Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons was crowned the 2021 NBA Slam Dunk champion on Sunday.

This year's All-Star Game Slam Dunk Contest was a lot different in more ways than one in Atlanta.

It took place at half-time of the All-Star showdown and was lacking in star power, with just three participants – Simmons, Obi Toppin (New York Knicks) and Cassius Staley (Indiana Pacers).

In a condensed format, first-time participant Simons dazzled at State Farm Arena, where he defeated New York's Toppin in the final to win the title.

Simons' self-lob, where he attempted to kiss the rim but fell just short, was chosen by the judges via a 3-2 vote ahead of Toppin.

Toppin had opted for a between-the-legs effort from just inside the free-throw line.

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard is planning to represent the United States at the rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo this year.

Coronavirus forced the 2020 Games to be postponed, with the Olympics now due to be held in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8 this year.

Despite a potentially congested schedule, with the Clippers contenders in the Western Conference and the NBA season set to finish on July 22 if the Finals go the distance, Leonard is ready to play for Team USA.

"My plan is to go," Leonard said on Sunday, ahead of the All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Gregg Popovich's Team USA are set to play their first game against France on July 25.

"If I feel up to it and feel ready to go around that time, then I'm going to play," Leonard said.

Leonard added: "A lot of people were in for 2020, but just the pandemic pretty much killed everything."

Team USA won the Gold Medal in 2016, defeating Serbia at the Rio De Janeiro Games almost five years ago in Brazil.

Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry was dramatically crowned Three-Point Content champion on the final shot in Atlanta.

Gearing up for Sunday's All-Star Game, two-time MVP Curry reigned supreme thanks to his final shot – a two-point money ball that put him ahead of Utah Jazz star Mike Conley in a shooting masterclass.

Curry bested Conley and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics in the final round to become just the seventh player to win the contest multiple times, and the first to do so since Jason Kapono (2007-08).

Three-time NBA champion Curry, who posted a final round score of 28, previously won the three-point competition in 2015.

Curry dedicated the win to injured Warriors team-mate Klay Thompson, who claimed the contest in 2016.

"The Splash bros, we are back," Curry said. "This one goes out to Klay Thompson, we got it done big fella."

Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis upstaged Luka Doncic and Chris Paul to win the NBA Skills Challenge.

Sabonis defeated Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic in Sunday's final, ahead of the All-Star Game in Atlanta.

After losing to Miami Heat star Bam Adebayo in last year's decider, Sabonis went all the way in 2021 in a competition testing ball-handling, passing and shooting ability.

"I just wanted to come out here and have fun with," Sabonis said on TNT after the win.

Sabonis eased past New York Knicks All-Star forward Julius Randle in the opening round before stunning Mavericks star Doncic in the semi-finals in another flawless victory.

Vucevic topped veteran star Paul of the Phoenix Suns, but he was unable to stop Sabonis – who nailed a three-pointer on his fourth attempt for the title.

 

 

Blake Griffin has cleared free agency waivers and is set to join Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets, according to reports.

The Athletic reported six-time All-Star Griffin was expected to link up with the NBA's latest 'big three' after leaving the lowly Detroit Pistons.

The 31-year-old, whose deal in Detroit was set to run until 2022, agreed a contract buyout with the Pistons earlier this week.

Griffin was tipped to join a contender, with the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers mentioned alongside the Nets in initial reports.

But the star-studded Nets will seemingly get their man as they boost a roster that already includes three 2021 All-Stars.

The 24-13 Nets – second behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference – had been expected to add size after Jarrett Allen left in January as part of the blockbuster three-team trade that saw former MVP Harden arrive from the Houston Rockets.

Allen is now playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, where Andre Drummond – one mooted option – has sat out of action ahead of a potential move.

But Brooklyn are instead making Griffin their newest recruit, hoping he can stay fit for an extended period having played just 38 games since the start of last season.

Griffin has averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 20 games this season for the Pistons (10-26), bottom in the east and only behind the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-29) for the worst record in the league.

Those numbers are down on his career average, including 8.7 boards per game, the same mark that Harden has reached for the Nets this season – a team-high among those still on the roster.

Brooklyn rank 14th in the league with 44.3 rebounds per game in 2020-21.

Philadelphia 76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will not play in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

The NBA confirmed the duo had been exposed to the individual in Philadelphia prior to travelling to the event in Atlanta.

It will keep the Sixers pair out of the annual game, although it will have no impact on the rest of the players, a statement said.

ESPN reported Zion Williamson would take Embiid's place in the starting five for Team Durant. Simmons had been set to appear from the bench for Team LeBron.

