Embiid outduels vintage Kawhi; Sixers drop Clippers, 120-110

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

On a night when the Los Angeles Clippers seemingly checked off all of their boxes — hold James Harden to single-digit points and field goals with multitudes of lengthy defenders, win the non-Joel Embiid minutes and get Kawhi Leonard going — the Philadelphia 76ers simply laughed off their opponent’s game plan and ripped them to shreds.

Most of the credit goes to Philly’s man in the middle, who has been building a remarkable case for his first-ever league MVP despite the relative lack of recognition from national media members. Joel Embiid ended his night with 41 points on 12-22 shooting, negating a classic Kawhi Leonard outing that saw the Klaw put up 27 points on 50 percent marks.

The Clippers tried various strategies to try to throw Embiid off of his game, including matching the behemoth with the equally massive Ivica Zubac and trying to force him to the bench with their patented small-ball lineups, but nothing could slow down the Cameroonian giant. When he wasn’t knocking down midrange jumpers or bullying his way to the rim, he was drawing trips to the foul line, much to the chagrin of the Clippers’ defenders.

James Harden was effectively shut down by LA’s myriad wing defenders, held to just six points and one field goal made, but his presence as an orchestrator showed its importance more than ever. Throughout this recent winning stretch, Embiid and the Beard have proven to be among the league’s most unstoppable star duos, but Philly’s blemishes are as glaring as ever, particularly the offense when Harden needs a blow.

There have been conflicting reports about Tyrese Maxey’s willingness to come off of the bench, but the third-year guard continues to build a strong case about why he should keep leading the Sixers’ reserve unit. Coming off of the pine again against LA, the former Kentucky wildcat put up a wildly efficient 22 points on 7-12 shooting and finished a game-high +22 in 28 minutes. Bringing in his scoring punch to back up the starters helps to alleviate Philadelphia’s offensive woes when Harden and Embiid need a rest.

With this win, Philly is now 8-2 in their last 10 outings and have seemingly caught a groove with their team healthy and a new lineup configuration with Maxey playing sixth man. They’ll get a true litmus test of their new capabilities in their next four games, all of which are against playoff hopefuls, as they’ll take on the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings to continue their west coast road trip before coming back to the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets.