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Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas will miss at least four weeks after undergoing surgery on his left thumb, the team announced Thursday.

The surgery was performed at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, by Dr. Jeffrey Yao, a specialist in hand, wrist and elbow surgery.

Valanciunas will be in a cast for four weeks, and then his status will be re-evaluated.

Also Thursday, the Raptors listed Kawhi Leonard as questionable for Friday night’s game at Portland. Leonard has missed the past two games with a bruised right hip.

Valanciunas’ injury occurred in the second quarter of Wednesday’s victory over the Golden State Warriors. Valanciunas was posting up Draymond Green when, as he turned to make a move, Green swiped down at the ball and hit him on the hand.

The backup center immediately fell to the ground in agony, then got up holding his hand while in visible pain. A trainer spent time working on Valanciunas along the bench before eventually escorting him to the locker room.

Valanciunas is averaging 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for the Raptors, who have the best record in the NBA at 23-7.

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LeBron James passed Wilt Chamberlain — another all-time great who joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the latter stages of his career — for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.

James tied Chamberlain on an and-1 runner with 3:55 left in the fourth quarter and passed him on the ensuing free throw. James finished the game with 44 points — his first 40-point game of the season and the most by a Laker since Kobe Bryant scored 60 in his career finale — and he now has 31,425 points for his career. James added 10 rebounds and 9 assists in Los Angeles’ 126-117 win at Staples Center.

“When I’m able to do what I love to do, and do it at this level — and even being mentioned with the greats that have ever played this game — it just always brings me back to my hometown of Akron, [Ohio],” James told ESPN’s Dave Pasch on the telecast after the game. “And knowing where I come from, knowing how hard it was to get to this point — it’s just never being in satisfied mode. I give it all to the man above for giving me God-given abilities. I’m taking full advantage of ’em. And then my coaching staff and my teammates throughout these 16 years so far, have gotten me to this point.”

James said the ball and his jersey from the game would be sent to his I Promise School in Akron for display.

James put Chamberlain in the same category as Shaquille O’Neal — the No. 8 all-time scorer — as a phenomenon to be reckoned with.

“One of the most dominant forces we ever had in our game along with Shaq,” James said. “One of the greatest Lakers ever to play the game. One-hundred-point scorer. One of the greatest scorers, rebounders to ever played this game. Multisport, [multi]dimensional type of athlete. People had never seen something like that in that era. So, just dominated in all walks of life. Not only just basketball, but just period.”

Next up on the career scoring list is James’ childhood hero, Michael Jordan, in fourth place with 32,292 points. If James maintains his season scoring average of 26.4 points and doesn’t miss any games because of rest or injury, he should pass Jordan in late January.

Other than Jordan, the names ahead of James on the list have ties to the purple and gold. The top three scorers in league history all played for the Lakers at some point in their careers. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points) is first, Karl Malone (36,928 points) is second and Bryant (33,643 points) is third. Including Chamberlain and James, five of the top six scorers in NBA history played for the Lakers at some point.

James shot 13-for-15 from the foul line against the Blazers — a season high in attempts — but Lakers coach Luke Walton said his star deserved even more. Way more.

“He takes a beating out there, he really does. He takes a beating every time he drives, and you have to put hands on him. You have to put elbows into him because of his size and strength,” Walton said. “He probably — if you looked at video — he could probably shoot 100 free throws a game if everything was called, but it was the same when I played with Shaq. Shaq used to get fouled a lot and not get free throws, but he does a great job of playing through that either way and making plays.”

Tyson Chandler took exception to some of the hits Portland laid on James — Jusuf Nurkic made contact with James’ head and CJ McCollum was called for a flagrant foul 1 for hooking James’ arm and pulling the forward to the floor.

“I just don’t like to see any of my teammates get hit like that, especially a vet like LeBron who has taken enough hits throughout his career,” Chandler told ESPN. “You don’t like to see that at all. I thought it was a little aggressive after the foul, which is what upset me.”

