NBA Basketball

Embiid's back barking as 76ers clash with Thunder

Philadelphia 76ers' center Joel Embiid said earlier in the week he was excited for a stretch in which his team will play 12 of 13 games against teams with a winning record.

Now that he's in the middle of it, Embiid isn't about to miss time unless he absolutely has to.

Embiid's health is a concern entering Saturday's home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The third-year pro struggled in warm-ups Thursday in Indiana because of a sore back. He finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds but repeatedly winced in pain during the game.

"I'll be fine," Embiid said. "I'm a warrior."

Embiid is averaging 26.9 points and 13.3 rebounds, in the top 10 in the league in both categories and first among centers in scoring. He's also in the top 10 in blocks.

The 76ers (30-16) have won three consecutive games and seven of nine entering the start of a tough three-game home stretch against three Western Conference foes. Overall, Philadelphia plays seven consecutive games against teams from the West.

"It's huge," Philadelphia point guard Ben Simmons said after Thursday's win at Indiana. "We're growing, we're learning, everybody's trying to play the right way with each other and we're continuing to build each game."

The 76ers are 10-3 against Western Conference opponents.

In Simmons' second season, and with a roster that includes 11 players in their first three years in the league, the 76ers are making strides. Philadelphia is six games ahead of where it was at the same time last season, when it finished third in the Eastern Conference.

"We're starting to figure each other out," Embiid said. "We've got some big ones coming up and I'm excited about it."

It will be the first meeting this season between the teams.

Oklahoma City (26-18) has lost two consecutive games and five of six.

The Thunder's defense, which has been the league's best for much of the season, has taken a hit of late.

Over the last three games, Oklahoma City's defensive efficiency has been fourth-worst in the league; the Thunder have allowed an average of 136.5 points in their past four games.

"Probably some of that is my fault," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.

"Because having the No. 1 defense and being at 19, 20, 22 (in offensive rating), we've got to move that closer to the top end of the league. And we've put a lot of focus on that, the guys have done a great job on that, but there's probably been some slippage on the defensive end with limited practice time, travel schedule, those kind of things."

The Thunder have allowed 37 3-pointers during their two-game losing streak, and opponents are shooting nearly 50 percent from behind the arc over the past four. Entering that stretch, opponents were shooting just 33.3 percent.

"In my opinion, teams have got to be between eight and 12 threes," Donovan said. "That's it. We've got to be able to do that, without sacrificing fouls and layups."

--Field Level Media

Updated January 18, 2019

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