Shorthanded Sixers defeated by Vucevic, Magic

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Shorthanded Sixers defeated by Vucevic, Magic

BOX SCORE

ORLANDO -- The Sixers were forced to suffer in more ways than one on Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic.

Not only were they unable to pull off a comeback in a 105-94 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), they also had to watch themselves lose at the hands of former Sixer Nikola Vucevic.

Vucevic make shot after shot and grab rebound after rebound as a painful reminder of potential that is now being achieved for another team. The 16th overall selection by the Sixers in 2011, who later was dealt to the Magic in the Andrew Bynum trade, was a dominating presence in the first half.

The third-year Magic center made his first eight field goal attempts while recording 17 points and 10 rebounds by halftime. He finished the game with 21 points and 16 rebounds.

“Nik is a big body,” Thaddeus Young said. “He goes to the glass every time. He has good post work and he has a solid jumper where he is going to have to make guys play up on him. He will use his body to get past them and score layups. He’s definitely a good player.”

“When you look at their interior bigs, I think their percentage was 80 in the first half,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “We couldn’t guard them and we had to go to schemes. We had to go about different ways to give help to our bigs and it’s a problem. We want to try and improve our ability to guard one-on-one.”

Brown admits that the team’s difficulty defending the paint is a combination of the Sixers’ team design and still figuring out ways to guard better individually.

Nonetheless, Young, playing for the first time since missing three games for personal reasons, had a three-point play in the closing seconds of the first half to cut the Sixers’ deficit to five. They had trailed by as many as 15 in the half.

The Sixers clawed their way back in the second half and even cut the deficit to just two points in the fourth quarter. However, they allowed second overall pick Victor Oladipo (18 points) to drain a three-pointer with three minutes to go to push their deficit back to nine.

The Sixers couldn’t recover from that final body shot.

“I think we got it to two, hung around two. We just couldn’t get over the top,” Brown said. “A few untimely things and Oladipo’s three especially put the game away.”

While the Sixers were dejected from not getting the win, they were certainly glad to have Young. The forward looked like he didn’t miss any action at all. He scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.

“It was clear right from the get-go that he had bounce and he had energy. He wanted to play and he was good.” Brown said. “He got 29 minutes, which is more than I would have guessed at the start of the game, but it is great to have him back.”

Young was clearly in attack mode throughout the game. He shot 9 of 15 from the field and attempted 11 free throws.

“I was trying to get myself in a rhythm early,” Young said. “I knew I was coming off the bench and that was one of the things when I was a sixth man, I would say to myself be aggressive early. So I went back into my sixth man role like when I played for coach [Douh] Collins, and it worked out pretty well tonight.”

Evan Turner flirted with a triple-double, scoring 17 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out eight assists. Michael Carter-Williams had his fifth 20-point scoring output (23) in 11 appearances this season.

Spencer Hawes (knee) and Tony Wroten (back) both missed their second consecutive games with injuries.

The Sixers return to action on Friday when they host Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

CAMDEN, N.J. — Two bigs back, one big out.

Nerlens Noel will make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Noel has been out since the preseason after undergoing elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October.

Jahlil Okafor also will return following a bout of gastroenteritis, which sidelined him for the last three games. Neither Noel nor Okafor will have minute restrictions. 

Joel Embiid, on the other hand, will not play Sunday. He will miss the game because of minor inflammation in his right elbow, which he suffered in Thursday’s game against the Pelicans. The decision also is in conjunction with the load management plan the Sixers have mapped out for him. Embiid did not practice Saturday and will not travel to Detroit. 

“It’s very minor and we expect him back soon. Not much concern at all,” Brett Brown said of Embiid, adding, “I think it’s far more precautionary than anything people should get nervous about.”

With Embiid out, the addition of Noel will help the Sixers when they battle the Pistons and big man Andre Drummond, who is averaging a dominating 15.0 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season. Noel will come off the bench as he gets reacclimated to the team and the flow of the game. 

“I felt great [to be cleared to play],” Noel said. “I was anticipating it so I got my mind right and this is what I’ve been working for throughout the whole rehab process. I’m feeling good and looking forward to it.” 

The Sixers are mindful of the fact Noel has not played in a regular season game since the finale last April. He has been working on getting his wind back up, and the Sixers will watch it closely in-game when determining his playing time. Noel said he has a “good starting foundation” with his conditioning. 

“You can do as much as you want on a treadmill,” Brown said. “You can do as much as you want one-on-zero … but there is nothing that’s like an NBA game. Everything goes faster, everything goes quicker, you have emotions involved which can also drown how fast and how long you can go. Those things are just part of him coming back into it, and we’ll manage him accordingly.”

Noel’s debut is the first step for him, regardless of how many plays. His athleticism will give another look to the lineup. Brown foresees having Noel back will allow the Sixers to play faster and protect the rim with a greater “bounce.” 

“We miss playing with Nerlens, just his presence,” Okafor said. “He’s an athlete. Obviously we miss him on the defensive side. We miss him as a leader vocally. It’s just going to be great having him back on the floor.”

The Sixers could counter the Pistons with the combination of Noel and Okafor, a duo they struggled to utilize together last season. Brown’s decision will be based on matchups. He pointed out a situation in which Drummond and Jon Leuer are on the court would be more favorable than one in which Tobias Harris is playing power forward. 

“You just try to pick your moments where you can maybe pair those guys up,” Brown said. “I think it will be a more genuine conversation as Nerlens starts playing more with us. He’s just really come back into it. But we come back and you play Toronto and you have all three bigs available, then it becomes another level of a conversation. I do look forward to it when we have an opportunity to intelligently match up with other people and we’ll play it out like that.”

The Sixers' next game after Sunday is Wednesday against the Raptors, when they expect to have their bigs ready to go.