The Sixers are 24-12 this season at the top of the East, led by Embiid, who is in the running for the MVP award.

The fifth-year center is averaging 30.2 points and 11.6 rebounds in 2020-21.

The NBA fined Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell $25,000 after his scathing criticism of officials following his ejection in Wednesday's overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Mitchell stormed off the court and kicked a water cooler towards a security guard after he was tossed from the showdown in Philadelphia, where the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers prevailed 131-123.

Utah's Mitchell picked up two technical fouls in overtime after 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid had forced OT with a game-tying three-pointer with 5.3 seconds remaining.

Level at 118-118 at the start of overtime, the 76ers went on to outscore NBA leaders the Jazz 13-5 in the additional period before Mitchell unleashed post-game.

"I'm never ever one to blame a ref, blame an official, but this is getting out of hand," Mitchell, who posted 33 points, said after the game.

"There have been games like this we've one. Games we've lost. We're nice, we don't complain, we don't get frustrated, we fight through things.

"But the fact that we continuously get screwed in a way by this … It's getting f****** ridiculous."

Mitchell was fined for public criticism of officiating and his conduct while exiting the playing court, executive vice-president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe announced.

Jazz team-mate Rudy Gobert was also fined $20,000 for public criticism of officiating.

Gobert was quoted as saying: "Our guys are not able to get calls everybody else in the f****** league gets. We know we are the Utah Jazz, and maybe some people don't want to see us go as far as we can go, but it's disappointing.

"Three times in a row, Mike Conley is going to the rim, and they're grabbing him right in front of the officials, and there's no calls. And on the other end, there are calls that are invisible that are being made."

The Utah Jazz's Mike Conley will participate in this weekend's NBA All-Star Game after Devin Booker withdrew due to injury.

Booker had replaced injured Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis for Sunday's game between Team Durant and Team LeBron, but the Phoenix Suns guard has succumbed to a left knee sprain.

It has paved the way for Conley to earn his first All-Star selection as chosen by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, with the 33-year-old Jazz point guard replacing Booker on Team Durant.

Conley is into his 14th NBA season – it is the latest into a career (by seasons played) that a player has ever made his first All-Star team, per Stats Perform.

He will also step in for Booker in the three-point contest, which will take place before the All-Star Game on Sunday.

Conley is averaging 16.1 points and 5.7 assists per game, while he is shooting a career-high 42.2 per cent from three-point range in 29 games this season as the Jazz (27-9) lead the NBA.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Washington Wizards sharpshooter Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics are the Team Durant starters.

The reserves drafted by Durant are James Harden (Nets), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic) and Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), with Conley joining that list.

Team LeBron is headlined by Lakers superstar LeBron James, two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and the Denver Nuggets' MVP candidate Nikola Jokic.

Team LeBron's reserves are Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Ben Simmons (76ers), Chris Paul (Suns), Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Paul George (Clippers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers) and Rudy Gobert (Jazz).

Team LeBron have won the past three All-Star Games after topping Team Giannis 157-155 in Chicago last year.

Blake Griffin could be set to swap the team sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings for a potential title contender after agreeing a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons. 

Stories on Friday of a parting of the ways between the Pistons and Griffin hardly came as a surprise, considering he had not featured for the team in their previous 10 games prior to the All-Star break. 

Both parties agreed for the 31-year-old to be held off the active roster as the franchise worked towards a solution over his playing future.

With no trade able to be worked out, a settlement has instead been reached with Griffin – whose contract was due to run until the end of the 2021-22 season – that will see him become a much-coveted free agent. 

"Blake has been a great representative for our franchise and for the city of Detroit," Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a statement.

"His work ethic and his approach to the game contributed a lot to our culture. He has been a consummate pro and we wish him continued success. I'm grateful for everything he did for our team and for our community."

Now the six-time All-Star waits to see what offers come his way. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers are among those interested.

Griffin had averaged 12.3 points per game while shooting 36.5 per cent in his 20 outings for Detroit, who have found wins hard to come by in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Those figures are well down on his career numbers, though. After 642 games, he averages 21.4ppg, as well as 8.7 rebounds and a field goal percentage of 49.5 per cent. The only area of improvement this season has been free-throw success, landing 71 per cent compared to 69.5 per cent overall.

Selected with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, Griffin spent his first eight seasons in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers, though his debut campaign was a write-off due to injury. 

However, he was named Rookie of the Year in 2011 after playing in all 82 games, making his first All-Star appearance and also winning the dunk contest. Further injury issues hampered his progress, yet the Clippers still gave him a five-year, $173million contract in July 2017. 

Just six months later, he was traded to the Pistons. Griffin was the leading piece in a six-player deal that also saw Detroit give up protected draft picks to acquire the power forward. 

