6 observations from Sixers-Nets

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6 observations from Sixers-Nets

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Michael Carter-Williams’ return from a seven-game absence helped the Sixers snap a seven-game losing streak with a 121-120 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay). Here are some observations from the matchup:

1. The Nets didn’t have Kevin Garnett (rest) or Joe Johnson (personal matters) for the return match against the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center, two players that had a big impact in Monday’s rout. But it wasn’t like the Nets were at a loss for replacements. Garnett’s replacement was Brook Lopez, the Nets’ leading scorer with 20.6 points per game. Lopez sat out of Monday’s game. Johnson’s sub was Paul Pierce, the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer and a 10-time All-Star.

2. How much of a difference does Carter-Williams make for the Sixers? You know, aside from the obvious things like the team’s record (1-10 without, 7-9 with).

The Sixers are a righter unit offensively and defensively with the rookie point guard. They also move the ball up the court quicker with MCW in a few basic ways. He takes the outlet pass as deep as possible. When the Sixers secure the ball on a rebound or turnover, Carter-Williams is already breaking off and headed up the floor, but not too far that there is a risk of a bad pass.

Carter-Williams also understands the ball moves quicker on a pass than a dribble. So when the point guard gets the ball in transition, his head is up looking for a teammate moving up the floor with him.

Those things didn’t happen often when Carter-Williams was out of the lineup.

3. With four players 6-foot-10 or taller, the Nets should be a force on the boards and in the paint. Yet, through 25 games this season, the Nets rank 25th in offensive rebounding and 20th in defensive. Overall, the Nets are 23rd in the NBA in total rebounding. So how were the Sixers, with just one 7-footer and one player listed at 6-10 getting any playing time able to clean up the boards against the Nets?

Easy, positioning. When the Nets shot the ball from the outside, it wasn’t uncommon to see two Sixers alone in the paint waiting for the rebound. Plus, because the Sixers attack the paint, they often outnumbered the Nets in there.

4. Tony Wroten has no trouble getting to the basket. The Sixers’ backup point guard has a ton of moves that can get him from the three-point line to the paint in a half-second. But Wroten’s outside shooting is still a work in progress.

Wroten went 8 for 17 from the floor, including 2 for 8 from three-point range against the Nets. Take away the 5 for 8 shooting from three on Dec. 12 and Wroten is 18 for 84 (21.4 percent) from long range. If coach Brett Brown is going to play Wroten along side Carter-Williams in the Sixers’ backcourt, Wroten is going to have to improve his shooting.

5. The Sixers held the Nets to just 15 three-pointers Friday night. That’s a big improvement from the 21 the Nets hit Monday night. But the Nets weren’t without a career night or a big third quarter. Alan Anderson scored 16 of his team-high 26 points in the third quarter and hit five threes. Mirza Teletovic shot a career-best 6 of 10 from three-point range.

6. Thad Young is a pro’s pro. After Friday’s shootaround, he cordially and patiently answered questions about trade rumors and if he requested a trade from the Sixers (see story). He did it all over again before the game following his pregame warmup.

It was tiring just watching him go through it.

No worries, though. Young went out and scored 25 points on 11 for 18 shooting with two three-pointers, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

“I am here, ready to give 110 percent each and every game,” Young said after shootaround. “I am ready to just play and try to win basketball games.”

Indeed he is.

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Being immersed in the team is important for Nerlens Noel, and so is continuing his rehab. 

While the Sixers are on the road for three days to play the Grizzlies and Pelicans, Noel will remain in Philadelphia to work out at the training complex in Camden, New Jersey. The team is not scheduled to practice in between games, so staying back allows Noel another day to get on the court.

“[I want him to] just start playing more and have a ball in his hands, get hit, physical, feel people, play one-on-one,” head coach Brett Brown said.

Noel has yet to play this season because of elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October. He rejoined the Sixers after completing the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Alabama. There still is no timetable for his return. 

Brown has said there is a “classroom” element to Noel’s return. He has to learn a roster with new players and schemes. 

The on-the-court side of it is a reacclimation to the intensity of the league. Regardless of how many games Noel already has played in the NBA, there is an adjustment period getting back into the grind of the competition. Brown believes the time in the gym this week will help Noel prepare for the level of intensity he will face in his return. 

“It’s such fool’s gold to think somebody’s going to jump back into NBA basketball after you haven’t played for so long. I don’t care how athletic he is,” Brown said. “It’s a man’s world, this league, and there’s a physicality and there’s a real-time reaction you have to have to play in the game. You can’t make that up in practice, you can’t make that up playing one-on-one, but you can better position him instead of just going out to get shots. I want him to feel a body, get hit, hit back, play one-on-one, those types of things.”

Noel had been assigned to the Sixers’ Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, to get in practice time when the Sixers had a game. The Sixers may forego another assignment and keep Noel at their facility as the Sevens also have two games in the next three days. 

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

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Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his workload management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”