MCW: Greatest pressure will be on Nerlens Noel

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MCW: Greatest pressure will be on Nerlens Noel

When the Sixers return next season they will have the reigning Rookie of the Year, a healthy No. 6 overall pick from 2013 and a top-five selection from the upcoming draft.

It is exciting to think of the potential in that lineup, but with potential comes expectations and the pressure to live up to them.

Who has the greatest pressure? Is it on Michael Carter-Williams to back up the numbers he averaged this past season? Perhaps it's on Nerlens Noel to be the rim protector he has been touted to be by so many around the league? Or does the pressure sit with the to-be-determined top-five pick in a draft praised for its deep talent?

Carter-Williams thinks the answer is Noel.

“There is a lot of expectations and pressure, but I think the fans are really eager to see what Nerlens brings to the table,” Carter-Williams said Monday after being named Rookie of the Year and prior to having shoulder surgery. “That is pressure, but he is going to have more help. A lot of his help comes from me and I am going to be there to support him.

“I am going to work things out with him when things aren’t going his way. I am going to stay on him and just for him to do all the right things on the court.”

Noel will have the advantage of being one year into his relationship with head coach Brett Brown.

Early on, Brown made the decision that Noel would be part of all team functions from film sessions to travel to pregame activities.

The only part of being an NBA rookie Noel did not experience was playing.

The pressure on MCW will be different than Noel’s because he is now a known quantity. Carter-Williams led his rookie peers in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and minutes per game this season all while growing into a true team leader.

Just as first-year players often hit the rookie wall, a sophomore slump is not unusual. Carter-Williams' maturity and supporting cast will help him navigate the challenges of his second NBA season just as they did his rookie year.

“I think that helped me a lot. Staying grounded is your ability to appreciate the game and work hard on and off the court," he said. "Without being grounded and staying level-headed, I wouldn’t have gotten Rookie of the Year.”

And like Noel, MCW knows what Brown wants and expects from him.

The high draft pick will be in an interesting situation. His rookie performance could be overshadowed by the play of Noel and Carter-Williams and not scrutinized to the same degree.

But fans are expecting the Sixers' draft selection, which will be no lower than No. 5, to be in the starting lineup and contributing at both ends of the floor.

The Sixers did not end up in that situation when they selected Evan Turner second overall in 2010. The Cavaliers certainly did not get that with Anthony Bennett this past season following his No. 1 overall selection.

Turner was the 2010 national college player of the year at Ohio State, where he averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists a game.

Those numbers did not follow him to the pros. Turner averaged 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds as a rookie. People wanted so much more from the No. 2 pick.

Bennett’s experience in Cleveland was worse -- he played in just 52 games and averaged 12.8 minutes coming off the bench with 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds.

With the right pick, the pressure to be better in the 2014-15 season can be shared by all three young Sixers.

Best of NBA: Harden's 38-points fuels Rockets past Bucks

Best of NBA: Harden's 38-points fuels Rockets past Bucks

HOUSTON -- James Harden had 38 points, eight assists and six rebounds, and the Houston Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-92 on Wednesday night.

Harden drilled a straightaway 3-pointer with six minutes left to give Houston a 13-point lead and shimmied his shoulders down the court in a celebratory dance as the Bucks called timeout.

After losing three of four, the Rockets regained their form while improving to 17-4 at home this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks for Milwaukee (see full recap).

Rose powers slumping Knicks past Celtics 117-106
BOSTON -- Derrick Rose matched his season high with 30 points, and the slumping New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics 117-106 on Wednesday night.

New York played without injured starters Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah, but Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Willy Hernangomez each scored 17 points to help make up for their absence. It was just the third win in 14 games for the Knicks.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 39 points, his 13th time this season with 30 or more points. Jae Crowder added 21 for the Celtics, who lost for only the fourth time in 17 games.

Al Horford, Boston's big free-agent acquisition during the summer, had five points on 2-of-14 shooting. He was 1 for 8 on 3-point attempts.

Boston closed to 97-96 on Jaylen Brown's two free throws with just under eight minutes to play, but Justin Holiday and Courtney Lee nailed 3-pointers 29 seconds apart, pushing New York's lead back to seven. Rose then capped an 8-0 spree by putting in his own miss after Thomas missed a jumper -- his seventh straight shot that was off (see full recap).