Nurkic pantomimed a child crying after the McCollum foul while James was on the floor.

“He goes in and he draws contact, a lot of times he’s so big and strong it doesn’t look like much, but it is, they’re fouls,” Chandler continued. “He’s earned the respect [of the league] to get those type of calls. He’s not one of those guys who is going in there and [exaggerating contact] every play, so maybe that’s why [he doesn’t get the calls].”

Chamberlain, of course, had to deal with his own set of unfair circumstances as the league widened the lane so he could not straddle it to avoid a three-second violation and also created offensive basket interference to prevent him from scoring the ball when it was on the rim — something in which he specialized.

“Well, it’s part of what makes working for the Lakers so amazing,” Walton said when asked about James passing Chamberlain. “You have this history here. … For him to be up there speaks more to what he’s done over his entire career, obviously, as a player. The fact that he’s in a Laker jersey as he does anything more just adds to the legacy of what the Lakers are.”

Walton then shared an anecdote illustrating the dominance of the man known as “The Big Dipper.”

“I’ve heard great Wilt stories from being around the Laker organization, including where in practice he would just take the ball and put it in the paint because he said, ‘That’s an automatic two points, so I’m not going to waste my energy jumping if I get it in the paint,'” Walton said with a smirk. “So there’s some good Wilt stories around the halls of the Lakers. But just one of the all-time dominant players our game has ever seen.”

Some of James’ young teammates were left to marvel at his dominant performance.

“It’s surreal, it’s surreal sometimes,” Brandon Ingram said. “You don’t really think about it sometimes until it actually happens, and you notice you’re playing with the greatest player in the world.”

“I grew up watching him do that so it was pretty cool being on the floor with him,” Lonzo Ball added. “Just being out there, I didn’t know that he had the numbers he had tonight. But obviously he had a great game, and the stats showed it.”

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The Chicago Bulls are walking away from the oft-injured Omer Asik, announcing they had waived the center on Sunday.

Asik hadn’t played for the Bulls this season after he was ruled out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis in September.

Asik’s $11.3 million salary for 2018-19 was fully guaranteed, and he is owed $3 million for next season as a partial guarantee. The Bulls would owe him the full $14.3 million unless a team claims him off waivers, which is unlikely.

Chicago acquired Asik, 32, as part of the trade that sent forward Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans in February. He has career averages of 5.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in his eight seasons.

The Bulls also announced they have signed guard Shaquille Harrison, who averaged 6.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 23 games for the Phoenix Suns last season.

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Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t have much left to prove in his career, having won an NBA title, an NBA Finals and regular-season MVP while nabbing countless other accolades. Perhaps a run at the Kia Sixth Man of the Year award will be in Nowitzki’s sights next season as he closes in on the twilight of his career?

The Mavs’ offseason addition of free-agent center DeAndre Jordan should bump Nowitzki from the starting center spot he played in some lineups for Dallas over the last few seasons. In his 20 seasons with the Mavs, Nowitzki has started 1,440 of the 1,471 career games he has played with Dallas. As youngsters like Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes and rookie Luka Doncic fill into the rotation in 2018-19, Nowitzki told reporters yesterday he is open to a reserve role if that is what will help Dallas most.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on how Nowitzki may fit into the Mavs’ various lineups:

Nowitzki knows that the Mavericks are transitioning to a younger team with new stars. His prime was awesome. But this is a team that has to find a new identity with Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, Luka Doncic and Jordan.

“Obviously, DeAndre’s going to be our starter at the five position and the rest will just kind of fall in place after that,” Nowitzki said. “If [Barnes] goes back to the four or we start other ways, I have no idea as of yet. But it’s a great problem to have. We want to be a franchise that is back in the playoffs and plays well and has fun again.”

In the last couple seasons, Nowitzki has played well with Devin Harris and J.J. Barea and logically it makes sense for him to help anchor that second unit.

And he’s certainly open to the idea of coming off the bench.

