Moultrie shows promise in Sixers' loss to Celtics

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Moultrie shows promise in Sixers' loss to Celtics

By this point in the season, Sixers coach Doug Collins was hoping first-round draft pick Arnett Moultrie would not be such a mystery. Already 59 games into his rookie season, there is still a lot we don’t know about Moultrie.

The great unknown, of course, is simple …

Can he play?

In Tuesday night’s 109-101 loss to the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), Collins gave Moultrie a chance to answer that question. The rookie was the first man off the bench, logging 20 minutes for just the third time this season.

But when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Moultrie went to the bench with 7:56 remaining and the Sixers trailing by 15.

Moultrie, as evidenced by the way he got up and down the floor, was gassed.

The veteran Celtics, on the other hand, were not. The Sixers had a chance to cut the deficit to six points with 6:28 left in the game, but a turnover by Dorell Wright led to a three-pointer from Paul Pierce. Following another turnover, Jason Terry nailed another three-pointer to deliver the final dagger.

From there the Celtics coasted to improve to 32-27 this season. The Sixers fell to 23-36 and with 23 games remaining in the season. They trail the Milwaukee Bucks by 7½ games for the last playoff spot in the East.

So with a once-promising season quickly slipping away, Collins gave Moultrie an extended look against the Celtics. As a result, the rookie got plenty of chances to match up against 18-year veteran, Kevin Garnett.

“It’s encouraging to see him growing. It’s a great sign,” Collins said. “I’m very pleased with Arnett and with what he’s doing.”

Moultrie shot 5 for 5 from the field to go with four rebounds. His 10 points accounted for nearly half of the bench’s production on Tuesday night. But more impressively, Moultrie has not missed a shot since the fourth quarter of the Feb. 26 game against the Magic and has hit his last 12 in a row.

With the rookie finally getting some quality playing time by logging minutes in five straight games and six of the last seven, it’s difficult not to wonder what could have been for Moultrie this year.

“I think a lot of it has been frustration, which you hope it would be,” Collins said. “He would probably have been playing like this for us all along if he had a summer. If he had not gotten hurt and he had summer league and come to camp in really good shape and been able to play. So, we’re hoping these last 24 or 25 games he’ll be able to build on this.”

Moultrie sprained his ankle last summer in a pre-draft workout for Sacramento and was behind in fitness and condition when training camp opened in October. In December, the Sixers sent the rookie to their D-League to get some playing time and help with his conditioning. It worked for a little while but when the All-Star break ended, Moultrie had taken a step back.

And to think, it all started with a summertime ankle injury.

“It became a problem because I wasn’t able to do certain things because of my ankle,” Moultrie said. “It’s not a problem any more. I think I’m in good condition now and I’m running the floor and rolling to the basket every chance I get.”

Against the Celtics, Moultrie was a presence in the paint. The longest shot he took was from three feet, which helped the Sixers out-score Boston 64-38 in the paint and 28-16 on second-chance points.

Where the Sixers struggled was containing the Celtics on the perimeter. Led by 22 points from Avery Bradley and 18 from both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics went 11 for 19 from three-point range and went 14 for 31 on mid-range jumpers.

“We had 64 points in the paint, 28 second-chance points and 14 fastbreak points and 20 points on turnovers. You think you can win the game,” Collins said. “Their three-point shooting was the difference tonight.”

The Sixers got double-doubles from Jrue Holiday (18 points, 10 assists) and Thad Young (19 points, 10 boards), while Evan Turner had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Still, the contributions from Moultrie, especially on running the pick-and-roll and hitting the glass, have been a positive development.

“That’s all it is, a learning experience. There’s been a lot of new stuff I have to adjust to, but I’m just dealing with it,” Moultrie said, noting that he’s been trying to model his game after Thad Young. “I think the hardest part was learning about my ankle and staying in tip-top shape.”

The Sixers return to action on Wednesday night when they open a three-game road trip in Atlanta. On Friday they go to Miami to face the Heat before wrapping it up in Orlando on Sunday night.

Ben Simmons healing on schedule; Joel Embiid out tonight; Jahlil Okafor downgraded

Ben Simmons healing on schedule; Joel Embiid out tonight; Jahlil Okafor downgraded

Ben Simmons had a planned foot scan Monday in New York and is progressing as expected.

Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot nearly four months ago, Sept. 30, and there is still no timetable for his NBA debut.

Okafor downgraded
Jahlil Okafor was limited at shootaround Tuesday and has been downgraded to questionable for tonight's game against the Clippers. He had been listed as probable on Monday.

Okafor 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.

"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 sore on me again," Okafor said Monday.

Embiid out
Joel Embiid, dealing with a left knee contusion suffered in last Friday's win over Portland, is officially out tonight. He is also expected to miss Wednesday's game at Milwaukee before returning Friday vs. the Rockets.

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

The Sixers (15-27) on Tuesday night open their latest back-to-back set against the LA Clippers (30-16) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Missing in action
The Sixers are used to missing Joel Embiid for at least one game of back-to-back sets. However, they will have to forge ahead without him in both contests coming up on consecutive days.

Embiid will miss the Sixers' games on Tuesday and Wednesday after suffering a left knee contusion in the team's 93-92 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. The matchups will mark three straight absences for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after he was sidelined for the Sixers' blowout loss in Atlanta Saturday.

The Sixers haven't exactly been able to survive without Embiid's production this season. They are 2-10 minus the Rookie of the Year frontrunner and have allowed 106.5 points in those games.

Brett Brown challenged his team to perform better — particularly on defense — during this upcoming stint without Embiid.

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said after practice Monday. “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.”

2. The Blake Show is back
While the Sixers will be without their star big man in Tuesday's tilt, the Clippers are expected to get one of theirs back.

Blake Griffin is likely to return to action against the Sixers after missing 18 games following right knee surgery.

Griffin was averaging 21.2 points and 8.8 rebounds this season as the Clippers jumped out to a 20-6 record. Griffin underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove loose bodies from the knee on Dec. 19, and the Clips have recorded just a 10-8 mark since.

With fellow superstar Chris Paul sidelined with an injured thumb, getting the five-time All-Star Griffin back should be a major boost for the Clippers.

3. Take care
The Clippers may not be the force they once were in the open court (15th in the NBA with 12.7 fastbreak points per game this season), but that doesn't mean they still can't revert to their Lob City ways in the blink of an eye.

That could be the case on Tuesday if the Sixers continue to turn the ball over at such an alarming rate.

The Sixers, last in the league with 17.1 turnovers per game, have somehow been even worse during this recent string of success. They have committed 19.4 turnovers a night over the last five games and 17.8 during the last 10 contests.

The Sixers have been able to survive thanks to their active defense creating opportunities on offense and some clutch shooting. However, with Embiid sidelined and facing a Clippers team that ranks in the top five in field-goal and three-point percentage, those miscues may come back to haunt the Sixers.

4. Injuries
Okafor (knee) is probable. Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Griffin (knee) is probable. Paul (thumb) and Brice Johnson (back) are out for the Clippers.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost nine straight games to the Clippers.

• Ersan Ilyasova is averaging 17.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during January.

• DeAndre Jordan has averaged a double-double of 11.3 points and 12.8 rebounds against the Sixers in his career.