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.

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

These players could come 'out of left field' for Sixers

Brett Brown’s witnessed many playoff battles during his days as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.

That’s when the stars shine brightest in an attempt to help their team hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s also when role players get an opportunity to change the course of a series and leave an imprint that lasts a lifetime.

Think Kenny Smith’s seven three-pointers in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals, Steve Kerr’s series-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals and Robert Horry in, well, too many games to count.

“Every one of my years with San Antonio, 12 of them, somebody came out of left field in one of the games for six minutes, maybe more, and had a significant impact on a win,” Brown said last week.

Sure, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are going to do the heavy lifting. But the real question is who else will make a significant contribution during those crucial postseason moments?

Robert Covington is certainly not planning to shy away from the big stage.

After three months of sliding production, the swingman has regained his shooting form at just the right time as the Sixers appear headed for their first postseason berth since 2011-12. Covington is shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range with an offensive rating of 128 in March.

“My teammates have been pretty much finding me the same shots, but I just changed up a little bit of my workout, switched it up,” Covington said after scoring 18 points (6 for 12 shooting) in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets on Monday. “That’s what allowed me to get where I’m at now. My teammates have been finding me open spots. We’ve been moving the ball really well.

“That’s just doing the right things and waiting on that moment.”

Marco Belinelli knows all about seizing that moment. He’s played — and played very well at times — over the course of 48 career playoff games.

The Sixers got a taste against the Hornets of just how much of a boost Belinelli can give a team when he’s on target. The 10-year veteran scored 21 points off the bench and contributed five of the Sixers’ 18 threes as he sharpens his game for the major challenge on the horizon.

“It’s huge,” Simmons said of finding shooters such as Belinelli and Covington in addition to JJ Redick in close games. “It’s just the way we’ve been playing all year.”

With Justin Anderson now back in the rotation and contributing, it could be the performance of secondary guys that keep the Sixers playing longer than anyone expected before the season started.

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double

Ben Simmons shrugs off mental fatigue with another triple-double


Around 6 p.m., Ben Simmons spoke about mental fatigue and the frustrations it can cause. 

An hour later, he hit the court and posted an 11-point, 12-rebound, 15-assist triple-double … with zero turnovers.

“I wish he was more mentally fatigued in the future,” Brett Brown said with a laugh. 

The 21-year-old rookie may be feeling the weight of his first NBA season, but he certainly didn’t show it Monday in the Sixers’ 108-94 win over the Hornets (see observations)

Simmons recorded his third triple-double in the last four games. He exhibited disciplined court vision by finding his teammates with a high level of ease and chemistry that’s been developing over the season (see highlights).

“I was trusting them to knock down shots,” Simmons simply put it. “They make it easy for me.”

Simmons became the first rookie in the NBA to record a triple-double with 15 assists and no turnovers. Only David Robinson and Andre Iguodala had reached a triple-double without an error as rookies. 

Simmons considers his assists and turnovers to be the most meaningful stats of the triple-double, noting his turnovers usually are caused by mental errors. 

"That’s amazing," Joel Embiid said. "To be able to make the right reads and not turn the ball over, there’s a few guys in the league that can do that ... that just shows you that he can be a great point guard."

The 6-foot-10 point guard is averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game over 34 minutes. With each game that passes, Simmons continues to be linked with the feats of Hall of Famers. From joining in the same company as Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson to moving ahead of Allen Iverson for most 10-assist games by a Sixers rookie, his performances are often tied back to historical markers. 

“I think people get caught up in how many points I score every game,” Simmons said. “It’s not about that. It’s a matter of points that we’re getting as a team and how many stops we get … 

"People are always going to say I need to do certain things but I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m really good at.”