PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid relished the chance to face James Harden, and wasn't going to let a little back tightness stop him.
Embiid had 32 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Philadelphia 76ers past fellow MVP contender Harden and the Houston Rockets 121-93 on Monday night.
"I love playing against guys you guys say are better than me," Embiid said.
Harden, selected Western Conference player of the week earlier in the day, finished with 37 points — giving him 20 straight games with at least 30.
Philadelphia played without four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler (sore right wrist), and Embiid more than made up for his absence.
"It was really fun for us," Embiid said. "Don't think it was fun for them."
Embiid was questionable before the game with lower back soreness and coach Brett Brown hinted during pregame it might be best for the Philadelphia big man to sit this one out. Embiid clearly had other intentions.
"I want to fight with my teammates," he said. "Whatever I have to do, I'll do for my team."
His 24 first-half points helped Philadelphia to a 65-50 halftime lead, and he punctuated an entertaining opening 24 minutes by pinning Harden's layup attempt with 7.5 seconds left for a crowd-pleasing block. The duo had to be separated with 38.7 seconds left in the half, with each being issued a technical, after Harden took exception to Embiid's foul on him.
The 76ers broke the game open in a dominant third quarter as they outscored Houston 29-13 to take a 94-63 advantage into the fourth. Ben Simmons stole Harden's pass, made a layup and finished a three-point play after being fouled by Harden to make it 73-52. The lead kept growing, getting as large as 31.
"We were due for a game like this," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Harden had 10 points in the third but missed four of six field goal tries as the 76ers hounded him defensively with double-teams and different looks. A tired-looking Harden's air ball with 12.3 seconds left in the third showed the effects of the Philadelphia defence — and, perhaps, Harden's offensive workload.
With the game out of range, Harden sat in the fourth.
"This is not a great way to rest him, but we rested him today," D'Antoni said.
Corey Brewer frustrated Harden for part of the night.
On a 10-day contract, Brewer replaced Butler in the starting lineup and was tasked with guarding Harden. Brewer was a gnat for the first 24 minutes, following Harden wherever he went. Harden took exception to Brewer guarding him without the ball 80 feet from the basket, pushing the 76ers forward behind the play. Harden wasn't called for a foul on that play, but picked up his third with 29.1 seconds left in the first half when he shoved Brewer away — again causing the sold-out crowd to erupt in cheers.
Brewer is happy to be back in uniform and making an impact.
"I get to play basketball," he said. "I was sitting home playing with my kids, playing superheroes every day."
A person with direct knowledge of the matter said the Rockets are trading Carmelo Anthony and an undisclosed amount of cash to the Bulls in a deal that is expected to be completed Tuesday. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the trade still needs league approval.
The Bulls have no plans to play Anthony and will look to either trade him before the Feb. 7 deadline or ultimately waive him and make him a free agent. The trade ends a short-lived saga in Houston for Anthony, who averaged 13.4 points in 10 games with the Rockets. He has not played since Nov. 8.
Houston signed Kenneth Faried before the game after he was waived by the Nets on Saturday. In 12 games with Brooklyn this season, Faried averaged 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
"He brings energy, athleticism and runs the floor," D'Antoni said. "The way we play will complement him, and he'll complement us."
In order to sign Faried, the Rockets waived James Nunnally.
Faried had 13 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
Rockets: G Chris Paul (strained left hamstring) missed his 15th straight game. G Brandon Knight (sore left knee) also sat out. C Clint Capela (right thumb surgery) is out four to six weeks. ... Houston was held under 100 points for the 10th time, dropping to 2-8 in those games.
76ers: Philadelphia improved to 20-4 at home. ... Landry Shamet had 18 points and JJ Redick added 16.
Rockets: At the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
76ers: Host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
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