6 observations from Sixers-Raptors

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6 observations from Sixers-Raptors

BOX SCORE

Believe it or not, the Toronto Raptors wrested first place in the Atlantic Division away from the Sixers on Wednesday night with the 108-98 victory (see Instant Replay).

At 5-8 and riding a four-game losing streak, the Sixers are a half-game off the pace in the division.

Here are a few things that caught our eye in the epic, first-place showdown:

1. Michael Carter-Williams returns
After missing four straight games, rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams returned to the lineup for the Sixers. Before the game, coach Brett Brown said Carter-Williams would have no restrictions and he wasn’t kidding. The rookie logged 34 minutes.

2. Banging in the post
Toronto big men Jonas Valanciunas and Tyler Hansbrough were a bundle of energy (and elbows) in the low post. Though neither player made much of a dent into the stat sheet, they mixed it up with Sixers big men Daniel Orton, Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes. Fortunately the battle in the post didn’t go beyond clean, hard basketball. A few times the players got all tangled up and fell into a heap on the floor. But that was it … just some big guys pushing each other around.

3. Defend the house
Certainly the mission of any team in the NBA is to force the opposing offense to take shots from the yard, which is the area outside of the paint and inside of the three-point line. If a team is going to beat you, the reasoning goes, let them do it with long two-pointers.

The Sixers did a good job of forcing the Raptors into taking shots from the yard in the first quarter. But after chucking up eight of them in the first, the Raptors took just nine more from the yard for the rest of the game.

That hardly compares to the efficiency of the Houston Rockets, though. In last week’s overtime victory, the Rockets took just five shots from the yard in the entire game. Somehow they figured out how to lose.

4. No Thad
The Sixers played without veteran Thad Young, who was not with the team on Wednesday night because of “personal reasons.” Young would have been valuable for the Sixers in pick-and-roll defense and in running the fast break. Instead, Hawes started the game at power forward with Orton at center.

5. Hawes’ career night
On Jan. 1, 2010, Spencer Hawes shot 12 for 20 with four three-pointers in a one-point loss to the Lakers for a career-high 30 points.

Since then the 30-point game had not been threatened by Hawes.

That is until Wednesday night.

Hawes shot 10 for 13 with three three-pointers and 10 rebounds for 28 points, just missing the career high. Meanwhile, Hawes notched his eighth double-double of the season, second-most in the NBA.

6. Homecomings, of sorts
Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova product, Kyle Lowry, had 13 points and 10 assists in his former sometime home court. Lowry entered the game averaging 12 points and six assists per game. His steady hand at point guard helped keep the Raptors’ turnover tally to a paltry nine.

Additionally, Raptors assistant coach Tom Sterner was close to his hometown of York and his old stomping grounds of Lancaster, where he attended Millersville U. and coached at Lancaster Catholic and Franklin & Marshall College. Sterner was a scout for the Sixers two years ago.

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

MIAMI -- Dion Waiters' 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left capped his 33-point effort, and the Miami Heat beat Golden State 105-102 on Monday night to end the Warriors' seven-game winning streak.

The Heat wasted a 10-point lead in the final 4 minutes, and Kevin Durant tied the game on a dunk with 11.7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Waiters walked the ball up the court and drilled what became the game-winner over Klay Thompson.

Stephen Curry missed a 3-pointer as time expired for the Warriors (see full recap).

Rivers, Crawford lead Clippers past Hawks
ATLANTA -- Austin Rivers scored 27 points and Jamal Crawford broke out of a shooting slump with 19, helping the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 on Monday night.

Crawford had eight points in the fourth quarter, including a driving basket after Atlanta cut the Clippers' lead from 24 to five points.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 25 points. Dennis Schroder had 21, and Dwight Howard added 16 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Wizards beat Hornets behind Wall’s 24
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- John Wall firmly believes the Washington Wizards are a good team with plenty of playoff potential.

The key, he said, "is we just got to believe it every time we step on the court."

Wall had 24 points and seven assists, and the Wizards looked plenty confident as they continued their run up the Eastern Conference standings with a 109-99 win against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night (see full recap).

Kings snap skid with win over Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and the Sacramento Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with a 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Ty Lawson added 19 points and helped Sacramento turn the game around with a strong second quarter. Lawson scored nine points in the second, and the Kings outscored the Pistons 37-24 in the period to take a 65-62 lead into halftime.

A 3-pointer by Lawson put Sacramento up 101-90 in the fourth, and the Kings held on from there to stop Detroit's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Jones, Holiday lead Pelicans past Cavs
NEW ORLEANS -- Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James' dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James' drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. Embiid is reportedly expected to return Friday against the Rockets.

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens, really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going, it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period, it got kind of sore on me again,” Okafor explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being 100 percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded, as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014.

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.