76ers

Sixers Notes: Embiid’s hand OK, Okafor’s DNPs, Simmons’ shot

Sixers Notes: Embiid’s hand OK, Okafor’s DNPs, Simmons’ shot

HOUSTON – Joel Embiid is determined to play through a right-hand contusion and face the Rockets.

He participated in the Sixers’ light practice Sunday, the day after suffering the injury against the Mavericks. Embiid thinks it occurred either late in the first quarter or early in the second when he tried to go baseline out of a double team. He stayed in the game and x-rays taken Saturday night came back negative.

“I’m feeling good,” Embiid said. “I think I should be ready. I should be playing tomorrow. It’s hurting a little bit but I think I’ll be fine. I’ll push through it.”

Embiid experienced swelling Sunday. The Sixers will have shootaround ahead of Monday’s matchup, where they will get another look at the situation. Embiid is ready to make an early diagnosis of himself.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m playing. I don’t care what they say. I’m playing.”

Embiid posted 21 points, six rebounds and three assists in the Sixers’ buzzer-beater loss Wednesday to the Rockets. He was not involved in the offense down the stretch and, considering how competitive he is, he’s likely looking to avenge that defeat on the Rockets’ home court.

Okafor reacts to DNPs
Jahlil Okafor understands his place on the Sixers, albeit on the bench and out of the rotation. The third-year center has been in communication with Brett Brown, who has opted to play Amir Johnson as the backup center behind Embiid.

“The last time we spoke, he told me that Amir was the backup to Jo,” Okafor said Sunday. “I’m ready to play. We talk often. That’s what it is at the moment. He told me I’m not in the rotation.”

Okafor entered training camp with expectations of a turnaround camp. He had shed significant weight and was no longer dealing with right knee soreness.

The competition for the backup role heated up, though, as the Sixers signed the veteran Johnson to a one-year, $11 million deal this summer and Richaun Holmes had made a strong case for more playing time last season. Holmes has been injured (fractured wrist) but Brown designated the other reserve minutes to Dario Saric. Okafor has appeared in one game. Still, he prepares as if his name could be called.

“I’m just healthy,” Okafor said. “I feel great. I’m ready to play. The coaches know that. My teammates know that as well. I’m just coming in here, working day by day, we’ll see what happens.”

And so Okafor’s future with the Sixers remains unclear, as it was the prior two seasons as well.

“Anything can change,” he said. “It could change in the blink of an eye. But right now, I’m not in the rotation and that’s what it is.”

Okafor re-joined the Sixers on Sunday after staying back at the team hotel Saturday in Dallas because of an upper respiratory infection.

Simmons expanding shot … but how far?
For everyone who wants to see Ben Simmons knock down long-range jumpers, that’s going to have to wait. Yes, the rookie is looking to expand his offensive game, but the Sixers aren’t focusing on that far from the basket.

“[I want to work on] the way I score at certain spots on the floor,” Simmons said Saturday. “Multiple spots — elbows, low block, through the lane, finishing.”

Simmons believes he needs to improve his overall scoring. That coming from the rookie who is averaging 17.5 points and recorded a triple-double in his fourth NBA game. Still, Simmons has been doing his most offensive damage in the paint.

Of his 84 field goal attempts, 47 have been taken from less than five feet from the basket, according to NBA.com. Simmons is shooting 65.9 percent in the restricted area (29 for 44) and 40.0 percent in the non-restricted area of the paint (12 for 30). He has been highly efficient attacking the basket with his speed and physicality.

Getting further out, though, Simmons is just 2 for 7 from mid-range and has not attempted a three. So when Simmons and the Sixers eye areas of improvement, they’re not talking about transforming into a younger version of JJ Redick — not yet, at least.

The team has specific objectives for his rookie season. They start in two areas, the basket and the line, where Simmons is shooting 59.4 percent.

“Maybe next year or at the end of this year, we’re going to start seeing, I think, some catch-shot threes and really expanding it. But that will not define him,” Brown said. “My mind for him completely in his first season is finishing at the rim and trying to get to that 70-percent mark as a free throw shooter.”

Scenes from the road
Redick, Jerryd Bayless and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were the last three on the court following Sunday's light practice at the Toyota Center. It is a good example for a younger player like Luwawu-Cabarrot see veterans putting in extra work. (Redick's status for Monday has not been announced. He missed Saturday's game with lower back tightness.)

Sixers-Trail Blazers observations: Smothering defense in win

Sixers-Trail Blazers observations: Smothering defense in win

BOX SCORE

Any time the Trail Blazers are on the schedule, the main objective is limiting the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Sixers held off one, which was enough, in their 101-81 win over the Trail Blazers.

With the victory, the Sixers improved to 10-7 this season and went three games above .500 for the first time since Brett Brown guided the team to a 3-0 start in his first year at the helm. 

• Joel Embiid battled a true center in the 7-foot, 275-pound Jusuf Nurkic. He came up with his eighth double-double of the season: 28 points (11 for 19 from the field), 12 rebounds, and two blocks. Embiid did not get to the free throw line after the first quarter. 

• Lillard scored an unsurprising 30 points, but McCollum netted just five. The pair averaged a combined 47 points heading into the game. McCollum was scoreless in the first half and shot 1 for 14 from the field overall. 

