When the Philadelphia 76ers acquired James Harden last season, he was supposed to form a lethal combination with Joel Embiid.
It never fully materialized in the 2021-22 season.
Fast forward to now, and the Harden-Embiid duo arguably is becoming the most dangerous one-two punch in the league. And their prowess will be on display Sunday when the Sixers look for their eighth consecutive victory as they battle the host New York Knicks in a Christmas Day showdown.
Embiid scored 44 points and Harden added 20 points, a career-high 21 assists and 11 rebounds as the Sixers swept a seven-game homestand with a 119-114 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
Harden tied a franchise record for assists -- joining Wilt Chamberlain and Maurice Cheeks -- and became the eighth player in NBA history to reach 70 career triple-doubles. Eleven of those assists led to Embiid points.
“I think they’re playing together. I mean numbers wise, clearly it is the best,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said. “But I just think they have a great chemistry and it’s just gonna keep growing.”
The 76ers rallied from a 20-point first-half deficit, and they continued to win without Tyrese Maxey, out with a fractured left foot. Maxey is expected back in about one week.
Reserve Shake Milton has taken advantage of the opportunity for more playing time and produced 13 points off the bench.
“I mean he was like fresh produce out there, so he just kept eating and kept going,” said De’Anthony Melton, who also had 13 points, of Milton. “That’s what we need as a team and, you know, as a player.”
After an impressive eight-game winning streak, the Knicks have dropped consecutive games to the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls.
RJ Barrett scored 44 points and, Julius Randle added 29 points and 12 rebounds, but the Knicks fell 118-117 to the Bulls on Friday.
DeMar DeRozan’s jumper with 0.4 seconds remaining was the difference, and the loss left Barrett deflated.
“It’s not the same without the win,” Barrett said. “Tonight, I had it going. It’s just frustrating to not get the win. I feel like we did enough things well to win that game, but we came up short.”
Barrett shot 14 of-20 from the field, including 6 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc, to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. More than the statistics, Barrett has continued to excel in all areas.
“RJ being RJ,” Jalen Brunson said. “He was in attack mode for 48 minutes. He carried us. Especially when we needed it. We just got to close it out for him.”
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau had little problem diagnosing the difference between winning and losing: defense.
“I just felt like we never got our defense established,” Thibodeau said. “It was an offensive game. Hard to slow those type of guys down once they get their confidence going like they did. Then they had some timely rebounds, we missed some free throws. Things can change real fast in this league.”
The Knicks are just 8-9 at home this season, but the 76ers are 5-7 on the road.
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