NBA Wrap: Pistons win Loyer's 1st game as coach


NBA Wrap: Pistons win Loyer's 1st game as coach

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Brandon Jennings scored 21 points, and the Detroit Pistons beat the San Antonio Spurs 109-100 on Monday night in John Loyer's first game as interim coach.

Detroit abruptly fired Maurice Cheeks on Sunday after only 50 games as coach, but although they've been unimpressive for the most part this season, the Pistons have played better lately. The comfortable win over the Spurs was Detroit's fifth in seven games.

Rodney Stuckey scored 20 points for the Pistons, and Greg Monroe added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Marco Belinelli led the Spurs with 20 points (see full recap).

Streaking Rockets top Timberwolves
MINNEAPOLIS -- Dwight Howard had 18 points and 15 rebounds, and the surging Houston Rockets used a fourth-quarter push to hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-89 Monday night for their sixth consecutive victory.

Chandler Parsons had 20 points and James Harden scored 19 for the Rockets, who have won six straight for the first time since taking seven in a row from Jan. 13-23, 2012.

Back after missing one game with a bruised left quadriceps, Kevin Love led Minnesota with 31 points and 10 rebounds. Chase Budinger had 15 points and Alexey Shved scored 11 off the bench for the Timberwolves, who have lost four straight and six of seven (see full recap).

Lowry, Raptors beat Pelicans
TORONTO -- Kyle Lowry had 19 points and 12 assists, Patrick Patterson scored a season-high 22 and the Toronto Raptors beat the New Orleans Pelicans 108-101 on Monday night for their third straight victory.

DeMar DeRozan also had 22 points, Terrence Ross added 14 and Tyler Hansbrough scored 12 for Toronto, which has won five consecutive meetings and seven of eight against New Orleans. The first-place Raptors moved three games ahead of Brooklyn in the Atlantic Division by winning for the ninth time in 11 home games.

Tyreke Evans had 23 points and 10 assists, and Anthony Davis scored 19 for the Pelicans, who lost their second straight and have dropped four consecutive games in Toronto. Brian Roberts had 18 points for New Orleans, and Eric Gordon 10 (see full recap).

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.