CHICAGO (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers endured five straight losing seasons and bottomed out with 10 wins three years ago.
Considering how far they fell during their rebuilding project, coach Brett Brown can sure appreciate where they are at the moment.
Joel Embiid had 20 points and 10 rebounds, JJ Redick scored 23 and the 76ers hit the 50-win mark for the second year in a row with a 116-96 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.
“I know how difficult it is,” Brown said. “In the NBA, when you can have a team that can find 50 wins, it’s unique and difficult. I give (this) group credit. We’ve gone through a few iterations of what the team looks like. We all kind of understand the 50-win milestone goes away quickly when the playoffs begin. As it sits, to get back-to-back 50-win seasons is a great accomplishment for the guys in that locker room.”
Brown, in his sixth year, was on the bench for four losing seasons before Philadelphia turned it around. The 76ers broke that run in 2017-18, reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals. They are now closing in on the No. 3 seed, with a two-game lead over idle Boston.
Embiid dominated inside, Redick supplied the outside touch and the 76ers got back to winning after dropping three in a row, even though guard Jimmy Butler missed his second consecutive game because of back tightness.
Embiid had five assists and blocked three shots in his second straight start after missing three in a row. The All-Star center has been dealing with a sore left knee, and the Sixers are managing his workload with the playoffs approaching.
Redick nailed four three-pointers. Tobias Harris added 16 points. Ben Simmons scored 14, and the 76ers pulled away in the third quarter after grabbing an eight-point halftime lead.
JaKarr Sampson led Chicago with a career-high 29 points. But the Bulls lost for the sixth time in seven games.
“It’s big time,” said Sampson, signed to a 10-day contract on Sunday. “I’m thankful for the opportunity (coach Jim Boylen has) given me to play big-time minutes in the NBA. It’s not often it happens. I’ve just got to take advantage of my opportunity.”
Outdueled by fellow MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo in a loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, Embiid scored 14 as the 76ers grabbed a 57-49 halftime lead.
He cut for a thunderous one-handed alley-oop dunk off a feed from Simmons with just over a minute left in the half. A four-point play by Redick got the lead up to 57-47 before Chicago’s Walt Lemon Jr. drove for a layup in the closing seconds.
The Sixers put the Bulls away in the third, outscoring them 29-19.
76ers: Butler, who spent his first six seasons in Chicago, has missed three of the past four games. He was hurt in the Sixers’ win at Minnesota on March 30 when he missed an alley-oop lob from Simmons. … Greg Monroe had nine points in 10 minutes in his first game after signing with Philadelphia on Thursday.
Bulls: G Zach LaVine (right knee tendinitis, bruised right thigh) indicated he will not play again this season, though the Bulls have not officially shut him down. “You have to evaluate the situation you’re in right now,” he said. “I think the risk versus reward of me playing right now is — you don’t want to hurt yourself further with two games left in the season.” LaVine missed his eighth game in a row Saturday. The Bulls host New York on Tuesday and wrap up the season at Philadelphia the following night. Boylen said Chicago has not made “a final decision that I can talk about” on LaVine, G Kris Dunn (strained back) or F Otto Porter Jr. (strained right rotator cuff). … Boylen said F Lauri Markkanen continues to wear a heart monitor and tests have been “unremarkable.” The seven-footer from Finland has started running, shooting and participating in non-contact parts of practice. The Bulls shut down Markkanen for the remainder of the season last week because of a rapid heart rate and fatigue.