Blake Griffin could be set to swap the team sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings for a potential title contender after reportedly agreeing a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons. 

Stories on Friday of a parting of the ways between the Pistons and Griffin hardly came as a surprise, considering he had not featured for the team in their previous 10 games prior to the All-Star break. 

Both parties had agreed for the 31-year-old to be held off the active roster as the franchise worked towards a solution over his playing future.

With no trade able to be worked out, a settlement has instead been reached with Griffin – whose contract was due to run until the end of the 2021-22 season – that will see him become a much-coveted free agent. 

Now the six-time All-Star waits to see what offers come his way. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers are among those interested.

Griffin had averaged 12.3 points per game while shooting 36.5 per cent in his 20 outings for Detroit, who have found wins hard to come by in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Those figures are well down on his career numbers, though. After 642 games, he averages 21.4ppg, as well as 8.7 rebounds and a field goal percentage of 49.5 per cent. The only area of improvement this season has been free-throw success, landing 71 per cent compared to 69.5 per cent overall.

Selected with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, Griffin spent his first eight seasons in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers, though his debut campaign was a write-off due to injury. 

However, he was named Rookie of the Year in 2011 after playing in all 82 games, making his first All-Star appearance and also winning the dunk contest. Further injury issues hampered his progress, yet the Clippers still gave him a five-year, $173million contract in July 2017. 

Just six months later, he was traded to the Pistons. Griffin was the leading piece in a six-player deal that also saw Detroit give up protected draft picks to acquire the power forward. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo is confident of ending his wait for a first NBA All-Star Game win after learning of his Team LeBron team-mates.

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Antetokounmpo is making his fifth All-Star appearance this week but has ended on the losing side on all four prior occasions.

The two-time MVP was a team captain in the previous two years but was on the board this time and selected first by LeBron James.

Only once previously, in Antetokounmpo's All-Star bow in 2017, have the pair appeared together. The 'Greek Freak' led the team in scoring with 30 points, but they came up short.

That miserable record will come to an end in Atlanta in 2021, though, according to Antetokounmpo.

Alongside the Bucks forward, James took Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry as starters to produce an exciting blend of size and shooting.

"That's the starting five? Yeah, it's over guys," Antetokounmpo said. "Me, LeBron, Luka, Jokic and Steph? Man, that's a good starting five."

While Antetokounmpo is yet to taste victory at the annual event, James has three straight wins as captain of Team LeBron since the move away from the previous East versus West format in 2018.

The Los Angeles Lakers veteran is a three-time All-Star Game MVP and his newest team-mate is looking forward to linking up.

"He just makes plays," Antetokounmpo said of James. "Most of the time you're just wide open and I've never been used to that with somebody else creating the attention and me being wide open all the time.

"So, I've just got to do my job, make the right play, too, and do what I always do: just play hard and hope I can help him get a win."

Antetokounmpo was speaking after posting 26 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block in Milwaukee's dramatic 112-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Damian Lillard posted 44 points for the Portland Trail Blazers in a 123-119 win over the Sacramento Kings before the NBA All-Star break.

Lillard shot eight three-pointers in a dominant display, while he scored 10 straight points down the stretch to help take down the Kings on Thursday.

Portland's Lillard is the first NBA player to hit a game-winning field goal while trailing in the final 15 seconds one day and then follow that up with a 40-point game the next day since Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant did it on January 31 and February 1 in 2010, according to Stats Perform.

Trail Blazers team-mate Enes Kanter provided support with 22 points and 21 rebounds in a dominant double-double display.

According to Stats Perform, it is the first time in franchise history the Trail Blazers have had a player with 40-plus points and another with 20-plus points and 20-plus rebounds in the same game.

Elsewhere, Ja Morant and Jrue Holiday traded clutch buckets in the final 10 seconds, with the latter earning the Milwaukee Bucks a game-winning lead with two seconds remaining in their thrilling112-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was the first pick by Team LeBron for Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta, fuelled the Bucks by scoring 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

 

Lowry ties Raptors record

The depleted Toronto Raptors lost 132-125 to the Boston Celtics, but Kyle Lowry impressed. The veteran guard finished with 14 points and 19 assists. He tied a franchise record with his 19 assists, matching Damon Stoudamire (1996) and Jose Calderon (twice). Chris Boucher led the way with 30 points in the absence of stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, as well as head coach Nick Nurse and other players and stuff due to the league's health and safety protocols. Boston's Jayson Tatum starred with 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists as the Celtics claimed their fourth win a row.

