76ers

In tough preseason opener, Markelle Fultz sees early taste of 'everybody's best shot'

In tough preseason opener, Markelle Fultz sees early taste of 'everybody's best shot'

Happily for Markelle Fultz, his preseason debut with the 76ers not only doesn’t count; it was barely counted.

A glitch with the stat system delayed delivery of the official box score. But in time, it appeared, in all its ugliness. In time there was confirmation that Fultz shot 2 for 13 and scored four points as the Sixers, minus Joel Embiid, lost to the Grizzlies, minus Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, by a 110-89 score Wednesday (see observations).

Nobody seemed too concerned about that, least of all Fultz himself.

“Everybody has a night like that,” the rookie guard said. “It’s a long season. There’s going to be times when your shot’s not falling.”

Fultz made his first attempt, a backdoor lefty layup from Ben Simmons (more on him here), and his next-to-last try, an uncontested dunk off a feed from T.J. McConnell. In between, he missed 10 straight — three of them three-pointers, but most of the others within 10 feet of the rim.

Twice he was blocked by 6-foot-10 Deyonta Davis. Other times he couldn’t quite coax his shots home. As Brett Brown said, “He’s going into a whole different treeline.”

Bigger and more athletic than the ones the No. 1 overall pick saw in his lone collegiate season at Washington. Takes some getting used to.

Conley, one of the league’s finest point guards, knows all about it.

“We all go through it,” he said, having rested and looked on from the bench. “It’s just a stage.”

Finishing is just part of the learning process for Fultz. There is also the adjustment to playing off the ball, playing alongside Simmons and facing down all the old heads who will surely test him.

And doing all that at age 19.

“He’s raw right now,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said, “and everybody is going to go after him because he is the No. 1 pick. That’s to be expected.”

Before the game, Fizdale praised Fultz’s maturity, extolled the virtues of his “grown-up game.” That, the coach added, will carry him through.

“He’ll settle in and his talent will pick up,” Fizdale said, “but there are a lot of guys where their first few games in this league, people are hunting for them just to test them out. He’ll go through his bumps and bruises, but you can't deny that level of talent that’s there. … I expect him to be a heck of a player in this league. It’s just a matter of time.”

A process, as it were.

“He’s set himself up for this,” Conley said. “He’s built for this. He’s trained for this. And I’m sure he’s just going to be going through it the first couple games of preseason. After that, it’s sit down, look at the film and learn from it, get better and be the guy that I know he believes he is.”

Conley was the fourth overall pick in 2007, so he knows something about the pressure high draft picks face. (Not to mention those faced by well-compensated veterans. He signed a five-year, $153 million contract in 2016, which at that point was the richest in league history.)

“It’s a lot of pressure (to be taken early), because you’ve got a lot of guys who know who you are, even though you haven’t played a game yet,” Conley said. “He’s definitely going to get everybody’s best shot. He’s got to know that. You’ve got to be prepared for it.”

But Conley also sees Fultz as a level-headed kid, as a guy who will weather the storm. 

“He’s got all the tools,” he said. “Obviously one preseason game, you can’t really judge anything. But his game, I think, is just going to continue to get better. Out there tonight, it looked like he’s still trying to find his way — find his way through the offense.”

Fultz believes he and Simmons can thrive together, that they have already made strides. He further believes that on nights when his shot isn’t falling, he must seek out other ways to contribute.

And finally, he believes he is ready for the challenges ahead — like the one coming up Friday, when the Kyrie Irving-led Celtics come to town.

“I’m actually very, very excited just to test myself against somebody I grew up watching just last year in the Finals,” Fultz said. “Getting the chance to go against one of the best point guards in the NBA right now, I think, will be a good challenge for myself.”

No, that one won’t count, either. Soon enough, though.

Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell questionable

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Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell questionable

Updated: 2:10 p.m.

The Sixers might get some reinforcements back to help try to halt their losing streak.

Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell are listed as questionable tonight in Minnesota (9:30 p.m./NBCSP+).

Embiid (back tightness) sat out Saturday night’s loss because of load management and then was a last-minute scratch against the Pelicans Sunday. Covington (lower back contusion), who was injured diving into the stands for a loose ball against the Cavs Saturday, also missed Sunday night’s loss. McConnell suffered a sprained AC joint in the Sixers’ win over the Wizards back on Nov. 29. He came back and played 18 minutes in the team’s loss to the Lakers, but then missed the first two games of the road trip in Cleveland and New Orleans.

Embiid’s injury is not believed to be serious. The big man himself didn’t seem too concerned.

“If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone,” Embiid said Sunday. “But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers will look to snap a four-game losing streak — their longest of the season — against the reloaded Timberwolves (16-11). 

Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

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Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

HOUSTON -- Clint Capela had a career-high 28 points and James Harden scored 12 straight points for Houston in the fourth quarter as the Rockets rallied for a 130-123 victory to extend their winning streak to 10 games on Monday night.

The game was tied with about three minutes remaining after Harden made two free throws. Those were the first of seven straight points by Harden that put Houston's up 124-119 with 1:30 left.

Jrue Holiday made a basket after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer seconds later to push the lead to 127-121. Harden stole the ball from E'Twaun Moore after a timeout by New Orleans. He was fouled and made both free throws to make it 129-121 with 34 seconds left.

After scoring 48 points in Houston's last game, Harden finished with 26 on Monday, but he tied a career-high with 17 assists, finding the 6-foot-10 Capela under the basket again and again.

Holiday had a season-high 37 points for the Pelicans. Moore had a career-high 36 points and made a career-most six 3-pointers on a night New Orleans set a franchise record with 18 3-pointers (see full recap).

Mirotic, Portis help Bulls blow out Celtics
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, Bobby Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA's worst record, the Bulls built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms. The 6-foot-10 forward hit 9 of 14 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in his third appearance.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Before Monday night, Mirotic and Portis had only made headlines together this season for the wrong reasons. Mirotic missed the first 23 games with facial fractures he suffered in a fight at practice with Portis.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston. Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics' most lopsided loss of the season (see full recap).

Howard, struggling Hornets roll past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dwight Howard scored 23 points to help the Charlotte Hornets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-103 on Monday night.

Kemba Walker had 19 points for the Hornets, who had lost seven of eight. Marvin Williams scored 18, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 17 points.

It was Charlotte's second road win of the season in 12 tries.

Russell Westbrook had 30 points and seven assists and Paul George scored 20 points for the Thunder after missing the previous two games with a right calf contusion.

Charlotte shot 53 percent from the field against one of the league's best defensive teams. The Bobcats made 13 of 25 3-point attempts (see full recap).