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.”

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice on Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out on Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. Embiid is reportedly expected to return Friday against the Rockets.

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period it got kind of (got) sore on me again,” Okafor explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being a hundred percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014. 

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.

Joel Embiid (left knee) to miss Sixers' next two games

Joel Embiid (left knee) to miss Sixers' next two games

Update: 4 p.m.

Joel Embiid did not practice on Monday and is listed as doubtful for the Sixers' game Tuesday against the Clippers.

Embiid hyperextended his left knee in the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Blazers Friday. He said after the game that the knee was fine, but the Sixers are clearly exercising caution with their young star center.

"I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way," Embiid said Friday. "I'm great. The knee's fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good."

The Sixers are calling it a left knee contusion. Embiid will also rest on Wednesday against the Bucks. He is expected to return Friday against the Rockets, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Sixers are 13-17 when Embiid plays and 2-10 without him. Brett Brown is looking forward to seeing how the defense responds without its centerpiece Tuesday and Wednesday (see story).

Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness) was limited at Monday's practice but is probable to play the Clippers.

Okafor had 12 points, four rebounds and three blocks in 30 minutes in Saturday's 110-93 loss at Atlanta.

CSN Philly's Jessica Camerato contributed to this report.