Sixers create only more questions with woeful loss


Sixers create only more questions with woeful loss

Did Doug Collins know what he was doing?

Did Collins know he was inviting never-ending scrutiny when he fired off criticism of his players after the team’s 98-84 loss to the lowly Magic on Tuesday night?

Those are questions that remained to be answered. One thing that stands as a fact is this season has been a major disappointment for the Sixers.

The Sixers’ effort on Tuesday against the Magic was inexplicable. They lost to a team that had three wins in its last 31 contests.

Adding insult was the fact that two players the Sixers traded away put up significant numbers.

Nikola Vucevic registered his 32nd double-double of the season with 12 points and 19 rebounds. His counterpart, Spencer Hawes, grabbed one rebound in 20 minutes of work.

Rookie Maurice Harkless also scored 10 points on just four field goal attempts for the Magic.

Meanwhile, the Sixers’ prized possession that they acquired for the two young talents, Andrew Bynum, was nowhere in sight.

“I think the team that we've tried to put together, we have never seen,” Collins said after the defeat. “And so I think what happens is when you take a huge piece away from it, your warts show.”

The Bynum saga should resonate at the core with any Sixers fan. The move has not worked out. It has not been handled well, and when the big man does speak he gives one little reason to think things will get any better.

Bynum’s absence has greatly impacted the Sixers. With that said, players still have to play the game and Tuesday night’s showing resembled people who are thinking about April vacations.

Does that say more about the coach or the players?

Another question that lacks an answer at the time. However, being embarrassed and outclassed by a Magic team that won for just the 16th time on Tuesday should stir up some emotion in the Sixers. It certainly brought out the fire in Collins.

“Can I tell you something? If everybody looked inside themselves as much as I did, this world would be a CAT scan. OK?” Collins said. “I mean, believe me, there's not two days go by that I don't go to [team president] Rod [Thorn], I don't go to [general manager] Tony [DiLeo] -- 'what can I do? Can I do anything different? How can I be a better coach? How can I be a better leader? How can I help these guys?' Sometimes you've gotta help yourself. You know? Sometimes you’ve gotta help yourself. Youth is a very blaming thing.”

The blame game never works in sports. It is a win together or lose together reality, and the Sixers are showing only the back half of that scenario.

Despite shooting struggles, Dario Saric impressive in Sixers' regular-season debut

Despite shooting struggles, Dario Saric impressive in Sixers' regular-season debut

After two years filled with will he or won't he speculation over joining the Sixers, this certainly wasn't the effort Dario Saric had envisioned for his NBA regular-season debut. 

"I felt comfortable, but sometimes it's not your day and this was my bad day," said Saric, who scored five points in the Sixers' 103-97 season-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. "I'll try to watch the video and fix what I can fix and move forward."

The raw numbers look bad. The rookie forward shot 2 of 12 from the field, including 0 of 4 from three-point range. He did notch seven rebounds and two assists, but also contributed two turnovers.

But as you know, numbers don't always tell the story. 

Saric displayed the offensive versatility and headiness on defense that had the Sixers salivating over him for two years while he played for Anadolu Efes in Turkey. He was able to penetrate in the lane several times against the Thunder on Wednesday night and used pump/head fakes to get his defender off balance, but the shots just didn't fall.

"He struggled with his shot" Sixers head coach Bett Brown said. "But just the physical play, some of the intellect of guarding things suddenly that we all might not pay attention to that coaches do. You see him go out of his way to make a rotation, that he just felt the game. I think that some of his pick-and-roll reads on trying to hit cutters, trying to slow up rollers and still go back to shooters like (Ersan) Ilyasova is, stood out to me.

"He's intelligent. He is a smart basketball player. The stats will show that he didn't make some of his shots, but I think that just that gamesmanship, that intellect stands out to me." 

The only time Saric looked a tad overmatched is when OKC went to its mustachioed muscle tandem of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter inside. After the game, Brown lamented leaving Saric in for so long against that pairing, which combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds on the night.

Teammate Jahlil Okafor tried to come to Saric's aid in those moments, but returning from a torn meniscus and on a minutes restriction, his plan wasn't exactly met with enthusiasm by the coaching staff.

"I actually kind of hinted to the coaches that I wanted to play with him (Embiid) because they put Kanter and Adams in," Okafor said. "I was kind of hinting to the coaches that if they want to play big ball we can play big ball with them."

Their response?

"Stay disciplined. Have your lawyer call my lawyer," Okafor said with a laugh. "That's the go-to line."

Even with Saric's few hiccups on defense, Okafor is confident the 22-year-old Croatian will be able to hold his own against NBA players and get the buckets to start dropping on the offensive end.

"I love Dario. It's been a pleasure having him around," Okafor said. "He's such a selfless guy.

"He did struggle a little bit with his shot, but all of the shots that he missed are shots that we know he can make and shots that we've seen him make since he's been here. So we're good. We know what he's going to do."

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Joel Embiid’s regular-season debut headlined the Sixers' home opener Wednesday, a night two years in the making. He wasn’t the only player coming back from injury, though.

Jahlil Okafor took the court in a regular-season game for the first time since Feb. 28. Okafor underwent surgery in March to repair a right meniscus tear. He suffered a setback during training camp and was limited by soreness in that knee.

Okafor subbed in for Embiid with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter. He totaled eight points (4 for 10 from the field), three rebounds, one block, two fouls and three turnovers in 16 minutes, exceeding the Sixers’ initial minute projection of 12 to 14.

Okafor said his knee felt “good” after the game and did not experience discomfort. 

“I enjoyed myself,” Okafor said following the Sixers' 103-97 defeat to the Thunder (see Instant Replay). “Even though we lost, I enjoyed myself. We had a sold-out crowd. We had a hard-fought battle.”

Okafor’s role on Wednesday was different than it had been his rookie season. The former third overall pick is coming off the bench with a minutes restriction, broken down into segments. 

“It’s different for me,” Okafor said of his playing time. “I’m not used to playing in four-minute clumps. You’re more aware of when you’re going to go in. It kind of helps you a little bit. But it’s not something I want to get used to.”

Okafor is adjusting to a new in-game experience as a reserve. Last season, he started 48 of his 53 games and averaged 30.0 minutes. 

“My main thing was being able to come off the bench, which I’m not really used to, and still stay engaged, trying to stay loose,” Okafor said.

Opening night marked new starts for Okafor, as a player and a member of the Sixers (see 10 observations).

“I was taking a flashback to last year when we were 0-15, 0-16 and we so badly wanted to just restart the season,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity.”