Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers' rookie center, continues to make the most of his opportunities. In doing so, he has helped the downtrodden Sixers fashion a modest home winning streak.
Embiid scored 26 points, the highest total in his nine-game NBA career, to lead Philadelphia to a 120-105 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night, the Sixers' third straight home victory.
On Monday, he faces a sizable challenge when the Miami Heat, featuring NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside, visits Philadelphia (3-10).
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Whiteside, who had 18 points, 18 boards and three blocked shots in the Heat's 114-111 victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night, is averaging 17.7 points, 16.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks for Miami (4-8).
Embiid, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, missed his first two seasons while recovering from a pair of foot surgeries. The team has been limiting him to 24 minutes a game as a precaution and will do so until at least Christmas. He has also been held out of four games to date.
Embiid, who is averaging 22 minutes a game, nonetheless leads the Sixers in scoring (18.0) and rebounding (7.6).
On Saturday, he poured in 17 points in the first quarter. Embiid told reporters afterward he was hoping to atone for the team's dismal performance on national television Thursday, a 110-86 loss at Minnesota.
“That's just probably one of the main reasons I came out (on fire) in the first quarter,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I just wanted to dominate.”
Embiid added that he was further motivated by social media criticism about being outplayed by Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns had 25 points and 10 rebounds while Embiid finished with 10 points and 10 boards. Embiid didn't think the criticism was justified because Towns didn't guard him.
“That made me mad,” Embiid told the Inquirer. “And that's food for me. I like that. I like competition. I want to fight. I want to win. So tonight I think it helped me a little bit.”
Miami guard Goran Dragic scored 22 points against Washington on Saturday, as the Heat won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Miami, which dropped six straight prior to that, generated a season-high point total and made half its shots. The Heat was shooting 42 percent from the floor, third-worst in the NBA, entering the game.
“Much better,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the Miami Herald. “We still have a long ways to go. But guys are getting more comfortable, one in their roles and two where our strengths are. So that's a start.”
Heat backup center Willie Reed is not expected to play Monday, after hyperextending his right knee against Washington.
Top overall pick Ben Simmons (foot) has yet to play this season for the Sixers, and is not expected to return until January at the earliest. Philadelphia has also been without guard Jerryd Bayless (wrist) and center/forward Nerlens Noel (knee), but both have ramped up their rehab in the last week.