to a 135-87 win over the Philadelphia 76ers for their ninth win in a row, with Jaylen Brown scoring 26 of his 29 points in the first half.

They are now 11-1 across their last 12 games and have outscored opponents by 253 points – only the 1970-71 Bucks (+260) have a larger point differential over a 12-game span in NBA history.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Luka Doncic scored 21 points in the Dallas Mavericks' 107-99 win against the Miami Heat, while the Atlanta Hawks held off the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-116.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies recorded 126-120 and 121-109 victories over the Charlotte Hornets and the New Orleans Pelicans respectively.

James Harden is confident it "made sense" for him to leave the Brooklyn Nets for the Philadelphia 76ers in his pursuit of a first NBA championship.

Harden headed to Philly ahead of last week's trade deadline in a move that saw wantaway 76ers outcast Ben Simmons head in the opposite direction.

Ten-time All-Star Harden had been expected to contend for titles in Brooklyn, having formed a 'Big Three' with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when he arrived from the Houston Rockets last year.

But injuries and coronavirus controversy – Irving remains unvaccinated – meant the trio played just 365 minutes together across 16 games in the regular season and playoffs.

Now, Harden is instead targeting glory alongside Joel Embiid, the MVP frontrunner who endured a frosty relationship with Simmons on the 76ers.

Embiid has scored 25 or more points in 23 consecutive games – a sequence only three players have topped this century – including a 40-point triple-double last time out.

Harden is excited by the prospect of teaming up with the center, as he said: "For me, [the trade] made sense, man.

"It's a time where I needed to be around guys that I know want to win, and know that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win, and the structure here is unbelievable.

"[Winning is] the goal, man. That's the goal. Like Daryl [Morey, president of basketball operations] said: the opportunity to win is now. Joel is playing the best he's ever played.

"So, my job is to come out there and help him and help the entire team win a championship this year and in years going forward."

Harden left the Rockets for the Nets with the same idea but is now focused on a positive future.

"I mean, it wasn't planned like this – 14 months ago, I didn't see myself with three different teams," he said. "But we are here today and I'm happy.

"The last year has been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stress, but whatever. That's in the past. I'm excited, I'm healthy and it's the opportunity of a lifetime."

The former MVP added his injured hamstring, which will keep him out until after the All-Star break, "feels really good".

Harden was speaking alongside Morey – formerly his general manager in Houston – who expressed his delight the 76ers had managed to land their man without dealing promising point guard Tyrese Maxey.

"Tyrese absolutely has the chance to be an All-Star in this league," said Morey, adding "the sky's the limit" for both Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. "And that's a big reason why we made sure that they weren't in this trade."

Ben Simmons revealed he had been dealing with "dark times" due to his mental health as he was presented as a Brooklyn Net on Tuesday, although he added his issues while with the Philadelphia 76ers were "a personal thing".

Following a long-running trade saga, Simmons joined the Nets ahead of last week's deadline, with James Harden heading in the opposite direction.

Simmons had been mooted as a piece in a potential Harden trade as long ago as January 2021 – with Harden then forcing his way out of the Houston Rockets – and his future became more uncertain still following the 76ers' playoff defeat to the Atlanta Hawks last season.

The former number one overall pick averaged 6.3 points from 4.7 field goal attempts across the final three games of a seven-game series.

He was the subject of intense criticism after appearing to pass up shooting opportunities, with team-mates and coaches among those to question his performance level.

With Simmons subsequently keen to leave the 76ers, he has not played at all this season.

But the Australian explained as he met the media that the fallout from the Hawks series had not been a prominent factor in a difficult year to date.

"For me, it was just making sure mentally I was right to get out there and play again," Simmons said. "So that's something I've been dealing with.

"And it wasn't about the fans or coaches, or comments made by anybody. It was just a personal thing for me. That was earlier than that series or even that season that I was dealing with, and [the 76ers] knew that.

"So, it is something that I continue to deal with and I'm getting there and getting to the right place to get back on the floor."

He added his mental health issues had "nothing to do with the trade" but rather "a bunch of things that I was dealing with as a person, in my personal life, that I don't really want to go into depth with".

However, getting out of Philly was important for Simmons as he aims to recover.

"A bunch of things that had been going on over the years to where I knew I wasn't myself," he said, explaining his pursuit of a trade. "And I needed to get back to being myself and being happy as a person and taking care of my well-being.

"That was the major thing for me. It wasn't about the basketball, it wasn't about the money, anything like that. I want to be who I am and get back to playing basketball and that level and being myself."

Of his critics, Simmons said: "They should be happy I'm smiling, honestly. I've had some dark times over these last six months and I'm just happy to be in this situation with this team and organisation."

The move also gives Simmons the opportunity to team up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, with the Nets maintaining title hopes despite their slump to eighth in the East.

"I think it's going to be scary," the new signing said. "Having those guys running alongside me, multiple different weapons on the floor, and I think at the pace we want to play at, it's going to be unreal."

Simmons does not yet know when he will be available for the Nets, but he hopes to play against the 76ers on March 10.

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