10 observations from Sixers-Heat

andersenlebron-slideshow-usa.jpg

10 observations from Sixers-Heat

BOX SCORE

Bottle this one and send it to Springfield, Mass.

With the 114-110 victory over the Miami Heat in the season opener, the Sixers may have turned in the performance of the season (see Instant Replay). To beat the two-time defending champs, the Sixers had to withstand allowing 80 points in the second and third quarters, while blowing a 22-point lead and overcoming a nine-point deficit.

Phew.

The Sixers also received something of a historical performance from rookie Michael Carter-Williams in his NBA debut. MCW had nine steals, which is an NBA record for a player in his debut. He just missed notching the first triple-double in an NBA debut, going for 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven rebounds.

Here are a few observations from Wednesday’s opener:

1. The Sixers made their first 11 shots of the game and then missed 11 straight shots from the 1:10 mark of the first quarter until there was 6:10 left in the first half. The Sixers scored the first 19 points of the game and then allowed a 14-1 run to open the second quarter.

2. Carter-Williams had quite an NBA debut. His first basket came on a steal and a breakaway dunk. He followed that with an assist to Spencer Hawes on a running one-hander before burying the first three-pointer attempt of his career.

For a player who shot just 30.7 percent from three-point range in college, Carter-Williams was not bashful about taking his shot in his debut. In 36 minutes, MCW went 6 for 10 from the field, including 4 for 6 from three-point range.

The 22 points is the most in a debut by a Sixer since Allen Iverson scored 30 on Nov. 1, 1996 and the nine steals ties the club all-time record.

Maurice Cheeks is the last Sixer to have a double-double in his debut, going for 10 points and 13 assists on Oct. 13, 1978.

Oh yeah, Carter-Williams had just one turnover.

3. Though Evan Turner still struggles with his outside shot, he was able to get to the basket for layups and a couple of dunks. Turner went 0 for 4 from beyond the arc, but converted on 10 for 19 from the field for a team-high 26 points.

4. Turner had some trouble from in close, though. With 7:52 left, Turner missed a layup that would have brought the Sixers within one point. On the next possession, Turner got a steal and fed Thad Young a little too much, resulting in a turnover. Rashard Lewis hit a short jumper on the next trip down the floor to push the lead to five points.

5. Tony Wroten came off the bench to score 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting. More importantly, Wroten brought a lot of energy on defense when Carter-Williams was catching a breather on the bench.

6. Before training camp began, Brown said the Sixers would have plenty of minutes for any player who wanted them. He wasn’t lying. Brown played nine of the 11 players who dressed for the game and they all got at least 12 minutes.

7. Hawes quietly scored 24 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds in 29 minutes.

8. Speaking of quiet performances, LeBron James scored 25 points and dished out 13 assists. Ho-hum.

9. Though the Sixers have a 51-49 all-time record against the Heat, they snapped a 15-game regular-season losing streak with the win. Counting the postseason, the Sixers went into the game having lost 19 of 20 to the Heat.

10. In addition to scoring 80 points in the second and third quarters, the Heat hit 16 three-pointers and went 10 for 13 from long range during the third quarter.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”