In Nerlens Noel's return, Sixers get emphatic glimpse of new possibilities

In Nerlens Noel's return, Sixers get emphatic glimpse of new possibilities

You have heard, perhaps, of Turn Back the Clock Night? This was Turn the Page Night.

The night the Sixers moved on from the Nerlens Noel era, and emphatically so. The night the fans expressed appreciation for him, but began developing an appreciation for a guy acquired from Dallas in the Feb. 23 trade involving him.

That would be Justin Anderson, who in Noel's homecoming game Friday night matched his career high of 19 points as the Sixers blasted the Mavericks, 116-74 (see game recap).

Can we at least begin to entertain the notion that the Sixers acquired more for Noel than it first appeared? Is that not fair?

Anderson is an athletic, tough-minded wing. Fits right in with how the Sixers play, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. He has matched his career-high three times in 11 games here, and he highlighted Friday's victory, the most lopsided by the Sixers in nine seasons, with a ringing third-quarter follow slam (see dunk).

So, yes, he can help. He has helped. 

This is not to short-change Noel. He's a fine player -- a rim protector on defense and, Sixers coach Brett Brown said, "a deer" when running the floor.

It's just to say that we might want to rethink what happened at the trade deadline. Or at least hold off on the hate for a moment.

Noel, for his part, collected nine points and five rebounds in nearly 19 minutes off the bench Friday, a tidy game on a decidedly untidy night for his team (see Noel highlights).

The Mavs shot 34.5 percent, missed 18 of 23 three-point attempts and saw the Sixers outscore them 44-16 over a 15-minute stretch beginning late in the second quarter, including 36-16 in the third. That put the home team up 87-56.

Drive home safely, if you drove.

"It's not the best feeling at all," Noel managed as he sat, slump-shouldered, in the Dallas locker room. 

And, he added, "We just came out a little flat." 

His understatement might be excused, seeing as he has been on the wrong side of games like this before. And in this building, too.

Carlisle was far more blunt.

"This is by far the worst of the year in terms of energy, effort and togetherness," he said. "There's not a lot to say. They outplayed us in every way possible. …We just didn't show up."

There was more.

"We've all got to look in the mirror," he said.

And still more.

"I'm not going to write it off as 'one of those nights,'" he said. "This kind of performance is inexcusable, and I'll pretty much leave it at that."

Even before the game, he expressed his appreciation for the Sixers' energetic approach.

"Philadelphia has been one of the funnest teams to watch this year for me," Carlisle said. "I love the way they move the ball. I love how hard they play. … Over this four-year period, Brett's just done an amazing job positioning this franchise to keep moving ahead. It's pretty clear next year they're going to take an even bigger quantum leap."

The Mavs, on the fringes of the Western Conference playoff race, are in the meantime still figuring out what they have in Noel, who is averaging 10.1 points and 7.5 rebounds while coming off the bench in seven of eight games. 

"He's given us something that we were lacking, and he's helping us," Carlisle said.

That rim protection. That "deer."

Carlisle did not expect Noel to act like a deer in the headlights in his homecoming game, but it looked that way when he fumbled away two first-half alley-oops. He explained that his hands were wet on the first, and that he was too far under the rim on the second -- that he should have come down with the ball instead of trying to power it through.

He had a few decent moments in the game's all-too-brief competitive phase, like a lefty dunk and a block on Anderson. The Sixers provided him a couple nice ones themselves, like the video tribute midway through the first quarter, which was followed by a warm ovation (see story).

Noel waved, then pounded his heart.

"That was great," he said later. "Me and the fans here had a special bond, and it was definitely great that they came out and supported and gave me a clap during that video."

In addition, the team gave him a framed jersey earlier in the day.

"Definitely means a lot to me that this organization definitely respected me and showed a lot of love," he said. "It was a good three years of learning experiences and good relationships here, so I'm definitely appreciative of it."

