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.

Warriors win in Finals rematch

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Warriors win in Finals rematch

CLEVELAND — Kevin Durant scored 32 points, Stephen Curry added 23 and the Golden State Warriors extended their road winning streak to 13 games with a 118-108 Martin Luther King holiday victory Monday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, their struggling NBA Finals foes.

Durant scored 16 in the third quarter for the defending NBA champions, who haven't lost outside Oracle Arena since Nov. 22.

LeBron James scored 32 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, which had its home winning streak stopped at 13. Isaiah Thomas, getting his first taste of the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry, had 19 points in a season-high 32 minutes as he works his way back from a hip injury.

It was Golden State's second straight win over the Cavs, who have dropped eight of 10 dating to a loss to the Warriors on Christmas Day. Cleveland was down just 93-91 entering the fourth, but the Cavs missed 17 of 19 shots to open the period, allowing Golden State to throttle away.

The Warriors and Cavs have met in the Finals each of the past three years. There's no guarantee there will be a fourth matchup, and at this point only one of them looks prepared for June (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo posts 27 points, 20 rebounds in Bucks' win
WASHINGTON — Now that he has this basketball thing figured out, Giannis Antetokounmpo showed he wouldn't make a bad long snapper in football, either.

Antetokounmpo hiked the ball through his legs to teammate Khris Middleton for a fast-break dunk and the highlight of his all-around dominant performance as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Washington Wizards 104-95 on Monday. Antetokounmpo scored 27 points and grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds in the Bucks' second road victory against the Wizards in 10 days.

"It's not important," Antetokounmpo said of his 20 rebounds. "I was just in the right spot, and the ball just came into my hands."

The Wizards got 27 points and nine assists from John Wall and 19 points off the bench from Kelly Oubre. But just like on Jan. 6 when these teams last met, Antetokounmpo was the difference in Milwaukee pulling away in a tight game late (see full recap).

Porzingis, Beasley help Knicks beat Nets
NEW YORK — Though it hardly appeared like it with thousands of blue-and-orange-dressed fans standing and screaming for them, this was a road game for the New York Knicks.

"It feels like we're playing at home, so it was a good atmosphere for us," Kristaps Porzingis said.

It gets harder from here.

Porzingis had 26 points and nine rebounds, Michael Beasley added 23 points and 10 boards, and the Knicks opened their longest road trip in nearly 30 years by beating the Brooklyn Nets 119-104 on Monday (see full recap).

Schroder leads Hawks over Spurs
ATLANTA — Dennis Schroder loves taking charge with the outcome uncertain in the closing seconds.

It means even more when he can push the Atlanta Hawks to a rare victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

"I'm glad we got the win, first off," Schroder said. "I hit my shots in crunch time. Dewayne Dedmon set great screens and got me open. I just shot with confidence, so it feels great."

Schroder scored 26 points, Ersan Ilyasova added 20 and the Hawks held off the Spurs in the closing seconds to win 102-99 on Monday.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 25 points and 11 rebounds for San Antonio, which lost guard Manu Ginobli to a right thigh contusion in the first quarter and played without Kawhi Leonard as the star forward comes back slowly from injuries (see full recap).

#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

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#SixersJanuary back on with wire-to-wire win over Raptors

Well, it certainly doesn't feel like the Philadelphia 76ers never trailed in that game against the Toronto Raptors, does it? The Sixers technically held on for the wire-to-wire 117-111 victory against Toronto, despite that lead getting Cliffhanger precarious down the stretch, getting back to .500 on the season thanks to big efforts from Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell and Joel Embiid. 

Of course, if the Raptors were on their game, the Sixers might not have escaped with this one. Following a hard-fought loss to the Warriors (and in Kyle Lowry's first game back since missing a few games with a bruised tailbone), the Raps seemed out of rhythm for most of the afternoon. The Sixers' stout defense certainly played a part in that, but the Raps also just missed shots, and generally lacked the tenacity they attacked Philly with in their two meetings this December. 

Nonetheless, the Sixers played well enough to win for three quarters, and snapped out of their usual late-game momentum funk in time to not totally give the game away. Credit for that part has to go to Simmons, who rolled in a layup and the kicked out to Dario for an open three with minutes to go, expanding a dangling one-point Sixers lead to a relatively secure six they were able to protect from there. He also made the Raps pay for intentionally hacking him late, calmly sinking two to keep Toronto at bay. Embiid also helped clinch things with late free throws, part of his 34-point, 11-rebound afternoon (see video), and with mighty defense around the basket that closed things off for the surging Raps. 

And yet, this was once again the T.J. McConnell game. He tangled early with Raptors star (and professional Sixers torturer) DeMar DeRozan, and that seemed to ignite an unusually aggressive T.J., as Timothy John went on to score a career-high 18 on 8-13 shooting, to go with eight dimes, six boards and three steals (see video) — also helping to hold DeMar to a manageable 24 points for the afternoon. He did get passive late, which he kicked himself for a little in his post-game interview, but it was still a magnificent afternoon for Teej, and his buckets were invaluable on an afternoon where our shooters weren't hitting much (6-25 from deep) and nobody besides JoJo was doing much in the half-court. 

Even though they had to work for it at the end a little more than we'd like, there's no denying the size of this win for the Sixers. Aside from giving them a statement W over one of the East's elite, it keeps them from falling too far back of the playoff pack, while the Pacers are surging and while the Sixers still have some tough games immediately ahead of them, I figured if they got one win in their four-pack against the Celts, Raps, Celts again and Bucks, they'd be in decent shape — now, they have two more chances to come out with a split. 

What's more, you can now add Toronto to the list of very good teams the Sixers don't have to worry about playing again this season — a list that already includes the Warriors and Rockets, and is one game away from also including the Celtics. Though it's dampened their 20-20 record until this point, it's pretty incredible to be halfway through January and already be done playing arguably the league's four best teams, two of which are in their division. Smooth sailing is on the horizon, and in the meantime we're officially in the midst of #SixersJanuary. Salvation is free.