Sports Al-Hilal coach Jesus ‘used to leading teams that compete for all titles’

LOS ANGELES: Joel Embiid made a dazzling return from a two-month injury layoff to inspire the Philadelphia 76ers to an upset 109-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

The NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player was a surprise late inclusion in the Sixers’ starting lineup at the Wells Fargo Center, returning to the hardwood after suffering a knee injury in a defeat to Golden State on Jan. 30.

In Embiid’s absence the Sixers’ season has been in freefall, plunging into the play-in positions in the Eastern Conference rather than the automatic postseason spots.

The 30-year-old’s return Tuesday suggested the Sixers may yet be capable of upsetting the form book heading into the playoffs after battling past the Thunder, who went into the game as Western Conference leaders.

Embiid, who finished with 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds after logging nearly 30 minutes of game time, was visibly exhausted after dragging the Sixers over the line.

“Not good,” Embiid replied when asked how he felt following the victory. “But I’m glad we got through it and we got the win.”

Embiid said his rehabilitation from a torn left meniscus had been one of the most challenging injury layoffs of his career.

“This one took a toll mentally,” said Embiid, who wore a large brace on his heavily strapped left knee.

“I just wanted to come back. I’m only going to get better but this one has been the hardest by far, especially mentally,” he added.

Oklahoma City led for most of the game and looked to be on course for victory after opening up a 13-point lead early in the second half.

However a fourth-quarter rally from the Sixers — outscoring their short-handed opponents 36-25 — swung the game decisively back in favor of the home team.

Two Embiid free throws put Philadelphia ahead 106-105 with 38 seconds remaining, and Embiid then made a crucial steal before drawing a foul which sent him back to the free throw line to put the Sixers up 108-105.

Tobias Harris then made a late free throw to seal the win.

The Milwaukee Bucks were stunned 117-113 on the road by the lowly Washington Wizards.

Corey Kispert was the hero for Washington, finishing with 27 points from 10-of-18 shooting from the field to secure only the 15th win of the season for the Wizards.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 35 points but it was not enough to prevent the Bucks sliding to a defeat that left coach Doc Rivers questioning his team’s durability away from home.

“I’ve been sitting back and watching everything — not just our players, but our travel crew, everything,” Rivers said.

“We don’t bring the necessary professionalism and seriousness on the road. That’s something we can fix, and it’s something we’re going to have to fix,” Rivers added. “We’ve got to be a better road team.”

The Wizards’ next opponents will be the Los Angeles Lakers, who continued their successful road trip with a 128-111 defeat of the Toronto Raptors. LeBron James finished with 23 points while Anthony Davis had 21.

In Denver, Nikola Jokic powered the Nuggets past the San Antonio Spurs with a 42-point display as the NBA champions claimed a 110-105 win that saw them reclaim top spot in the West.

Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama narrowly missed out on a rare quadruple double, finishing with 23 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks and eight assists.

The Golden State Warriors took a giant stride toward securing their play-in place after taking down Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 104-100.

Doncic bagged his 20th triple-double of the season with 30 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists but it was not enough to overcome a dogged Warriors performance. Andrew Wiggins led the Warriors scoring with 23 points.

In Miami, Terry Rozier’s 34-point display helped the Heat to a 109-99 defeat of the in-form New York Knicks to keep Miami firmly in the hunt for a playoff place.

The Heat are 42-33, one place behind Indiana in the Eastern Conference. Indiana occupy the last of the automatic postseason spots with a 43-33 record.

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