“I’ve always said the last few years, if it makes our team better — I want to be part of a winning team and if that’s what helps us win — then of course,” Nowitzki said. “I have no problem with that. I already told [the training staff] if that’s the case, they better keep me loose. We better get a [stationary] bike ready somewhere because if I warm up and sit for 15, 20 minutes, that’s going to be an issue.”

Coach Rick Carlisle has been opposed to bringing Nowitzki off the bench for years, even though the Mavs’ star was open to the idea in early 2017. But, Sefko notes that all that matters to Carlisle this season is winning games.

“Hey, if that’s the role, and we play great with it, then I’m all for it,” he Nowitzki said. “But that’s what camp is for — to see what works, who works best with each other. So I don’t think we necessarily need to answer that question now. But it’s definitely something to look at as we go deeper into camp.”

Nowitzki recently participated in his first scrimmages with the team since undergoing minor surgery on his left ankle in the offseason. He told reporters on Thursday that he had some mixed results as he works himself back into form.

“The ankle where I had the surgery is actually great,” he said. “There were two bone spurs that kind of blocked me from doing things. So they took those out and now there’s a lot more movement in the ankle. But all the tendons aren’t used to moving that much now. Every now and then, it’s a little stiff. I scrimmaged a little last week and on Monday and it hasn’t really reacted amazing to it. But we’re positive that it’ll be fine. By the time we get into camp and especially the regular season, I’ll be 100 percent.”

The Mavs re-signed the 13-time All-Star Nowitzki this summer after they declined a team option on his contract at the start of free agency to create more salary cap room to add Jordan.

The 40-year-old forward averaged 12.0 points (on 40.9 percent shooting from 3-point), 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists during 77 games this season — his 20th in the NBA. The 12-time All-Star sits 232 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for No. 5 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Nowitzki is set to become the first player in NBA history to play 21 consecutive seasons for the same franchise. The 7-foot German is one of six players overall, and the only international player, with more than 30,000 career points.

Gordon Hayward Jersey

Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will return to Boston next week and are expected to join their teammates in informal workouts as Celtics players begin pickup play in advance of the late September start of training camp.

Irving and Hayward have been rehabbing this summer from follow-up procedures on the injuries that shortened their 2017-18 campaigns and prevented them from playing in Boston’s surge to the cusp of the NBA Finals.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told ESPN on Monday that both Irving (knee) and Hayward (ankle) appear at full health and are ready for the new season.

“I don’t want to hype it up too much, but I’m saying that if our training camp were starting today that they would be here today going full speed,” Ainge said. “It’s not like they need an extra month. I think that they know they have an extra month, so they are sort of pacing themselves. They’re playing as if to build up to that opening day of training camp [Sept. 26].”

Celtics players have expressed excitement in starting 5-on-5 work after Boston brought back much of the same roster from last year’s squad that, even without Irving and Hayward, took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.

“They’ll both be here within the next week or so; by the time Labor Day is over, they will all be playing 5-on-5,” Ainge said of Irving and Hayward. “I think it’s just a matter of, if they’re not playing 5-on-5 now, then it’s only because they want it more of a controlled environment, I guess. They’re doing everything — dunking the basketball off both legs and playing one-on-one live and jumping and cutting and defending. I’m excited for them.”

Ainge said the team will carefully ramp up activity for Irving and Hayward during camp and that the emergence of Boston’s younger players should ease the burden on the returning stars early in the new season.

But there’s an obvious excitement for the Celtics in having their team whole again for the first time since the 2017-18 opening night in Cleveland.

“I’m really excited about the upcoming season with [Irving and Hayward],” Ainge said. “Obviously, there’s a transition from rehabbing to playing one-on-one to playing 3-on-3 to 5-on-5 and then playing NBA basketball, so I don’t want to build up expectations too high. I think there will be a little bit of an adjustment once that last phase is made.

“But physically, they look great, and I think they’re very excited about the upcoming year.”

