Give and Go: Who are the real 76ers?

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Give and Go: Who are the real 76ers?

Each week we'll ask questions about the Sixers to our resident basketball enthusiasts and see what they have to say.

Running the Give and Go this week are CSNPhilly.com reporter John Finger, CSNPhilly.com columnist John Gonzalez and CSN producer Sean Kane. Let's get started:

What's the biggest key for the Sixers on their three-game road trip?

Finger: Aside from winning a game (or two) and getting home in one piece with no injuries, consistency will be important for the Sixers. Give the Sixers credit for competing every game. But from night to night, it's tough to know which team we'll see -- the one that got pounded by the Spurs or the one that beat the Heat, Wizards, Bulls and Rockets.

Gonzalez: Keeping Michael Carter-Williams healthy. The Sixers and their rookie point guard have been a pleasant surprise so far. But we all know the truth: Even if they're somewhere closer to average than awful on the win-loss spectrum, they're still not a good team. Good comes later -- next year and beyond -- if everything goes to plan. MCW shouldn't rush back. Sit and rest a while if that's what's needed. There's plenty of time for him and the Sixers to acquit themselves.

Kane: Playing with the same level of intensity on the road as they do at home. It's easy to compete and overcome fourth-quarter deficits with an enthusiastic home crowd cheering you on, especially for young guys only a year or two removed from college. But will that same effort manifest itself on the road? Time will tell. All three of these games are winnable. The Hawks have been mediocre, the Pelicans have been slow to mesh with all their new parts and the Mavericks have been up and down. I don't expect the Sixers to win all three games. Two out of three would be a huge accomplishment, but a more realistic goal is avoiding an 0-3 road trip.

Are the Sixers closer to the team that lost to the Spurs or beat the Rockets?

Finger:
Is in between the two an answer? The Sixers aren't as bad as the Spurs made them out to be on Monday and they aren't as good as they were in the OT victory over the Rockets. But they are very, very young and young teams pull off the Jekyll-and-Hyde bit frequently during the season.

That's not to diminish the loss or the win. The Sixers were hanging around against San Antonio before the Spurs put the pedal down. Unlike other teams, the Spurs are disciplined enough to keep teams like the Sixers from inching back into the game. Meanwhile, the Rockets got whatever shot they wanted against the Sixers. They took 41 three-pointers, 50 shots in the paint and five mid-range twos. Five! And they lost.

Gonzalez: The Sixers are exactly what they appear to be -- a team that can run and surprise you and beat the Rockets, and a team that can play terribly and get blown out against the Spurs. Depends on the night and the personnel. (It certainly doesn't hurt when a guy like James Harden is out with an injury.) At this point, we have to start considering a real possibility: What if the Sixers aren't awful? What if they're average?

Kane: They are somewhere in between. But over time they'll come to more closely resemble the team that beat the Rockets. If one thing has been made clear through the season's first nine games, it's that the Sixers are going to compete for 48 minutes (or in Wednesday's case: 53 minutes). That trait goes a long way in a league where teams put out varying levels of effort depending on the situation, and coaches like to make sure their stars are well-rested for the playoffs. If you play hard in the NBA, you're going to win some games, regardless of your talent level.

And that's where I tend to differ from the majority. There is talent on the Sixers' roster. Carter-Williams has been a revelation, Thaddeus Young is a consummate professional, Spencer Hawes is a skilled big man and James Anderson and Tony Wroten have proven they are NBA-caliber guards. That brings us to Evan Turner. This is my fourth year as president of the E.T. Fan Club. (It's been a rocky first term no doubt.) But I've long maintained that Turner can be an All-Star if he is put in the right situation. Watching Jrue Holiday dominate the offense, and having Doug Collins criticize his every move wasn't the right situation. We are now seeing what Turner can do when given the freedom to just play basketball and utilize his various talents.

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”