Heat haven't forgotten early-season loss to Sixers

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Heat haven't forgotten early-season loss to Sixers

Which of Sixers' 13 victories has been the most impressive this season?

It's a question we frequently debate on Sixers Pregame Live and there are two games that repeatedly come up: The season opener at home over Miami and the one on the road over Portland.

The Portland win capped off a five-game West Coast swing. The Sixers were 3-1 on the road trip heading into that matchup, and the Trail Blazers had the best record in the NBA at that time.

The Sixers came up with a defensive stop on the Blazers' final possession to secure the 101-99 victory on Jan. 4 and a season-high four-game win streak.

The win over Miami happened back on Oct. 30. The Sixers jumped out to a 19-0 lead and the Heat needed nearly five minutes to score their first basket. Despite a 45-point third quarter by the the Heat, the Sixers were able to pull off the 114-110 upset.

Knocking off the two-time defending world champions trumps holding the highest-scoring team in the league 10 points below its season average. After all, we are talking LeBron James and the Heat.

Miami returns to Wells Fargo Center on Friday night for the second of three meetings against the Sixers this season. And if you think James and company have forgotten about that letdown against the Sixers at the beginning of the season, think again.

“They blitzed us to start the game, I remember that,” James said after the Heat practiced at Temple's Liacouras Center on Thursday. “It was like 20-2 or 20-1, something like that. They came with a lot of energy and for the most part they controlled the game. Obviously we got back into it in the third quarter, but they played pretty well.”

The Heat have dropped three straight games, with their most recent loss coming on Wednesday to the Washington Wizards. Like the Sixers, the Wizards were able to jump on the Heat early. They held a 43-18 lead after the first quarter.

“It was very similar to last night just in terms of a lack of real collective energy and focus and commitment to do all the things necessary in a game,” Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra said. “Particularly against a young team like that, that plays with great youth, speed and athleticism up and down the court. They won’t let you play at a pace or half speed. We tried to get away with that the first game and it cost us.”

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.”