Sixers top Celtics despite Rondo triple-double

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Sixers top Celtics despite Rondo triple-double

BOX SCORE

BOSTON – This is a tricky time in the NBA season.

Teams that are fighting for playoff positioning can been seen on a nightly basis giving it their all, while clubs playing out the string can also be witnessed packing it in for summer vacation.

The Sixers and Celtics might not be headed to the postseason, but neither team looked in a hurry for the year to end on Friday night.

The Sixers were able to make enough plays in the fourth quarter to claim a 111-102 victory at TD Garden (see Instant Replay). It marked their second straight win in Boston, with the previous one also being their last road win on Jan. 29.

Overall, the Sixers have notched two wins in less than a week after losing 26 straight to tie the NBA’s longest skid ever.

“We're on a roll,” head coach Brett Brown said to laughter. “You see what I see. They stay together and they play. They give their ‘A’ effort more times than they don’t. They stay together. They cheer for each other, they continue to do the right thing and they have a true desire to get better.”

The Sixers appeared ready to break the game open at times but couldn’t because of Rajon Rondo doing it all to notch a triple-double and the Celtics’ activity on the glass. The C’s outrebounded the Sixers 49-34 in the game. Boston also grabbed 19 offensive rebounds on the night.

Once the Sixers matched the Celtics’ energy on the backboard, they were able to secure the win.

“Everybody is going to write different things about the game, but the game was won because we boxed out,” Brown explained. “They had two [offensive rebounds] in the fourth and four in the third.”

While the Sixers started to hold their own in the rebounding department late, they also got some good ball movement in the fourth quarter to make 11 of 17 field goals.

“That was about how you close out a game and we just haven’t had many of those this year,” Brown said. “I thought they did a really good job of understanding we are going to play through Michael (Carter-Williams) and Thad (Young) and we want the other people to take advantage of the attention that Michael and Thad receive.

“Again, that environment has been rare this year and I thought they did a good job closing out a game.”

Carter Williams and Henry Sims led all scorers with 24 points each. Young added 15 points and so did Elliot Williams off the bench, as all nine Sixers that took the court scored in the game.

That type of offensive balance and a decent job on defense should have been enough for the Sixers to take control, but Rondo made them sweat it out. The point guard had 11 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists for his 19th regular-season triple-double.

“He is so dangerous and calculated,” Brown said. “The message to me for our young point guards is that he plays with such a deliberate pace, cockiness. I love it. He is so confident and strong and he will dribble and dribble wherever he wants.

“I thought the adjustment we made was we had to squeeze him and make him play in a crowd. We ended up creating 22 turnovers as a team and that was born out of our bigs playing better, but Rondo always is so dangerous.”

Dangerous enough to put a scare in the Sixers on this night, but not enough to keep them from a win.

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee/illness) is available to play. Jahlil Okafor (illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.