Sixers' Palestra scrimmage observations: Ben Simmons takes over; Furkan Korkmaz surprises

Sixers' Palestra scrimmage observations: Ben Simmons takes over; Furkan Korkmaz surprises

The Blue-White Scrimmage at the Palestra on Sunday didn’t count for the official record book, but it did give the Sixers — and a packed crowd of fans — a closer glimpse into what the team could look like this season.

The white squad defeated the blue squad, 124-122, in overtime off a pair of free throws by Nik Stauskas. Members of the Sixers' ownership and front office, including special advisor Jerry Colangelo, were on hand to watch the 2017-18 team. 

Here are observations on the Sixers' scrimmage: 

• The coaches alternated lineups and teams throughout the scrimmage. In doing so, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons were paired with and against each other. 

“It’s fun. It’s scary, though. Once he has the ball, I don’t know what he’s going to do,” Simmons said. “I try to create space and cut for him, get open. But he can do it himself, he can really get to the rim, score, and find his teammates.”

The two will be sharing the backcourt a lot this season, and when they aren’t, they amp up the competition. Simmons conceded Fultz got the best of the first quarter, but he took the fourth. 

“We’re going to make each other better,” Fultz said. “That’s what the team needs from both of us … I had fun doing that. I’m pretty sure he did too.”

• Simmons got more aggressive with the ball as the game went on. He showcased his size and strength barreling to the basket on the fast break. Brett Brown noted Simmons put his game “into another gear” in the second half. 

“People get caught up in the looks of the passes,” Simmons said. “It looks nice but at the end of the day, I know how to get to the rim and score and finish.”

• Furkan Korkmaz looked significantly more comfortable in the scrimmage than he did at summer league in July. He has been trying to get adjusted all week in camp and it started to jell Sunday. 

“Holy s---,” JJ Redick said. “He just came out of nowhere and surprised us today.”

Korkmaz was more fluid on both ends of the floor. He also brought the ball up the court multiple times. Brown praised his defensive efforts, which has been a focal point in camp. Korkmaz had an obvious chemistry with Dario Saric, his friend of three years going back to international play. 

“Every day I start to feel better and better,” Korkmaz said. “I know I have to be better and better. Everybody is trying to help me on the team … That’s pushed me.” 

• Jahlil Okafor played in front of Sixers fans for the first time since March (right knee soreness). The big man, who adopted a vegan diet and dropped 20 pounds since last training camp, moved well on the court. He rode the exercise bike behind the bench to stay loose when he wasn’t in the scrimmage. 

• Joel Embiid did not participate in the scrimmage but was very much part of the afternoon. He immediately entertained the crowd by dancing his way onto the court (and during timeouts). 

Embiid watched the scrimmage from each bench and across the court with assistant coaches. On Sunday, he went through basketball, resistance and aerobic training. 

• The Sixers scrimmaged in front of a sold-out crowd at the historic Palestra. Fans chanted “Trust the Process” when the team took the floor to stretch and stayed vocal throughout the day. The players soaked in the cheers.  

“Hearing how supportive they are already, it’s exciting,” Fultz said. “It helps us going into practice knowing we’ve got the city behind us.” 

The team appreciated the significance of the Palestra, built in 1927. That being said, Redick (in good spirit) referenced his alma mater, Duke, when discussing historic arenas. 

“Before the game, Coach (Brown) said this building is of national importance. It’s on the same level as Butler’s Fieldhouse,” Redick said. “I don’t know if that means like that Cameron is way above those, because in terms of national importance I would think that would be pretty high. Eh. But whatever.”

Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

USA Today Images

Best of NBA: Rockets rally past Pelicans in high-scoring affair

HOUSTON -- Clint Capela had a career-high 28 points and James Harden scored 12 straight points for Houston in the fourth quarter as the Rockets rallied for a 130-123 victory to extend their winning streak to 10 games on Monday night.

The game was tied with about three minutes remaining after Harden made two free throws. Those were the first of seven straight points by Harden that put Houston's up 124-119 with 1:30 left.

Jrue Holiday made a basket after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer seconds later to push the lead to 127-121. Harden stole the ball from E'Twaun Moore after a timeout by New Orleans. He was fouled and made both free throws to make it 129-121 with 34 seconds left.

After scoring 48 points in Houston's last game, Harden finished with 26 on Monday, but he tied a career-high with 17 assists, finding the 6-foot-10 Capela under the basket again and again.

Holiday had a season-high 37 points for the Pelicans. Moore had a career-high 36 points and made a career-most six 3-pointers on a night New Orleans set a franchise record with 18 3-pointers (see full recap).

Mirotic, Portis help Bulls blow out Celtics
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points, Bobby Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA's worst record, the Bulls built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms. The 6-foot-10 forward hit 9 of 14 shots and grabbed eight rebounds in his third appearance.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Before Monday night, Mirotic and Portis had only made headlines together this season for the wrong reasons. Mirotic missed the first 23 games with facial fractures he suffered in a fight at practice with Portis.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston. Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics' most lopsided loss of the season (see full recap).

Howard, struggling Hornets roll past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dwight Howard scored 23 points to help the Charlotte Hornets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-103 on Monday night.

Kemba Walker had 19 points for the Hornets, who had lost seven of eight. Marvin Williams scored 18, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 17 points.

It was Charlotte's second road win of the season in 12 tries.

Russell Westbrook had 30 points and seven assists and Paul George scored 20 points for the Thunder after missing the previous two games with a right calf contusion.

Charlotte shot 53 percent from the field against one of the league's best defensive teams. The Bobcats made 13 of 25 3-point attempts (see full recap).

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers have hit a four-game skid and there is not a clearly defined way out of it thanks to a laundry list of injuries.

“I think it’s painfully obvious,” Brett Brown said of what needs to be done. “Let’s get our better players back in a uniform.”

The Sixers have to play their best with their pieces available down two starters (Joel Embiid, Robert Covington) and a key bench player (T.J. McConnell).

There are adjustments that can be made to prevent a losing streak from spiraling the Sixers down in the standings.

“We need to be just smarter,” Dario Saric said. “I know we are a young team. I know are playing without Joel, without our very important players … we need to find a way. We need to be more calm down, don’t be nervous, especially on defense.” 

Saric pointed to the Sixers’ late-game defense in their 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). They were tied with eight minutes to play before the Pelicans hit threes on their next four straight possessions. Jrue Holiday drained four treys himself during a five-minute stretch to push the lead to 11. The Sixers were outscored 44-29 in the fourth quarter.

“In that situation, to me, we are playing like a high school team,” Saric said. “That cannot happen. We need to be smarter at that point. I hope we will grow up and we will be mentally ready for that last five, six, seven minutes.”

The Sixers also were in the position to come back Saturday in Cleveland. They trailed the Cavaliers, 99-98, with 1:39 to play and did not score after that point.

It was during that final stretch when Covington landed out of bounds and suffered a lower back contusion. A day later, Embiid was a late scratch because of lower back tightness (see story). McConnell has missed five of the last six games with a left shoulder injury.

“We’ve got to be consistent with making the right plays every time,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s hard to make mistakes without those guys there. When you make mistakes and you don’t have Jo or Cov and guys like that to make up for that, it’s tough. But we’ve got to just come together as a team and get through it.” 

The Sixers don't have it easy their next two games. They face the Timberwolves (16-11) Tuesday in Minnesota when Embiid said he expects to play but has not been cleared. Covington is doubtful, while McConnell's status is to be determined. The Sixers return home Friday from a three-game road trip to host the Thunder (12-13).