Sixers-Heat: 5 things you need to know

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Sixers-Heat: 5 things you need to know

The Sixers’ season opener is here and the rebuilding team will get an early look at the NBA’s elite when it hosts the defending champion Miami Heat (1-0) on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. (CSN) and here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. Let’s start the show
The Sixers didn’t get any favors from the schedule makers, as they will open up the regular season against the Heat for the second time in the past four years.

The Heat are coming to town off a 107-95 win over the Chicago Bulls on opening night. They led by as many as 25 points before holding on late in the fourth quarter. The Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh accounted for 46 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists in the victory.

The Sixers will be trying to reverse some lopsided recent history against the Heat. They have lost nine straight to Miami and 19 of the last 20 matchups, including the postseason.

2. Hey, rookies
After spending over a decade in the Spurs' organization, Brett Brown gets his first taste of NBA life as a head coach when things get underway on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Michael Carter-Williams will find out how things really work in the league against the Heat when the 11th overall pick in June’s draft plays in his first regular-season game.

MCW showed poise running Brown’s offense during the preseason, racking up 31 assists to 10 turnovers in seven games. However, his suspect shooting was very clear. Carter-Williams shot just 32.8 percent from the field and 29.6 from three-point range.

3. Trying to fill it up
Speaking of points, who exactly can the Sixers rely on to score this season?

For a team that finished tied for last in the league in points per game a season ago (93.2), things don’t figure to get any easier with a roster full of young and inexperienced players.

Evan Turner averaged 17.3 points per game during the preseason to lead the Sixers. If ever there were a time for him to have a breakout season scoring-wise, this would be it (see story).

4. How many wins?
With the season opener officially here, the Sixers are truly staring one big question right in the face: How many wins will they record this season?

Clearly, president/general manager Sam Hinkie has made moves with the future in mind, such as trading away Jrue Holiday and the likely decision to sit rookie acquisition Nerlens Noel for the entire season. The roster is filled with complementary pieces and developmental players that could figure into the team's future with a few big-name lottery picks or what the Sixers hope turn out to be viable trade options.

Still, don’t expect them to openly embrace the thought of “tanking” or to challenge the 1972-73 Sixers’ NBA-worst mark of nine wins.

“No matter how you put it, losers sit there and say ... we’re going to lose,” Turner said. “I’m not a loser.”

The Vegas over/under for Sixers wins this season is 16½.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have a 4-6 mark in their last 10 season openers.

• The Sixers had a 23-18 record last season at the Wells Fargo Center.

• While it may be easy to think that James has dominated the Sixers recently -- and he has -- Wade was just as good a season ago. In three games against the Sixers last season, Wade averaged 25.3 points and shot a ridiculous 62.5 percent from the field.

• The Heat had seven players score in double figures during their season-opening win over the Bulls.

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.”

Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

Best of NBA: Bulls hand Spurs first road loss of season

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points, and the Chicago Bulls handed San Antonio its first road loss after a 13-0 start, hanging on to beat the Spurs 95-91 on Thursday night.

San Antonio fell one win shy of matching the NBA's best road start set by the Golden State Warriors last season. The Spurs cut an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to four in the closing minutes, only to come up short.

Kawhi Leonard scored 24 for San Antonio. Patty Mills added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Former Bull Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in Chicago since signing with San Antonio in the summer, but the Spurs lost a road game for the first time since Oklahoma City knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Jimmy Butler scored all of his 13 points for Chicago in the second half. Rajon Rondo added 12 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, and Chicago picked up the win after dropping three in a row and six of nine.

The Spurs hadn't dropped a regular-season road game since Denver beat them on April 8 (see full recap).

Scoreboard malfunction, quiet crowd don’t stop Wizards’ rally
WASHINGTON -- Overcoming a sluggish start in front of a sparse, silent crowd and with a malfunctioning scoreboard, the Washington Wizards came back to beat the Nuggets 92-85 on Thursday night, thanks mainly to Bradley Beal's 26 points and Denver's season-high 29 turnovers.

John Wall scored only 15 points one game after a career-best 52, but nine came in the fourth quarter for Washington, which trailed by as many as 14 in the first half.

With starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay inactive because of what the team said was a sprained right ankle, the Nuggets went 5 1/2 minutes without a point in the fourth quarter.

In that final period, they had 10 of their turnovers and shot 1 for 14 on 3-pointers -- including 0 for 4 in one last-minute possession (see full recap).

Gasol, clutch free throws lift Grizzlies over
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol scored 36 points and Toney Douglas made two free throws with less than a second left to give the Memphis Grizzlies an 88-86 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Douglas finished with 11 points, scoring the game's final six points to seal Memphis' fifth straight victory.

Gasol was 13 of 24 from the field, including 4 of 6 from outside the arc. But Douglas, signed by Memphis this week because of injuries, took over down the stretch. The guard scored on a 19-footer with 34 seconds left, then converted two pairs of free throws in the last 20 seconds.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 24 points, and Damian Lillard had 19 on 6-of-18 shooting. Evan Turner had 15 points and 10 rebounds (see full recap).