(REUTERS, AFP) - Joel Embiid scored 40 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the visiting Philadelphia 76ers past the Milwaukee Bucks 130-125 on Sunday (March 17) and clinch a play-off berth.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was terrific for the Bucks with a career-high 52 points to go along with 16 rebounds and seven assists but it was still not enough. Khris Middleton added 19 points.
Embiid's double-double was his 52nd and the 25th time he has scored at least 30 points and swept 10 rebounds in a game. He scored 18 points alone in the fourth quarter as the visitors beat the top-ranked team in front of a crowd of 17,300 at the Fiserv Forum.
Jimmy Butler had 27 and J.J. Redick 19 for the Sixers, who won their fourth in a row.
"They are the best team in the NBA right now, as far as record goes," Embiid said. "No. 1 in our conference. I felt like we had to make a statement. We had to get this win.
"I thought we all did a pretty good job in the first half. In the second half, he (Antetokounmpo) kind of got going. He is tough to guard."
Embiid made two free throws in the final seconds of the fourth to help seal the win.
"He's a tough guy," Antetokounmpo said of Embiid. "He's a great defender, strong. It was kind of hard going at him."
Elsewhere, LeBron James scored 33 points but it was not enough to prevent the Los Angeles Lakers sliding to an embarrassing 124-123 defeat to the league-worst New York Knicks.
The Lakers, who are all but out of contention for the play-offs, blew a 122-111 lead late in the fourth quarter as the Knicks ended a run of eight consecutive defeats with an upset win at Madison Square Garden.
It marked another grim milestone in the Lakers' rocky season, which has nosedived dramatically since the turn of the year. The Knicks are rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference with the worst record in the NBA, with Sunday's win seeing them improve to 14 wins against 56 defeats.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are stuck in 11th spot in the Western Conference with 31 wins and 39 defeats, nine wins fewer than the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the last remaining playoff berth.
Dejected Lakers coach Luke Walton, whose job is reportedly in peril, praised the Knicks for digging out an improbable win.
The Clippers, meanwhile, had reserve Lou Williams' three-pointer at the buzzer to thank, as the hosts pulled off a dramatic 119-116 win over the Brooklyn Nets for their seventh win in eight games.
Williams, whose game winner was the first of his career, scored 11 of his team-high 25 points in a fourth quarter that featured wild runs by both teams. The Clippers (41-30) won to move into a virtual tie with Utah for seventh in the West and a half-game behind sixth-placed San Antonio.
Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell added 20 points apiece for the Clippers. D'Angelo Russell scored a game-high 32 points, but the Nets (36-36) fell one and a half games behind sixth-placed Detroit in the Eastern Conference and lead eighth-placed Miami by just one and a half games.
In Houston, Chris Paul scored 25 points and tied a career high with six three-pointers as the Rockets used a third-quarter run to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-102
Rookie forward Josh Okogie scored 21 points for the Timberwolves, who have dropped seven of 10. Taj Gibson chipped in 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for Minnesota. Houston (44-26), third in the West, improved to 11-2 since the All-Star break.
Also, Nikola Vucevic had 27 points and 20 rebounds to lead the Orlando Magic to a 101-91 win over the Atlanta Hawks. The Magic (33-38) trail Miami (33-36) by one game for the East's final spot in the play-offs. They meet one last time this season in Miami on March 26.