Sixers fail to slow down Suns' guards in loss

uspresswire-sixers-evan-turner.jpg

Sixers fail to slow down Suns' guards in loss

BOX SCORE

Sometimes it doesn’t take long for a team to figure out it just ain’t their night. For the Sixers and coach Brett Brown on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center, it took all of 25 seconds.

That’s when Brown angrily called for timeout after P.J. Tucker made a wide-open layup. Somehow, the Sixers had gotten their wires crossed on a defensive switch to give Tucker an easy basket and set the Suns off onto a 124-113 victory (see Instant Replay).

“We didn’t come out the way we intended,” Brown said with a raspy voice, hoarse from an evening spent urging his players and the refs. “We want to spend this middle third of the season being a better defensive team. We talked about it, we drill it, we show it. We’ve got to find a better way to get that done.”

The first-quarter play not only sent the Sixers to 14-31 with their second straight defeat at home, but also seemed to stoke up some anger lurking beneath the surface. Brown, along with Thad Young and Evan Turner, were whistled for technical fouls and center Spencer Hawes fouled out with 3:06 left in the game. During the third quarter, the Suns attempted 16 free throws. They took 35 of them in the game.

Still, the Sixers hung around to slice a 16-point deficit to just eight with 4:33 remaining. However, the Sixers never drew closer, in part because of the Suns’ quick start when they made their first six shots and hit 77 percent of their shots in the first quarter.

This one was over early.

“When you cut to the chase, it comes down to the first period and the way that we started,” Brown said.

There is a method to Brown’s madness. A timeout just 25 seconds into an NBA game isn’t as debilitating as it could be in the NFL where timeouts are as valuable as gold. Still, for a coach to stop the game after just one trip up and down the court sends a pretty stern message.

The Sixers say the message was received.

“We made some careless mistakes. We were supposed to switch on (Channing) Frye. We said that from the beginning of the game and we didn’t cut off the baseline down low,” Michael Carter-Williams said. “[Brown] just wanted us to know that he didn’t want us to make that mistake all night.”

The Sixers put the message to practice, but not during the first quarter. The Suns shot 9 for 13 on shots in the paint and 8 for 9 on shots outside of the paint, including 3 for 4 on three-pointers. But after the first quarter, the Suns went 12 for 29 in the paint, showing that the Sixers made the proper adjustment in allowing easy shots.

But the Suns’ guards Goran Dragic and Gerald Green didn’t have much trouble hitting from the outside. The combo went 19 for 25, including 7 for 9 from three-point range, for 54 combined points. Green, who has played for seven NBA teams in eight seasons, led all scorers with 30 points on 10 for 12 shooting.

“[Green] was hot and I respect him because that man has resurrected his career,” Brown said. “In the past he’s been just a track star and a high flyer. But you look at the package he’s been able to create -- a skill package -- I respect his route. Many people may have written him off. Tonight he made shots and he made plays. We give him credit.”

Brown was not as willing to give credit to his team’s defense, though.

“We are improving. The numbers say that -- forget my opinion,” Brown said. “But to start the game the way we did at home is disappointing. That’s the bottom line.”

The Sixers return to action on Wednesday when they head to Boston. After that, the Sixers host Atlanta on Friday night before heading to Detroit for a game on Saturday.

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick, according to a source (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media. 

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter. 

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid will miss the next four games and is slated to return March 3 against the Knicks in Philadelphia, so long as he is symptom-free. While Embiid wants to play as soon as possible, he’s just glad there is now a definitive timetable announced.

Prior to Thursday, the team had not announced a specific timeframe.

“I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before,” Embiid said. “I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled.

“I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I’m happy that they did that today and they said that I’m out for the next four games.”

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion on Jan. 22 against the Trail Blazers. He sat out three games and returned on Jan. 27 to play the Rockets. He has not played since then, sitting out the last eight games.

An MRI also revealed Embiid has a slight tear in his meniscus, which is not thought to be related to the contusion.

Embiid went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time, he estimated, in four or five weeks. (Wednesday’s practice was not intense.) According to the Sixers, they are encouraged by the progress Embiid showed but do not feel he is game-ready. Team doctors are holding him out the next four games to minimize the risk of aggravating his knee. In order for him to be cleared, Embiid has to be symptom-free.

Embiid had eyed a return on Friday against the Wizards because he was feeling well, he said, but he had some swelling on Thursday.

“No swelling, no pain, nothing,” Embiid said of his criteria to play.

Now the team -- and fans -- can move forward without daily questions of Embiid’s status.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” Brett Brown said. “For you all to understand, the people that buying a ticket to understand, for me as a coach to prepare my team that he’s not going to be here for four more games. I like that clarity. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want him playing, but the mystery that surrounds that speculation I think is frustrating for people and we understand that.”

Embiid reiterated the patience aspect of the injury, noting he waited two years to rehab his foot and there is no need to rush his knee. Now everyone can be in the loop with his status.

“The end point is basically making sure I’m ready to play instead of just putting me out there,” Embiid said.