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Embiid, 76ers power past Bucks 116-94 and into 6th in East
By MIKE CRANSTON
PHILADELPHIA (AP) It's only January, yet Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown wants his team keeping an eye on the standings.
"He mentioned that we could jump to sixth (in the Eastern Conference) if we won," guard Ben Simmons said. "Obviously, it was a big game, and we did a really good job of closing it out."
Joel Embiid had 29 points and nine rebounds and the 76ers pulled away from the undermanned Milwaukee Bucks 116-94 on Saturday night for their seventh win in eight games.
Simmons added 16 points and nine assists, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 16 points in a rare start as the Sixers (22-20) moved past Milwaukee (23-22).
For a franchise that had won 75 games the previous four seasons combined, Philadelphia is eagerly eyeing its first postseason berth since 2012.
"We've been able to find our identity," Embiid said.
Khris Middleton had his first career-triple double - 23 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists - for the Bucks in their second straight loss. They were without top scorer Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was sitting out the first of two games to rest a sore right knee.
Fellow starter Malcolm Brogdon also wasn't available due to a family matter. Tony Snell (15 points) and Sterling Brown (14 points) moved into the lineup, and the Bucks rallied from 16 points down to tie it before being outscored 32-14 in the fourth quarter.
"We were short-handed and they played hard," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "But turnovers cost us there to start that fourth quarter."
Antetokounmpo practiced Friday, but the Bucks announced Saturday morning the two-time All-Star would be out until Friday against Brooklyn to "manage" his ailment. Knee pain also kept Antetokounmpo sidelined on Nov. 22 and Dec. 23.
"Hopefully, after missing these two games, he doesn't have to miss any more," Kidd said.
Philadelphia was without its top two shooting guards. JJ Redick (cracked bone below his knee) is out at least a week and Jerryd Bayless (sore left wrist) didn't dress.
Luwawu-Cabarrot, a French guard in his second NBA season, stepped into the starting lineup and made 3 of 5 3-pointers. His 3-pointer capped a 13-0 run early in the fourth as Philadelphia built a 97-82 lead.
"It was a big opportunity for me to show up and step up," Luwawu-Cabarrot said.
The Sixers showed good depth early. Nine players scored in the first quarter, and they built a 53-37 lead before halftime.
After committing just three first-half turnovers, the Sixers threw it away 11 times in the third, and Middleton and Eric Bledsoe (14 points on 5-of-18 shooting) helped the Bucks rally to tie it.
Embiid responded with a dunk and a block on Bledsoe and a three-point play to end the third and give the Sixers an 84-80 lead.
Middleton was 9 of 20 from the field. It was his first double-figure rebounding game of the season.
Bucks: Brogdon is expected back Monday. ... Marshall Plumlee, signed to a two-way contact five days earlier, had six points and six rebounds in his team debut. "He was great," Kidd said. ... Milwaukee plays the Sixers three more times, including at Philadelphia on April 11 to end the regular season.
76ers: Rookie G Markelle Fultz participated in shootaround as he tries to regain his shooting form following a right shoulder injury. The No. 1 overall pick has missed 38 straight games. ... Simmons didn't attempt a 3-pointer for the 12th time in 13 games. He's 0 for 10 from long range. ... With the game in hand, fans turned their attention to Sunday's NFC championship game with several "Eagles" chants. The Sixers are flying to Memphis earlier than usual Sunday so they can watch the game on TV.
Embiid played on after aggravating a right hand injury from last month. Brown gave a nod to the team's often-criticized medical staff for Embiid being voted an All-Star despite his numerous injuries.
"They deserve a hell of a lot of credit," Brown said.
Embiid still isn't cleared to play back-to-back games following knee surgery last March. Brown said his fitness level is 85-90 percent.
"His muscle tone and his stomach, he physically looks good," Brown said. "But we see a little bit of a decline in fourth periods."
Bucks: Home vs. Phoenix on Monday night.
76ers: At Memphis on Monday night.
More AP basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
Updated January 20, 2018