Sixers-Celtics: 5 things you need to know

sixers-celtics-matchup.jpg

Sixers-Celtics: 5 things you need to know

Nearly 50 games into the season and the Sixers finally get a chance to face the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night at the TD Garden (7:30 p.m./CSN).

Though the Sixers and Celtics dwell in the cellar of the division, the storied rivalry is as heated as ever. Both clubs are in full rebuilding mode and appear to be in a race to acquire the most ping-pong balls for next June’s draft.

At 14-31, the Sixers hold a slight advantage, but the Celtics, at 15-32, have lost 14 of their last 16 games.

Here are a few things to know about Wednesday’s game:

1. MCW vs. Rondo
Michael Carter-Williams’ latest point-guard test is against Rajon Rondo, the wily veteran who collects triple-doubles the way kids used to collect baseball cards. The thing about this matchup is Carter-Williams will face Rondo in the just the seventh game this season for the Celtics point guard and Rondo's first in a back-to-back.

Fresh off rehab to repair a torn ACL, Rondo is still finding his way back, averaging just 6.6 points and 5.8 assists per game. He also hasn’t played more than 30 minutes in a game, and he's scored more than eight points just once.

Carter-Williams, on the other hand, is on his way to the Rookie of the Year Award. Though he has been slightly inconsistent over the past few weeks, Carter-Williams still averaged 20 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game over his last five.

2. Back to Boston
Carter-Williams, from nearby Hamilton, Mass., isn’t the only member of the Sixers headed for a home game of sorts. Coach Brett Brown is from South Portland, Maine and played college ball at Boston University where he played games at the old Boston Garden.

Brown grew up following the Sixers-Celtics rivalry and has vivid memories of Andrew Toney, "The Boston Strangler," wrecking the Celtics during the 1981 and 1982 Eastern Conference Finals.

“I can still hear the NBA music and introduction to the NBA Game of the Week. To travel down to the Garden and be able to see [George] McGinnis and Julius Erving and Bobby Jones and [Andrew] Toney, [Maurice] Cheeks and Doug [Collins] play,” Brown said after Tuesday’s practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “I just couldn’t believe how Andrew Toney would just kick the Celtics’ tail. To me, he was unguardable. He was just such a one-on-one, triple threat. Rock-a-step, rock-a-step threat. He was a big part of my upbringing and my memory of the NBA, more so than the Celtics-Lakers battles.”

Additionally, injured center Nerlens Noel is from Malden, Mass. and grew up playing ball with Carter-Williams.

Needless to say, it will be a big homecoming for a few in the Sixers’ traveling party.

3. Turner getting warm
The Feb. 20 trade deadline is slowly creeping up and, coincidentally, Evan Turner’s production has taken a slight uptick lately, too.

In his last 10 games, Turner is shooting 44.7 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range and 85.1 percent from the line. In his last four games, Turner has found his scoring stroke, pouring in 34 against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and 21 against the Suns on Monday night. Over the last four games, Turner is 29 for 62 from the floor (4 for 9 from three-point range) and 21 for 23 from the foul line.

Could better numbers get Turner traded before the deadline? Maybe not. Then again, it doesn’t hurt.

4. Fast and slow
The Sixers lead the NBA in pace with 99.6 possessions per 48 minutes. No other team is within two possessions of the Sixers, who also lead the NBA with 88.5 shots per game.

The Celtics also get a lot of shots per game -- 82.8 per game for the seventh-most in the league.

The difference is in the way the teams get their shots. The Sixers run up and down the court and launch themselves at the rim. The thought is that more possessions and more shots will produce more points. With 101.3 points per game, there is something to that.

Of course, the Sixers open themselves up to turnovers and having their shots blocked, two more categories in which they lead the NBA.

The Celtics are much more deliberate. They get just 93.2 possessions per game, well below the league average, and just 94.7 points per game, 27th in the league. Though they get plenty of shots, the Celtics shoot just 43.7 percent, better than only four teams in the league.

In other words, expect a lot of rebounds on Wednesday night ... for both teams.

5. Injuries
Arnett Moultrie’s ankle is, “100 percent,” according to Brown, but the second-year forward still needs to get into shape before returning to game action.

Brandon Davies (finger), Jason Richardson (knee) and Noel (knee) are out.

For the Celtics, Jerryd Bayless (toe) and guard Avery Bradley (ankle) are likely out. Keith Bogans (personal reasons) has been away from the team since Jan. 14 and will not return for the foreseeable future.

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.