The learning experiences continue now, for others. For a guy like Anderson, whom in addition to his emphatic slam -- "I was, like, waiting for [the rebound] to come down," he said -- shared a tender moment with Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who was seated near his team's bench.

"He told me he didn't like my haircut, but it was cool," Anderson said with a laugh.

There were plenty of other things to like about him. Enough to turn the page. To move on from Noel, and consider new possibilities.

Kyrie Irving fined $25,000 for inappropriate comments toward fan during Sixers game

AP Images

Kyrie Irving fined $25,000 for inappropriate comments toward fan during Sixers game

NEW YORK — The NBA has fined Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving $25,000 for responding to a fan with inappropriate language.

Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA' executive vice president of basketball operations, announced the fine Sunday.

Irving spoke to a fan at halftime of Boston's 102-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night (see story). 

The NBA fined Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins $25,000 for language he used toward a fan late in a loss to Memphis on Wednesday night in the season opener.

Without Joel Embiid in Toronto, Sixers 'jumped' in telling loss to Raptors

Without Joel Embiid in Toronto, Sixers 'jumped' in telling loss to Raptors


TORONTO — Ben Simmons' double-double feat aside, the Sixers have had little to enjoy about the start to the season.

They were outclassed Saturday night, 128-94, by the Toronto Raptors and have lost their first three games (see observations).

As has been their custom for back-to-back games, center Joel Embiid did not play Saturday after playing Friday in the loss to the Boston Celtics to protect his left knee.

Head coach Brett Brown said he did not expect things to go this way.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I knew the first three games were going to be difficult. I knew coming into this building after a back-to-back was going to be difficult, but you are certainly not expecting it to be that margin of a deficit. I give Toronto credit.

“We have a lot of work to do; we look forward to getting Joel (Embiid) back in this and continuing to learn how to play the group.”

After trailing by as many as 17 points in the first quarter, the Sixers whittled the lead to eight when Jerryd Bayless hit a couple of free throws with 2:22 left in the first half.

Toronto led 62-49 at the half and blitzed the Sixers to open the third quarter with Serge Ibaka scoring eight of their first 10 points of the second half. With 3:12 left in the third, the Raptors led by 29.

“They jumped us, especially at the start of the third, certainly portions of the first period but especially the start of the third and you’re just playing catch up pretty much for the rest of the game after that first almost minute, minute and a half,” Brown said.

“You’re just trying to find some type of order and purpose to end the game with that in mind.”

It was a subdued atmosphere in the dressing room after the game.

The edge surely was removed from another double-double by Simmons.

He had 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Simmons joins Oscar Robertson as the only NBA players to average 10-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in their first three career games.

“It looks great, but I’d rather have a win,” he said. “I’d rather we had three wins than three double-doubles.”

Simmons said he is looking forward to Embiid returning to the lineup Monday against the Detroit Pistons.

He said he could feel the game slipping away Saturday.

“Toward the third, coming out we just didn’t click, didn’t have it together,” Simmons said. “It’s tough without Joel (Embiid), obviously there’s chemistry and then you switch it up, so that comes into it, but we need to learn to play without him, with those back-to-backs.

“We have to stay together as a team, talk it out, get through it, communicate on the court and hold each other accountable. … We have to sit down and look at what we did wrong, that’s with every game, you have to fix your mistakes and come out ready for the next one. It’s a long season.”

It could seem even longer if there aren't signs of improvement.

“Coach Brown has talked since Day 1 of camp about our goal; to build every day, to take something positive every day and I think for tonight, we were unable to do that,” guard J.J. Redick said. “I was just saying if it’s a six-minute stretch where we are doing things well, cutting into their lead, that’s something to build on. I don’t think we did that before but that’s what I was trying to get across.

“I’m a patient person; if we were 0-45 then I’ll start to panic. There are 82 games, we have a very tough schedule to start, we’re a young team, and that’s not an excuse but the reality is the team we played tonight and the team we played in D.C. Wednesday night, they’ve been together a long time and know how to play together. We have to figure out a way to jell quicker and we have to understand and close our margin for error.”