Spurs lose final home game before 4-week road trip

Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor

SAN ANTONIO – Joel Embiid’s MVP quest was on full display in the 137-125 victory against the Spurs on Friday night.

With the local San Antonio Rodeo being housed in the AT&T Center, the Spurs start their annual month-long “rodeo trip” with an 8-game losing streak.

Embiid finished the night with a 33-point and 10 rebound double-double. The 76ers center-forward currently leads the NBA in points per game with 33.5.

Along with Embiid paving the way for the 12-point victory, Philadelphia shot 48.1% from three to the Spurs’ 33.3%. 

“They made more threes which is not unusual. We are in that situation a lot,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. 

San Antonio also had seven more turnovers than the 76ers. Spurs starting point guard Tre Jones was out Friday night with foot soreness, alongside Jeremy Sochan, who was sidelined with a back injury.

“Their grunt and their ability to just play the game is super,” Popovich said. “But taking care of the basketball is pretty important, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Jones’ absence made it hard for the team to distribute the ball. A bright spot in the loss, however, was rookie Malaki Branham scoring 26 points after scoring 22 points in Wednesday’s game.

“[Branham’s] looking good out there,” Spurs forward Jakob Poeltl said of his teammate. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”

The Ohio State alum has a season average of 7.5 points per game, though he has stepped up when called upon. Halfway through his first season, Branham feels the game has come easy to him.

“I feel like me, just slowing down,” Branham said. “Just slowing down, picking my spots on the floor, and just doing what I know how to do, I feel like that’s just how simple as it gets.”

Popovich thinks the rookie is coming into his own and noticed the positive differences he has made in his play.

“Being confident in shooting, defense, getting more comfortable in situations. He’s doing fine,” Popovich said.

Keldon Johnson finished with 18 points, and Jakob Poeltl added 16 points with 10 rebounds. 

The Spurs will be on the road for the next nine straight games. San Antonio will face the Chicago Bulls at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 6.