Will Sixers-Rockets live up to last year's standard?

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Will Sixers-Rockets live up to last year's standard?

Sixers (1-3) vs. Rockets (3-1)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.

All it took was a historic accomplishment from a rookie and 30 points from their center for the Sixers to crack into the win column Monday with a 97-86 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

Now the Sixers will look for their first home win of the new season when they host James Harden and the lethal Houston Rockets.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• If for some reason you were struggling to understand the hype around Ben Simmons, mark down Monday’s performance as exhibit A. 

Simmons controlled the action with 21 points (8 for 11 shooting), 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He became just the third rookie in NBA history to record a triple-double within his first four games (Oscar Robertson and Art “Hambone” Williams).

Simmons continues to validate Brett Brown’s decision to make him the team’s point guard, which is having some trickle-down effect around the league. Look no further than LeBron James starting at PG for the first time since 2005 in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ comeback win Tuesday over the Chicago Bulls.

“It's the first of many for him,” James said to ESPN of Simmons’ feat. “He's a triple threat, ability to score in transition, rebound and pass the ball. His passing is his best quality and high basketball IQ. So, it's the first of many triple-doubles for the young guy.”

• While one rookie is shining on the court, the Sixers’ other No. 1 overall pick is going on the shelf.

Markelle Fultz’s shoulder injury will keep him out at least the next three games (see story). He will be reevaluated next Tuesday.

Fultz's injury saga took a new turn just a day ago when his agent, Raymond Brothers, initially ESPN reported the rookie had fluid drained from his shoulder to only revise his statement and say it was a cortisone injection.

Either way, Brothers painted a grim picture of Fultz’s overall health.

“He literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball,” Brothers said. “He decided to try and fight through the pain to help the team. He has a great attitude. We are committed to finding a solution to get Markelle back to 100 percent.”

Whether Brothers is exaggerating or not, it is clear Fultz is experiencing discomfort. The shoulder has limited his ability and in turn his production. Fultz has averaged just 6.0 points on 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 50.0 percent from the free throw line.

Clearly, this situation has been mishandled, but get the issue rectified now and Fultz back to looking like the guy everyone remembers from that lone season at Washington.

• While Fultz is certainly a competitor, we’re sure he won’t miss having to figure out how to help contain one of the NBA’s most dangerous scorers in James Harden.

Harden is finding his footing to start the new season, but he has still managed to put up 26.3 points a night.

With superstar point guard Chris Paul banged up, Harden has taken on even more of the offensive duties. Through four games, he is averaging a career-high 20.8 field goal attempts. That includes a whopping 11.0 tries from three-point range per game.

Harden will definitely get his buckets. The key for the Sixers is to make sure it doesn’t get out of control like the last time “The Beard” came to Philadelphia.

Last season on Jan. 27, Harden torched the Sixers in a historic performance with 51 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in a 123-118 Rockets’ win. He became the first player in league history with multiple 50-point triple-doubles in a single season.

• Sixers fans will remember that game as the last time they saw Joel Embiid on the floor in 2016-17 before the big man was shut down for the season with a knee injury.

But let’s not focus on the past (even though Embiid was dominant with 32 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in that one).

Instead, let’s look at what the center has done so far in 2017-18 with just one day in between games.

Embiid made his preseason debut with 22 points and seven boards in 15 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets. He followed that up two days later with a five-point, seven-rebound effort vs. Hassan Whiteside and the Miami Heat in the preseason finale.

Embiid looked solid in the regular-season opener with 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Washington Wizards. Then he turned in an 11-point performance on 4 of 16 shooting (0 for 6 from three-point range) a couple days later in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Now “The Process” is coming off a stellar effort of 30 points (11 for 15) and nine rebounds in Monday’s victory over the Pistons. Will he continue to build on that game or look lethargic again with a day between matchups?

• Former Sixers associate head coach Mike D’Antoni returns to Philadelphia with a 64-33 record (including playoffs) since taking over the Rockets. D’Antoni was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year a season ago.

• Fultz (shoulder) and Richaun Holmes (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Paul (knee), Trevor Ariza (foot) and Nene (Achilles) are out for the Rockets.

Sixers-Raptors thoughts: Embiid to sit, Okafor to take his place


Sixers-Raptors thoughts: Embiid to sit, Okafor to take his place

Sixers (0-2) at Raptors (1-0)
7:30 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app. Pregame Live at 7.

The Sixers enter their first back-to-back set of the season when they tip off against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.

Hope you didn’t think the Sixers would flip the switch overnight. Oh yeah, it’s a process.

The Sixers found that out again when they stalled during the second half of Friday night’s 102-92 loss to the Boston Celtics in their home opener.

“We didn’t hold everything together like we should have,” Jerryd Bayless said.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• Joel Embiid won’t suit up against the Raptors because the center still isn’t cleared for back-to-backs yet. His stamina is not where it needs to be at the moment and it showed vs. the Celtics.