Cheap Kawhi Leonard Jersey From China

Just like they did at the start of training camp, the San Antonio Spurs announced Wednesday that they plan to keep All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely as he continues to recover from right quadriceps tendinopathy.

“Kawhi has made significant progress and continues to move forward in his rehabilitation,” Spurs general manager RC Buford said. “This is the best approach for the next steps in his return to play.”

When asked about it before Wednesday’s game in Brooklyn, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich ruled out the possibility of Leonard missing the rest of the season.

The Spurs initially announced during training camp that Leonard would miss the preseason because of the quadriceps issue, but the recovery process lingered into December, with Popovich admitting in November that the forward was “coming along more slowly” in rehabilitation than the club had hoped.

Leonard missed San Antonio’s first 27 games this season because of the condition, which causes pain and weakness in the knee. The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year has appeared in just nine games this season as the Spurs have restricted his playing time to ensure a full recovery.

Despite playing just 23.3 minutes per game, the 26-year-old Leonard is averaging 16.2 points per game.

“For us to go where we want to go, we both have to play well,” LaMarcus Aldridge told ESPN. “Golden State is a prime example, Houston with James Harden and Chris Paul. It’s not impossible to co-exist. I feel like I’m playing more confident, I’m playing better this year, where it’s not going to be an issue. When he’s back 100 percent, he’s going to be who he was and I’m going to be who I am. I feel like that’s going to make us better down the stretch.”

Leonard also missed time with what Popovich said is a partial tear in his left shoulder.

A two-time NBA All-Star, Leonard averaged career highs in points (25.5) and assists (3.5) last season while also averaging 1.8 steals. When Leonard debuted against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 12, he hadn’t suited up to play for San Antonio since Game 1 of last season’s Western Conference finals, a series he missed due to a sprained ankle.

As part of the recovery from quadriceps tendinopathy, Leonard had been working through a rehabilitation process comprising several steps, including individual work and two-on-two and three-on-three drills, before receiving clearance to practice fully with the team. Leonard had been working out with veteran point guard Tony Parker, who was recovering from a ruptured quadriceps tendon, as well as former Spurs players Matt Bonner and Tim Duncan.

It’s unknown whether the Spurs plan to re-enter Leonard into a similar protocol for recovery.

Popovich said Leonard would return “sooner rather than later” during Leonard’s absence earlier in the season, and despite the conservative approach to bringing back the forward, San Antonio finds itself back still involved in the rehabilitation process. Sources said, however, that Leonard did not experience a setback.

“It’s been pretty hit and miss the entire season,” Popovich said last Saturday. “Even with minutes limitations, when the guys come back like Tony [Parker], Danny [Green] and Kawhi, it makes it a little awkward, a little weird for the guys to really get into a rhythm. But that’s the way it is. We just have to deal with it. Hopefully, everybody will stay healthy after tonight’s game, and we can put something together.”

Throughout Leonard’s recovery, the club was reluctant to offer a timeline for his return, as there’s a level of unpredictability involved with rehabilitation from quadriceps tendinopathy, according to a source. With Leonard out of action, fourth-year veteran Kyle Anderson moved into the starting lineup and took advantage of the extra minutes, forcing Popovich to admit he needs to be on the floor more, even when Leonard is back in the rotation.

Anderson will return to the starting lineup with Leonard out indefinitely.

Leonard returned to action Saturday after missing three games with a shoulder injury. He played 28 minutes, contributing 19 points and 8 rebounds. Leonard appeared to be finally close to full strength in San Antonio’s 112-80 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Aldridge has averaged 34.1 minutes and 18.0 field goal attempts per game since the beginning of December, and it’s highly unlikely the Spurs will limit the power forward’s minutes moving forward. Aldridge told ESPN.com that during a heart-to-heart sit-down discussion with Popovich over the summer, he actually asked the coach for more minutes this season.

