76ers

Sixers shrug off Nicolas Batum's guarantee to beat Hornets

Sixers shrug off Nicolas Batum's guarantee to beat Hornets

BOX SCORE

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Sixers are over it.

They are tired of being viewed as a so-called “easy win” or on the receiving end of victory proclamations.

When Nicolas Batum guaranteed a victory in Monday’s game in Charlotte, the Sixers had enough.

“You can’t say that with us,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re not the team that we used to be in the past few years.”

On Saturday, Batum vowed to end the Hornets’ recent struggles at the Sixers’ expense. The Hornets had lost nine of their last 10 games and were tumbling down the standings. The Sixers, Batum decided, would be their next ‘W.’ 

"We're going to win this game on Monday,” Batum said to the Charlotte Observer. “We will."

Former Hornet Gerald Henderson caught wind of this statement. He made sure his teammates were aware of Batum’s comments before the game. The Sixers responded with a 105-99 win at the Spectrum Center, their first win in Charlotte since Nov. 30, 2012 (see Instant Replay)

“It’s not the first guarantee that’s ever been issued, but it’s something I think some guys on our team would look at and use in the game for sure,” Henderson said. 

The Sixers, playing without Joel Embiid for the 10th straight game, rallied for a collaborative team win. Dario Saric led the Sixers with 18 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Robert Covington followed right behind with 17 points. Henderson, Noel, T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas also scored in double digits while Ersan Ilyasova pulled down 10 rebounds (see featured highlight).

“I know he has a lot of confidence in his team and whatnot but — I’m not calling anyone out — but I think it’s a little absurd to guarantee a win,” McConnell said. “And if you do, I think you should just back it up. I’m not taking shots at anyone by any means, but it’s disrespectful towards our team and I thought we responded well today.”

Batum scored 16 points with one board and four assists. Following the Hornets’ loss, he stood by his comments and cited the context of his guarantee. 

“I don’t know why people are getting mad about it,” Batum said. “The question was like, ‘Are you going to win the next game?’ I wasn’t going to say we were going to lose the next game.”

When asked if he had any regrets about the situation, he replied, "No, why should I regret? I have done it a couple times this season."

His previous words, regardless of how they came about, resonated with the Sixers. After losing 199 games in the last three seasons, they are finally moving toward a new phase with direction and clearer vision of what their future could look like. When an opponent points to them as a way out of a slump, they don’t take it lightly. 

“[It was] more than motivation,” Noel said. “It definitely adds to the chip on all these guys’ shoulders to come out here and show what we’re capable of. I think we have throughout the season. I’m proud of these guys for being able to come out and step up and play with a little more heart, play with a little more passion, and give it to them.”

As for Henderson, it was mission accomplished for the eighth-year player the Sixers signed to add leadership to the locker room. 

“We like to just worry about us and what we’re doing,” Henderson said. “But stuff like that happens. It’s worth a look.”

Back-to-backs still not part of the plan for Joel Embiid … just yet

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USA Today Images

Back-to-backs still not part of the plan for Joel Embiid … just yet

Joel Embiid does not expect to play in the Sixers’ first back-to-back Saturday. 

“I’m not playing tomorrow. No back-to-backs yet,” he said before Friday’s game. “I don’t think so. I’ve got to check on that again. But there’s a plan in place and that’s what I’m going to follow.”

The Sixers faced the Celtics on Friday in their home opener and then will travel to Toronto Saturday night to take on the Raptors. It is their first of 14 pairs of back-to-back matchups this season. He projects he will eventually be cleared for them. 

“This year, there’s not a lot of back-to-backs,” Embiid said. “I feel like I’ll miss some but I’m not sure when. But I’ll definitely play some back-to-backs this year.”

Embiid has yet to be cleared for consecutive games in his injury-hampered career. It is important for him for reach that checkmark.

“I just want to feel like an NBA player,” Embiid said. 

Sitting out Saturday will not bump up his minutes Friday, Embiid said. He played 26:57 in the season opener Wednesday and is eyeing somewhere around 20 against the Celtics. Brett Brown is managing his playing time within a range, not a specific restriction like last season. 

The key to being cleared for more minutes and back-to-backs? Staying away from injuries. 

