NBA: Frustrated Sixers seek better outcome at Cavaliers

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The Philadelphia 76ers still have the opportunity to improve their playoff position with only nine games remaining in the regular season.

The Sixers fell 108-107 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, and the frustration bubbled over as coach Nick Nurse and guard Kelly Oubre Jr. angrily yelled at the referees after the loss. Oubre appeared to be fouled on a final shot but nothing was called.

Philadelphia (39-34), which sits in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, will battle the host Cleveland Cavaliers (44-29) on Friday.

Against Los Angeles, Tyrese Maxey led the Sixers with 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Oubre added 17 points and 11 rebounds. Buddy Hield scored 17 points, Tobias Harris added 14 and Mo Bamba had 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.

But the Sixers continued to falter without reigning Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid, who had lateral meniscus surgery on Feb. 6.

“We have to take care of the ball,” Maxey said. “We have to finish games.”

The top six seeds in each conference avoid the play-in games.

Nurse said that Embiid could return before the end of the regular season. An exact timeline, however, hasn’t been determined.

“I would imagine he’s getting better each day,” Nurse said of Embiid. “It’s just trying to get him strong and confident and in shape and ramped up and all those wonderful words.”

Despite the crushing loss to the Clippers, the Sixers played solid defense, especially down the stretch. Kawhi Leonard converted two very difficult three-point plays in the final minute through some stifling defense.

“I think our defense is getting a lot better. It is,” Nurse said. “We’re getting a lot better and we’re figuring out some things.”

The Cavaliers will enter this matchup having dropped four of five.

Cleveland was surprisingly beaten by the Charlotte Hornets, 118-111, on Wednesday.

Even without an injured Donovan Mitchell, the Cavaliers placed six players in double figures led by Jarrett Allen’s 24 points, Max Strus’ 19 and Sam Merrill’s 17. Darius Garland had 14 points and 12 assists, Georges Niang scored 14 points and Evan Mobley had 10.

“Our attitude toward winning and losing was not where it needed to be,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We settled in the first quarter because we thought the game was going to be easy because we were scoring. But they’re NBA players, too, and if you give them confidence and you give them opportunity, it’s going to come back and bite you.”

The Cavaliers had trouble executing when the game was up for grabs in the fourth quarter.

This lack of offensive execution has been an issue in recent losses.

“You go through ups and downs during a season and we definitely aren’t playing our best basketball right now,” Merrill said. “We’ve got to fix that, clearly. But we have also shown that we can play at a high level, and we have nine games to get that back before the playoffs.”

The good news for the Cavaliers is this: reports have indicated that Mitchell could return to face the Sixers. Mitchell struggled with a bone bruise on his knee earlier this season and most recently a nasal fracture.

Mitchell has been out since March 16.

In 49 games, Mitchell is averaging 27.4 points, 6.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.

–Field Level Media

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