PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Joel Embiid had 43 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls 121-106 on Monday night in a showdown between two of the Eastern Conference’s top teams headed in opposite directions.
James Harden added 16 points and 14 assists, and Tyrese Maxey added 17 points for the 76ers, who have won six of seven and stayed perfect with Harden in the lineup.
The 76ers improved to 5-0 with Harden since the blockbuster deal at the trade deadline that sent Ben Simmons to the Nets in exchange for the 2017-18 MVP. Harden sat out Philadelphia’s 99-82 loss at Miami on Saturday to rest his hamstring.
“It’s fun,“ Embiid said. “He just makes the game easy for everybody.“ Harden is averaging 24.6 points, 12.4 assists and 7.4 rebounds as a member of the 76ers. “Like a dream come true,“ said Georges Niang, who scored 14 points and hit four three-pointers, three of which Harden assisted.
Harden set up 76ers for open shots and driving dunks, like Embiid’s slam with 6:31 left in the third and Matisse Thybulle’s jam with 1:51 to play. Embiid, the league’s leading scorer, made 15 of 27 field goals and 12 of 16 free throws.
“Joel had it going the whole night, which obviously makes the game a little easier for everybody,“ Harden said. The MVP frontrunner scored at least 40 points for the 10th time this season while upping his season average to 29.7 points per contest.
Zach Lavine scored 24 points and DeMar DeRozan added 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls, who have lost five in a row.
The Bulls couldn’t beat the 76ers without Harden, and it certainly didn’t get any easier with the 10-time All-Star point guard directing Philadelphia’s offence.
“He’s a guy that has gotten a huge reputation, rightfully so, of being an incredible scorer; I also think he’s very unselfish,“ Bulls coach Billy Donovan said of Harden. “He’s a pass-first kind of guy. I think he gets a lot of pleasure out of that.“ Harden tied Reggie Miller for third on the career three-pointers list, draining number 2,560 with his patented step-back move with 1:09 left in the first quarter.
With Tony Brown Jr guarding him, Harden dribbled behind his back, then got the crowd buzzing by putting the ball between his legs four times before stepping back to the three-point line and swishing the long-range shot.
The Bulls have had trouble against the conference’s elite and dropped to 0-9 versus Miami, Philadelphia and Milwaukee – the three teams ahead of them in the standings. Philadelphia began play tied with the Bucks for second in the East, three games back of the Heat. The 76ers ended the season series with Chicago with a four-game sweep.