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Sixers-Celtics preseason observations: Markelle Fultz solid in return

Sixers-Celtics preseason observations: Markelle Fultz solid in return

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BOSTON — The Sixers’ first preseason road game ended in a 113-96 loss to the Celtics at TD Garden on Monday night. 

The shorthanded Celtics, playing without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, easily defeated the Sixers, who trailed by 17 in the first quarter. 

• The Sixers wanted to see Markelle Fultz in different situations other than just at starting shooting guard. Fultz came off the bench in his second game (he missed Friday because of right shoulder soreness). Brett Brown played him at point guard with and without Ben Simmons.

Fultz said while his shoulder soreness is “on and on,” he is not using it as an excuse nor did it hold him back from shooting threes.

• Both Fultz and Simmons attacked the rim instead of taking jumpers. Simmons (6 for 12 from the field, 3 for 10 from the line) scored all of his field goals at the basket, as displayed on the NBA.com shot chart. Fultz (5 for 11 from the field) knocked down a shot just outside the paint. 

Brown is encouraging both players to drive to the basket.

“I like them attacking people and putting pressure on the defense, and hopefully getting to the line and maybe shooting a little bit better than we did tonight,” Brown said.

It remains to be seen how long that shot selection continues during the season. Players like JJ Redick could benefit from their kick-outs, but the team will also need its backcourt duo to mix up the offense and take outside shots before it becomes repetitious and opponents can game plan for that attack. 

• Jahlil Okafor got the start at center. He’s made the most of his opportunities so far in preseason. Okafor grabbed five rebounds (and six each the previous two games) after averaging 4.8 last season and hit 3 of 4 from the field for six points.

“I’m just trying to find my rhythm,” Okafor said.

• Dario Saric made his preseason debut after sitting out the first two games. He had been playing and practicing internationally up until a week before training camp and the Sixers wanted him to rest ahead of the regular season. He got the chance to shake off rust by playing 20 minutes (nine points, seven rebounds). Saric, who was disappointed to miss the 82-game mark last season, said this rest was beneficial for him. 

• Richaun Holmes does not expect to require surgery on his fractured left wrist. He described the fracture as “small” and believes it will heal on its own. Holmes is aiming to return sooner than the three-week re-evaluation mark. He fell on his wrist during a foul in Friday’s loss to the Celtics. 

Best of NBA: Magic embarrassed by Celtics before Sixers game

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Best of NBA: Magic embarrassed by Celtics before Sixers game

BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving scored 17 of his 30 points in a blistering first half and the Boston Celtics jumped to an early lead and coasted to a 118-103 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

One game after ending their streak of 16 consecutive victories, the Celtics scored 40 points in the first quarter and 73 by halftime -- both season highs -- to send the Magic to their seventh straight loss. Aron Baynes finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Al Horford had 10 assists.

Still wearing a mask after breaking a bone in his face on Nov. 10, Irving was 9 for 15 from the floor and sank all 10 of his free throw attempts, many with the sold-out crowd chanting "M-V-P!"

Orlando scored the first four points of the game and trailed by just four with less than four minutes left in the first before Boston scored 16 of the next 20 points to take a 40-24 lead. Leading 42-30 early in the second, the Celtics went on an 11-2 run and later got back-to-back 3-pointers from Rozier to open a 28-point lead.

Rozier had a career-high 23 points for Boston, which also topped its season-high for points.

Jonathon Simmons scored 14 points for Orlando, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 11 rebounds (see full recap).

James has triple-double, Cavs beat Hornets for 7th straight
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James had 27 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists, J.R. Smith made the tiebreaking free throw with 48 seconds left, and the Cleveland Cavaliers extended their winning streak to seven straight with a 100-99 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

James had season highs in rebounds and assists in his 57th career triple-double. He's 41-6 in the regular season against Charlotte and the Cavaliers have won 12 of 13, including eight straight against the Hornets.

After Smith split a pair from the line, both teams missed 3-point attempts and Charlotte called time with 11.1 seconds left. Jeremy Lamb missed a 3-pointer after the Hornets inbounded at midcourt and the rebound was tapped out to Kemba Walker, but his 3-point attempt fell well short.

For Black Friday, the Cavaliers wore black uniforms. Cleveland also wore black jerseys when it won the first championship in franchise history, but the current edition is minus the sleeves from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

James also switched from yellow to black shoes after scoring six points in the first half.

Smith had 16 points, while Kevin Love had 11 points and 13 rebounds for Cleveland (see full recap).

Pistons overcome 15-point deficit to beat Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Andre Drummond had 17 points and 14 rebounds and the Detroit Pistons overcame a 15-point deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 99-98 on Friday night.

Russell Westbrook had his sixth triple-double of the season for Oklahoma City with 27 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds. He missed a long 3-point attempt on the final possession to finish 1 of 10 from 3-point range and 10 of 29 from the field.

Down 10 at the half, the Pistons took their first lead on Ish Smith's jumper in the fourth and expanded it to four on Luke Kennard's only basket of the night, a 3-pointer that made it 88-84.

Oklahoma City had numerous chances, missing three shots on one possession in the final minute. The Thunder had the final possession and Westbrook's 26-footer bounced off the rim.

It was the eighth double-digit lead given up by the Thunder this season on their way to a loss (see full recap).

Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

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Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid sometimes looks like he’s having a party on the basketball court. It’s no surprise, then, he credits some actual partying with turning around his season.

Yes, that’s right. After Sixers practice Friday afternoon, Embiid said hitting the town in Los Angeles on the team's recent road trip helped him out of a funk.

“All my close friends live in L.A., so before that, I wasn’t really doing anything, I was frustrated because I wasn’t in basketball shape and I wasn’t having fun on the court,” Embiid said. “So I won’t lie, I decided to go out, have fun a little bit. And that just kind of gave me the energy back, and the next game against the Clippers, I had more than 30 points [32], and then the following game I had more than 40 [46], so I think it’s just about having fun and making sure I can control what I can.”

For what it’s worth, Embiid is averaging 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks since the Sixers arrived in Los Angeles. The Sixers are 5-1 in those six games.

As the Sixers keep winning, the expectations keep growing. Is this a legit playoff team? Contenders in the near future? Embiid deals with the pressure that sort of attention can bring the same way he does just about everything else.

“Just be myself," Embiid said. "Have fun on the court. You know, just be myself, and I know it’s going to come, I know the guys are going to find me whenever they have to find me, I know coach is going to call plays for me. I think I kind of figured out if I’m not having fun on the court, I’m not going to play well, so I really need to have fun, and that’s the main thing for me. From there, I’m going to be dominant.”

A big part of having fun on the court for Embiid is trash talk. He insists he doesn’t initiate it, but he’s more than happy to give it back. He’ll be without Ben Simmons Saturday night against Orlando, but he’s eager for some banter with the Magic.

“Me talking trash, it doesn’t usually happen because I want to, it’s because the other guys start talking trash. So if any of the guys want to, I’m up for it. It elevates my game, it makes me play better because I know if you talk trash to me I’m going to talk back, and I’m going to back it up, and that’s going to make me play better. I can’t wait, I really hope they do [trash talk]. It’s going to be exciting.”