Sixers camp questions: How many wins this year?

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Sixers camp questions: How many wins this year?

With the Sixers' training camp set to open at the end of the week, there are questions that come to mind -- many questions. Over the next couple days, we will ponder those burning questions entering the Brett Brown era.

How will the Sixers fare in their division, the Eastern Conference and overall?

The Sixers are a good bet to be a lottery team given Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 overall pick in June’s draft, is sidelined for the first couple months of the season. They also have a rookie starting at point guard in Michael Carter-Williams, no experienced shooting guard and a starting center in Spencer Hawes whom would definitely be a backup on a winning team.

Brooklyn -- with its high-priced, All-Star-laden roster -- is the favorite to win the Atlantic division. The Nets have great talent with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. However, age could factor in along with having a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd.

New York will say it has a legitimate shot in the Atlantic after winning the division last season. Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring last year with 28.8 points per game to help the Knicks win 47 games. The Knicks showed great improvement defensively, holding opponents to the seventh-fewest points per game (95.7).

The Sixers, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are all in similar situations with rosters that are looking to the future. The Raptors and Celtics have more guys with experience than the Sixers, but they are merely players that have received quality minutes and not big-time talents.

With that said, the Sixers will likely occupy the cellar of the Atlantic Division.

In the East, Miami is clearly the class of the conference. However, Indiana and Chicago -- with a healthy Derrick Rose -- will be equally difficult to beat. Those three opponents account for 10 of the Sixers’ 82 games this season.

Teams that should have similar struggles to the Sixers are Charlotte and Orlando. Cleveland, Washington and Detroit all got better on paper. Meanwhile, Atlanta and Milwaukee have changed some personnel, but were both playoff teams last season.

The Western Conference has been the stronger conference for a number of years now. The four teams I can’t see the Sixers beating at all are Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers. It would take an extraordinary effort on a given night for Brett Brown’s team to beat any of those squads when healthy.

Phoenix and Sacramento are rebuilding franchises and are the two best bets for the Sixers to at least split those matchups.

The west’s other teams have more or comparable talent to the Sixers, who will struggle to compete on the road against those squads but could stay in the fight at home.

Overall, I see 20 wins for Brown’s team in his first year as Sixers head coach.

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee/illness) is available to play. Jahlil Okafor (illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.