PHILADELPHIA (AP) — If Joel Embiid and Hassan Whiteside have their way, centers are going to be big in the NBA again.
Embiid had 22 points, including four late free throws, to lead the Philadelphia 76ers over Whiteside and the Miami Heat 101-94 on Monday night in a matchup between two of the top big men in the Eastern Conference.
Whiteside set a career high with 32 points while reaching double digits in rebounds for the 13th consecutive game to start the season. Whiteside, who entered leading the NBA with 16.2 boards per game, finished with 13.
"Around the league there’s a lot of young big men, and I think we’re starting to come back," said Embiid, who played 23 minutes. "So one thing I told him is keep killing it. As big men, we all want each other to do good. I’ve always studied him in the past. It’s always been a big man league, so I want it to stay like that."
Gerald Henderson added 19 points and Jahlil Okafor had 15 for the 76ers, who won their fourth straight home game. Philadelphia (4-10) has lost 21 in a row on the road.
"I feel we’re moving in the right direction," coach Brett Brown said.
Embiid has made an early case for Rookie of the Year despite missing two seasons with a foot injury. He set a career high with 26 points in Philadelphia’s 120-105 win over Phoenix on Saturday night and followed that up with yet another strong game.
He was serenaded with chants of "MVP! MVP!" late in the game from the home crowd, which hasn’t had much to cheer about in the last few seasons during Philadelphia’s rebuilding process. But Embiid has given Sixers fans reason to hope.
"Philly loves that guy," Whiteside said. "I’ve never seen excitement like that. They love that dude. I was amazed."
Embiid came up big again Monday, especially down the stretch.
The teams were close throughout the second half. Henderson’s corner 3-pointer gave Philadelphia an 85-80 cushion with 8:16 remaining. Whiteside re-entered shortly after that shot and helped Miami tie it at 89 with 4:43 left on a tip-in.
Philadelphia responded with nine of the next 11 points, capped by Embiid’s two free throws with 2:27 left that gave the 76ers their biggest lead to that point, 98-91.
"There’s a spirit he has at the end of games and on the bench that reflects toughness and a growing desire," Brown said of Embiid.
Robert Covington also came up big during the late Sixers run, scoring on a reverse layup and a 3-pointer.
Covington was booed upon entering the game in the fourth quarter due to his recent shooting struggles. He entered having missed 27 of his last 31 shots and finished 4 for 13 against Miami.
"It goes in one ear, out the other," Covington said. "I’ve been here two years. I see the ups and downs of how Philly fans are, and it doesn’t affect me. Just keep playing."
The 3-pointer eased Covington’s mind.
"It was a big relief," he said. "My teammates just kept telling me to keep shooting. I was like, I’m going to have one good shot."
KEEP ME IN, COACH
Whiteside, plagued by foul trouble, played 32 minutes. He ended the night with five fouls, but would have liked to have seen more time on the court.
"One day he is going to trust me with the five fouls," Whiteside said of coach Erik Spoelstra.
Embiid is the rare big man who has a feathery touch from outside. He shot 7 of 13 from the field and hit one of his two 3-point attempts. For the season, Embiid is shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and has drained 11 of 21 3-pointers.
Heat: Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey will be retired by Miami on Dec. 22 during a ceremony at halftime against the Los Angeles Lakers. … F Willie Reed (knee) didn’t play after leaving Saturday’s game at Washington.
76ers: Offseason acquisition Jerryd Bayless made his season debut for Philadelphia and scored four points in 16 minutes. Bayless missed the first 13 games with a left wrist injury. . Embiid’s minutes are restricted in the wake of his foot injury.
Heat: At the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.
76ers: Host the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.