Home cooking: Wiz top Grizz 104-101, 13th win in row in DC
WASHINGTON -- A vastly different team at home, the Wizards won their 13th consecutive game in Washington by edging the Memphis Grizzlies 104-101 Wednesday night behind two late layups from John Wall, who finished with 25 points and 13 assists.

James Ennis III missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer for Memphis.

The Wizards are just 4-13 on the road but now 18-6 at home, where they've compiled their longest winning streak since a 15-game run in the 1988-89 season.

Washington never trailed and led by as many as 19 points in the first half, then held on after a 10-0 run by Memphis made it a two-point game with 2 1/2 minutes left. That's when Wall took over, scoring on consecutive drives (see full recap).

Walker, Hibbert lead Hornets past Blazers 107-85
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kemba Walker scored 23 points, Roy Hibbert provided a huge boost off the bench, and the Charlotte Hornets stopped a five-game slide with a 107-85 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Nicolas Batum added 17 points for the Hornets, who limited the Trail Blazers to 35 percent shooting and snapped an eight-game streak of allowing at least 100 points. But it was the 7-foot-2 Hibbert who stole the show.

Hibbert, who came in averaging 5.2 points per game, had a season-high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

Damian Lillard scored 21 points and C.J. McCollum had 18 for Portland, which has lost three straight and 16 of 22 since Dec. 5 (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Sixers 94, Raptors 89

Instant Replay: Sixers 94, Raptors 89

BOX SCORE

The Sixers proved their recent success is for real with a grind-it-out 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. 

Facing the Eastern Conference’s second-best team, the Sixers beat the 28-win Raptors in what they had identified as their most challenging matchup during this stretch of success. They now have won seven of their last nine games.

The Sixers closed out this victory with late-game execution and fended off a Raptors comeback attempt. DeMar DeRozan gave Toronto a one-point lead, 86-85, with just under two minutes to play. The team that had struggled greatly with fourth quarters showed poise and composure down the stretch against a veteran playoff contender, as the Sixers sealed a win that seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago.

Embiid knotted the score with a free throw and grabbed a key defensive rebound before T.J. McConnell converted a layup and two free throws on back-to-back possessions, handing the Sixers a 90-86 lead. On the ensuing trip down the other end, Robert Covington and Embiid delivered blocks on Kyle Lowry, all but putting Toronto away for good with 20 seconds left.

The Sixers improved to 14-26 and the Raptors dropped to 28-14. 

Inside the stats
• Embiid recorded his 10th straight game of 20-plus points, scoring 26 and grabbing nine rebounds for a plus-20 rating.

• Ersan Illyasova put up 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting.

• DeRozan scored 25 points, while Lowry poured in 24.

• The Sixers snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Raptors.

• The Sixers posted seven blocks as Embiid, Dario Saric and Nik Stauskas all had two apiece.

• Saric finished with eight points and nine rebounds off the bench.

• The Sixers turned the ball over 22 times. Every player other than Illyasova had at least one turnover.

Super Dario
Saric blocked Jared Sullinger at the basket during the fourth quarter, sending the Sixers into a frenzy (see video). He followed that play up with getting tied up for a jump ball and minutes later knocking down a three. These aggressive plays were signs of growth for the rookie, who is visibly getting more comfortable as the season progresses and playing more aggressively with each game. 

Embiid snapshot
Embiid went through a 44-second span that encapsulated the versatility of his game. Check out these key plays in the fourth quarter, listed in order of time remaining: 

• 10:32: Dunk

• 10:03: Three-point shot

• 9:48: Draws offensive foul against Lowry

Injury scare
DeMarre Carroll hit the ground halfway through the third after his head collided with teammate Pascal Siakam’s knee during a tie-up at the Sixers' basket. He lay on the floor while members of both medical staffs tended to him. Carroll walked very carefully off the court on his own while being held on to by Raptors personnel (see video). The Raptors conducted tests during the game, which came back clear. Carroll was diagnosed with a sore neck and was unavailable to return.

Up next
The Sixers host the Trail Blazers (18-25) on Friday for their first meeting of the season. Then they travel to Atlanta for a back-to-back against the Hawks (24-17).