Sixers' Moultrie inches closer to season debut

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Sixers' Moultrie inches closer to season debut

Prior to the Sixers’ loss to the New York Knicks on Saturday, Brett Brown’s team had been outrebounded 173-120 in its previous three games.

The Knicks won the rebounding battle, 39-38, on their way to a 102-92 victory in the game.

Brown knows rebounding has been an issue for the Sixers lately and insists help is on the way.

“We are always looking at players and try to figure ways to fix it and identifying people and making it work,” Brown said after Monday’s practice at PCOM. “Inevitably, I am going to need some help, whether it is Arnett [Moultrie] getting back or Lavoy [Allen] getting healthy or filling Daniel’s [Orton] spot. We look at all those things.”

Moultrie may be the option for Brown. The second-year big man had left ankle surgery on Sept. 26. He finally received a clean bill of health and continues to ramp up his conditioning for a return to game action.

“My ankle is fully healed,” Moultrie said after playing five-on-five Tuesday. “I did a hop test today, which I passed, and I felt good today in practice and now it is up to me to get the offense and defensive schemes down and all the different calls.

“Whatever coach wants me to do, that is what I am going to do. Right now it is all in his hands. When he feels like I am ready I understand he is going to throw me right in the fire, so I am patiently waiting for that.”

A year ago, Moultrie appeared in in 47 games for the Sixers. The 6-foot-10, 240-pounder scored in double figures five times and had one double-double.

Moultrie, 23, says he will be ready on Wednesday when the Sixers host Charlotte. However, Brown wasn’t ready to declare that the big man would play against Bobcats.

“He is starting to get in game type of shape and get his weight down and I thought he looked good today. But he is still a far ways off,” Brown said.

Moultrie may not return Wednesday night, but when he does there will be no restrictions from the head.

“It is ready, fire, aim,” Brown said. “Just get in there and go. We will figure it out as we move along because, yes, we do need some big bodies. As you start playing NBA games, especially the big NBA games, you feel very small very often.”

While Moultrie is looking good, Allen remains on the sideline with a right calf strain. Allen has missed the last two games because of the injury and did not participate in Tuesday’s practice.

“He is not ready to return and I don’t know when he will be able to,” Brown said. “Personally, I have learned over the years that you take a wrong path and get too aggressive you could set him back past All-Star break not a problem. You have to be smart with a calf injury.”

Allen played in the first 35 games of the season, averaging 5.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 18.5 minutes a game.

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens [Noel]-Jahlil [Okafor] thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist. 

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."