76ers

Sixers-Hornets 5 things: Relying on Jahlil Okafor vs. Charlotte's big men

Sixers-Hornets 5 things: Relying on Jahlil Okafor vs. Charlotte's big men

The Sixers (0-3) close out their first back-to-back set of the season with their road opener against the Charlotte Hornets (2-1) on Wednesday night (7 p.m./CSN).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. Closing up shop
One thing about consistently having a young team is consistently having to learn tough lessons. That's been the case each season for the Sixers under Brett Brown in regards to closing out games, and Tuesday was no different.

The Sixers managed only 14 points in the fourth quarter of a 103-101 loss to the Orlando Magic. That included zero field goals in the last 3:56 and two Joel Embiid turnovers in the final 36.6 seconds as they blew a once-18-point lead.

“It’s really tough,” Embiid said of the loss. "Next time we’ve got to come out of halftime, we’ve got to be ready. … Next time when we have a lead like that we’ve just got to be ready to play and compete.”

That's now two double-digit leads blown in the Sixers' three losses this season. Certainly not a trend they'd like to see continue.

2. Jahlil's turn
Brown opted to split up his centers for the back-to-back. That means Embiid will get the night off in Charlotte and Jahlil Okafor will take his place after sitting out against the Magic.

Okafor is still working his way back from a torn meniscus suffered last season. He's looked fluid in his movements on the court, averaging 8.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15.5 minutes a night. However, the big man's shot has been rusty (35.3 percent).

Even on a minutes restriction, Okafor will need to give the Sixers quality minutes down low against a big Hornets frontline that features healthy seven-footers Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller.

3. Keep an eye on Kemba
The battle of the bigs will definitely be an important factor to Wednesday's meeting, but let's be honest: The game will likely come down to how well the Sixers can contain Kemba Walker.

The point guard has gotten off to a strong start in his sixth season. He has averaged 23.3 points and 5.0 assists to open the 2016-17 campaign. Walker has also been wreaking havoc in the passing lanes on defense with 2.3 steals per contest.

Those numbers are just about on par with what Walker put up against the Sixers last season as the Hornets swept the four-game series.

The Sixers better hope Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell got a good night's rest.

4. Injuries
Embiid (rest) did not make the trip with the Sixers. Ben Simmons (foot), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are also out.

Former Sixer Christian Wood (illness) is a game-time decision. Roy Hibbert (knee) and Jeremy Lamb (hamstring) are out for the Hornets.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five straight games to the Hornets.

• The Sixers are shooting just 25.6 percent from three-point range to start the seas.

• The Hornets are first in the NBA in blocks per game with 8.3, while the Sixers are second with 7.7.

Sixers refuse to look at silver lining from season-opening loss

Sixers refuse to look at silver lining from season-opening loss

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — In years past, overcoming a 12-point deficit and trailing a playoff-contending team by just two points with a minute to go would be considered an “A for effort” for the Sixers

If they held their own against a more experienced team and didn’t get dominated by John Wall, a 120-115 loss on the road wasn’t really that bad … was it?

Not this season.

The Sixers are in a new phase, one with actual pieces versus promising potential. With that comes higher expectations to win, and it starts in the locker room after the first game. 

“I don’t like taking positives from losses,” JJ Redick said. “We need to clean up a lot of stuff. We need to be better. It takes a lot to win in this league. We need to figure that out, and we will. We are good enough to do that.” 

The Sixers were in Wednesday's game until the end (see observations). They withstood the combined 53 points from Wall and Bradley Beal with a 29-point performance by Robert Covington and double-doubles from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons (see studs, duds, more).

The team acknowledged it had a chance to win. Yes, there were encouraging moments. No, they weren’t hanging their heads and writing off the season after opening night. 

At the same time, they are not ignoring the missteps that landed them in the loss column. Those are the turning points to learn from this season. 

The Sixers gave up just three points off four turnovers in the first half. The second half was a different story: 20 points off 13 turnovers. Down two points late in the fourth, the Sixers committed a pair of turnovers in a span of 30 seconds that hindered them from closing the gap. Those errors have been a focal point of conversation among the players. 

“Too many turnovers. That's big,” Embiid said (more on him here). “That's been the talk in the locker room. Got to work on that.”

The Sixers have one day of practice before facing the Celtics and Raptors in back-to-back games. It's just a small taste of what's to come in a stacked schedule over the first two months of the season. The attitude is be good enough to win, not good enough to compete. 

“We’re not going to try to lose this season and take a bunch of positives from that,” Redick said. “We’re trying to win. We’re trying to be in the playoffs this year. That’s got to be the mindset.”

Joel Embiid 'surprised' by amount of playing time in Sixers' opener

Joel Embiid 'surprised' by amount of playing time in Sixers' opener

WASHINGTON — In the end, Joel Embiid’s playing time was a non-issue.

After days of frustration leading up to opening night, Embiid played just three seconds shy of 27 minutes against the Wizards. That far surpassed the 16 minutes he anticipated a day earlier on Tuesday (see story)

“I was surprised,” Embiid said following the Sixers’ 120-115 loss on Wednesday night (see observations). “I was expecting way less than that, but it just shows you they trust me.”

Brett Brown had maintained Embiid’s minutes were going to be more flexible than last year and he wasn’t locked into a specific number by the medical staff. Initially, Brown projected Embiid would play somewhere in the teens, but the game presented an opportunity for him to log more. 

Embiid had played 21:38 through three quarters and it seemed, based on last season, he was done for the night. The coaching staff calculated Embiid had over 20 minutes to rest between the third and the fourth quarters, so Brown put him back into the game with just over five minutes to play. He finished the game with 18 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, a block and four turnovers (see highlights).

“It’s a range,” Brown said. “It’s more of a plan that we have this year than a restriction. When you look at and you feel the flow of the game, that’s where the variables come in.”

Embiid wants open lines of communication between him and the medical staff — for him to know what its planning and for him to be honest about how he is feeling.

“It’s on me to not lie to them and tell them how my body feels when I’m tired,” Embiid said. “At some point through the game I was tired and I told them to take me out.”

Embiid is ready for a new outlook on his availability moving forward. 

“We’ve got to stop calling it 'minutes restrictions,'" Embiid said. "There’s a plan with that — it’s just go out and play. If you’re tired, get out because injuries happen more often when you’re tired.”