“I think I’ve always been able to do it. I don’t want to sound arrogant. I think that’s who I’ve been,” Aldridge said. “I think having the talk with Pop helped it happen. Having the talk, and telling him I play better when I’m playing more minutes, and maybe we can try to find different ways for finding rest.

“I struggle with playing low minutes, and trying to keep a rhythm. I’ve just never been able to do it. When I was really rolling in Portland, I was top five in minutes every season. So that’s kind of who I’ve become. So, I think Pop understood that, and he’s letting me play more minutes. We’ve all kind of enjoyed how I’ve come along playing more minutes. I’m staying in great shape. I’m feeling good. My rhythm is better. Being out there more, this is just me.”

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Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, born and raised in Nigeria before moving to the United States and becoming one of the most unique front-office success stories in professional sports history, responded strongly to President Donald Trump’s reported disparaging remarks about immigration.

Multiple outlets have cited sources in reporting that Trump referred to Haiti and some African nations as “shithole countries” during a meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers this week. In a tweet on Friday morning, Trump denied using the specific term. Later in the day, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who was present at the meeting, said the president used the word.
"I don't think it's fair, and I don't think it's what inspiring leadership can be. What sense of hope are we giving people if you are calling where they live -- and where they're from -- a shithole?" Masai Ujiri told ESPN.
“This summer, I went to Kigali and Nairobi and Lagos, and I went to Kampala and Abidjan and Dakar and Johannesburg, and I saw great cities and great people,” Ujiri told ESPN on Friday. “And I went to visit the refugee camp in Dadaab, and I met good people and good families with plenty of hope. If those places are being referred to as shitholes, go visit those places, and go meet those people.”

“I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t think it’s what inspiring leadership can be. What sense of hope are we giving people if you are calling where they live — and where they’re from — a shithole?

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the United States and Canada and I am grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been given by people, and the game of basketball, and the NBA. As leaders, I think we have to give people in many places a chance to have success, not continue to put those people down.

“We have to inspire people and give them a sense of hope. We need to bring people along, not ridicule and tear them down. This cannot be the message that we accept from the leader of the free world.

“… Just because someone lives in a hut, that doesn’t mean that isn’t a good person, that that person can’t do better, that person isn’t capable of being great. And just because it’s a hut — whatever that means — doesn’t mean it’s not a home. God doesn’t put anyone someplace permanently. I am a living testimony to that. If I grew up in a shithole, I am proud of my shithole.”

Ujiri, 47, was hired by the Denver Nuggets as the first African-born general manager in NBA history in 2010, and voted the league’s Executive of the Year for the 2012-13 season. After leaving Denver to oversee the Toronto franchise in 2013, he has elevated the Raptors into a consistent Eastern Conference contender.

Ujiri has engineered humanitarian efforts through his Giants of Africa basketball program and the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders. Giants of Africa has raised and donated millions of dollars toward facilities, coaching and education of young basketball players throughout the African continent.

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Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was fined $25,000 on Monday for criticizing the NBA’s officiating.

Green told The Athletic on Saturday that ongoing friction between the league’s officials and players is “ruining the game.”

He made the comments following the Warriors’ 121-105 win over the LA Clippers on Saturday at Staples Center. Green picked up his 11th technical foul of the season in that game.

He told The Athletic that officials are making things personal.

“It’s bad,” Green said. “It’s horrible. It’s really bad. I don’t know why it is. But I think it’s ridiculous. It’s ruining the game. … It should be one of, if not the main priority, to be solved. It definitely should.”

Green received the technical Saturday when he approached referee Tyler Ford to plead his case that Montrezl Harrell fouled him when the Clippers forward blocked his dunk attempt.

Green proposed that the NBA should start fresh.

“They can get a new crop [of officials], a whole new crop,” Green said. “Too many personal things going on. Too much me against you. It just don’t work that way.”

The fine was announced Monday by Kiki VanDeWeghe, the league’s executive vice president of basketball operations.

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo leads All-Star balloting after the first 12 days of the fan vote.