Embiid looked lethargic as he struggled through a 4-for-16 performance for just 11 points. That included the big man going 0 for 6 from three-point range.

After the game, the big man expressed that he wants more touches in the paint. That will certainly happen, but it will have to wait until the next game.

• So who will take Embiid’s playing time in Toronto? If only the Sixers had another center on their roster also taken No. 3 overall in a recent NBA draft.

Wait, they do? Hello, Jahlil Okafor.

Since slimming down in the offseason and performing well during the preseason, Okafor has been glued to the bench during the Sixers’ first two games of 2017-18.

That is likely to change against the Raptors. With both Embiid and Richaun Holmes out, Okafor could share the center duties with veteran Amir Johnson.

That wouldn’t be a bad idea based on the numbers. In five career games against the Raptors, Okafor has averaged 20.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in 31.3 minutes.

• For years, the Raptors have been fueled by their All-Star backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. That won’t change this season, but the team is intent on spreading the ball around more.

Toronto had six players score in double figures during its season opener. That included a team-high 23 points from center Jonas Valanciunas and 22 off the bench from veteran C.J. Miles.

Speaking of Miles, the Sixers will have to keep a close eye on the Raps’ new-look bench that accounted for 48 points in the team’s season-opening win over the Chicago Bulls.

• Ben Simmons has been as advertised. He’s big, strong, athletic and plays with poise.

The point guard put up 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in Friday’s loss to the Celtics. That made him the first rookie in Sixers history to start his career with back-to-back double-doubles and just the 11th in NBA history.

Simmons also became just the fifth player ever to have at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in their first two games, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The other four: Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Connie Hawkins and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yeah, he’s off to a pretty good start.

• The Sixers haven’t exactly had much success against the Raptors in recent years. They’ve lost 15 of their last 16 to their division foe, including nine straight at Air Canada Centre. Their last victory north of the border came on Nov. 10, 2012.

• Embiid (rest) and Holmes (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Fred VanVleet (head) is a game-time decision for the Raptors. Malcolm Miller (ankle) is out.

Markelle Fultz quietly shows growth as Sixers plan to expand his role

Markelle Fultz quietly shows growth as Sixers plan to expand his role

Things weren’t going well for Markelle Fultz in his home debut.

Fultz missed all three of his shot attempts after entering the game in the first quarter. Two of those were blocked, with one a filthy snuff on a layup by the man he will be connected to forever: Jayson Tatum.

In between misfires, the No. 1 overall pick committed two personal fouls. The second came on a three-point shot by Terry Rozier III.

After 4:34 of action, Fultz slinked his way back to the bench.

And then a literal weight was lifted off his ailing shoulder.

Fultz returned to the court late in the second and immediately went on the attack. He drove right to the rim on Tatum and forced a foul.

That meant the 19-year-old with the banged-up right shoulder had to step to the free throw line and show off that oft-criticized shooting form.

Splash. Splash.

The points elicited a roar from the crowd and even a slight reaction from Fultz.

“Just a little smile at the fans. I saw somebody on the baseline just looking, so I just smiled,” Fultz said.

“It’s something I’ve been working on to get through this, so I was happy.”

Happy, but not content.

From that moment, Fultz looked like a different player. Not statistically as he finished with just six points on 2 for 9 shooting with three rebounds, one assist and one steal in the Sixers102-92 loss in their home opener.

However, the guard played with more energy on both ends of the court. He continued to drive hard to the basket offensively while he fought through screens and battled bigger bodies on D.

“I think I have a lot to improve on, but I also think I’m learning each night I come out and taking baby steps to improve on the stuff I did last game,” Fultz said. “I think I’m in a pretty good spot, but I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

One thing the team has learned so far is to get Fultz coming off more screens at the top of the key. Sixers head coach Brett Brown liked what he saw when Fultz had the ball in his hands with the reserves and was able to get downhill in a hurry off pick plays.

“I think it’s going to be something where we put him in more pick-and-rolls to try to get him more in the middle of the floor,” Brown said. “How we do that, I see it quite clearly. I think lately just trying to get him up and down the floor and get his fitness base and find some level of confidence has been most on my mind. But I agree with you, he has a skill that we have to tap into.”

“I’m just working on being wherever I need to be to help this team win,” Fultz said. “Pick-and-roll is one of the things I feel like I’m good at, so if that’s helping the team win I’m going to go do it.”

But that doesn’t mean Fultz is about to go rogue and start calling his own number all the time. Despite being the top pick in June’s draft, he knows this team’s engine starts with Joel Embiid, particularly when the big man is in the paint.

“If he’s in the game and he’s in the post, get him the ball,” Fultz said. “Whether I’m off the ball to screen away. If I’ve got the ball in my hands, find him. Whenever he’s on the floor we’ve got to find a way to get him the ball. He’s a great passer, so he’s going to draw a lot of attention. Any time he’s in there we have to get him the ball.”

A nodding Embiid agreed from a few feet away at his own locker.

“He’s right,” the big man said between bites of an apple. “That’s the right answer.”

The rookie is a fast learner.