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: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

MIAMI -- Dion Waiters' 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left capped his 33-point effort, and the Miami Heat beat Golden State 105-102 on Monday night to end the Warriors' seven-game winning streak.

The Heat wasted a 10-point lead in the final 4 minutes, and Kevin Durant tied the game on a dunk with 11.7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Waiters walked the ball up the court and drilled what became the game-winner over Klay Thompson.

Stephen Curry missed a 3-pointer as time expired for the Warriors (see full recap).

Rivers, Crawford lead Clippers past Hawks
ATLANTA -- Austin Rivers scored 27 points and Jamal Crawford broke out of a shooting slump with 19, helping the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 on Monday night.

Crawford had eight points in the fourth quarter, including a driving basket after Atlanta cut the Clippers' lead from 24 to five points.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 25 points. Dennis Schroder had 21, and Dwight Howard added 16 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Wizards beat Hornets behind Wall’s 24
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- John Wall firmly believes the Washington Wizards are a good team with plenty of playoff potential.

The key, he said, "is we just got to believe it every time we step on the court."

Wall had 24 points and seven assists, and the Wizards looked plenty confident as they continued their run up the Eastern Conference standings with a 109-99 win against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night (see full recap).

Kings snap skid with win over Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and the Sacramento Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with a 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Ty Lawson added 19 points and helped Sacramento turn the game around with a strong second quarter. Lawson scored nine points in the second, and the Kings outscored the Pistons 37-24 in the period to take a 65-62 lead into halftime.

A 3-pointer by Lawson put Sacramento up 101-90 in the fourth, and the Kings held on from there to stop Detroit's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Jones, Holiday lead Pelicans past Cavs
NEW ORLEANS -- Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James' dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James' drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. Embiid is reportedly expected to return Friday against the Rockets.

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

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

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, 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. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“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 explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being 100 percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded, as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014.

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.