Sixers-Celtics: 5 things you need to know

sixers-celtics-matchup.jpg

Sixers-Celtics: 5 things you need to know

Nearly 50 games into the season and the Sixers finally get a chance to face the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night at the TD Garden (7:30 p.m./CSN).

Though the Sixers and Celtics dwell in the cellar of the division, the storied rivalry is as heated as ever. Both clubs are in full rebuilding mode and appear to be in a race to acquire the most ping-pong balls for next June’s draft.

At 14-31, the Sixers hold a slight advantage, but the Celtics, at 15-32, have lost 14 of their last 16 games.

Here are a few things to know about Wednesday’s game:

1. MCW vs. Rondo
Michael Carter-Williams’ latest point-guard test is against Rajon Rondo, the wily veteran who collects triple-doubles the way kids used to collect baseball cards. The thing about this matchup is Carter-Williams will face Rondo in the just the seventh game this season for the Celtics point guard and Rondo's first in a back-to-back.

Fresh off rehab to repair a torn ACL, Rondo is still finding his way back, averaging just 6.6 points and 5.8 assists per game. He also hasn’t played more than 30 minutes in a game, and he's scored more than eight points just once.

Carter-Williams, on the other hand, is on his way to the Rookie of the Year Award. Though he has been slightly inconsistent over the past few weeks, Carter-Williams still averaged 20 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game over his last five.

2. Back to Boston
Carter-Williams, from nearby Hamilton, Mass., isn’t the only member of the Sixers headed for a home game of sorts. Coach Brett Brown is from South Portland, Maine and played college ball at Boston University where he played games at the old Boston Garden.

Brown grew up following the Sixers-Celtics rivalry and has vivid memories of Andrew Toney, "The Boston Strangler," wrecking the Celtics during the 1981 and 1982 Eastern Conference Finals.

“I can still hear the NBA music and introduction to the NBA Game of the Week. To travel down to the Garden and be able to see [George] McGinnis and Julius Erving and Bobby Jones and [Andrew] Toney, [Maurice] Cheeks and Doug [Collins] play,” Brown said after Tuesday’s practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “I just couldn’t believe how Andrew Toney would just kick the Celtics’ tail. To me, he was unguardable. He was just such a one-on-one, triple threat. Rock-a-step, rock-a-step threat. He was a big part of my upbringing and my memory of the NBA, more so than the Celtics-Lakers battles.”

Additionally, injured center Nerlens Noel is from Malden, Mass. and grew up playing ball with Carter-Williams.

Needless to say, it will be a big homecoming for a few in the Sixers’ traveling party.

3. Turner getting warm
The Feb. 20 trade deadline is slowly creeping up and, coincidentally, Evan Turner’s production has taken a slight uptick lately, too.

In his last 10 games, Turner is shooting 44.7 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range and 85.1 percent from the line. In his last four games, Turner has found his scoring stroke, pouring in 34 against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and 21 against the Suns on Monday night. Over the last four games, Turner is 29 for 62 from the floor (4 for 9 from three-point range) and 21 for 23 from the foul line.

Could better numbers get Turner traded before the deadline? Maybe not. Then again, it doesn’t hurt.

4. Fast and slow
The Sixers lead the NBA in pace with 99.6 possessions per 48 minutes. No other team is within two possessions of the Sixers, who also lead the NBA with 88.5 shots per game.

The Celtics also get a lot of shots per game -- 82.8 per game for the seventh-most in the league.

The difference is in the way the teams get their shots. The Sixers run up and down the court and launch themselves at the rim. The thought is that more possessions and more shots will produce more points. With 101.3 points per game, there is something to that.

Of course, the Sixers open themselves up to turnovers and having their shots blocked, two more categories in which they lead the NBA.

The Celtics are much more deliberate. They get just 93.2 possessions per game, well below the league average, and just 94.7 points per game, 27th in the league. Though they get plenty of shots, the Celtics shoot just 43.7 percent, better than only four teams in the league.

In other words, expect a lot of rebounds on Wednesday night ... for both teams.

5. Injuries
Arnett Moultrie’s ankle is, “100 percent,” according to Brown, but the second-year forward still needs to get into shape before returning to game action.

Brandon Davies (finger), Jason Richardson (knee) and Noel (knee) are out.

For the Celtics, Jerryd Bayless (toe) and guard Avery Bradley (ankle) are likely out. Keith Bogans (personal reasons) has been away from the team since Jan. 14 and will not return for the foreseeable future.

Sixers' trio of double-doubles overshadowed in loss to Knicks

Sixers' trio of double-doubles overshadowed in loss to Knicks

NEW YORK -- Carmelo Anthony stole the show on Saturday with 37 points and a game-winning shot against the Sixers.  

His dramatic bucket was the difference maker in the Knicks 110-109 victory (see story), but a deeper look into the box score tells another story of a strong comeback attempt fallen short.

While the Knicks were led by one player (Derrick Rose had 18 points and was the only other Knick to score more than 14), the Sixers fought back with standout efforts from a trio of starters.

