The last time the Sixers swept the Celtics in the regular season, Ben Simmons was four years old.

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The last time the Sixers swept the Celtics in the regular season, Ben Simmons was four years old.

Guess Who’s Back

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, Joel Embiid played his second game since returning from a scary ankle injury. He kept his thoughts simple afterward.

“I’m back,” Embiid told 76ers coach Doc Rivers. “I noticed,” Rivers replied.

The MVP candidate dropped 35 points as the Sixers completed their three-game regular-season sweep of the Celtics — during which he averaged 38.3 points on 60.4% shooting. 

“I thought my season was done,” he said on Saturday. “The pain, how bad it was hurting. I just knew that it was something worse than what we saw after.”

It’s not just his efficient paint play. The four-time All-Star is getting to the line at a historic rate that is even higher against Boston.

He’s attempting 11.8 free throws per game — the third-most in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal. Against Boston this season, he attempted 18.6, nearly equal to the 19.6 the Celtics attempted against Philadelphia as a whole.

“He takes advantage of every single bump,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said about Embiid.

Perhaps he has some extra motivation after the C’s swept the Sixers in the first round last season.

“It’s not just about what happened in the playoffs,” Embiid said after the game. “That’s the mindset we gotta have against every team. But against Boston, that’s our rival.”

Zach And Vuc Find Their Footing

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Vucevic was Chicago’s big prize at the trade deadline, and it’s beginning to pay off.

The big fella had his breakout game in the Bulls’ second straight win, finishing with 32 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, and four three-pointers on seven attempts. 

Chicago had lost four straight games after acquiring him, but wins against Brooklyn and Indiana should be a sign of good things to come.

By little coincidence, it was the second game in which Vuc attempted more shots than star guard Zach LaVine — who has consistently said he’s willing to take a back seat.

“As long as there’s a ‘W’ behind there, I’m good,” LaVine said. 

“I’m all about winning and trying to get this team to be better. So if that means me taking a lesser role some nights and my scoring goes down, I’m fine with that as long as we get a win.”

LaVine is still averaging a career-high 27.2 points and so is Vucevic at 24.3 points.

“The more him and I are able to grow and build that chemistry in a two-man game, the better it will be for the whole team,” Vucevic said.

Trez Had Schroder’s Back

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With only 21 games left, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in a stressful position. 

They’re only three games ahead of the seventh-seed Mavericks — one of the four play-in positions. LeBron James is still out with a high ankle injury. Seven weeks after he was deemed out with a calf strain, Anthony Davis is still “a ways away” from returning, coach Frank Vogel said Monday.

The Lakers relieved some of the pressure in a much-needed win last night. 

And maybe they got some of the other tension out too when Dennis Schroder and Raptors forward OG Anunoby got into a small scuffle

Anunoby lifted Schroder and dropped him to the floor. 

“It [was] just unnecessary,” said Schroder. “You got to go to the WWE with that. That wasn’t basketball.”

So in stepped Lakers big man Montrezl Harrell to push Anunoby aside and get his guy’s back.

“We’re brothers, we’re family,” Schroder said about Harrell. “I told him I’d do the same thing for him. I’m thankful for that.”

Harrell and OG both were ejected from the game. It wasn’t much, but it’s a rarity in 2021 — and one that can help bring this team together down the stretch.

They’ll need all the camaraderie they can get. Their next nine games are against teams above .500.

Around The Association: Steph, IT, Fans

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

– Stephen Curry surpassed teammate Klay Thompson for the most seasons (8) in NBA history with 200+ three-pointers.

– In his debut with the Pelicans, nine-year veteran Isaiah Thomas scored 10 points in 25 minutes. He’s currently on a 10-day deal with the team.

– According to ESPN, the NBA expects to have arenas filled with fans at full capacity during the 2021-22 season.

Game To Watch: Jazz at Suns

Gabriel Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

The best of the best in the wild West! The Phoenix Suns (35-14) only trail the No. 1 seed Utah Jazz (38-12) by 2.5 games. Phoenix is currently the NBA’s hottest team — winners in six straight games.

Utah Jazz (-1.5) at Phoenix Suns, 10:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

  • Jazz -121 | Suns +102
  • O/U: 227

Shoutout to Daniel Markowitz, who came the closest to predicting how many points Joel Embiid would score against the Celtics. Daniel guessed 36; Embiid dropped 35.

Pick ‘Em: Reply to this newsletter with your prediction for how many combined points and assists Chris Paul will total tonight. Whoever nails it gets a mention in the next edition of The Association.

TA’s Pick: (18 points, 12 assists) – 30!

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