‘PASS-FIRST’ HARDEN, SCORING MACHINE JOJO GIVE SIXERS 40TH WIN!

By Tommy Matthews

Joel Embiid had 43 points and 14 rebounds, and the Sixers beat the Chicago Bulls 121-106.

This was supposed to be a showdown between two of the Eastern Conference’s top teams.

But instead it showed why the Sixers are on the rise at 40-24 and the Bulls are not.

James Harden added 16 points and 14 assists, and Tyrese Maxey added 17 points for the 76ers, who have won six of seven and stayed perfect with Harden in the lineup.

The 76ers improved to 5-0 with Harden since the trade deadline deal that sent Ben Simmons to the Nets in exchange for the 2017-18 MVP. Harden sat out Philadelphia’s 99-82 loss at Miami on Saturday to rest his hamstring.

“It’s fun,” Embiid said. “He just makes the game easy for everybody.”

Harden is averaging 24.6 points, 12.4 assists and 7.4 rebounds as a member of the 76ers.

“Like a dream come true,” said Georges Niang, who scored 14 points and hit four 3-pointers, three of which Harden assisted.

Harden set up 76ers for open shots and driving dunks, like Embiid’s slam with 6:31 left in the third and Matisse Thybulle’s jam with 1:51 to play.

“He’s teaching me on the fly,” Thybulle said.

Embiid, the league’s leading scorer, made 15 of 27 field goals and 12 of 16 free throws.

“Joel had it going the whole night, which obviously makes the game a little easier for everybody,” Harden said.

The MVP frontrunner scored at least 40 points for the 10th time this season while upping his season average to 29.7 points per contest.

“Just being aggressive,” Embiid said. “The last two games I’ve had bad starts, so I wanted to be aggressive and live in the paint.”

Zach Lavine scored 24 points and DeMar DeRozan added 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls, who have lost five in a row.

The Bulls couldn’t beat the 76ers without Harden, and it certainly didn’t get any easier with the 10-time All-Star point guard directing Philadelphia’s offense.

“He’s a guy that has gotten a huge reputation, rightfully so, of being an incredible scorer; I also think he’s very unselfish,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said of Harden. “He’s a pass-first kind of guy. I think he gets a lot of pleasure out of that.”

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