PHILADELPHIA (AP) – James Harden refused to stump for an all All-Star bid. After another standout game in a Philadelphia 76ers win in which he fell one rebound shy of a triple-double, Harden can let his statistics sell his candidacy.
Joel Embiid had 28 points and 11 rebounds, Harden added 26 points and 10 assists and the 76ers beat the Orlando Magic 105-94 early yesterday.
The NBA was set to reveal the 14 players – seven from the Eastern Conference, seven more from the Western Conference – who got picked to be reserves for the All-Star Game. The reserves are selected by coaches voting for players in their conference. Embiid figures to be among those selected. Harden might be left out because of a crowded group of stars in the East.
“If my name is called, great,” Harden said. “If not, bigger and better goals for the season.”
The Sixers split the home-and-home set this week with Orlando. The Magic stormed back from a 21-point, first-quarter deficit to beat the 76ers 119-109 on Monday night. That loss ended the 76ers’ seven-game winning streak.
But, despite uneven moments against a young, rising Magic team, the Sixers steadied themselves late and improved to 20-8 at home.
“I didn’t think we played great,” coach Doc Rivers said.
“But we played good enough to win. We’ll take that.”
Embiid, the NBA scoring leader, made all 10 of his free throws and was nine-of-17 shooting overall to help keep the Sixers within striking distance of the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Harden, a 10-time All-Star, hit six of Philadelphia’s 14 three-pointers and grabbed nine rebounds.
“I’m not going to sit here and make a case,” Harden said. “The numbers show it.”
Markelle Fultz led the Magic with 18 points.
The Magic have been the most improved team in the league since a nine-game losing streak left them at 5-20 in early December. They are 15-12 since then, which included a six-game winning streak.
“I really think it’s a belief system,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “Having them know that on any given night anything can happen. If you play hard, you give yourself a chance.”
The Sixers used a 17-0 run in the first quarter to take a 56-53 lead into halftime. The Sixers’ play with Embiid out again highlighted Philadelphia’s need to try and acquire a reliable backup option for the big man.
The Sixers were a plus-12 when Embiid played in the half, while Montrezl Harrell (minus-six) and Paul Reed (minus-three) struggled in limited action. With the trade deadline ahead next week, 76ers President Daryl Morey will try and beef up the bench.
But don’t expect a seismic deal like the one at last season’s deadline, when the Sixers acquired Harden.
Rivers declined to talk about potential moves. But the third-year Sixers coach knows he has his best team yet in Philadelphia – one that should contend for a championship.
“This team, I think is better, better equipped for the playoffs,” Rivers said. “I think we have toughness. We’re not as young. I think we have less holes. Every team has holes.”