CLEVELAND (AP) — Before the Sixers went on the road without him, Joel Embiid asked his teammates to keep winning and stay on top of the Eastern Conference.
The big man got his wish.
Shake Milton scored 27 points, Dwight Howard had 18 points and 15 rebounds, and Philadelphia finished a six-game road trip without their injured MVP candidate center by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-94 on Thursday night.
The Sixers, who were beaten twice by the Cavs earlier this season, went 4-2 on their trip as they wait for Embiid to get back from a knee injury. They also kept pace in their tight race with Brooklyn for the East’s No. 1 seed.
“We did a good job of holding the fort down without the big fella,” said forward Tobias Harris.
Seth Curry made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points, and Milton’s scoring off the bench helped offset an off night for Ben Simmons, who went just 2 of 11 from the floor but had 13 rebounds. Howard made 6 of 7 shots while matching his season-high.
Philly’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 65-26, and the Sixers wrapped up a trip that could have gone the other direction sans Embiid.
“That was a heck of a trip for us,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers, acknowledging earlier this season his team would haver collapsed without Embiid. “I think we’re on the other side now. Now our guys don’t care. They just win.”
Philadelphia’s defense clamped down on Cleveland in the third quarter, holding the Cavs to 17 points and just 38 in the second half. The Sixers pulled away early in the fourth thanks to two 3-pointers from Milton, who went 5 of 7 beyond the arc.
Collin Sexton scored 24 points to lead the Cavs, who welcomed back forward Kevin Love. The five-time All-Star played in just his fifth game this season because of a calf strain and finished with 13 points in 20 minutes — only five after halftime.
Matthew Dellavedova made his season debut for Cleveland after being out with a concussion and appendectomy. The crowd favorite didn’t score but had five assists in 16 minutes.
Embiid missed his 10th straight game with a bone bruise in his left knee, an injury he sustained dunking on March 12.
He’s close to returning — Saturday’s game against Minnesota seems likely — and the Sixers are expected to provide a medical update Friday on their talented big man, who was one of the MVP frontrunners before he got hurt.
While they missed him, the Sixers also figured out some things without Embiid as Philly’s reserves were forced to play a larger role.
“When we add Joel back, it will be lights out,” Howard said.
Love wasted no time making an impact.
After getting a warm ovation, Love made his first three shots, two of them 3-pointers, and scored 10 points in the first quarter. He was on a minutes restriction, but coach J.B. Bickerstaff inserted him back in the game in the second quarter when it appeared the 32-year-old was still catching his breath.
Love said the injury was the most frustrating of his career.
“The joy of being out there and finally feeling like myself again made me happy,” he said.
Love and Dellavedova gave the Cavs much needed depth as forward Larry Nance Jr. (illness), center Jarrett Allen (concussion) and forward Dylan Windler (knee) were all out.
76ers: Improved to 7-3 without Embiid. … Rivers will do his best to balance rest and health down the stretch but made it clear Philadelphia will “want to get” the top seed. … One of the game’s most revered coaches, Rivers has enjoyed being a mentor to younger coaches across the league. He also loves to pick their brains. “I’m tired of hearing the same old ideas,” he cracked.
Cavaliers: Love and Dellavedova missed a combined 90 games, depriving the Cavs of experience and on-court leadership. … Bickerstaff has talked to Darius Garland about being more of a vocal leader, which doesn’t come naturally to the 21-year-old. “It’s not in his nature,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s a leader by example mostly.”… Garland is one of just six players in the Eastern Conference averaging at least 16 points, five assists and shooting better than 39% on 3-pointers and 83% from the line.
76ers: Return home and host the Timberwolves on Saturday.
Cavaliers: Visit Miami on Friday looking to end an inexplicable 19-game losing streak in South Florida. Cleveland last won in Miami on Jan. 25, 2010.
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