Joel Embiid missed three games with a swollen left knee, then came back as strong as ever on Monday.
Embiid had 41 points and 10 rebounds as the host Philadelphia 76ers dispatched the Houston Rockets 124-115. The Sixers host the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, which would constitute a back-to-back for the big man should he remain in the lineup.
Embiid, who has missed 10 games this season, returned to produce his 17th straight game with at least 30 points and his 16th in a row with double-digit rebounds. He reached the 40-point mark for the seventh time this season.
“I was just trying to get back into it slowly and let the game come to me,” Embiid said in a postgame interview on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Embiid shot 12-for-21 from the field and 16-for-17 from the free-throw line in 31 dominant minutes.
“I’m not quite where I was,” he said, referring to how he was performing before the latest injury.
Sixers coach Nick Nurse said postgame that he expected Embiid to be in the lineup against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets in a matchup of the winners of the past three NBA MVP awards (Embiid in 2022-23, Jokic in 2020-21 and 2021-22).
Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey added 27 points and seven assists, and Patrick Beverley contributed 11 points and six assists.
While the Rockets made a late push, Nurse was impressed with how Beverley stabilized the team.
“He loves and plays with so much passion,” Nurse said. “If it’s in your heart all the time, good things are gonna happen.”
The Sixers are likely to be short-handed once again without Robert Covington (knee), Mo Bamba (knee) and De’Anthony Melton (back).
The Nuggets will look for their third consecutive victory as they open a five-game road trip in Philadelphia.
Denver defeated the Indiana Pacers 117-109 on Sunday thanks in large part to a stellar all-around performance by Jokic. He had 25 points on 12-of-13 shooting and added 12 rebounds and nine assists.
Jokic came up one assist shy of his 13th triple-double this season. Over the past nine games, he has connected on 85 of 105 field-goal tries (81 percent).
Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. added 25 points apiece in the balanced effort for the Nuggets, who have won 14 of 18.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Porter said. “We’re about what you can expect with a vastly different bench lineup than last year coming off a championship and a short summer.
“Obviously, we’d love to be No. 1 in the West, but we’re a couple of games behind it. We’re feeling good. Guys are healthy. That’s all you can ask for.”
The Nuggets continue to surge in the aftermath of their title run, especially with the ball in the capable hands of Jokic and Murray.
“You know at the end of the game the ball is going to be in Jamal or Nikola’s hand and they’re going to make the right play,” said Pacers guard Bruce Brown, who was on the Nuggets’ championship team last season.
The Nuggets also dug in on defense and held the Pacers to seven fastbreak points.
“It was just a point of emphasis to get back,” Murray said. “We knew that’s what they do and they do it really well and they’ve been doing it all season.”
–Field Level Media
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