Antetokounmpo is ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James by nearly 7,500 votes and leads third-place Kyrie Irving by more than 50,000 votes in the first vote tabulation, released by the NBA on Thursday.

Kevin Durant (767,402) and Stephen Curry (735,115) are fourth and fifth on the list, respectively, and have garnered the highest vote totals among Western Conference players.

The voting reflects a remarkable start to the season for the 23-year-old Antetokounmpo. He is second in the NBA in scoring (29.1 points per game) and ranks in the top 20 in blocks, steals and rebounds.

Under a new All-Star Game format, the player who receives the most votes in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference will each serve as a captain and will choose teams from the pool of players voted in as starters and reserves.

As in previous seasons, the starters will be determined by the fan vote as well as a vote among current players and media.

Fans will account for 50 percent, while all current players and a media panel will account for 25 percent each.

Players will be sorted by conference and position (guards and frontcourt players) and the two top guards and three top frontcourt players will be named starters. NBA head coaches will select the reserves. The two captains will then draft a team based on the pool of players.

In the Eastern Conference, Antetokounmpo (863,416), James (856,080) and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid were the top three frontcourt players in the first fan vote. New York’s Kristaps Porzingis (359,459) was fourth. Irving and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan (259,368) were the top two guards. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo (251,886) was third.

In the Western Conference, Durant, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (393,000) and teammate DeMarcus Cousins (356,340) were the top three frontcourt players. Golden State’s Draymond Green (325,612) was fourth.

Curry and Houston’s James Harden (602,040) were the top two guards. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (438,469) was third.

The starters and captains will be revealed on January 18 and the reserves will be announced on January 23rd. Full team rosters will be announced on January 25. The All-Star Game is on February 18 in Los Angeles. The next round of fan voting will be announced on January 11.

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To Joel Embiid, the Sixers’ Christmas Day win on Monday was another sign that “the process” is paying off.

“After what we’ve been through the past four years, I was so excited [today] because we’ve been through so much losing,” Embiid said after the Sixers’ 105-98 win over the Knicks. “…. To be able to be one of the few teams in the league to play on this day — it just shows you how much we’ve improved.”

Embiid had 25 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks to help Philadelphia (15-18) snap a five-game losing streak.

“That was my first time playing in the Garden, and when I go on the road I love putting on a show,” said Embiid, whose 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter led to some “Trust The Process” chants at Madison Square Garden. “I felt like we had a lot of fun tonight. We can play much better than that, but we got the win.”

JJ Redick added 24 points, and T.J. McConnell had 15 points off the bench in Philadelphia’s first Christmas Day game in 16 years. The Knicks (17-16) left the court impressed by Embiid and the young Sixers.

“[Embiid is at] an All-Star level, and I think he’s doing a really good job,” said Enes Kanter, who had 31 points and 22 rebounds while matched up at times against Embiid. “I think if he stays healthy, he’s going to be one of the best big men in the league.”

Embiid missed his first two seasons with foot injuries and was limited to 31 games last season because of a meniscus injury. Over those three seasons, Philadelphia lost an average of 63 games in an effort to build through the draft — a plan implemented by former president and general manager Sam Hinkie the season before that was eventually dubbed “the process.”
Joel Embiid, who finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds, was optimistic after the 76ers' Christmas Day win over the Knicks.
With Embiid healthy and surrounded by a talented young core that includes Ben Simmons and 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz (sidelined with a shoulder injury), the Sixers have become known for progress more than process this season.

Embiid is among the top 15 in the NBA in scoring (23.7), rebounding (10.9) and blocks (2.0), establishing himself as one of the league’s top big men when healthy. The 23-year-old had missed the Sixers’ previous three games with a back injury, but the team deemed Embiid healthy enough to play shortly before tip-off on Monday.

“I want to stay on the floor, I want to be on the floor,” Embiid said afterward. “If it’s not something that’s going to really, really bother me, I’m going to play.”