• Ben Simmons finished four seconds shy of a new-career high in playing time. He played 39:03 and neared a triple-double with 16 points (8 for 20 from the field), eight rebounds and nine dimes. Simmons attempted only two free throws. 

• The Sixers took the Blazers out of the game from the start. They ran off with a 16-0 lead and held the Blazers scoreless (0 for 13) for the first seven minutes. (Count the misses here.) The Sixers led 26-14 after one. 

• Lillard scored 12 points in the second quarter to try to get the Blazers back into the game. The Sixers edged them out with balanced scoring among the starters. Even though the Sixers committed 10 turnovers and shot 33.3 percent from three in the first half, their early run was enough to give them a 50-37 lead at halftime. 

• Embiid scored eight points in the third to nearly neutralize Lillard’s nine. The Sixers and Blazers scored 20 points apiece in the quarter. Neither team shot the ball well from three, combining to go 1 for 11. 

• The Blazers’ 81 points were a season low by a Sixers’ opponent and the Trail Blazers’ season-low scoring total. 

• Embiid swatted a Lillard shot attempt all the way back to Portland late in the third. OK, so the ball obviously didn’t go that far, but it was a monster block nonetheless that got me thinking about this moment at shootaround in San Francisco.

• Amir Johnson continued to attack the glass. This time, he balanced his rebounding efforts with five offensive and six defensive boards in 18 minutes off the bench. 

• “Trust the process” took a seat to a new chant late in the game. Fans chanted “We want Okafor” with less than a minute to play and the Sixers up 22. Jahlil Okafor did not get in the game. Furkan Korkmaz, though, played the final 2:09. 

• The Sixers’ turnover problem kept at bay the Trail Blazers’ poor shooting. The Sixers committed 18 turnovers but the Blazers, who shot 33.7 percent from the field, only translated that into 18 points. 

• Injury update: Justin Anderson (left leg), Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) were sidelined for the Sixers. Al-Farouq Aminu (right ankle) was out for Portland. 

• The rosters were filled with former players on either side. The Sixers drafted Turner (2010) and Maurice Harkless (2012). Jerryd Bayless played for the Trail Blazers his first two seasons (2008-10). 

• Speaking of Turner, his days in Philadelphia are long gone but not forgotten. Turner didn’t live up to the expectations of his draft value and so, years later, this happened:

• Rapper Lil Uzi Vert was at the game again.

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

Sixers praise Amir Johnson as MVP of win over Jazz

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons scored a career-high, Joel Embiid recorded a double-double, and still, the highest praise was directed to an unlikely player after the Sixers’ 107-86 win over the Jazz: Amir Johnson.

“He was the MVP of tonight,” Embiid said. 

Johnson embraced the ultimate role player mentality. He didn’t know until shortly before the game if he was going to start in place of Embiid or come off the bench. Embiid, who had been dealing with left knee soreness, ended up playing. So Johnson waited for his name to be called and stepped right into action. 

Johnson began the game with five rebounds in four first-quarter minutes. He finished with 13 boards, eight points and four blocks in 21 minutes. Johnson pulled down 10-plus rebounds for the 98th time in his career (see observations)

“I feel like my job is just to find ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “Knowing Joel, Ben and those guys are going to get the majority minutes, but when I come in I want to be effective at the same time.”

The 13-year veteran has been studying game film. Even though he didn’t get on the court in either of the Sixers’ matchups against the Warriors and played a combined 28 minutes in three road games in California, Johnson has been staying ready. 

“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said of Johnson’s defense. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”

The Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year, $11 million contract this summer. He proved what he could do on the court since entering the league out of high school in 2005, but the even bigger draw was what he could add to the locker room. Brett Brown reached out to some of Johnson’s former teammates and the assessments echoed one another. Now the Sixers are seeing what those who played with Johnson were talking about. 

“It was amazing, to a man, how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle sitting and swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. 

“To be able to bring him in the game, and not worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots isn’t ever on my mind with Amir. He’s a perfect teammate.” 

Redick bounces back in 2nd half
JJ Redick is at a point in his career where he isn’t worried about a slow start. He went scoreless in the first half and still ended up with 20 points. 

“Maybe five or six years ago I probably would have been a little more stressed at halftime,” Redick said. “But I just knew there would be some opportunities and stayed patient.”

Brown noticed Redick getting better looks after halftime. He evenly distributed his scoring with 10 points in both the third and the fourth quarters. He shot a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in the third. 

“I’m always going to be aggressive. There just weren’t opportunities to get shots off in the first half,” Redick said. “I scored 20 in the second half, but didn’t feel like I was forcing anything. The opportunities were there. Sometimes that happens within a game.”

Simmons, too
Simmons showed the same kind of poise, even more notable because he is a rookie. Simmons shot 2 for 9 in the first half, shook off the early struggles, and scored a career-high 27 points. He scored half of the Sixers’ 28 points in the third quarter off an efficient 7 for 9 shooting stretch. 

“I thought I was going to have more, honestly,” Simmons said. 

Simmons took advantage of the Jazz missing center Rudy Gobert in the middle. He became the only Sixer since 1963-64 to score in double digits in each of his first 16 games. Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game.