Joel Embiid expected to play power forward with Jahlil Okafor at center vs. Raptors

Joel Embiid expected to play power forward with Jahlil Okafor at center vs. Raptors

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers will be short a big without Nerlens Noel on Wednesday night, but they'll still have two against the Raptors.

Joel Embiid expects to play alongside Jahlil Okafor on Wednesday. When he does, Embiid will be the power forward.

Embiid will remain at center when playing with power forwards Ersan Ilyasova or Dario Saric, who also will be seeing time at small forward. 

“Tonight I’m guarding the four, so I think it depends on the matchups,” Embiid said after shootaround. “Some days I’m going to be guarding the five, but tonight I’m guarding the four.”

Brett Brown has emphasized his decision to play two bigs will be based on the opponents. He has paired Embiid and Okafor twice against the Magic, who feature Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic (see story)

Embiid sees the Raptors, who are projected to start Pascal Siakam at power forward and Jonas Valanciunas at center, as a good opportunity to move around the floor. The Sixers will need help defense honing in on the dangerous backcourt of DeMar DeRozan (27.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game) and Kyle Lowry (21.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists per game). 

“I think no disrespect to Siakam, but he’s not as good as a shooter,” Embiid said. “That sets me kind of free to like just play all over the place, helping my teammates, helping off DeRozan, Valanciunas, so it just kind of gives me free reign to just play.”

The Raptors beat the Sixers, 122-95, in their first meeting of the season on Nov. 28. Embiid did not play, as it was the second game of a back-to-back. 

Best of NBA: John Wall, Wizards hold on to beat Cavaliers

Best of NBA: John Wall, Wizards hold on to beat Cavaliers

CLEVELAND -- John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington's victory cut Cleveland's lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston (see full recap).

Clippers beat Jazz to clinch playoff berth
LOS ANGELES -- Jamal Crawford scored 28 points off the bench, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 108-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the sixth straight year.

The Clippers trail the Jazz by a half-game in their race for the No. 4 playoff seed in the West.

Blake Griffin added 15 points and DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert had 26 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, and reserve Joe Johnson added 17 points. The Jazz have dropped four of five.

Utah rallied in the third, putting together a 20-6 spurt to trim Los Angeles' lead to 72-70 heading into the final period. Gobert had nine points and Johnson scored seven during the run that included 10 straight points for the Jazz over one stretch.

Chris Paul and Crawford both got technicals while the Clippers struggled to score and defend (see full recap).

Leonard, Aldridge help Spurs topple Knicks
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points, LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the New York Knicks 106-98 on Saturday night.

San Antonio has won four straight heading into home games against Cleveland on Monday and Golden State on Wednesday. The Spurs (56-16) are two games behind the Warriors (58-14) for the league's best record.

San Antonio ensured there would not be a repeat of its disappointing 94-90 loss in New York on Feb. 12, but not without some tense moments.

Derrick Rose and Willy Hernangomez each scored 24 points and Hernangomez added 13 rebounds. Mindaugas Kuzminskas had 19 points starting in place of Carmelo Anthony, who missed his second straight game with a sore left knee (see full recap).

How the Sixers watch the NCAA Tournament, from scouting to reliving

How the Sixers watch the NCAA Tournament, from scouting to reliving

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA Tournament is a different viewing experience for everyone. To some it is a chance to root for an alma mater, to others is a glimpse into future NBA talent, and for the small handful that makes it to the pros, a reminder of moments they cherished. 

From players to the head coach, March Madness has an individual meaning to the Sixers.

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The draft has been just as much a part of Brett Brown's time with the Sixers as the regular season. The Sixers have been perennial top pick contenders and could be heavily involved in the 2017 draft lottery. They have their own first-round pick and rights to swap with the Kings. They also could get the Lakers' pick if it is outside of the top three. 

How does Brown watch college basketball this time of year? 

"Like I'm going to coach one of them," he said. "You pay attention."

Rather than trying to read into the intangibles, such as being a good teammate or competitiveness, Brown hones in on one skill that he can assess quickly. 

"I'm always paying attention to shooters," Brown said. "It really does, on so many levels, make the world go 'round. It especially does with the group that we're constructing … I'm very opinionated when it comes to shooting. I feel like if I see somebody shoot three or four times and just watch their form, their footwork, their preparation, you form a pretty quick opinion. It takes you about a second to look at their stats and it helps you validate what you think or contradict what you think. But shooters really are what's most on my mind."

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It was only three seasons ago that Jahlil Okafor was cutting down the nets as an NCAA championship winner. Okafor considers the Duke basketball circle as family and spends his summers on campus. Watching the tournament from a distance stirs up old feelings that really aren't so old. 

"It kind of makes me sad because I want to be out there with my guys," Okafor said. "It makes me a little sad, especially when they lose (second-seeded Duke lost to South Carolina in the second round). It's always fun to watch. I'm so closely removed from it and I'm friends with all those guys on the team."

Okafor said coach Mike Krzyzewski has changed up the system, which was heavily focused on getting him the ball at the basket since he left after his freshman year. The excitement of March Madness, though, still feels very familiar. 

"Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday, sometimes it feels like it was 20 years ago," Okafor said. "It feels like I was just in the tournament."

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Nik Stauskas will always be attached to Michigan basketball. This season was significant because the teammates he played with before entering the draft in 2014 were still part of the program. 

"It's going to change next year because it will be the first year that I will have not played with anyone on that team," Stauskas said. "But as of right now, I still feel such a huge connection. Most of the coaches are still the same, most of the main players were guys I played with my sophomore year."

Michigan upset Louisville in the second round before losing to Oregon by one point in the Sweet 16. Stauskas was watching along from the Sixers' road trip. 

"To see them make the run, I'm extremely proud," he said. "I don't get emotionally attached to basketball games unless it's Michigan playing. It's fun to be that involved and that engaged into a name."