Devin Booker

Sixers close out 2017 calendar year in fashion

Sixers close out 2017 calendar year in fashion

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX — The Sixers jumped on the third quarter roller coaster Sunday night in Phoenix, and held on for a 123-110 win over the Suns, a score that doesn't reflect how close the second half was.

An 18-point lead dwindled away over 10 minutes in the third until the Sixers were hanging on to a three-point advantage heading into the fourth.

Like the Sixers did to the Nuggets the night before, the Suns staged a comeback with a 28-10 run in the third to change the tone of the game and turn the fourth into a battle.

The Sixers held the Suns scoreless in the final 1:31 to prevail with their second win of this three-game road trip. With this victory, the Sixers won back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 20-25. 

• Joel Embiid took a hard fall late in the third and came up grabbing his right hand. He stayed in the game, tallying 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists on the night. Embiid said his hand is not broken and thinks it is a strain (see story).

• The Suns were active fouling Ben Simmons in the fourth. He shot 5 of 9 from the line in the final quarter. Simmons posted 21 points, nine rebounds, six dimes, three steals and three blocks.

"I know coach needs me to be more aggressive offensively, so I definitely had to do that this game," he said. 

• Dario Saric led the Sixers with another strong offensive outing, with 27 points off 4 for 5 three-point shooting. He is averaging 24.0 points in his last three games.

"I need to stay focused and believing in myself, believing in what I am doing on the court," Saric said. "The last couple of games I've had some good games." 

JJ Redick added 22 points.

• Devin Booker, who dominated the Sixers with 46 points in their previous game, still did damage. He scored 32 points after only four in the first half. While the focus is on Booker, TJ Warren posed problems with 28 points (11 in the first quarter).

"It had to be a team effort," Brett Brown said of defending Booker. "I think we did a really good job. He's really hard to guard. If you weren't coaching against him, he's somebody you would pay to go see. He's got a real balance and a real ability to put points on the board."

• Yet again, turnovers came into play. The Sixers committed seven of their 21 in the third.

• Tempo was a focal point of this game. Players and coach alike could be heard from the court yelling to push the ball and get back on defense.

• In a matchup reminiscent of practices of the past, T.J. McConnell and Isaiah Canaan were matched up at point guard. All that was missing was a guest appearance by JaKarr Sampson. The Suns signed Canaan in mid-December as a backup.

• Markelle Fultz continued on with the team to Phoenix. He was working with coaches on individuals drills before the game.

• There was a strong cheering section for former University of Arizona players Jerryd Bayless and McConnell. Bayless saw a bump in minutes (25) after Saturday’s 14-point performance.

• Justin Anderson (shin splints) was inactive for the second straight game.

NBA Notes: Nerlens Noel to have thumb surgery, miss several weeks

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NBA Notes: Nerlens Noel to have thumb surgery, miss several weeks

BOSTON -- Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle says forward Nerlens Noel will have surgery for a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Carlisle made the announcement Wednesday before the Mavericks game with the Boston Celtics.

Noel will undergo the procedure in Cleveland later this week. Carlisle said he is then expected to be out for several weeks, but couldn't offer a specific timetable for his return.

Noel hasn't played since Nov. 22. He's appeared in 18 games with six starts this season, averaging 4.0 points and 4.1 rebounds.

Cavaliers: Thomas plays 4-on-4 as he nears return
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Cavaliers All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas played 4-on-4 on Wednesday, a significant step in his recovery from a hip injury.

Thomas, who has yet to make his debut with Cleveland, scrimmaged along with injured forward Tristan Thompson, rookies Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic, and members of the coaching staff.

With coach Tyronn Lue and members of the team's front office watching intently from behind the basket, Thomas moved freely and didn't appear to have any restrictions during the half-court workout that took place following the team's morning shootaround.

Lue reported that Thomas "looked good" and absorbed some contact. It was the second straight day Thomas scrimmaged.

However, Lue did not provide any update on when Thomas might play in a game. Lue planned to check with the team's medical staff to find out the next step in Thomas' recovery program, which the 28-year-old has described as his "slow grind" (see full story).

Suns: Booker (groin) expected to miss 2-3 weeks
PHOENIX -- Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker is expected to be sidelined two to three weeks because of a groin injury.

The Suns said Wednesday that Booker strained his left adductor late in a 126-113 loss in Toronto on Tuesday night and would have an MRI. Booker froze in place near midcourt, and trainers came out to examine him before two teammates awkwardly carried him off the floor.

Booker had 19 points against the Raptors after scoring a season-high 46 points Monday night in a victory in Philadelphia.

The 21-year-old Booker is 10th in the NBA in scoring with a 24.3 average. In 25 games, he's also averaging 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He had a career-high 70 last season at Boston.