“I’ve got to balance it out because I’m ultra-competitive so I want to get out there, jump in the stands, dive for every loose ball,” Embiid said. “But at the same time, I’ve to find a balance in between staying healthy and doing all that.”

Sixers-Celtics thoughts: Blockbuster trade subjects highlight home opener

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USA Today Images/NBCSP

Sixers-Celtics thoughts: Blockbuster trade subjects highlight home opener

Sixers (0-1) vs. Celtics (0-2)
7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app. Pregame Live at 6. 

The Sixers (0-1) lost their season opener to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday in a fashion that has become quite familiar in recent years.

The Sixers stood toe-to-toe with the Wiz for most of the night, fell behind late, and then made a run in the final minutes only to come up short in a 120-115 defeat.

While an admirable effort against one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams, JJ Redick made it clear that moral victories are no longer acceptable (see story).

Now the Sixers are ready to host the Boston Celtics in front of what is expected to be a raucous crowd for their home opener at the Wells Fargo Center (see story).

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• What was all that chatter about a minutes restriction? Joel Embiid went well over what was expected to be his allotted time limit in the season opener when he played 26:57.

Afterward, both Embiid and Sixers head coach Brett Brown explained that this season, the center’s minutes will be within more of a “range” and follow a “plan.” Essentially, how much the big man plays will depend on his stamina and the flow of the game.

Embiid managed 18 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in the opener. However, he admitted there were areas that need improvement (he did commit four turnovers and was late on some defensive rotations).

• You had to like what you saw from Ben Simmons against the Wizards. He scored 18 points on 7 of 15 shooting to go along with 10 boards, five assists, two steals, one block and a single turnover.

More importantly, the point guard played with poise and conviction as he set up the Sixers’ offense.

Sixers fans might not like the fact that several of the team’s young players have missed what would have been their rookie seasons. However, there is something to be said about the advancement of a guy that has been around an NBA team for an entire year before playing a game.

• Before we get any further, let’s hope for a speedy and healthy recovery for Gordon Hayward.

By now you know the All-Star forward suffered a gruesome leg injury just minutes into his Celtics' debut.

The C’s will certainly miss his production and leadership this season.

• With Hayward now sidelined, there has been even more attention focused on Kyrie Irving’s transition to the Celtics. 

The star point guard started with a much-hyped return to face his former Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving played well in that one with a double-double of 22 points and 10 assists, but he couldn’t connect on a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.

Irving followed that effort up with a dud in a loss to the Bucks. He scored 17 points on a rough 7 of 25 shooting, in addition to just three assists and three turnovers.

The Sixers can expect the scoring machine to try and regain his offensive rhythm right from the opening tip.

• Hey, remember when the Sixers and Celtics made a blockbuster trade involving multiple first-round picks and it was all anyone could talk about? Yeah, seems like forever ago now.

Just before June’s draft, the Sixers sent the No. 3 pick and a future first-rounder to the Celtics in exchange for the No. 1 selection. The Sixers took that opportunity to select Markelle Fultz while Boston snagged Jayson Tatum, and the rest is history.

Well, much-scrutinized history. The two rookies will forever be linked and their production compared.

After an injury-filled offseason and camp, Fultz acquitted himself well in his debut. He shot 5 for 9 from the field for 10 points with three rebounds, an assist and a highlight block. Of course, there were also those awkward looking free throws (see story).

On the other side, Tatum has had it about as rough as possible in his first pair of NBA games when it comes to matchups. He started off with LeBron James in the Celtics’ opener before coming back the next night and facing Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

That hasn’t been the best experience defensively, as both James and Antetokounmpo went off. But few men on the planet can handle those players.

Tatum has been productive in his first two games, particularly on the backboard. He’s gobbled up an impressive 22 rebounds to pair with 22 points in two games.

With Fultz playing limited minutes off the bench, it would appear Tatum has the upper hand when it comes to opportunity. But we’ll see what the No. 1 pick has in store for his first regular-season game in front of the home fans.

• Robert Covington made sure that you won’t forget about him this season.

In search of a contract extension, Covington opened the 2017-18 season with a 29-point outburst against the Wizards that included seven threes. 

We’ll see what he can do for an encore.

• The Sixers took one of the four matchups last season with the top-seeded Celtics. Their lone win came in the final meeting, a 105-99 victory on March 19. Dario Saric led the way in that one with 23 points.