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December 27, 2016

Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins go head-to-head in Sixers’ loss to Kings, seem to have budding friendship

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As most of us saw on Christmas (well, everyone not eating an early dinner) with the insanely fun Cavs-Warriors game, the NBA is in a pretty good spot right now from a talent standpoint. Those two teams appear on a collision course for a finals rubber match, but even most of the league’s lesser lights have exciting young players.

Take Monday’s Sixers-Kings game, a matchup of teams with a combined 20 wins. We got to see the first head-to-head battle between Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins. And as you can tell by their two stat lines, the two big fellas didn’t disappoint.

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Embiid: 25 points (8-17 FG, 1-4 3P, 8-9 FT), 8 REB, 1 AST (although he had an ugly 8 turnovers), 2 BLK, 2 STL and a +3 in 29 minutes.

Cousins: 30 points (10-20 FG, 2-4 3P, 8-9 FT), 7 REB, 5 AST (to 5 turnovers), 2 BLK, 3 STL and a -11 in 34 minutes.

No, it wasn’t nearly as crisp as the game played in Cleveland on Christmas, but the two teams played hard around their franchise talents. The Sixers’ big man situation is still a mess — Jahlil Okafor played an ineffective 20 minutes, while Nerlens Noel was limited to just three — but we saw flashes of special potential from Embiid. Yowza:

In the end, Cousins hit the dagger and it was a bit of Embiid’s own medicine. The Kings ran a pick-and-roll and “Boogie” popped out to three-point line. Embiid and T.J. McConnell switched, and Cousins shot the ball over poor McConnell like he wasn’t even there. Swish:

Throughout the game, it was interesting to see the friendly sprit that Embiid and Cousins competed with. Early on, there was BUTTSLAP-GATE:

And then after the game, Cousins had some nice words for Embiid:

“I like that kid a lot,” Cousins said. “I don’t give a lot of people props but I like that kid a lot. I think he got a great chance of being the best big in the league… when I retire.”

On the last play of the game, Cousins blocked Embiid’s attempt at a game-winning three, forcing the Sixers center into another look from way downtown that came up well short as the buzzer expired. As he is wont to do, Embiid offered his thoughts on Instagram after the game:

Embiid wasn’t very sharp (the turnovers were out of control and he wasn’t great on the defensive glass), but it still felt like he made a net positive impact on the game and learned some things moving forward. The return matchup in Philly at the end of January should be fun, provided the Wells Fargo Center floor cooperates.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann