Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Joel Embiid targeting season opener

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Joel Embiid targeting season opener

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is impacting the Sixers without yet playing full-court basketball. Embiid is limited to half-court 5-on-5, which is enough for him to make a difference.

“His physical presence and how competitive he is is a powerful combination,” Brett Brown said. “You put somebody that competitive and that big on a court, he’s different. And he changed practice today.”

Brown said Embiid “looked good” as the center continues his recovery from knee surgery in March. The Sixers head coach noted the change in spacing when Embiid is on the court. Embiid is targeting Oct. 18, opening night, to make his return.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also participated in half-court 5-on-5. He has been dealing with right knee patellar tendinitis. 

“Timmy looked like he hasn’t played in awhile,” Brown said. 

Fultz's shooting a non-issue?
Markelle Fultz’s shot has become a hot storyline in the first week of the preseason. The rookie is experimenting with his form, which has sparked video analysis and debate over his offense. So are people reading too much into these adjustments (which could end up being temporary)? Brett Brown thinks so. 

“Everybody’s looking into it. It’s shocking to me,” Brown said. “He’s a young guy that’s trying to come into the league and make improvements. All the other stuff that he does, people just really find interest in this. 

“In some ways, I don’t completely not understand it. But I feel like all the guys have had issues with trying to grow their game. Developing Markelle, for me, is obviously huge. We will continue to work on his shot.”

Brown's 'soft spot' for Okafor
Jahlil Okafor was back on the court for practice Monday the day after participating in the team’s scrimmage at the Palestra. Okafor, whose past season was cut short because of right knee soreness, said he felt “a little bit” sore Monday morning but was OK once he got warmed up in practice. 

Sixers fans gave Okafor a loud ovation during the scrimmage, which wasn’t lost on the third-year center. 

“It was great to hear,” Okafor said.

Brown also was glad to observe the fans’ response. Okafor’s time in Philadelphia has been up-and-down between injuries, trade talks and an inconsistent role. 

“I have so much sort of personal affection for him and respect in the way that he’s handled some things,” Brown said. “He hasn’t cried once. He comes in, he’s a hell of a teammate … I’ve got a real sort of soft spot for Jahlil.” 

Redick learning the ropes
When players join a new team, usually it is the veterans who show them the ropes. In the case of JJ Redick, he was signed by the Sixers to be a veteran leader and still needs to learn his way around. 

“I’m trying to figure it out,” Redick said. “That’s the only thing that’s kind of been weird this week is just kind of dealing with the unfamiliar. It’s been actually kind of fun. But it’s been surreal at times kind of going through a different camp with a different program.”

The 33-year-old Redick is entering his 11th NBA season. For such a lengthy career, he hasn’t moved around the league that frequently. He played six-plus years for the Magic, 28 games for the Bucks, and the last four years for the Clippers. Redick signed a one-year, $23 million contract with the Sixers in July and hopes to be with the team beyond this season (see story).  

“He has fit in great,” Brown said. “I am so happy he is in this program.” 

Mitchell-Nance Jr. showdown highlights All-Star Saturday

AP Images

Mitchell-Nance Jr. showdown highlights All-Star Saturday

LOS ANGELES — Rookie Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz put on a show in the slam dunk contest to cap off NBA All-Star Saturday.

Mitchell edged Larry Nance Jr. by two points, sealing his victory with a close approximation of the 360-degree spin dunk that Vince Carter used to win the 2000 contest.

"I wanted this so badly," Mitchell said. "This is one of my favorite events of All-Star weekend. To not only be in it, but to win it, it's crazy."

Before making his winning dunk, Mitchell peeled off his Jazz jersey and wore a vintage Carter jersey from the Toronto Raptors.

Mitchell -- three inches shorter than the 6-foot-6 Carter -- needed a score of 47 to beat Nance, and he got a 48 from the five judges: DJ Khaled, Mark Wahlberg, Chris Rock and Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Lisa Leslie.

Nance, who was trying to win the contest 34 years after his father won it, had earned a perfect 50 with a dunk off a double alley-oop off the glass.

Mitchell advanced to the finals with a creative dunk in the first round that used his sister, Jordan, as well as Kevin Hart and the comedian's son as props. For that dunk, Mitchell wore a Darrell Griffith Jazz jersey. Griffith participated in the first slam dunk contest in 1984.

"I appreciate Kevin Hart coming out there and helping me out," Mitchell said. "He's my favorite comedian."

Booker wins 3-point contest with record final round
Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns won the 3-point contest with a record 28 points in the final round. He beat 2016 champion Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and Tobias Harris of the Los Angeles Clippers.

"It feels really good," Booker said. "I wanted to go out there and make a name for myself."

Did he ever. He was sensational in the final round on Saturday, when he missed only five of 25 shots.

Each player shot five five-ball racks with a one-minute time limit. The final ball of each one was a "money ball" worth two points, and one of the racks, usually the last one, was all money balls. Booker made the money ball shot on his first four racks, and then made four of the five balls on the money ball rack.

Harris, Booker and Thompson advanced from the eight-man field to the finals. Harris scored 17 points before Booker scorched the nets for 28 points. Thompson followed and scored 25 points.

The previous record was 27 points, set by Stephen Curry in 2015 and matched by Thompson the following year.

Booker, the 21-year-old sharpshooter in his third season with Phoenix, is averaging 24.2 points per game this season as the NBA's 12th-leading scorer. Eleven months after the shooting guard dropped 70 points against Boston to become the youngest player in NBA history to score even 60 in a game, Booker added another accolade to his promising career with the 3-Point title.

Thompson beat the buzzer with his final shot of the first round to reach the finals with 19 points. Booker also scored 19 and Harris had 18.

Dinwiddie tops Markkanen in Skills Challenge final 
Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets won the skills challenge to kick off NBA All-Star Saturday.

Dinwiddie, who played at Taft High in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, beat Lauri Markkanen of the Chicago Bulls in the final round.

The skills competition consisted of two players going head to head. They dribbled around pylons, passed the ball into a net, dribbled to the other end of the floor for a layup and then dribbled back to the other end to take a pull-up 3-pointer.

Eight players started the competition, with Dinwiddie and Markkanen advancing to the final.

Markkanen struggled passing the ball into the net, giving Dinwiddie a big lead. Dinwiddie dribbled down the floor and missed his first 3, but drained the next one to win.

Skills Challenge sparks Embiid's inner point guard

Skills Challenge sparks Embiid's inner point guard

LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid loves the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean the Sixers' big man is unfazed by the magnitude of the stage on which he is competing.

“I was actually extremely nervous,” Embiid said after the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. "I don’t know why. My heart was beating so fast. I have no idea why. But I thought it was fun.”

Embiid was one of eight players to test their versatility in dribbling, passing and shooting drills. Embiid defeated Al Horford in the first round and lost in the second to Lauri Markkanen. Spencer Dinwiddie took home the trophy.

Embiid pulled off a comeback victory Horford. He trailed after the dribbling and passing drills but beat out the Celtics' veteran at the three-point line to advance.

“That was wild,” Embiid said. “I lost the ball, I didn’t make the first pass and then I just threw the other two balls. That’s a good way to do it instead of wasting time. Then I was way behind and I came back and I ended up making that three and won.”

Horford was stifled when he thought his first three-point shot attempt was going in … and it didn’t. That miss opened the opportunity for Embiid to claim the round.

“The shot, which I was making before, I felt good, and then I think the pressure got to me a little bit,” Horford said. “I just wasn’t expecting that (to miss). I thought I was good. So then by that time, Joel caught up to me.”

Markkanen, the Bulls' rookie, got the best of Embiid in the next round. Embiid tried to rush through the passing drill to catch up to Markkanen, who ended up crossing in front of him at halfcourt for the clinching trey.

“After he made the layup he was a little bit in front of me,” Markkanen said. “But we couldn’t switch sides, so I had to get to the other side someway. So I tried to sprint and get in front of him and distract him a little bit. I think that worked.”

Embiid said with a big smile, "I kind of thought Lauri kind of cheated a little bit. He went in front of me, but it’s all good. It's all fun."

Even if Embiid didn’t win this contest, it wasn’t a total loss. The 7-foot-2 center has long claimed he wants to be a guard one day, and he showed off those backcourt skills. 

“I think I can still be a point guard in my future,” Embiid said.

All-Star Weekend does not end for Embiid with the Skills Challenge. After competing in the Rising Stars game Friday and this contest on Saturday, Embiid has been making sure to preserve his energy for the All-Star Game Sunday. He will start for Team Stephen.