After surprising start, Sixers come back to reality

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After surprising start, Sixers come back to reality

Thaddeus Young heard the talk -- the endless chatter about the Sixers tanking (or rebuilding, if you prefer a more genteel euphemism). He’s been here six seasons. Young has seen all sorts of Sixers iterations -- from teams that struggled to win 27 games to the squad that overachieved and came within one victory of the Eastern Conference Finals to this year’s squad and its early-season surprise.

Young recently talked about the organization’s ebb and flow. But when he was asked about playing for a franchise that everyone thinks is focusing on tomorrow instead of today, Young brushed it aside.

“I don’t get into that type of stuff,” Young said. “I just show up ready to play and help my team win games. I’ve been helping with these young guys. Hopefully, they’ve been able to take in some of the things that we’ve been trying to instill in them or teach them or show them and they can take it with them on the court.”

They took it on the court. Then they took it right to the Heat. And the Wizards. And the Bulls, too. The first three games were excellent. The fourth was not.

The Sixers did not take it to the Warriors. Golden State thumped the Sixers, 110-90, at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday (see story).

“When we dribble a lot and don’t move the ball, it becomes very stagnant and terminal and we have real issues,” Brett Brown said. “And we’re not dynamic. We don’t boast [isolation] guys that are going to go break people down one-on-one and people are going to stand there and watch them. We need to move the ball. I didn’t feel like we did that [Monday]. I thought we were very static. I thought we were individual. That’s on me to help them continue to understand the importance of playing as a team so it doesn’t become an individual exercise.”

If they don’t move the ball, they become “stagnant and terminal” and “have real issues.” That about covers it.

The Sixers shot 35.2 percent from the field, 20 percent from distance and 62.2 percent from the line against the Warriors. They totaled 19 assists but a season-high 24 turnovers (see Instant Replay).

Brown went out of his way to credit the Warriors for being “a very underrated defensive team," but the head coach also admitted the Sixers were “sloppy” and “careless with the ball.”

If their ball handling was ugly (and it was), this was worse: Andre Iguodala had a game-high 32 points (27 in the first half), several highlight dunks, a ridiculous leaping, behind-the-back pass and seven three-pointers (see 5 observations). The Sixers, as a team, hit only five three-pointers.

And what of Michael Carter-Williams? He was just the second rookie ever to be named Player of the Week to start his career (see story). But on the same day that was announced, MCW went 4 for 17 from the field (1 for 7 from three-point range) with six rebounds, four assists and six turnovers.

“I think he wants to attack bigs,” Brown said. “It’s his nature. I like it … but he’s going to have to get use to going at that size. And then there will be an education where you have to kick it out to shooters or maybe you have Spencer [Hawes] or the pick-and-pop guy behind you that’s open. It’s part of the process. It’s part of his learning curve.”

His learning curve -- and the team’s. The Sixers got off to their best start since going 3-0 in 2006-07. Now they have a loss. It was bound to happen. They will lose quite a few more before the season is over. That is also bound to happen. This is one of the few towns where writing sentences like that is somewhat necessary. Sometimes people can get a little carried away and forget about reality. You are no doubt shocked.

This is a fickle place. Always has been. The wind likes to blow through Philadelphia first before deciding which way public opinion is gusting for the moment. Some fans and media members who initially wanted the Sixers to tank this season in a blatant attempt to increase the odds of landing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker changed course completely after the Sixers won their first three games. Suddenly, certain people started talking openly -- and without irony -- about the Sixers making the playoffs.

That actually happened during a popular sports talk radio program on Monday. The hosts wondered whether we might have been wrong about the Sixers (reasonable). At which point they fielded a call from a man who suggested they would go 25-5 to start the year (far less reasonable). After playing three games and winning three games. That is staggering and willful delusion, even in this city.

It should be noted, again, that the Sixers were really good in their first three games. But it should also be noted, again, that they were pretty terrible in their fourth outing. So where does that leave the Sixers? Where are they on the good-to-terrible spectrum?

“I have no idea,” Brown said.

It was an honest response. He must be new.

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular-season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee/illness) is available to play. Jahlil Okafor (illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.