Sixers' sloppy defense exposed in loss to Bobcats

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Sixers' sloppy defense exposed in loss to Bobcats

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CHARLOTTE -- The Sixers’ defense is in desperate need of improvement.

That much was evident once again in Friday night’s 105-88 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats (see Instant Replay). The Sixers allowed 36 points in the first quarter and 62 in the first half on the way to suffering their eighth consecutive loss on the road, dropping their record to 7-13.

“I feel like that whole first half was not good defensively,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “We scored, but we have to find ways to individually and team-wise improve defensively or it is going to be a really long year.”

“We have to start off games better defensively,” Tony Wroten said. “We played good defense in the second half like coach said, but we have to play it for 48 minutes. We can’t let teams get 36 or 40 points in the first quarter. It is going to be hard to win games like that.”

Brown has been saying the same thing about his team’s defense from the start of the season. He’s repeatedly pointed out that some of the Sixers’ defensive deficiencies have to do with the team's makeup and style of play. Still, the coach knows opponents are onto the club’s clear weakness and it will only get worse after allowing the NBA’s lowest-scoring team to put up 105 points.

“Al Jefferson was 6 for 21. That wasn’t our problem,” Brown said. “It was more catching that first dribble, guarding that first dribble. The perimeter people did a really good job of exposing some problems that we have to fix.”

While big men have been an issue for the Sixers lately, holding Jefferson to 14 points on an inefficient 28.5 percent shooting has to be considered a small win. It was the team’s effort on other players slashing to the basket that prevented them from an actual victory.

The Bobcats scored 16 of their 22 fast-break points in the first half, while the Sixers totaled 10 for the game. The Bobcats also put up 56 points in the paint en route to shooting 46.2 percent from the field.

“My concern is how easily they scored in the first half and the way that they did it,” Brown said.

Things were particularly bad for the Sixers in the second quarter. They allowed a three-point deficit to balloon to 11 when they were outscored in the frame, 26-18.

The Sixers never really threatened the Bobcats after that point, although Wroten did his part to try and make it a game.

With Michael Carter-Williams not making the trip because of a sore right knee, Wroten took advantage of the opportunity to be in the starting lineup. He scored a game-high 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out eight assists.

Wroten is averaging 19.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds in five starts this season.

“You rely on the starters to set the tempo,” Wroten said. “Since I was starting, I just figured I had to be aggressive.”

“You give him the ball and the lights come on and there is a player that’s engaged,” Brown said. “You try to put him in environments that he can use that attack mentality and tap into what he can bring to the team.

“His challenge is going to be, well, if I am not the starting point guard and I don’t get thirty-something minutes, how do I evolve into a solid NBA player?”

The Sixers get right back at it Saturday night when they face the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets will also be on the second game of a back-to-back set after losing to the Boston Celtics on Friday night.

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”

Best of NBA: Nets end 11-game skid by routing Pelicans

Best of NBA: Nets end 11-game skid by routing Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS -- Brook Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 23 points apiece and the Brooklyn Nets ended an 11-game losing streak, routing the New Orleans Pelicans 143-114 on Friday night.

Caris Levert added 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting for the Nets, who had seven players in double figures while beating their season high for points by 16. Their 29-point victory was 11 more than their previous largest. They also set season highs for points in the second quarter (37) and points in any quarter with 43 in the third.

Anthony Davis led New Orleans with 22 points and nine rebounds despite leaving in the third quarter with a leg injury. The defeat was a huge comedown for him and the Pelicans a day after he was named a starter for the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans (see full story).

Warriors top Rockets to win 6th straight
HOUSTON -- Kevin Durant scored 32 points and the Golden State Warriors used a big third quarter to build a huge lead and coast to their sixth straight victory, 125-108 over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

In a matchup of two of the best teams in the Western Conference and All-Star starting guards Stephen Curry and James Harden, the Rockets fell short. Houston, which entered the game leading the NBA with 667 3-pointers, was just 7 of 35 behind the arc. Harden went 0 for 5 and Eric Gordon, who entered the game leading the NBA with 160 3s, missed all seven attempts.

Clint Capela had 22 points and Harden added 17 points with 11 assists for the Rockets, who are third in the West behind Golden State and San Antonio (see full story).

Kemba Walker scores 32 to lead Hornets past Raptors
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kemba Walker scored 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting, and the Charlotte Hornets beat the Toronto Raptors 113-78 on Friday night.

Walker, who came in averaging 23 points and looking to earn his first All-Star selection, scored 16 points in the pivotal third quarter, including a four-point play as the Hornets outscored the Raptors 33-15 to build a 25-point lead.

Walker didn't play at all in the fourth quarter after the Hornets stretched their lead to 30. He finished with eight assists.

Frank Kaminsky had a solid night off the bench for the second straight game, scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

Kyle Lowry had 24 points and DeMar DeRozan added 23 points for the Raptors, who have lost two straight (see full story). 

Magic pull away for convincing win over Milwaukee
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Elfrid Payton scored 20 points, Jeff Green added 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench, and the Orlando Magic snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Milwaukee Bucks 112-96 on Friday night.

The Magic, returning home from a 1-5 road trip, played with a small lineup for much of the night and it provided the offense they needed with two of their top scorers out. Orlando had six players in double figures, including starters Aaron Gordon (17), Serge Ibaka (13) and Nikola Vucevic (13).

Orlando shot 46 percent from the field while limiting the Bucks to 41 percent.Jabari Parker led Milwaukee with 25 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo contributed 17 points and 14 rebounds as the Bucks dropped their fourth straight game (see full story).