Slaying Old Demons: Collins's Crew Looks to Roll Momentum Over Magic

Slaying Old Demons: Collins's Crew Looks to Roll Momentum Over Magic

Of all the bitter defeats the Sixers had this season, the one they suffered at the hands of the Magic in January was certainly one of them. You remember, of course--Sixers up three with a half-minute to go, Lou Williams splits a pair of free throws to make it four, Orlando's Jason Richardson squares up behind the three-point arc, Andre Iguodala goes cuticle-to-cuticle with his shooting hand, J-Rich gets the bucket, the foul call and the free-throw to tie the game up. In OT, the Magic take a one-point lead thanks in part to a more legit four-point play from JJ Redick, Iguodala's potential game-winning banker lips out, and the Sixers lose what could would should have been their best victory of the season.

Well, break out your best Mel Gibson impersonations, because there's definite payback in the air tonight as the old new-look Magic come to Philadelphia for a piece of the once-again surging 76ers.

I'll always maintain that the Sixers were the better team the last time they faced the Magic--and to my rare credit, the records of the two teams since have borne this out somewhat. Philly has gone 7-3 since dropping the heartbreaker, with wins against four likely playoff teams, while Orlando has gone just 6-5, with all their wins coming against sub-.500 squads. Despite a solid (though far from easy) win last night against the Clippers, the Magic have lagged greatly in recent weeks, largely due to the absence of starting power forward Brandon Bass, the team's only real post threat outside of beast center Dwight Howard, and the struggles of supposed difference-maker Gilbert Arenas, averaging just 8.4 ppg on horrendous 35% shooting.

And of course, the Sixers have rebounded brilliantly from their rough loss in New York, responding by posting their biggest win of the year (in size if not in stature) in Atlanta. With the team's confidence at an all-time high (""Every night we feel like we can win every ballgame," said Elton Brand recently. "It wasn't like that earlier in the season") they get to go back home to Wells Fargo, where they're 16-8 for the season. A quote posted by the Sixers twitter feed even has Magic coach Stan Van Gundy saying that the Sixers are playing as well as anyone besides the Heat in the East right now. Not sure if I'd go that far, but the fact that it's even suggestible is unbelievable for a team that started the year 3-13.

7:00 tip from the WFC. It's still going to be a tough matchup--any time you're going against Dwight Howard with Spencer Hawes and Tony Battie as your primary centers, you're in for a long-ass night--but for the first time since the two teams met in the playoffs two years ago, I feel like the Sixers have a real chance against the Magic tonight. Here's hoping they don't prove me horribly wrong.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."