6 observations from Sixers-Suns


6 observations from Sixers-Suns


Though the weather outside has dipped to sub-arctic temperatures, the Phoenix Suns had little difficulty heating up at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night.

The Suns hit their first six shots and were hitting at a torrid 77 percent clip after a quarter. That was enough to help Phoenix hold off the Sixers, 124-113 (see Instant Replay).

The loss was the Sixers’ third in a row as they fell to 14-31, 8½ games off the pace in the Atlantic Division.

Here are a few observations from Monday’s game:

1. Comin’ out gunnin’
The Suns shot 77 percent (17 for 22) during the first quarter in part because they got wide-open shots close to the basket. Of the 22 shots in the opening frame, Phoenix took 13 of them in the paint. The Suns also went 3 for 4 from three-point land in the quarter and were 8 for 9 on shots outside of the paint.

Meanwhile, the Sixers struggled despite getting plenty of shots from up close. Through the first quarter, the Sixers went 6 for 18 from the paint and were 12 for 32 in the paint during the first half.

2. Men in the middle
The Suns had a big advantage in the paint with four players 6-foot-11 or taller positioned in the frontcourt. Most active for Phoenix was second-year center Miles Plumlee, who got eight of his 14 points and six of his 13 rebounds in the opening quarter.

Plumlee wasn’t nearly as effective when Sixers coach Brett Brown made the adjustments and the Suns’ looks in the paint dried up, but by that point the damage was done.

3. Watch your mouth …
The Sixers picked up a season-high four technical fouls on Monday night, with Brown, Evan Turner and Thad Young each getting hit for one, while the team got charged one as well. For Turner, it was his third of the season and Young has a career-high two T’s this year.

Perhaps the Sixers were feeling a little hot under the collar early on. After all, Brown called a timeout just 25 seconds into the game when P.J. Tucker scored an easy, wide-open layup in a half-court set.

Can’t say we fault Brown for getting a little peeved over such an easy basket.

4. Men in the middle, part 2
The Suns set a building record with eight blocked shots during the first half. With 12 blocks in the game, the Suns have 23 blocks in two games against the Sixers. The Suns came into the game ranked 17th in the NBA in blocked shots, but the Sixers lead the NBA in having shots blocked and have had at least 10 shots blocked in 12 games this season.

And though they play only twice in a season, the Suns have recorded 9.6 percent of their blocked shots in games against the Sixers.

5. Pick your poison
While the Sixers were able to shore up the defense in the paint, holding the Suns to 7 for 20 in the paint during the second and third quarters, the Sixers had no remedy for guards Gerald Green or Goran Dragic.

The pair combined to shoot 19 for 25, including 7 for 9 on three-pointers for 54 points. Green led all scorers with 30 points.

6. If they’re free …
The Sixers took only 13 shots during the third quarter, but went 14 for 15 from the foul line. The team shot a season-best 25 for 26 in the game, including 7 for 7 from Michael Carter-Williams and 6 for 6 from Turner.

Of course the Suns went 14 for 16 from the line in the third quarter and 28 for 33 in the game. That pretty much nullified the Sixers’ good showing.

Sixers teased in preseason finale with Jahlil Okafor back, Nerlens Noel out

Sixers teased in preseason finale with Jahlil Okafor back, Nerlens Noel out


MIAMI — Jahlil Okafor called it a “tease.”

He was talking about his oh-so-brief 2016-2017 debut, but he could have also been summarizing the Sixers' constant state of taking one step forward and one (injured) leg back.

Okafor, a 6-11 center and the NBA’s third overall pick in the 2015 draft, played 7:32 minutes on Friday and produced four points, one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover. He had been held out in camp previously because of knee soreness.

His return was the good news for the Sixers.

But, before Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat even started (see Instant Replay), the Sixers announced that center/forward Nerlens Noel will have a “minor surgical procedure in the coming days,” (see story).

Sixers center Joel Embiid, who has missed the past two years because of foot surgeries, said he empathizes with Noel.

“It’s hard,” Embiid said. “Obviously we need Nerlens if we want to win. But that’s basketball. Things happen. You can’t control injuries.

“I feel bad for him because this is the beginning of the season. Everybody wants to play the beginning of the season. But I’m sure he is going to work hard to come back even stronger.”

On the positive side for the Sixers, there was the return of Okafor … even it felt like baby steps for him.

“I started to feel really good,” said Okafor, who had surgery on his right knee in March and experienced soreness on that same knee Sept. 30. “It was kind of like a tease to me because I really got going. I wanted to continue to play, but that’s why I have the medical staff to keep me disciplined.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said before the game that he would keep Okafor to just six to eight minutes, and he was true to his word.

Okafor, who made the only shot he attempted from the floor and was 2 for 4 on free throws, did not play in the second half.

“The scoring piece to my game, that’s like riding a bicycle,” Okafor said. “I know I can score the ball. It was good to get back out there with my teammates and hear them cheer for me on the side.”

Okafor said he tried to convince Brown to let him extend past the script of no more than eight minutes.

