The Sixers won a game last night

The Sixers won a game last night

Ohhh, Evan. Our boy ET has been heavy in the thick of the worst stretch of play of his season, averaging just 13 points a contest on 37% shooting over his last six games, dropping his field goal percentage to below 45% and his PER to below league-average--and that's just his offense, as his defense has been even worse, as Derek Bodner of Liberty Ballers did a fine job detailing the other day.

But just as you started thinking it might be well into 2014 before we get even another break-even performance from Evan Turner, the Extraterrestrial gifted Philadelphia 76ers fans at the WFC last night with one of his best performances as a pro, scoring 29 points on 13-22 shooting, to go with ten boards and five assists. And the biggest of those 13 field goals came as time expired in overtime, as he hit the game-winner to give the Sixers their 121-120 vengeance victory against the Brooklyn Nets, who eviscerated them in New York just four days earlier.

You'll notice that it was a very un-Evan Turner-like game-winning attempt for a number of reasons, not the least of all being that it actually went in. The fact that ET actually took the ball to the basket with seconds to go instead of pulling up for one of his patented (and rarely successful) stepback elbow jumpers is a very encouraging sign that perhaps our volatitle fourth-year wing has not totally thrown in the towl on this season, and might still be able to put in the work to get back to the level he was playing at at season's start, despite his relatively lazy play of recent weeks.

Of course, Evan's return to form might have much to do with the return of their starting point guard, Michael Carter-Williams. MCW had a good-not-great stat line for the night--15 points on 5-13 shooting, with ten assists and three steals--but his presence totally changed the energy of the team from the first minutes of the game, as he got the team back into their ball-pushing, easy-scoring ways, also helping to get Turner a couple good looks for buckets at the basket early that set him on his way to an 8-8 start to the game from the field. It's just a different team with Carter-Williams out there, and a much less difficult-to-watch one, I'd proffer.

And it should also be noted that any worries about the trade rumors (and rumored trade requests) surrounding Thaddeus Young of late certainly did not affect his play last night. Thad went off for 25 points on 11-18 shooting--including 3-3 from downtown (now shooting 39% from deep for the season!)--with six points, four assists and three steals, an all-around performance that reminds us just how valuable Thaddeus has been to this team over the past seven-plus seasons, and how we'd be damn foolish to let him go just for the same of doing so. Way to stiff upper lip it, Thad.

Of course, you could hardly say that all that ails the Sixers was remedied tonight. The defense was still...problematic, as the team gave up 108 points in regulation to a Nets team missing Kevin Garnett and recent Sixer-slayer Joe Johnson. And surprise, surprise, the three-pointer proved the primary bug-a-boo, as the Ballers gave up a combined 15 longballs to Paul Pierce, Alan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic, stretching their record total of games of 15+ three-pointers given up in a season to seven. There will be game film to watch for Brett Brown on this one, for sure.

Nonetheless, a win is a win, and as much as the Sixers are better off losing just about whenever possible at this point, I think the guys needed this to keep the team from completely falling apart. We want the team to lose, but we don't want them to quite be depressing, and a win last night goes a long way towards staving off such total misery. Plus, it was the Ballers' last home game before the holidays and the new year, so it was the least they can do for their few faithful home fans remaining.

Sixers go to Milwaukee tonight to begin a six-game roadie, with all five after tonight coming against the much tougher West. In other words, store up the good vibes now, because it's gonna be a real long winter.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.