SIXERS, WITHOUT BEN,TOBIAS, CURRY, THISCLOSE TO BEATING SUNS!

By Jerry Wein

If you’re still wondering if the Sixers are contenders for an NBA title, you should have seen last night’s home loss to the Suns.

Philly played without three starters — Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Seth Curry — and they were life-and-death with one of the best teams in the West.

Chris Paul scored 28 points, Devin Booker had 19 and Mikal Bridges 18 to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 116-113 victory.

Joel Embiid, who had 38 points and 17 rebounds, heaved a full-court shot at the horn that rattled around the rim and put the All-Star center on his back in disbelief.

No matter, the Suns walked off winners on the road for the second time this week against one of the top teams in the East.

Paul hit five 3s and Bridges, a former Villanova standout, continued to haunt the Sixers three years after an ill-fated draft-night deal. The Sixers selected Bridges with the 10th overall pick in 2018 — a feel-good story because of the Nova connection and his mother worked for the 76ers’ parent company. Zhaire played only 13 NBA games and is out of the league while Bridges turned into a breakout star for the blossoming Suns.

The Sixers again played without starters Simmons (unspecified illness) and Harris (right knee). Simmons missed his second straight game and Harris his third, the Sixers certainly secure enough in playoff spot to the point they don’t have to rush either one back. Curry also missed the game with a left hip flexor — three starters down certainly one reason why FanDuel had the Suns as three-point favorite.

The Sixers would certainly like all three back in time for this week’s two-game set in Milwaukee. Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Matisse Thybulle joined Embiid and Danny Green (18 points) in the lineup.

Embiid even left in the third when he appeared to slam his left knee on the court and sat behind the basket with a towel around his leg. He rested on his back and stretched his knee as the teams went basket-for-basket. Embiid jogged in place on the baseline and played cheerleader as the short-handed Sixers tried to hang with the Suns. Embiid has missed 18 games this season with injuries that include a bone bruise on his right knee that cost him 11 games after the All-Star break, back tightness and right knee pain.

Paul buried consecutive 3s for an 85-81 lead in Embiid’s absence and the All-Star center did not check back in until a shade over 6 minutes left the game and the Sixers down seven. Embiid buried a 3 in a late-game lineup where he was the only regular starter.

The Suns, coming off an overtime win in Milwaukee, got big baskets down the stretch from Booker — including a nice bank off the glass and he swished a fallaway jumper for the dagger with 13 seconds left in the game.

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