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Embiid dominates as Sixers beat Brooklyn in battle for top spot in East

Embiid dominates as Sixers beat Brooklyn in battle for top spot in East Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts during a game against the Brooklyn Nets on April 14, 2021 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (AFP/Getty Images/David Dow)
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Los Angeles, United States   ●   Thu, April 15, 2021 2021-04-15 11:06 21 0920e6703081f028872405a5263a1d46 2 Sports joel-embiid,Brooklyn-Nets,Philadelphia-76ers,NBA,basketball Free

Joel Embiid finished with 39 points as the Philadelphia 76ers won the battle for first place in the Eastern Conference, holding on to beat the short-handed Brooklyn Nets 123-117 on Wednesday.

Philadelphia, who are seeking their first NBA championship since 1983, are looking to earn the top seed and home court advantage in the postseason and Wednesday's win gives them the upper hand, at least for now, over the second-place Nets.

The 76ers improved to 38-17 on the season, just one game ahead of Brooklyn at 37-18. 

Embiid also shot 13-of-29 from the floor and pulled down 13 rebounds as the 76ers saw their 22 point lead slashed to just three in the fourth.

Tobias Harris added 26 points and Ben Simmons finished with 17 points, nine assists and three steals for the Sixers, who won their third straight. Shake Milton had 15 points. 

The depleted Nets played without offensive star James Harden, who is recovering from a strained hamstring, and Kevin Durant who sits out when the team has games on back-to-back nights. Durant had eight turnovers in his last game, a one-sided 126-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kyrie Irving led the Nets with 37 points and nine assists while Landry Shamet added 17 points and Jeff Green had 15. Bruce Brown scored 14, and DeAndre Jordan finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Irving was a late addition to the lineup after he took time off for "personal reasons."

The Nets have been playing with all or a portion of their 'Big Three' out for most of the season but they are hoping that everyone gets healthy for the postseason.

With the Sixers up by double digits in the second half, Embiid was hoping to have an early night and rest for the fourth quarter. But the Nets had other plans making a late run to cut a 22-point lead to just three.

"The last three games I sat out the fourth and I thought it would be the same. We made a bunch of mistakes and turned the ball over. It can happen," said Embiid.

Also, Khris Middleton scored a team high 27 points as the Milwaukee Bucks led wire-to-wire and won their second straight game without star Giannis Antetokounmpo with a 130-105 demolition of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the basket during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 14, 2021 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the basket during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 14, 2021 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (AFP/GETTY IMAGES/Jordan Johnson)

Middleton also had eight rebounds and seven assists in just over 25 minutes of playing time as he seized control of the offense with Antetokounmpo missing his sixth consecutive contest with a sore knee.

The Bucks improved to 34-20 on the season and are 3-3 in games without the two-time NBA MVP.

Wire-to-wire

Milwaukee were up by as much as 30 points at one stage as they led at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Anthony Edwards scored 24 points to lead the Timberwolves, who lost while playing without two-time all-star Karl-Anthony Towns for the second straight day.

Rookie Towns was out after he reportedly opted out of playing against the Nets to spend time with his family on the one-year anniversary of his mother's death due to Covid-19.

Towns' mother was one of seven family members who died from complications of the coronavirus in 2020.