Sixers fail to slow down Suns' guards in loss

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Sixers fail to slow down Suns' guards in loss

BOX SCORE

Sometimes it doesn’t take long for a team to figure out it just ain’t their night. For the Sixers and coach Brett Brown on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center, it took all of 25 seconds.

That’s when Brown angrily called for timeout after P.J. Tucker made a wide-open layup. Somehow, the Sixers had gotten their wires crossed on a defensive switch to give Tucker an easy basket and set the Suns off onto a 124-113 victory (see Instant Replay).

“We didn’t come out the way we intended,” Brown said with a raspy voice, hoarse from an evening spent urging his players and the refs. “We want to spend this middle third of the season being a better defensive team. We talked about it, we drill it, we show it. We’ve got to find a better way to get that done.”

The first-quarter play not only sent the Sixers to 14-31 with their second straight defeat at home, but also seemed to stoke up some anger lurking beneath the surface. Brown, along with Thad Young and Evan Turner, were whistled for technical fouls and center Spencer Hawes fouled out with 3:06 left in the game. During the third quarter, the Suns attempted 16 free throws. They took 35 of them in the game.

Still, the Sixers hung around to slice a 16-point deficit to just eight with 4:33 remaining. However, the Sixers never drew closer, in part because of the Suns’ quick start when they made their first six shots and hit 77 percent of their shots in the first quarter.

This one was over early.

“When you cut to the chase, it comes down to the first period and the way that we started,” Brown said.

There is a method to Brown’s madness. A timeout just 25 seconds into an NBA game isn’t as debilitating as it could be in the NFL where timeouts are as valuable as gold. Still, for a coach to stop the game after just one trip up and down the court sends a pretty stern message.

The Sixers say the message was received.

“We made some careless mistakes. We were supposed to switch on (Channing) Frye. We said that from the beginning of the game and we didn’t cut off the baseline down low,” Michael Carter-Williams said. “[Brown] just wanted us to know that he didn’t want us to make that mistake all night.”

The Sixers put the message to practice, but not during the first quarter. The Suns shot 9 for 13 on shots in the paint and 8 for 9 on shots outside of the paint, including 3 for 4 on three-pointers. But after the first quarter, the Suns went 12 for 29 in the paint, showing that the Sixers made the proper adjustment in allowing easy shots.

But the Suns’ guards Goran Dragic and Gerald Green didn’t have much trouble hitting from the outside. The combo went 19 for 25, including 7 for 9 from three-point range, for 54 combined points. Green, who has played for seven NBA teams in eight seasons, led all scorers with 30 points on 10 for 12 shooting.

“[Green] was hot and I respect him because that man has resurrected his career,” Brown said. “In the past he’s been just a track star and a high flyer. But you look at the package he’s been able to create -- a skill package -- I respect his route. Many people may have written him off. Tonight he made shots and he made plays. We give him credit.”

Brown was not as willing to give credit to his team’s defense, though.

“We are improving. The numbers say that -- forget my opinion,” Brown said. “But to start the game the way we did at home is disappointing. That’s the bottom line.”

The Sixers return to action on Wednesday when they head to Boston. After that, the Sixers host Atlanta on Friday night before heading to Detroit for a game on Saturday.

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”