Sixers' Carter-Williams standing up to the test

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Sixers' Carter-Williams standing up to the test

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, Del. -- Michael Carter-Williams knows it’s going to be tough.

As a rookie point guard who just had his 21st birthday, the 6-foot-6, 185-pounder is ready for the pounding. He expects the opposing teams to get aggressive with him and make him work for every inch on the court. In Friday night’s 97-85 victory over the Boston Celtics at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center (see Instant Replay), veteran Avery Bradley was gunning for Carter-Williams from the jump.

In fact, at one point during the first quarter, Bradley had been clutching and grabbing Carter-Williams so much that his shirt tail had come out of his shorts and was flapping in the breeze.

“I thought he was exceptional,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “Each game I see him, he does something that gets you even more excited. You hear about his potential and you think you know, and then all of a sudden you see him against arguably the best perimeter defender and he was physical and Michael didn’t back down. He went by him and I thought that his performance tonight against a very physical defender was excellent.”

It was rough, too. But Carter-Williams has stood up to the test. In three preseason games, including battles against Bradley and the Oklahoma City Thunder in England, Carter-Williams has committed just one turnover. In Friday night’s game against the Celtics, Carter-Williams had zero turnovers in 30 minutes.

The rookie had six points on six shots with six assists and six rebounds against the Celtics. He also added a steal and was a plus-21. He had no trouble finding Thad Young (20 points), Spencer Hawes (17 points) or Evan Turner (12 points, nine rebounds) as the Sixers rolled.

“I think I’m picking my poison a little bit,” Carter-Williams said. “I’m taking smarter chances and trying to squeeze some passes, but only once in a while. I try to make the simple play a lot and so far it’s been working.”

The 11th pick in last June’s draft, Carter-Williams was highly regarded for his athleticism and size as a point guard, though his shooting is a bit suspect. Moreover, rail thin and young, some felt Carter-Williams would have trouble with the older and stronger guards in the NBA. After all, every point guard goes through some growing pains, especially rookies.

But as he explained, Carter-Williams pays attention to the fundamentals. He’ll make the simple, correct play instead of the flashy one. That’s what a coach wants from a point guard. Especially a coach who was collegiate point guard and a son of a coach.

But not everything was perfect in Brown’s eyes. Yes, Carter-Williams was perfect in the turnover column, but he left plenty of room for improvement. Playing an up-tempo style of offense in which the goal is to get the ball and take off, the Sixers’ plan is to wear out the opposition. However, there were times during the second half when it appeared as if the Sixers were dragging a little bit.

Ideally, Brown said, the Sixers will move even faster with the ball and it will be up to Carter-Williams to make the team go.

“It has to be the way we play,” Brown said. “At times it scares the heck out of you because you turn it over a lot and we’ve said it’s going to happen and I’m prepared to live with some of that now. Hopefully, we can get a little smarter on the kick-aheads and some of those passes we’re throwing long. But pace has to be our identity. We put a premium on fitness and we want to get out and go.”

If Brown wants the offense to move faster, Carter-Williams isn’t going to argue. What player is going to argue with going faster?

“Whatever coach wants,” Carter-Williams said. “If he wants us to play faster, that’s what we’ll have to do. As a player, I’m going to adapt to that and try to play as fast as I can and as fast as [Brown] wants. I don’t think my turnovers will suffer from that.”

In other words, giddy-up.

The Sixers continue the exhibition season on Monday night when the Brooklyn Nets come to the Wells Fargo Center.

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.