76ers

Sixers-Hornets 5 things: Sixers go for 5th win in 6 games

Sixers-Hornets 5 things: Sixers go for 5th win in 6 games

The Sixers (11-25) open up a back-to-back set against the Charlotte Hornets (20-19) at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Rolling into a tough stretch
When is the last time you could realistically say the Sixers were on a roll?

Yeah, it's been quite a while. However, that's exactly what is going on with the young team right now.

T.J. McConnell hit the jump shot heard 'round the world at the buzzer on Wednesday to give the Sixers a 98-97 win over the New York Knicks. It marked the squad's 11th victory to surpass last season's total and its fourth in the last five games.

That's more than enough reason for the Sixers to celebrate after the historic struggles they have gone through over the past few years. But with four straight games against Eastern Conference foes with records above .500 on tap, they are trying to remain even keel.

“You wake up and you’re like, ‘Damn, that was a great win last night,’” Nerlens Noel said (see story). “But obviously there’s a lot more work to do. It’s a long season. This is a great stretch for us, but you want to stay away from the bad ones.”

2. Watch out for the swarm
Oh, the bad ones. Like shooting 39.5 percent from the field and committing 19 turnovers during a 16-point loss?

That's what happened the first time the Sixers faced the Hornets this season way back on Nov. 2. The Sixers allowed Charlotte to score 39 points in the third quarter and six players to reach double-digit points in that loss, their fourth straight to open the season.

The two teams couldn't have been on more different tracks at that time. For the Sixers, Joel Embiid was sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest as they were still figuring out their rotation. Meanwhile, Charlotte was building off last season's success on its way to a 6-1 mark to open the 2016-17 campaign.

Now, it's the Sixers on the upswing and going for a third straight win for the first time since 2014, while the Hornets are losers of five of six.

3. Keep an eye on Kemba
No matter how improved the Sixers are, they still can't afford to let Kemba Walker get going.

The guard is 16th in the NBA in scoring with 23.1 points per night and can catch fire in the blink of an eye.

Walker had 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the season's first matchup.

McConnell may be riding the wave of his big shot on offense a couple of nights ago, but it will be his defense on Walker that likely determines the outcome on Friday.

4. Injuries
Embiid (ankle) is probable. Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Jeremy Lamb (foot) is out for the Hornets.

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

• The Hornets have the lowest turnover rate in the NBA with 11.9 per game.

• Richaun Holmes was assigned to the Delaware 87ers and is expected to be in uniform for their game tonight against the Greensboro Swarm.

• Ersan Ilyasova's first game with the Sixers was against the Hornets earlier this season. He tied a team-high with 14 points to go along with three rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes off the bench.

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

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NEW ORLEANS — Joel Embiid is trying to kick back tightness he has been dealing with since Thursday.

Embiid was a late scratch for the Sixers in Sunday's 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). He said he began to experience the tightness while playing Thursday against the Lakers. Embiid received treatment during the game but felt "pretty sore" after.

The big man already was slated to miss one of the two back-to-backs in Cleveland and New Orleans because of his medical restriction. He sat Saturday, but when he warmed up pregame Sunday, he still didn’t feel healthy enough to go.

“I tried to warm up earlier but I couldn't,” Embiid said. “If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone. But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers need Embiid (23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) back on the court. They have dropped to 13-13 on a four-game losing streak, including these last two without him. Embiid is an integral part of the Sixers’ defense, especially against a Pelicans team with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in the frontcourt. The two bigs combined for 52 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks. 

Embiid said he expects to play in the Sixers' next game, Tuesday in Minnesota. Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is posting 19.8 points, 11.6 boards and 1.3 blocks per game this season. Embiid still has to work out Monday before that his availability. In the meantime, he is receiving massage treatment.

“I just got to keep resting for a couple days and see how it feels day-by-day,” Embiid said. “But it's been getting better. It's a lot, much better.”

Embiid is the latest Sixers to be added to the list of injuries. Robert Covington suffered a lower back contusion Saturday and is doubtful for Tuesday (see story). T.J. McConnell continues to be hampered by a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. He has missed five of his last six games. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Justin Anderson (left leg) are weeks out from another reevaluation.