Coming off a six-game trip, the Suns return to play Thursday night against Washington.

Hornets: Coach Clifford out indefinitely with ‘health issue’
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- Hornets coach Steve Clifford will be away from the team for an undetermined period of time to deal with a "health issue."

The team made the announcement Wednesday in a release.

The 56-year-old Clifford missed Monday night's game against Orlando because he was not feeling well. Associate head coach Stephen Silas filled in for Clifford against the Magic.

Clifford has battled heart problems in the past, but a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press the issue was not a heart-related. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team has not released details of Clifford's health issue.

The team said there is no timetable for Clifford's return and that officials would have no further comment.

Silas will continue to coach the team with Clifford out. The Hornets host Golden State Wednesday night.

"I just want to send him my best wishes," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Obviously I have been through some issues, and I don't know what his health issues are, but it's no fun. I'm wishing him well and I hope he gets back on the sideline soon. But more importantly I hope that he's healthy" (see full story).

Nets: Team keeping focus on Thunder in Mexico
MEXICO CITY -- No earthquakes or volcanos are on the back of the mind of the Brooklyn Nets players and coaches ahead of their regular-season game Thursday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Mexico City. At least publicly.

The game will be the 25th in NBA history South of the Border, the most for any country besides the United States and Canada. It also is the first since a 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19 killed over 300 people, most of them in the nation's capital.

"We talked about it and we talked about precautions with the NBA security on what we should do it happens", Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "We are affected by it because it was big news in the U.S. and we saw the pain and suffering and sympathize with the victims. It was very moving to see those images, I can't imagine going through something like that".

The quake was the deadliest in Mexico since the one on 1985 on the same date killed thousands and it came less than two weeks after another powerful quake caused 90 deaths in the country's south.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick expressed relief to leave the country after a regular-season game against the Oakland Raiders played in at Azteca stadium.

"I think we're fortunate there was no volcano eruptions or earthquakes, or anything else while we were down there. You have two NFL franchises in an area that I don't know how stable the geological plates that were below us, but nothing happened, so that was good", Belichick said (see full story).

Sixers provide lackluster effort in letdown loss at home to Suns

Sixers provide lackluster effort in letdown loss at home to Suns

BOX SCORE

Remember those games in recent years when teams simply didn’t bring it against the struggling Sixers?

That’s how the Sixers looked Monday in their 115-101 loss to the Suns (see observations)

“I think we lost that game from the jump ball,” Joel Embiid said. “I think we took them lightly and we paid for it.” 

The Suns, on paper, looked like they could be an easy victory for the Sixers. They entered the game well below .500 (8-16), ranked last in points allowed (115.8) and were tied for the third-highest opponent three-point shooting percentage (47.1). 

Instead, the Suns held the Sixers to nearly 15 points below that average and limited them to 23.3 percent (7 for 30) from three. The Sixers also gave up 22 points off 14 turnovers that included five giveaways in the first quarter alone. 

“We didn’t play our best game,” said Ben Simmons, who pushed through flu-like symptoms to record 20 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals. “Didn’t respect them enough. We didn’t come in with the energy we needed to.”

The performance was a contrast to the Sixers’ solid win over the Pistons on Saturday, and really how tough they’ve been playing this season. Brett Brown said the Sixers lacked “a sting” and described their defense as “flat” as they dropped to 13-10. 

“We’re all disappointed,” JJ Redick said. “That’s not good enough. That’s not our team. That’s not who we’ve been. I can’t give you a reason why, whether it’s we overlooked them or I don’t know. I don’t know. That was not our team.” 

The Sixers had no answer for Devin Booker as he scored a season-high 46 points in less than 40 minutes (see highlights). Booker actually started out a slow 2 for 11 in the first quarter, but the Sixers didn’t take advantage of his early struggles. They were tied after the first quarter and, after Booker scored 10 in the second, trailed by 13 at halftime. 

Booker went on to score 19 points in just eight minutes in the fourth as the Suns fended off a Sixers’ comeback attempt. 

“You have to guard him is what you have to do,” Brown said. “And we didn’t.” 

The Sixers are trying to compile a playoff-qualifying record this season. Each game, whether it is against the defending champion Warriors or a seemingly lottery-bound team like the Suns, needs to be approached with the same level of attention and energy. That wasn’t the case on Monday. 

“A game like this is without a doubt a missed opportunity,” Brown said. “You only have so many times that you’re able to poke yourself in the eye. Tonight was one of those for us here at home. We walk out of this gym not feeling great at all about very much of what we did tonight.”

The Sixers will have to bring a higher level of intensity Thursday when they host another young team, the Lakers. They could get some of that "sting" back if T.J. McConnell (sprained AC joint, left shoulder) is cleared to play. The backup point guard is hopeful he will be available but isn't going to force a return if he is limited.