The frontcourt of Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington and Dario Saric combined for 67 points and 35 rebounds. That’s 61.4 percent of the Sixers' total offense and 70 percent of their production on the boards.

In a game remembered for one shot, don’t forget about these performances.

Okafor: 28 points, 10 rebounds (six offensive), one assist, 28:45

Okafor scored a season-high 28 points (three shy of his career-high) starting in place of the injured Joel Embiid. He was aggressive from the start, scoring 11 points in the first quarter alone. He followed that up with another 11 in the fourth. Down the stretch, Okafor scored the Sixers' final two baskets, including the critical go-ahead jumper with nine seconds left.

“There was a real bounce even at the start,” Brett Brown said of Okafor, who received treatment after the game and was not available to speak to the media. “He is such a gifted scorer when he has that fluid nature that we saw at the start. … I feel like there was a real mentality for Jahlil to look to score.”

The most significant aspect of Okafor’s game, though, was in the rebounding column. He has struggled on the boards -- his defense has been the knock on him since he entered the league. On Friday, he grabbed just two rebounds against the Wizards while Richaun Holmes had 10 off the bench.

That changed on Saturday. Okafor pulled down six rebounds … in his first 11 minutes. That equaled his total from the past two games combined. Okafor gave the Sixers a glimpse into what they hope to see more of from their man in the middle.

“Jah did an amazing job on both sides of the court,” Covington said. “He made a bunch of tough plays on the offensive and defensive end. He got a couple big rebounds for us, he does that a lot but we’ve just got to get him to keep doing it more consistently.”

Saric: 19 points, 15 rebounds (six offensive), five assists, 39:34

How do you keep up with 20 points and 11 rebounds on Friday? Post a 19-point, 15-rebound double-double the next night (a career-high in boards).

Check out Saric’s total numbers from in his last two games: 39 points, 17 for 36 field goal shooting, 26 rebounds, nine assists and 73 minutes. Saric ranks second among all rookies in double-doubles (seven) behind only teammate Embiid.

“That’s massive numbers by any standards,” Brown said. “His versatility and his skill package, all under the roof of how competitive he is, makes him a very, very unique rookie.”

There has been an increase in Saric’s ball movement of late. His comfort level and growing team chemistry is translating into more assists.

“I just think he’s just so at peace within himself, and so his game takes the same type of shape,” Brown said. “It’s not forced.”

Saric’s game has been driven by effort from the beginning of his rookie season. He approaches each play with a high level of intensity and his stat lines reflect his mentality.

“We fought until the end,” Saric said. “We never gave up.”

Covington: 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, two blocks, 38:53

Covington’s locker was crowded after the game as he was the one who guarded Anthony on the final shot. Yet, in spite of being tasked with Anthony, Covington still posted a 20-and-10 double-double and came up with a major defensive play down the stretch.

With the Sixers trailing 108-107 with just over 30 seconds to play, Covington picked off Lance Thomas’ pass to start a fast break. This steal started a Sixers possession that eventually led to Okafor scoring the go-ahead basket. Covington is averaging 3.4 steals in his last five games.

“He helped us coach him to being a two-way player. Now he’s for real,” Brown said of Covington before the game. “I look at him as somebody that has just grown right before us all and bought in as a wonderful teammate, is a two-way player, is amongst the NBA’s elite wing defenders when you look at his position and can guard multiple people. That has come through work."

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

DALLAS -- Harrison Barnes scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 96-83 on Saturday night.

The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with Anthony Davis.

Davis had 39 points and 14 rebounds but scored only 12 in the second half. Cousins finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that (see full recap).

Harden leads Rockets past Timberwolves in 142-130 shootout
HOUSTON -- James Harden had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 142-130 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves as both teams set season scoring highs in a Saturday night shootout.

Houston won for the sixth time in seven games, handing the Timberwolves their first road loss in more than three weeks.

Minnesota committed a season-high 25 turnovers that led to 38 points for the Rockets.

Playing against Houston's guard-heavy rotation, Minnesota went inside all night and outscored the Rockets 68-44 in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 30 points (see full recap).

Bulls benefit as James sits with strep, beat Cavs 117-99
CLEVELAND -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler recorded a triple-double, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 117-99 victory Saturday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played without LeBron James.

James missed the game with strep throat, and coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn't sure how long the Cavaliers would be without the four-time MVP. Cleveland struggled as it often does without its star - they are 4-19 without him since he returned to Cleveland in 2014, including 0-4 this season.

Chicago has won all three games against Cleveland this season. It took advantage of James' absence to win its fourth straight overall (see full recap).

George ejected, Heat stay hot with 113-95 win over Pacers
MIAMI -- Paul George had another frustrating night in Miami.

Hassan Whiteside scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Dion Waiters added 22 points and the red-hot Miami Heat pulled away late to beat the Indiana Pacers 113-95 on Saturday night. Miami outscored Indiana 42-22 in the final 16 minutes, all with George watching from the Pacers' locker room after an ejection.

"It felt like a playoff-type game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (see full recap).