Bradley Beal (33 points and seven rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds) were exceptional as the Washington Wizards produced a big second-half performance to knock off the Los Angeles Clippers 119-117. The Clippers were without Paul George.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic put up 20 points and 12 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets' 113-103 win at the Indiana Pacers.

The New York Knicks topped the Detroit Pistons 114-104 behind Julius Randle's double-double of 27 points and 16 rebounds, while he also tallied seven assists.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's 33 points and eight assists inspired the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 107-102 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

 

Brogd-off day

Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon had a night to forget in his side's loss to the Nuggets, which leaves Indiana 16-19 and slipping from playoffs contention in the Eastern Conference. Brogdon finished with 10 points from 34 minutes on court, shooting at four-of-14 from the field, while he missed all five of his three-point attempts.

 

Hart's half-courter

LeBron James selected two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with his number one pick for the NBA All-Star Game, while Kevin Durant drafted Brooklyn Nets team-mate Kyrie Irving.

On Thursday, team captains James and Durant filled out their rosters for Sunday's All-Star contest in Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo often go head-to-head in the All-Star Games as respective captains, but that is not the case this year.

Antetokounmpo will team up with James, who also selected Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and the Denver Nuggets' MVP candidate Nikola Jokic as starters.

Team LeBron's reserves are Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers) and Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz).

Durant – sidelined as he nurses a hamstring injury – turned to Brooklyn star Irving with the second overall pick in the All-Star draft.

MVP candidate and 76ers star Joel Embiid, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, Washington Wizards sharpshooter Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics are the other starters for Team Durant.

The reserves drafted by Durant are James Harden (Nets), Devin Booker (Suns), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Julius Randle (New York Knicks), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic) and Donovan Mitchell (Jazz).

Team LeBron have won the past three All-Star Games after topping Team Giannis 157-155 in Chicago last year.

The Los Angeles Lakers are still the defending NBA champions, but they are not without their weaknesses. Ones that the league's other premier teams are beginning to exploit.

The NBA's oldest team wheezes into the All-Star break with losses in six of their last eight games and looking up at the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns – and possibly cross-town rivals the Los Angeles Clippers – in the Western Conference standings. And although that entire rough stretch has come with Anthony Davis sidelined by an Achilles' strain, the difference-making forward's absence does not solely explain the Lakers' slump.

There is no debate that the Lakers are a far better team with Davis on the floor, but the offensive struggles that have been exposed during the team's recent descent into mediocrity were in reality present even when the perennial All-Star was healthy. In 21 games since January 30, the Purple and Gold rank 22nd in the NBA in points per game, 24th in offensive rating, and dead last in three-point percentage with a 31.0 percent success rate from beyond the arc.

Granted, the Lakers were not a prolific perimeter shooting team during last year's championship run. Their ratio of points from three-pointers to total points stood at 29.1 percent, which ranked 25th in the NBA. That was 2019-20, however. This is 2020-21, a season in which triples are being taken and made at historic levels, and it is no coincidence that the teams that currently rank in the top four in three-point percentage (Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks) also happen to own four of the top seven winning percentages.

The Jazz seemingly provided the blueprint on how to attack the Lakers when they knocked down 22 threes in handing the Los Angeles franchise their most lopsided loss of the season, a 114-89 defeat on February 24. The Suns followed the plan to a T when they drained 16 triples in a win earlier this week.

Truth is, those teams' methods were more of a trend than a discovery. The Lakers have allowed 14 or more three-pointers only 10 times in 37 games thus far, but they have lost eight of those contests. Just six teams have a lower winning percentage than the Lakers when permitting that many treys in a game, and none of them would be headed to the playoffs right now (for the record, those teams are the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks).

The initial reaction may be to believe that this is some sort of defensive issue, but it is not. The Lakers still lead the league in defensive rating and rank in the top 10 in three-point percentage defense. But it is become more than apparent that they have had trouble keeping up against opponents that can bomb away from long range with high proficiency, a real potential problem down the road should they meet the Jazz or Clippers in the playoffs, or the Nets in a possible Finals scenario.

The Lakers have one player, the streaky Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is shooting 38 percent or better from beyond the arc while taking at least three three-pointers per game. The Clippers have seven such players, the Jazz six. The Nets have five, as do the Denver Nuggets, who have battled inconsistency and injuries but showed in a dominant win over the Lakers last month that they are still plenty dangerous.

Getting Davis back will surely help matters, as the chart below illustrates the offensive impact he brings when on the floor.

LAKERS, WITH/WITHOUT ANTHONY DAVIS ON COURT, 2020-21

(/100 = per 100 possessions)

With/Without

Points/100 – 112.8/106.4

FG Pct – .498/.469

Three-Pt Pct – .371/.338

Turnovers/100 – 13.9/15.5

 

The difference Davis makes, particularly from a shooting efficiency perspective, is more than evident. But is that enough, especially with there being no guarantee he will remain healthy throughout the postseason grind?