“He was like, ‘Have your lawyer call my lawyer,'" Okafor said. “We will talk about the season home opener (on Wednesday night against Oklahoma City), and hopefully I can increase my minutes.”

Okafor said he didn’t want to put a number on how many minutes he thought he could’ve played in his season debut except to say he knew he could play more.

Interestingly, Embiid, who had 18 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes, said he felt Okafor was a bit fatigued.

“I think he was a little bit tired,” Embiid said. “Obviously, he hasn’t played in a while. But just like me, he’s going to dig down. He is a proven scorer. He can do whatever he wants on the court.

“Once he gets back in shape, we as a team are going to be really good.”

Okafor was a minus-5 while he was on the court. But Brown said he was impressed by some of the less-hyped aspects of Okafor’s game.

“I thought he was really good defensively,” Brown said. “He sat in his stance and moved his feet. I thought he did a great job of fronting the post.”

Brown said the Noel injury was almost unfair.

“Clearly, it was a situation in the preseason where he would have played a lot,” Brown said. “The timing is unfortunate.”

Instant Replay: Jahlil Okafor returns in Sixers' preseason finale win over Heat

Instant Replay: Jahlil Okafor returns in Sixers' preseason finale win over Heat


MIAMI — On a day when the Sixers learned Nerlens Noel would require minor surgery, they saw Jahlil Okafor make his preseason debut.

Okafor, who had right knee surgery in March and experienced soreness on that same knee Sept. 30, played seven minutes Friday night and scored four points as the Sixers went on to win their preseason finale, 113-110, over the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena.

Noel will have a minor surgical procedure on his left knee in the coming days (see story). He has been out since Oct. 6 because of a left groin strain, but while undergoing treatment, Noel reported left knee soreness, which led to a discovery of an inflamed plica. Noel missed his rookie season (2013-14) after surgery on his left knee.

The Sixers finished their exhibition season with a 2-5 record as they broke a five-game losing streak with the win over the Heat.

But that was not even close to being the Sixers' main story of the day.

So let’s quickly review the injury status of the four center/forwards the Sixers have drafted with top-six picks in the past four years:

• 6-11 Noel, the sixth pick in 2013, awaits surgery.

• 7-0 Joel Embiid, the third pick in 2014, missed his first two seasons because of surgeries on his right foot. He is playing well now, though, producing 18 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes on Friday. He fouled out late in the fourth quarter but made 8-of-16 shots from the floor.

• 6-11 Okafor, the third pick in 2015, is being eased back in and will be used in a reserve role with a minutes restriction to start the regular season. He played under a six-to-eight-minutes restriction Friday. In addition to his four points, Okafor compiled one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover.

• 6-10 Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in 2016, had foot surgery earlier this month. (There’s more on him below.)

Over the past three years, the Sixers are a dreadful 47-199, including 10-72 last season. But the organization hopes that if the four big men listed above can get and stay reasonably healthy, that can begin to change.

The game
The Sixers trailed by eight points at halftime, 62-54, but used a strong second half to rally and win late on a pair of Jerami Grant free throws.

The Sixers trailed by nine midway through the third quarter before outscoring the Heat, 20-13, the rest of the stanza, trimming the deficit to two. A back-and-forth fourth quarter unfolded until guard Hollis Thompson nailed a jumper to hand the Sixers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Rookie forward Dario Saric hit a three-pointer with one minute remaining to provide the Sixers a four-point cushion, 111-107. Saric scored a game-high 19 points and snagged seven rebounds in 29 minutes.

Grant scored 17 points off the bench while Sergio Rodriguez started at point guard and posted 13 points and four assists.

Okafor-Embiid combination?
Sixers coach Brett Brown said “the instruction was always to deliver [Okafor] to opening night, with the end game being trying to figure out how we can play [Embiid] and Jahlil maybe down the road."

For the moment, though, Brown said he wanted to split the center spot three ways — with about 20 minutes for Embiid, six to eight for Okafor and the rest for Richaun Holmes.

Walking it back
Scratch that January timetable for Simmons, at least for now. Brown said on Friday night that he “misspoke” earlier in the day when he stated that Simmons is on schedule to return in January from foot surgery.

Brown said he misspoke because he was “just getting excited about when [Simmons] might be able to come back,” (see story).

More injury updates
• Guard Jerryd Bayless (left wrist ligament injury) will pursue a non-surgical treatment. He has been participating in non-contact individualized workouts and will be reevaluated in two weeks.

• Saric left the game with 7:11 remaining in the second quarter after he was kneed in the midsection by Heat wing Justise Winslow, who was driving to the basket on the play.

Saric, of course, returned in the second half and played well.

Up next
The Sixers, who have 20 players listed on their roster, could start making cuts late Friday night or on Saturday. Their roster has to be trimmed to no more than 15 players by Monday.

On Wednesday, the Sixers start their regular season with a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. That begins a three-game homestand that also includes tests against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, Oct. 29, and the Orlando Magic on Nov. 1.