76ers

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

Wizards 120, Sixers 115: Studs, duds, turning point and more

The Sixers put on quite a show in the season opener before ultimately falling to the Wizards, 120-115, Wednesday night (see observations).

The biggest story, of course, was Joel Embiid playing 27 minutes after head coach Brett Brown said the 23-year-old big man would play "in the teens." Both Embiid and Ben Simmons shined but it wasn't enough.

After struggling in the first half, All-Star point guard John Wall took over in the second in leading Washington to the win. Wall finished with 28 points, but it took 28 shots to get there.

Despite the loss, there was plenty to like about the Sixers' performance. They'll start the season 0-1 but have plenty to build off of going into Friday night's home opener.

Turning point
With the Sixers battling back and down just two after a Simmons layup, Bradley Beal missed a three from the corner. If the Sixers could've corralled the rebound, they would've been looking at an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Kelly Oubre Jr. timed it perfectly for a put-back slam to make it 106-102 with 5:50 left.

After getting a stop, the Wizards came right back down in transition and Beal threw a pretty alley-oop to Wall. It pushed the lead to six and got the crowd on its feet. 

The Sixers had three different opportunities to tie the game with less than a minute left, but two killer turnovers and a missed three from JJ Redick ended the comeback attempt.

Key stat
We all knew the Sixers' three-point shooting would be improved this season with the addition of Redick (4 of 8) and a healthy Jerryd Bayless (3 of 7), but my goodness. The Sixers shot 15 of 35 as a team. And that's after starting the game 2 for 9.

Offensive stud
Speaking of threes, Robert Covington was lethal from beyond. After getting off to a horrendous shooting start last season, Covington was on fire Wednesday. He led all scorers with 29 points on 9 of 15 shooting, including 7 of 11 from three.  

Embiid and Simmons also get an honorable mention here. Embiid dominated early and late, going for 18 points, 13 boards and dishing out three assists (see highlights). Simmons looked in control as the team's point guard, finishing with 18 points (7 of 15), 10 rebounds and five assists in his NBA debut. Most importantly, Simmons had just one turnover.

Offensive dud
For the most part, the team performed really well offensively. Amir Johnson had a forgettable stretch offensively with a couple of ill-advised post-ups in the third quarter. The Sixers' newest big man finished 2 of 7 and fouled out in the third quarter.

Defensive stud
T.J. McConnell did an excellent job leading the second unit on both ends of the floor. Including pestering Wall. Before Wall got into a rhythm in the second half, McConnell held him to just 3 for 13 in the first. When McConnell was in the game, nothing was easy for Wall.

Defensive dud
Redick and Bayless certainly struggled with the combination of All-Star guard Wall and Beal. Then again, there are many across the NBA that have had the same struggles. And in reality, Redick and Bayless aren't here for their defense. They're here to make shots, which they did plenty of.

Injuries
Exhale, Sixers fans. The team got out of this game healthy.

Up next
The Sixers play their home opener against Kyrie Irving and the Gordon Hayward-less Celtics on Friday night at 7 p.m. on NBCSP.

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.