Sixers get tough on defense in victory over Cavs

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Sixers get tough on defense in victory over Cavs

BOX SCORE

It was just a matter of time until the Sixers’ pick-your-poison style of defense paid off. After suffering big losses to the Warriors and Wizards this weak beneath a hail of three-pointers, the Sixers finally met a team that missed.

Or maybe it was matter of execution.

The Sixers overcame a slow first quarter to whip the Cleveland Cavaliers, 94-79, on Friday night to halt a two-game losing streak (see Instant Replay). They won in part because the Cavs shot poorly, connecting at a 33-percent clip from the field with just nine three-pointers.

Given that the Warriors and Wizards combined for 33 three-pointers in back-to-back games, Friday’s win was a step in the right direction.

“The defensive is something we talked about a lot,” head coach Brett Brown said. “You see the numbers against us in the previous two games with the threes and all those types of things and we didn’t roll over.”

The Sixers were down by 14 points after the opening quarter, but took a two-point lead into halftime. By the end of the third quarter, the Sixers led going into the final quarter of a game for the first time this season.

According to Brown, the Sixers did a lot more than watch the Cavs miss shots and corral the rebounds. Actually, the coach says, the Sixers’ woes in defending the perimeter weren’t because of a failure to contest shots while the focus remained on protecting the paint. Instead, it all gets back to energy and running.

Because the Sixers were slow on transition defense, they got burned on three-pointers, Brown says. Against the Cavaliers, the Sixers were able to push the pace offensively and defensively.

The result was the Cavs’ poor shooting.

Cleveland went 9 for 26 from three-point range. They also settled for a lot of long two-pointers, hitting just 7 of 29 shots in the area outside of the paint and inside the thee-point line.

“What we saw as a coaching staff was a team that was beyond bad in transition defense,” Brown said. “It started there and everything grew from there. I feel like the thing I get from it was watching a tape and seeing the carryover and seeing it and working out in the game.”

Credit sixth man Tony Wroten for providing the spark. With the Sixers posting just 14 points in the opening quarter, Wroten pushed the pace on both ends of the floor during the second quarter and was on the floor with point guard Michael Carter-Williams in crunch time during the fourth quarter, too.

Perhaps it was the combination of Wroten with Carter-Williams that gave the Sixers the defensive boost? At the very least, Wroten’s offense surged while on the floor with the rookie point guard. The result was a career-high 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting with a pair of three-pointers, four rebounds and four assists.

Carter-Williams had nine rebounds (four offensive) with seven assists and 11 points.

That’s not a bad backcourt combo.

“Tony responded to backing up Michael Carter-Williams,” Brown said.

The next step for Wroten is consistency. Though he is a bundle of energy every time he hits the floor, Wroten sometimes has problems harnessing that exuberance. With double-digit scoring in five of six games, Wroten is fairly dependable off the bench in helping with some scoring.

But the ratio of assists to turnovers (11 to 9) isn’t ideal. Of course, those numbers might be the result of an energetic player trying to make things happen.

“It’s taking a risk,” Wroten said. “It’s something I’ll need to work on, but at the end of the day I’m going to try and make plays.”

Brown agrees, adding that in order for Wroten to raise his game, he’s going to have to find a middle ground between high energy and poise.

“He plays with reckless abandon. He’s an attack-first guard,” Brown said. “His challenge is can he take that fantastic mentality and polish it up to where there is a level of intellect and poise and say, ‘OK, now you’re an NBA point guard.’ There’s a collision there if you’re not careful. That’s the challenge of coaching Tony Wroten. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and he gets emotional. He can throw the greatest pass you’ve ever seen in your life, or he could hit someone in their shoe. That’s the challenge of coaching Tony.”

The Sixers and Cavs get at it again on Saturday night in Cleveland for the second game of a back-to-back. After that, Brown’s old team, the San Antonio Spurs, come to Philly for a game on Monday night.

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

CAMDEN, N.J. — Two bigs back, one big out.

Nerlens Noel will make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Noel has been out since the preseason after undergoing elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October.

Jahlil Okafor also will return following a bout of gastroenteritis, which sidelined him for the last three games. Neither Noel nor Okafor will have minute restrictions. 

Joel Embiid, on the other hand, will not play Sunday. He will miss the game because of minor inflammation in his right elbow, which he suffered in Thursday’s game against the Pelicans. The decision also is in conjunction with the load management plan the Sixers have mapped out for him. Embiid did not practice Saturday and will not travel to Detroit. 

“It’s very minor and we expect him back soon. Not much concern at all,” Brett Brown said of Embiid, adding, “I think it’s far more precautionary than anything people should get nervous about.”

With Embiid out, the addition of Noel will help the Sixers when they battle the Pistons and big man Andre Drummond, who is averaging a dominating 15.0 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season. Noel will come off the bench as he gets reacclimated to the team and the flow of the game. 

“I felt great [to be cleared to play],” Noel said. “I was anticipating it so I got my mind right and this is what I’ve been working for throughout the whole rehab process. I’m feeling good and looking forward to it.” 

The Sixers are mindful of the fact Noel has not played in a regular season game since the finale last April. He has been working on getting his wind back up, and the Sixers will watch it closely in-game when determining his playing time. Noel said he has a “good starting foundation” with his conditioning. 

“You can do as much as you want on a treadmill,” Brown said. “You can do as much as you want one-on-zero … but there is nothing that’s like an NBA game. Everything goes faster, everything goes quicker, you have emotions involved which can also drown how fast and how long you can go. Those things are just part of him coming back into it, and we’ll manage him accordingly.”

Noel’s debut is the first step for him, regardless of how many plays. His athleticism will give another look to the lineup. Brown foresees having Noel back will allow the Sixers to play faster and protect the rim with a greater “bounce.” 

“We miss playing with Nerlens, just his presence,” Okafor said. “He’s an athlete. Obviously we miss him on the defensive side. We miss him as a leader vocally. It’s just going to be great having him back on the floor.”

The Sixers could counter the Pistons with the combination of Noel and Okafor, a duo they struggled to utilize together last season. Brown’s decision will be based on matchups. He pointed out a situation in which Drummond and Jon Leuer are on the court would be more favorable than one in which Tobias Harris is playing power forward. 

“You just try to pick your moments where you can maybe pair those guys up,” Brown said. “I think it will be a more genuine conversation as Nerlens starts playing more with us. He’s just really come back into it. But we come back and you play Toronto and you have all three bigs available, then it becomes another level of a conversation. I do look forward to it when we have an opportunity to intelligently match up with other people and we’ll play it out like that.”

The Sixers' next game after Sunday is Wednesday against the Raptors, when they expect to have their bigs ready to go.