Sixers-Mavericks 5 things: The return of Nerlens Noel

Sixers-Mavericks 5 things: The return of Nerlens Noel

The Sixers (24-43) return from their West Coast road trip to face the Dallas Mavericks (29-38) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. A very familiar foe
Many faces have come and gone over the past few years for the Sixers as they shuffle to find the right mix of players for their massive rebuild. However, none of them were the initial piece of "the process."

That distinction goes to Nerlens Noel, who was traded to the Mavs at the deadline for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a draft pick. The former sixth overall pick in 2013, Noel endured every ounce of the Sixers' painful overhaul.

Now he's in a completely different scenario: playing a key role for a team chasing a postseason bid. Noel is averaging 10.3 points on 59.2 percent shooting, 7.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in seven games for the Mavs, who are 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

While Noel is happy to have found a landing spot that can offer starter's minutes and a bright long-term future, the big man will always have a soft spot for Philadelphia.

"I think it's going to be definitely a moment for life," Noel said of returning to face the Sixers. "To be able to come back here just after being traded, the love I've constantly received here through the ups and downs, it's something unforgettable for me. To be able to play against the guys and all my guys on this team as well, it's going to be something special."

2. Seeing the silver lining
The Sixers almost pulled off a special feat their last time in action when they nearly knocked off the Golden State Warriors. The Sixers held a double-digit lead in the second half before ultimately watching it slip away in a 106-104 loss.

That was the final case of tough luck on their four-game road trip. The Sixers also suffered an OT loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and gave up a fourth-quarter lead in a defeat to the LA Clippers to finish the swing with a 1-3 mark.

Still, instead of dwelling on what could have been, the team is focused on learning from those setbacks.

"Sometimes it's hard for us because we're young, but I hope we'll get experience," Dario Saric said (see story). "We're in one system, we're growing up and I think we'll be fine. Maybe not this year, but I think next year we should be better with everybody."

3. Don't forget about Dirk
The Mavs have received contributions from across the roster to go from afterthought to the fringes of the playoff picture. However, a major reason behind their improved play is the resurgence of Dirk Nowitzki.

Nowhere near the player he was in his prime, Nowitzki has been able to regain some of his MVP form to get Dallas back on track.

Nowitzki is averaging 17.1 points on 50.5 percent shooting from the field to go along with 8.3 rebounds per game during March.

With Nowitzki coming off his third effort of at least 20 points in the last five games on Wednesday, the Sixers would be wise to pay close attention to the future Hall of Famer.

4. Injuries
Tiago Splitter (calf), Joel Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Wesley Matthews (calf) is a game-time decision for the Mavericks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost eight straight games to the Mavs.

• Mavs guard Seth Curry had game highs in points (22) and assists (six) in the season's first meeting between the two teams.

• The Sixers were outrebounded 55-45 in the first matchup as Salah Mejri had a career-high 17 off the bench.

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. 

“I was surprised,” Embiid said following the Sixers’ 120-115 loss (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. 

“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.”

Best of NBA: Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates as Bucks down Celtics

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Best of NBA: Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates as Bucks down Celtics

BOSTON -- Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 16 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter, and the Milwaukee Bucks opened their season with a 108-100 victory over Boston on Wednesday night to spoil the homecoming of a Celtics team coming off a late and emotional season opener.

One night after a gruesome broken ankle just six minutes into the season cost Boston top free agent Gordon Hayward -- perhaps for the entire season -- the Celtics fell to 0-2 by giving up an 11-1 run that left Milwaukee with a 97-90 lead and under three minutes to play.

Antetokounmpo added 13 rebounds, Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon scored 19 points and Khris Middleton had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Bucks. Matthew Dellavedova scored 15 points, hitting a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left after the Celtics cut the lead to two points.

Kyrie Irving scored 17 points on 7-for-25 shooting in his Boston debut, and Jaylen Brown had 18 for the Celtics.

It was a subdued home opener for the Celtics, who underwent a near-complete overhaul over the summer even after earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season. Although Irving and No. 3 draft pick Jayson Tatum appeared in a Celtics home uniform for the first time, Hayward was left to wish them well in a pregame video from his hospital bed (see full recap).

Revamped Pacers score 140 in win
INDIANAPOLIS -- Victor Oladipo scored 22 points in his Indiana debut, Darren Collison added 21 points and 11 assists in his return to Indianapolis, and the Pacers held off the Brooklyn Nets 140-131 on Wednesday night in their season opener.

Eight players scored in double figures as the Pacers, in their first game since trading All-Star Paul George, produced their highest point total since a 144-point game against Denver on Nov. 9, 2010. Myles Turner had 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Thaddeus Young added 17 points and 11 rebounds.

D'Angelo Russell scored 30 points in his Nets debut but backcourt mate Jeremy Lin limped to the locker room with an injury midway through the fourth quarter. Trevor Booker finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Nets from losing a franchise-record fifth consecutive season opener.

Despite having chances to take control, neither could.

Brooklyn led 30-29 after one quarter, the Pacers took a 65-63 halftime lead and then used a 10-0 third-quarter run to build a 75-65 lead. Brooklyn never led again.

But the Nets charged back in the final minutes, trimming a 10-point deficit to 130-126 before the Pacers finally managed to close it out (see full recap).

Grizzlies cruise past Pelicans in opener
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Mike Conley scored 27 points, rookie Dillon Brooks added 19 and the Memphis Grizzlies beat the New Orleans Pelicans 103-91 in their season opener on Wednesday night.

Marc Gasol had 14 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 3:05 left. Memphis won its opener for the second straight year, a first in franchise history.

Anthony Davis had 33 points and 18 rebounds and DeMarcus Cousins had 28 points and 10 boards for New Orleans, but the frontcourt pair got little help. The Pelicans shot 38 percent, including 7 of 25 from 3-point range.

Memphis, which carried a 79-70 lead into the fourth, stretched the margin to 13 in the early stages of the final period.

Davis and Cousins helped the Pelicans build an early lead, but Memphis countered with nine straight points to open the second quarter and the game settled into a close one. The Grizzlies held a 54-52 lead at halftime.

Memphis made it 77-65 in the latter stages of the third and cruised from there (see full recap).