Joel Embiid was the center of attention at NBA All-Star game

Joel Embiid was the center of attention at NBA All-Star game
76ers center Joel Embiid signals after hitting a three-pointer for Stephen Curry's team in the first half at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns, one of the best young players in the league, should've been walking around Los Angeles and Staples Center on Sunday soaking in everything.

It was, after all, his first trip to an All-Star game at just 22 years old, a monumental accomplishment and the first of many trips that are sure to follow.


It was special — but he knew the day would mean even more for his friend, rival and teammate for the day, Philadelphia center Joel Embiid.

"It's amazing what he's done," Towns said. "Not many people deserve this moment like him."

Embiid started for Stephen Curry's team Sunday, and in his first All-Star game appearance, he was one of the game's brightest stars. In 20 minutes he scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots.

That he even was healthy enough to take part in the game is a victory in itself.

In his young career, he's already broken his right foot twice and tore the meniscus in his left knee. He played just 31 games in the first three years after he was drafted.

But as the poster child for Philadelphia's "process," Embiid's been a star now that he's healthy. Cleared to participate in back-to-back games just weeks ago, he's a big reason the 76ers are primed to make the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since the organization began a lengthy rebuild that required patience through extended periods of losing.

"It was special. It was probably more special than it should've been because I went through so much," he said. "This year's been amazing."

Sunday, everyone got to see why Embiid should be a big part of the league's future, too.

In key moments, he scored on LeBron James in the post on one end and swatted away a Paul George shot on the other.

"Before the game, during the whole season, I kind of thought I was a top-five, top-10 player in the league. Coming in here before the game, I wanted confirmation of it," Embiid said. "I felt like I can hang with them. I had a lot of fun."

But James hit the tying three over him and when James scored the go-ahead basket in the final minute, Embiid was on the bench instead of protecting the rim.

"I feel like I'm the best defensive player in the league," he said, disappointed he wasn't able to help make a key stop.

But he'll get his chances in the future.

Despite the NBA evolving into a game with fewer centers, the guys at that position Sunday were some of the most effective.


Towns scored 17 points and Detroit center Andre Drummond scored 14 points on seven-for-seven shooting. All three players aren't just brutes. Embiid and Towns have range that extends beyond the three-point line, and Drummond is a gifted passer.

"The big men aren't dead. We're still here making some noise," Drummond said. "We've adapted very well to the new, smaller ball game, but we're still able to play our game in the post too. All of us bigs are very versatile."

And maybe none more so than Embiid and Towns.

"We're going to want to kill each other on the court. We're great friends off it. We're like best friends. But we understand our job," Towns said. "And we understand we want to be the best. And we feel like we're the best of the best at what we do, especially our position."

Angeleno all-stars

The crowd was so intense, Russell Westbrook had to ask everyone to step back. George and James Harden also had to move through a mass of media following Sunday's game.

With no Lakers and Clippers around, they were the hometown story.

"It was humbling, a humbling experience to be able to be here in L.A.," Westbrook said. "And I'm enjoying the moment."

Westbrook, Harden, George and Klay Thompson — all players who grew up in Los Angeles or the surrounding area — all scored in double figures, with George leading the group with 16 points.

Harden struggled the most, shooting just five for 19.

Kevin Durant said the lack of Clippers and Lakers made for a different feel.

"That was odd," he said. "Usually when you've got a guy playing in their city, everybody kind of rallies around him and supports him. But it was different not having a Laker or a Clipper here."

Playoff crunch

With the All-Star game now behind them, players can begin looking toward the postseason — something James said was still a ways off.

But in the Western Conference, eight teams are within 4.5 games of one another, which could result in swings from home-court advantage in the first round to a spot outside the playoffs.

New Orleans' Anthony Davis, the star big man for one of those teams, said it's accelerated the push for the playoffs in the West.

"It started a couple of weeks ago, honestly," he said. "Everyone's in that pool right there, and you're trying to get into the best playoff spot. It's going to come down to the last game, last couple of games I think."


Minnesota guard Jimmy Butler didn't play in the game after his team played a back-to-back right before the All-Star break. Butler leads the NBA with 37.3 minutes played per game.… Former Lakers Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson joined Julius Erving and Bill Russell on the court during a timeout as they were honored by the NBA.… Davis began the game wearing the jersey of DeMarcus Cousins, his teammate who was unable to play in the game because of a torn Achilles tendon.… Travis Wear of the South Bay Lakers scored six points for the G League USA Team as they defeated the Mexican National team 88-67 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Sunday.

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports