Sixers stay on attack in comeback win over Wiz

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Sixers stay on attack in comeback win over Wiz

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON -- It doesn’t make much sense.

Typically when a team built like the 76ers plays the way it did for the first two-and-a-half quarters, it loses by 20. Especially on the road. After all, the Sixers missed their first nine three-pointers and 14 of their first 15. They went a horrid 7 for 14 from the foul line and their rookie point guard committed two turnovers in the first two minutes of the game.

Add in the fact that lightning-quick point guard John Wall scored 15 points in the first quarter and 23 in the first half, and it was easy to understand how the Sixers trailed by 14 points after the first 30 minutes of the game.

But what’s equally as easy to understand is how the Sixers pulled off the 109-102 victory over the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Sometimes when a team doesn’t know it’s supposed to lose games, a funny thing happens.

It wins.

“Our guys don’t know what they don’t know and they keep playing,” rookie head coach Brett Brown said. “That’s how I want to keep it.”

The Sixers, a team most basketball experts picked to finish the season with the worst record in the NBA, are 2-0. Better yet, the Sixers are 2-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season, shortly before they traded Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets.

To get to 2-0, the Sixers beat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat at home and then rallied on the road to beat the Wizards. Taken at face value, it’s tough to figure out which win was most impressive.

“It’s only two, but we sure are happy,” Brown said. “I think it was a similar way tonight versus the way we won against Miami. It’s the group’s ability to stay together and run and run and run and run late in the games. It helps us find a way to win by getting great defensive efforts and then running out of it.”

Perhaps a cynic would say, “Geez, these guys can’t even tank the right way.” But a closer examination of the final 18 minutes of the victory of the Wizards helps bring things into focus.

For starters, the Sixers got 74 points in the paint and attempted 54 shots from up close. They also got 20 fast-break points and 18 second-chance points off nine offensive rebounds.

How committed were the Sixers to running and getting shots in the paint? Try this for instance: Thad Young led all scorers with 29 points on 14 for 20 shooting and attempted just two shots from longer than 13 feet. Guard Evan Turner followed up his 26-point performance against Miami with 23 against the Wizards, made two shots from outside the paint and attempted just three shots longer than 14 feet.

The outside shooting came from point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who followed up his epic NBA debut with 14 points and five assists, and seven-footer Spencer Hawes, who scored 16 points with 14 rebounds and five assists.

According to Brown, the Sixers were able to rally for the victory because of the commitment to getting those shots from close.

“We want to attack and attack. We want to get to the rim,” Brown said. “It’s not all about firing up threes, because if you look at our three-point shooting percentage, you say, ‘Oh, they’re 6 for 23 and they only shot 14 free throws and made seven. How do you win a game like that?’ So we did a good job continuing to run, and I was especially proud that they were able to run late in the game.”

While the Sixers ran and ran and ran, they were able to put the clamps on Wall, who was on his way to a huge game.

“The start John Wall got off to put us in a bad position,” Hawes said. “But we might have held him to [three points] in the second half and if you can do that, that gives you a good chance.”

The scheme on Wall wasn’t anything elaborate, Turner said. The game plan against a player with Wall’s speed and creativity is to get back on defense as quickly as possible and hope it’s good enough.

So after going 9 for 13 for 23 points in the first half, the Sixers kept Wall to 1 for 6 in the final half.

“We built a wall in front of him and he took a lot of shots to get going,” Turner said. “Sometimes you use them all up. That’s pretty much it. We competed and limited second-chance opportunities and that’s about it.”

There’s not much more to it than that, says Turner.

Meanwhile, don’t expect too many parties or celebrations over winning the first two games of the season. As Brown said, the Sixers are beyond that. Plus, they don't have much time to enjoy it. While the Sixers overcame the Wizards, the Bulls were waiting in Philadelphia for Saturday night's game at the Wells Fargo Center.

“We get it. We know where we’re at,” Brown said. “It’s only two games and we’re going to enjoy it, but we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing and try to make it better in the simple little world we live in.”

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

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.”