Sixers smothered in loss to James, Heat

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Sixers smothered in loss to James, Heat

BOX SCORE

Frankly, it could have been much worse than the 101-86 defeat for the Sixers against the Miami Heat on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

The Heat came into the Center riding a three-game losing streak and still had the opening-night loss to the Sixers fresh in their memory for Friday’s game. That was the game, of course, in which Michael Carter-Williams made his spectacular NBA debut, with a near-triple double.

The Heat made sure there was no repeat performance from the rookie on Friday night.

“They got physical with him,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “They got up and in and showed a crowd and created that type of traffic around him. They were physical and it’s a great lesson for him to play a team like that.”

The Heat hounded Carter-Williams, holding him to a career-low seven points, two assists and one rebound in 24 minutes. The rookie also had five turnovers, a sure sign that the Heat’s physical play was effective.

“This time they mixed it up and I got confused a few times and I have to learn from it,” Carter-Williams said. “I have to be prepared and adjust for the next time.”

Next time can’t be much worse than how things played out on Friday night. In fact, by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Brown decided Carter-Williams and his starters had enough. Trailing by as much as 25 points late in the third quarter, Brown went with his bench players for the final 12 minutes.

Considering the starters were a combined minus-85, scored just 42 points and had to face the Chicago Bulls the next night on the road, Brown let them knock off early for a change.

“We were done and I felt like my starters were done,” Brown said. “Coaches always go through that line about when can you feel that you’re just flogging them and having them put forth energy that’s not going to result in a win.

“Your best chance is with energy and youth and they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Still, it would be tough not to notice how poorly the Sixers were shooting the ball. They went 2 for 20 from three-point range and 23 for 37 from the foul line. If that’s not telling enough, the Sixers missed 31 shots in the paint.

The Sixers’ 36.9 percent shooting percentage was actually padded in the fourth quarter when the bench players went 9 for 19.

Brown had a hunch the Heat would amp up the defense with the losing streak weighing on them.

“They did what they do and we had a hard time scoring inside,” Brown said. “We missed a lot of shots inside and I give [the Heat] credit. Inevitably we’re all going to look at the three-point line and we were 2 for 20, but look at the free throws where we were 23 for 37 and we had 23 turnovers -- it’s just amazing that we can compete and win the second half with those numbers.”

It’s relative, of course. Up by 25 points in the third quarter, the Heat rested All-Star Dwyane Wade during the fourth quarter and used Chris Bosh (game-high 25 points) sparingly. LeBron James logged more than nine minutes in the final frame, but that could have been because he was flirting with a triple-double.

James finished the game with 21 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Close, but not quite.

Next, the Sixers head to Chicago to kick off a short, three-game road trip. After the game in Chicago, the team plays a holiday matinee in Washington on Monday, followed by the first trip to the newly renovated Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good, but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."