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.

76ers Gaming Club announce team name, logo for NBA 2K League

NBA 2K League

76ers Gaming Club announce team name, logo for NBA 2K League

The 76ers Gaming Club is Philadelphia’s latest professional esports brand. 

Set to compete in the inaugural season of the NBA 2K League, the fresh new esports brand —  which was officially released on Thursday by Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment — maintains the Sixers' classic style, which includes seven stars circling around a bell made up of the numbers seven and six. 

“We are excited to unveil 76ers GC’s new brand identity as we welcome another dynamic sports property to the Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment family,” said Chris Heck, Philadelphia 76ers President of Business Operations. “Working alongside the NBA 2K League, we developed a brand identity that pays homage to the revolutionary origins of this city, speaks to the new Philadelphia fan and exemplifies the edge of the esports audience.”

Aggressive in its pursuit of esports investment opportunities, HBSE, already owners of Team Dignitas, a highly respected competitive esports club, bought into NBA 2K League with 16 other NBA franchises back in May. 

76ers GC joins Kings Guard Gaming (Sacramento Kings), Pistons GT (Detroit Pistons), Pacers Gaming (Indiana Pacers), Mavs Gaming (Dallas Mavericks), Cavs Legion GC (Cleveland Cavaliers), Wizards District Gaming (Washington Wizards), Magic Gaming (Orlando Magic), Jazz Gaming (Utah Jazz), Blazer5 Gaming (Portland Trailblazers) and Celtics Gaming (Boston Celtics). Also included will be the Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks.

While 76ers GC was born to participate in NBA 2K League, it should be noted that the name “76ers Gaming Club” is void of any mention or image of basketball or NBA 2K. This leaves open the possibility of 76ers GC adding more competitive games and gamers under its brand in the future.

NBA 2K League is a professional esports league co-founded by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., the creator of North America’s most popular sports title, NBA 2K. Players will receive a competitive salary and benefits. The league will begin its inaugural season, featuring five-on-five competition in May, following official player tryouts and a live player draft set for March. 

Best of NBA: Thunder carry George to win in Indiana return

USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Thunder carry George to win in Indiana return

INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left but committed a turnover and then fouled George.

The Pacers' winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer's blockbuster trade, didn't go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn't have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists (see full recap).

Wizards top Grizzlies in Wall’s return
WASHINGTON -- Bradley Beal scored 18 points and John Wall had 13 in his return from a sore knee to help the Washington Wizards hold off the Memphis Grizzlies 93-87 on Wednesday night.

Beal scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, hitting three 3-pointers. Otto Porter Jr. added 14 points, and Marcin Gortat had 12.

Wall missed nine games, with Washington going 4-5 in his absence.

After the Grizzlies took their first lead of the night, 67-65, on James Ennis III's 3-pointer with 8:53 left to play, Washington responded with a 13-0 run and Memphis got no closer than 83-80 the rest of the way.

Andrew Harrison led Memphis with 20 points, JaMychal Green had 15 points and15 rebounds, and Marc Gasol had 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Grizzlies have lost five straight and 16 out of 17 (see full recap).

Lillard leads way as Blazers rally past Heat
MIAMI -- Damian Lillard scored seven of his 18 points in the final 3:16, and the Portland Trail Blazers overcame a 16-point second-half deficit to break their five-game losing streak, beating the Miami Heat 102-95 on Wednesday night.

Lillard, who came into the game averaging 26.6 points, had only one field goal in the first 31 minutes. But he converted a three-point play put the Trail Blazers ahead to stay, 98-95, and sank two free throws on their next possession for a five-point lead.

CJ McCollum scored 28 points for the Trail Blazers (14-13). They climbed back above .500 and improved to 7-5 on the road. The Heat (13-14) fell below .500 and dropped to 5-7 at home.

Miami reserve Wayne Ellington sank seven 3-pointers and scored a season-high 24 points. Dion Waiters added 17 points for the Heat, who were hurt by three missed free throws down the stretch.

Both teams were short-handed. Heat forward Justise Winslow left the game in the first half with a left knee strain and did not return, and guard Tyler Johnson sat out because of a migraine.

Miami was also without center Hassan Whiteside for a seventh consecutive games because of a bone bruise in his left knee (see full recap).