In hindsight, the contributions Danny Green made to last year's title run as a floor stretcher and perimeter defender may have been seriously undervalued. Wesley Matthews was supposed to fill that role following Green's initial trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder (before joining the Philadelphia 76ers) for Dennis Schroder, but he is shooting a career-worst 33.7 percent on threes and has been a complete non-factor offensively during the Lakers' current rut.

Caldwell-Pope's shot has gone south of late as well. In fact, he has had one of the steepest individual drop-offs from the perimeter over the last month-plus.

LARGEST DECREASE IN THREE-POINT PCT, PRE-FEBRUARY VS. REST OF SEASON – 2020-21

(min, 3.0 3PA/individual game)

Pre-Feb Since 2/1 Diff.

Tobias Harris, Phi – .464/.279/-.185

Wayne Ellington, Det – .505/.333/-.172

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LAL – .478/.317/-.161

Garrett Temple, Chi – .408/.255/-.153

Desmond Bane, Mem – .520/.377/-.143

 

To summarise, the Lakers do not necessarily need another shooter if they are operating at full strength, though bringing one in surely would not hurt. That brings us to the next question – who could or should general manager Rob Pelinka be targeting at the trade deadline for some added reinforcements?

In a perfect world, the answer would be Bradley Beal should the Washington Wizards be open to parting with the league's current leading scorer. That is also a complete fantasy since the Lakers have neither the assets nor cap flexibility to pull off such a blockbuster. Even a less pricey option like JJ Redick is not realistic. Pelinka will need to do some bargain-hunting if he wants to buy.

Here are a few likely available options that seem to fit the Lakers' needs and price range:

Wayne Ellington, Pistons

Though he has been off the mark lately (see above), the 33-year-old journeyman is still hitting at an over 43 percent clip on three-pointers, is on a cheap contract and can likely be had for minimal cost with Detroit in the midst of a massive rebuild. Ellington would be a liability on the defensive end, but those deficiencies could be mitigated by the Lakers' strong supporting cast.

Ben McLemore, Rockets

McLemore is having a terrible year for a terrible Rockets team, but he shot 40 percent or better from three-point range in each of the previous two seasons and may benefit from a change of scenery. Team-mate Sterling Brown does not have McLemore's overall track record, but he is shooting above 40 percent on threes this season and could be a target as well.

George Hill, Thunder

A onetime team-mate of LeBron James in Cleveland, Hill would be an excellent fit as a sharp-shooting, savvy veteran who can alleviate some ball-handling duties from the King and Schroder. Though clearly not part of the Thunder's long-term plans, Hill's value and $9.6million salary still may be a tad too costly for the Lakers, who might have to part with a young asset like Kyle Kuzma to get a deal done.

The Lakers will not be making major moves at the deadline, nor should they have to with a roster that is deep, experienced and sports two of the game's best players. But in a season that is unveiled several legitimate challengers to their throne, playing it safe may just be the greatest risk.

Joel Embiid took on his critics after a stunning display helped the Philadelphia 76ers edge the NBA-leading Utah Jazz after overtime.

Embiid hit a game-tying three-pointer with 5.3 seconds remaining to force OT and finished the game with 40 points and 19 rebounds as the 76ers earned a 131-123 win.

He dominated against Rudy Gobert, in a duel between two players likely to be fighting for end-of-season honours, and was quick to aim a jibe at a local reporter.

Keith Pompey, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently noted how Embiid had missed a number of head-to-heads with top-class centers.

Embiid showed he was fearless up against Gobert, a fellow Defensive Player of the Year contender.

"First of all, according to Keith Pompey I'm scared of [Gobert] and I'm afraid of top centers," Embiid said in a post-game news conference.

"Man, as we saw tonight it looks like I was very, very scared of them, so yeah, keep talking.

"But going up against them, one of my goals is to also be Defensive Player of the Year."

Embiid is now averaging 11.6 rebounds and 30.2 points per game this season, while the Eastern Conference-leading Sixers improved to 24-12 for the season.

Gobert had nine rebounds and 12 points.

"When you go against those type of guys, he's a great player, he does a lot of things that don't show up on his stat-sheet," Embiid said.

"When you go against those guys, he brings something else to the rest of my game. I want to dominate, on the offensive line but mainly on the defensive line because that's the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

"Those are the matchups that you want to go out there and just dominate, and prove to everyone that we have a great team and individually that you should be up there when it comes to those rankings, so hopefully that came through."

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