After limiting Nikola Jokic, Cavs’ next test is Joel Embiid, 76ers

The Cleveland Cavaliers carry a three-game winning streak into Philadelphia on Tuesday for an NBA in-season tournament matchup with the 76ers, their East Group A counterparts.

Philadelphia, a winner of two straight in its own right, returns home for a one-game pit stop amid a stretch of four road contests. The Sixers won both away games over the weekend, beating Atlanta 126-116 on Friday and routing Brooklyn 121-99 on Sunday.

Joel Embiid, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player and current league-leading scorer (31.9 points per game), nearly recorded a triple-double on Sunday with 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.

“Teams are defending him, and I’ve said it a bunch: He wants to deliver to the open guy,” Sixers coach Nick Nurse said of Embiid’s passing on Sunday. “We’re just going to keep trying to hit the open guy. That’s offense in this league. When they send two (defenders) to your primary scorer, you’ve got to get things figured out and we’re making some progress there.”

Philadelphia also got a double-double of 25 points and 10 assists from Tyrese Maxey, who comes into Tuesday’s matchup on an offensive tear.

Maxey has scored at least 20 points in eight of his past nine contests, including a 50-point eruption on Nov. 12 vs. Indiana.

Maxey’s backcourt mate De’Anthony Melton is also riding a recent scoring surge with six straight outings in double figures, including his 21 points on Sunday and a 30-point effort last Tuesday.

The Sixers come into Tuesday’s in-season tournament contest averaging the third-most points in the league through games played Sunday at 120.5 per contest. Philadelphia’s prolific offense aims to continue rolling against a Cleveland defense that seems to have found its footing during the Cavaliers’ three-game winning streak.

Cleveland boasted the NBA’s stingiest defense a season ago at 106.9 points allowed per game, but the Cavaliers are giving up an average of 111.0 through the first 13 games of the 2023-24 campaign.

In consecutive victories over Portland, Detroit and reigning NBA champion Denver, Cleveland yielded an average of 101.3 points per night.

Jarrett Allen helped key the defensive performance in Sunday’s 121-109 defeat of Denver, holding two-time MVP Nikola Jokic to 18 points.

“It’s enjoyable. It’s a gauge to see where you are at defensively,” Allen said of facing the league’s top centers.

Allen draws another tough assignment with Embiid on Tuesday.

Allen missed the first five games of the season due to an ankle injury. He said on Sunday that facing an MVP-caliber center coming off injury was especially challenging, but the Cavaliers big man has hit a defensive groove during the winning streak.

In addition to his performance against Jokic, he blocked eight combined shots in the previous two wins.

Defense has been a central theme determining Cleveland’s success so far this season.

In seven wins, the Cavaliers are allowing 102.9 points per game. In six losses, opponents have scored an average of 120.5 points. The contrast extends to two in-season tournament games played thus far, with Indiana beating Cleveland 121-116 on Nov. 3, and the Cavaliers rebounding with their 108-100 win over Detroit on Friday.