Scary matchup awaits Sixers in champion Heat

slideshow-heat-lebron-james-ap.jpg

Scary matchup awaits Sixers in champion Heat

To call opening night a challenge for Brett Brown’s young team is an understatement. The Miami Heat have played in the NBA Finals each of the last three years and have claimed the last two NBA championships.

Many on Brown’s team have no idea the physicality necessary to putting the smallest dent in LeBron James’ game. Evan Turner, on the other hand, knows far too well the personal task that awaits him Wednesday night at the defensive end.

“He is one of the toughest to guard, especially now since he is posting up and playing closer to the rim,” Turner said of guarding James, who was fourth in the NBA last season with 26.8 points per game. “It gets tough when you think you played him your toughest and he still comes out with 28 points. It is a group thing and you can’t get lackadaisical.”

Turner joked that it was his 30th time facing James since coming into the league. That is a slight exaggeration, but Wednesday night will be the 17th time Turner has squared off with James as a pro.

James has been victorious the last 11 regular-season games and he also won four of five in a first-round playoff series three years ago.

The Heat are a dominant team that is coming off a season-opening win over the Bulls and has three-peat aspirations. On the flip side, the Sixers are just so far from being able to compete with such a team for 48 minutes.

“I think just the reality of what is the benchmark of our sport,” Brown said of the opening-night challenge. “Any time you can get a true guideline of where you stand as an individual or as a team, then I think it will be an honest reflection of the things we are going to have to do to aspire to get where we want to go.”

Turner suggested that knowing what outsiders are expecting from the Sixers and paying attention to those expectations do not have to be one and the same.

“Don’t pay attention to any of it,” Turner said. “Any time you are doing something, outside influence is never good whether it is basketball or anything else.”

Can the Sixers win 20 games? Are 15 victories more realistic?

Look at the first couple weeks of the season for the Sixers and you see opposing rosters that include names such as James, Dwyane Wade, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Dwight Howard and James Harden.

It all starts on Wednesday night with the Heat. Halloween just might come a day early this year.

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

CAMDEN, N.J. — The long wait could be over next week.

Joel Embiid expects to play in the Sixers' first preseason game Oct. 4 at UMass-Amherst against the Celtics, he said Monday at media day.

“The first thing for me is just get back on the court,” Embiid said of his expectations this season. “It looks like in a couple days I’m going to have the chance to do that.”

Embiid has missed the past two seasons since being drafted third overall because of foot injuries. Even though he is taking his rookie year one step at a time, he has a positive long-term outlook given how healthy he feels. 

“I’m confident that I’m going to have a long, successful career,” he said. “From what it looks like right now, I’m going to have a 20-year career.”

Embiid has grown as a player and a person during his recovery. He noted had he been competing in an 82-game season, he would not have had as much time to dedicate on his development. As a result of the specialized workouts and the hours he has spent in an individual practice format, he has improved his shooting and gained strength and speed. 

“What I was two years ago, I’m not even close to what I am right now,” he said. “My game has gotten so much better ... I’m not the same guy. I’m different.”

Embiid has been following a well-mapped out rehab plan during which he has had to adhere to restrictions, and will continue to do so this season. He admits the restrictions have been frustrating, but he now understands they are being implemented for his best interest long term. The lengthy recovery has forced him to change his outlook on maintaining his health. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab, going through that, the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor [said] you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to what people have to say.”

Head coach Brett Brown wants Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense. Embiid, who stands at a towering 7-foot-2, 275 pounds, is ready to embrace those expectations. He has studied tape of Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, among others. Embiid likes the game of Marc Gasol and appreciates how DeAndre Jordan communicates as a big man. 

“I love playing defense,” he said. “I hate when the other team scores.”

Embiid's debut will be the culmination of years of work. Now that the season is approaching, he is eager to count down the days. 

“I’m really excited,” Embiid said. “I’ve gone through a lot and it’s been two years. The fact that I’m healthy now and ready to get back on the court, I just can’t wait.”

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Nerlens Noel is standing his ground.

After saying that the Sixers' entering the season with three starting-caliber centers (himself, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid) "doesn't make sense," Noel didn't back down from his stance during the team's annual media day.  

"I don't see a way it can work," Noel said Monday. "It's just a logjam. You have three young, talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night." 

The Sixers attempted to play with two bigs in Noel and Okafor last season but had little success. Now that Embiid is finally healthy, the fit to the puzzle doesn't figure to get any better.

Reports swirled during the offseason that the Sixers were looking to trade either Noel or Okafor to add backcourt help to the woeful franchise, but nothing came to fruition.

"Things need to get situated," Noel said. "I think things obviously need to be moved around, someone needs to be moved around. It's just a tough situation. I can't really say too much because I have no say in the matter, so obviously that's for who can handle the situation in the right manner.

"I've gone through a whole lot. Probably the most, arguably, that any player has gone through in the NBA in losing. It's a tough situation to still be in. Year by year, to see things get more difficult to show your value. Year by year, it's always been something. It's really at a point where it's just a lot."

Bryan Colangelo said he understands Noel's viewpoint. However, the Sixers' president said he is in no rush to trade any of the centers and will wait the situation out.

"It’s not disappointing. It’s understandable," Colangelo said. "I think Nerlens actually did a pretty good job sizing up what we have, which is a lot of depth and a lot of talent at that position."

Despite each of the three centers being early in their career, Noel, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, doesn't want to hold off to see if the trio can actually mesh on the floor.

"I can't say I do really understand that (wait-and-see approach)," Noel said. "If you have a group of players, I just don't think it makes too much sense to just still come into the season with such a heavy lineup at the center position. I don't know what there is to wait and see."

Noel made sure to express that he has no issues with Okafor and Embiid and said they are some of his closest friends on the team. But when asked whether he was happy to be a Sixer, Noel deflected.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm all right, I'm in a good place right now."

Sure sounds like it.