PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid sank a 3-pointer for a career-high 49 points, flashed a big smile, cupped his ear to get the crowd screaming even louder and did a little dance.
When the Big Man is having fun, he’s almost impossible to stop.
Embiid also grabbed 14 rebounds, Tobias Harris had 25 points and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Atlanta Hawks 129-112 on Monday night.
Missing All-Star Ben Simmons for the second time in three games because of a back injury, the Sixers mixed up their starting lineup and got 15 points from Furkan Korkmaz in a reserve role.
Embiid carried them.
“I said before the All-Star break I was going to have a different mindset, be aggressive,” Embiid said. “I said I was going to get back to having fun. Having fun comes in different forms. I don’t have to always be smiling and laughing. I can have fun just dominating the game.”
The Sixers need consistency from Embiid to move into position for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They pulled within a half-game of Miami for fourth place in the Eastern Conference following the Heat’s overtime loss at Cleveland.
“With the news of Ben, he has to come out and play the way he did,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “When he comes with that activity, that mentality, that energy, he makes a statistician work and we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Harris praised Embiid for his “dominance” and added: “He can do that every single night if he wanted to.”
Trae Young led Atlanta with 28 points despite missing nine of 11 from 3-point range. De’Andre Hunter added 22 and John Collins had 21 for the Hawks.
After trailing by 21 in the first half, the Hawks outscored Philadelphia 23-9 to start the third quarter. They closed out the period with an 8-0 run and took a 92-91 lead into the fourth after Young nailed a 3.
The Sixers went up to stay on four consecutive free throws by Embiid. Harris sank a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 105-98.
Embiid’s dunk and 19-footer put Philadelphia up by 15 with 3:08 left, and the All-Star center heard “MVP!” chants when he went to the foul line in the final minutes. Embiid made 14 of 15 free throws and 17 of 24 from the floor. He hit a 3 in the final minute to set his personal best. His previous high was 46 against the Lakers on Nov. 15, 2017.
“Our guys were brilliant in the third quarter to compete and take the lead,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “Obviously, Joel is a handful.”
Simmons played five minutes in a loss at Milwaukee on Saturday before exiting. He had tests on Sunday and needs further evaluation.
Brown wouldn’t speculate on the extent of the injury or how long Simmons will be sidelined. But it appears the team is preparing to play without him for a while.
BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD
Embiid backtracked somewhat after calling himself the best player in the world following an excellent performance last Thursday against Brooklyn.
“What I said was, All-Star game, fourth quarter, I was out there with some of the best players in the world and I’m out there just dominating, just being unstoppable, just doing whatever I want, especially in the post, so I felt that was a chance for me to prove I deserve to be in that conversation,” Embiid said. “If I play every night like I played tonight, what more can you say. I just got to keep on doing it. I know I’m not but I do believe it … I got to prove it. I got to win. My goal is to win a championship. That’s how you prove you’re up there.”
Hawks: The loss snapped a two-game winning streak. The Hawks haven’t won three in a row all season. … Young, who entered averaging 30.0 points per game, only had 10 in the first half. Young had 39 points and 18 assists in a 127-117 victory over the 76ers at home on Jan. 30. … Pierce was an assistant for five seasons under Brown in Philadelphia before going to Atlanta last year.
76ers: Al Horford was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench the last three games The 6-foot-9. Horford had started 835 straight games since his rookie season in 2007 before Brown took him out of the starting lineup on Feb. 11. … Shake Milton started at point guard for Simmons. Shooting guard Josh Richardson also played the point.
Hawks: Host Orlando on Wednesday to begin a stretch of seven of nine games at home.
76ers: Visit Cleveland on Wednesday seeking to sweep the four-game season series.
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