Sixers-Pelicans observations: Strong effort shorthanded but skid continues

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USA Today Images

Sixers-Pelicans observations: Strong effort shorthanded but skid continues

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS — A must-see battle of bigs turned into a must-read injury list. Joel Embiid was an unexpected late scratch because of back tightness in Sunday’s touted matchup against the Pelicans.

And with that development, the tone of the game changed completely. Instead of Embiid taking on the towering duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the already-shorthanded Sixers scrambled to piece together a competitive squad.

Playing without Embiid, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell, the Sixers dropped their fourth straight game, 131-124, Sunday night to the Pelicans.

• Davis and Cousins didn’t do as much damage as what seemed likely without Embiid. Davis posted 29 points and eight rebounds and Cousins tallied 23 points and nine boards, but those totals weren't as monumental given the performances both have had against the Sixers in the past. It was actually former Sixer Jrue Holiday turned out to be the game’s highest scorer (34 points).

• Ben Simmons recorded his 15th double-double and ninth 20-point game (27 points, 10 assists, five rebounds). Rajon Rondo topped the assist duel with 18 dimes along with 13 points.

• The energy in the arena was lackluster in the first half. There was barely a reaction when Tony Allen walked off the court with a knee injury.

• The Sixers trailed 66-55 at the half and got back into the game by outscoring the Pelicans, 40-21, in the third. JJ Redick posted 11 points (a team-high 28 points overall), backed up by bigs Johnson and Booker with eight apiece. 

• But how does a 105-all tie turn into a nine-point deficit just-like-that? The Sixers allowed four straight threes, a pair by Holiday and one each from Davis and Cunningham, over a span of just 1:41 in the fourth. The Pelicans remained in control after that.

• Covington was out, as expected, after falling out of bounds and suffering a lower back contusion Saturday in Cleveland. X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is doubtful for the Sixers’ next game against the Timberwolves.

• Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot started in place of Covington. Luwawu-Cabarrot had a rough shooting night, going 2 for 10 from the field and missing all four of his three-point attempts.

• Brett Brown inserted Luwawu-Cabarrot in the starting lineup instead of going with three guards because the backcourt reserves were already depleted without McConnell, who missed his fifth games out of the last six because of a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Brown needed Jerryd Bayless to be available off the bench, while the Sixers clearly need McConnell’s hustle back on the floor.

• This injury-stricken game was an opportunity for role players to step up. Trevor Booker proved to be reliable again off the bench in his second game (16 points, nine rebounds). Richaun Holmes neared a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.

• After going back and forth … and back and forth from the Sixers to the Sevens, Furkan Korkmaz put his time in the G League to use. He clocked 20 minutes for five points and three rebounds, including this jam.

• The Sixers shot a solid 27 for 30 from the free throw line but struggled 9 for 29 from three (31 percent). The Pelicans, as noted above, excelled from long range. They scored 45 points off 15 for 24 shooting (62.5 percent).

• Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has heard the comparisons between Simmons and Magic Johnson, and he doesn’t think they’re off base.

“I think Ben is truly going to be one of the great young players in this league,” Gentry said. “When you say he plays like Magic, everybody goes like, 'Ahh,' but he’s out of that mold right there where he does a lot of things.”

• Gentry also got to know Embiid during their trip to Africa in August for Basketball without Borders. He described Embiid as “a character.”

“Just to see him on the court and see him with kids and see some of the things that he can do, it’s very impressive,” Gentry said.

• Familiar faces: Holiday played his first four seasons on the Sixers. Pennsylvania native and St. Joe’s alum Jameer Nelson signed with the Pelicans for his 14th NBA season. Nelson and his teammates were watching the Eagles game in the locker room earlier.

• Sixers fans were spread out around the arena in team jerseys and T-shirts. One fan hopped on a plane from Philadelphia by himself to catch the game. Another traveled from Pensacola, Florida, noting he’s been a dedicated fan “since the Tony Wroten days.”