Tired Sixers handed crushing loss by Hawks

slideshow-041013-sixers-holiday-uspresswire.jpg

Tired Sixers handed crushing loss by Hawks

BOX SCORE

These are the dog days of the NBA season, Sixers head coach Doug Collins said immediately after his team suffered a 124-101 loss to the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

Need proof? Just take a look at Jrue Holiday's stat line from Wednesday night.

Need more? Check out what Holiday did on Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

Two games, two assists, six turnovers and 15 missed shots in 55 minutes.

Oh yes, these are the dog days indeed.

“I’m tired,” Holiday said. “There’s a lot of fatigue and I try to take care of my body as best as possible, but that’s not really an excuse.”

Holiday is struggling as the Sixers limp to the end of a disappointing season. Wednesday's defeat dropped them to 31-47 with four games to go. But Holiday's struggles are not appearing seemingly out of nowhere. A glance at the season-long stat sheet shows that the Sixers' All-Star point guard had been trending downward for a few weeks.

The culprit? Too many minutes, too many games and too much responsibility all thrown his way at once.

For Holiday, the season has been like he just learned how to doggy paddle and was immediately thrown into the deep end.

“Imagine if we were a playoff team right now and getting ready to go into the playoffs,” Collins said. “That’s what I talked about with the growth. The added minutes, added responsibility, an All-Star -- every time you go out there to play now [opposing players get ready].”

But that's the way it's going to be for a player the Sixers have gone all-in on. Opening night Holiday got a four-year contract extension. With Thad Young, the Sixers have two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle they have been putting together for the past decade.

But at 22, Holiday has been thrust into the limelight quickly. Given that he plays the most demanding position on the floor, the candle has burned at both ends.

It's not that Holiday can't handle it. He just didn't have enough help.

Obviously, Andrew Bynum was supposed to provide the help to boost the Sixers into the elite of the Eastern Conference. Obviously, that never happened.

Bynum would have been pretty helpful on the boards against the bruising Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night when they out-rebounded the Sixers by 33 with Reggie Evans grabbing 24 boards.

Bynum also would have been a great deterrent to the Hawks' fastbreak, too. Without the reinforcements, the Hawks scored 25 fastbreak points, forced 15 turnovers and notched eight steals.

Holiday was charged with five of those 15 turnovers.

“We so used to value the ball,” Collins said. “We led the league last year in fewest turnovers. Too many times I look down and I see too many points off turnovers. We were minus-12 [in points off turnovers] tonight. If we’re down in that stat, chances are we’re not going to win the game. That’s a real barometer for our team.”

The Sixers have had a small margin for error all season long. As such, the increased turnovers required speed and the Sixers haven't had it this year. Where other teams could beat them in transition for dunks and kick-out threes, that element was missing this year for Collins' crew.

“One of the things we’ve missed this year is speed on the wings,” Collins said.

They did have hustle an energy from Young, who finished the game with 28 points on 14-for-20 shooting. Young scored 22 points during the first half for a Sixers' season best and also helped the team build an early eight-point lead.

But it didn't last no matter how hard Young worked.

“I wanted to come out and show that I had energy and I’m still trying to win games,” Young said. “I’m focused finishing the season the right way and continue playing as hard as I can.”

The Sixers return to action on Friday night when they travel to Washington to face the Wizards. After that, the Sixers return home for the last game of the year at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday against Cleveland.

The season wraps up with a game in Detroit on Monday and the finale in Indianapolis next Wednesday.

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.