sixers game notes

Sixers-Pistons thoughts: Joel Embiid vs. Andre Drummond takes center stage

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Sixers-Pistons thoughts: Joel Embiid vs. Andre Drummond takes center stage

Dust yourself off and try again.

That's all the Sixers (0-3) can do as they again go for their first win of the new season. They'll get a slight break this time when they face the Pistons (2-1) at new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app). It's the Sixers' first opponent in 2017-18 that didn't reach the playoffs a season ago.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

• After resting for the second game of a back-to-back set in Saturday's 128-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors, Joel Embiid will return to the Sixers' starting lineup on Monday night.

Embiid is still finding his way offensively to start 2017-18. He is averaging 14.5 points through two games but shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and he's missed all 10 of his three-point attempts.

Those outside shots should start to dwindle in the big man's first-ever meeting with Andre Drummond and the Pistons after Embiid made it clear that he wants more touches in the post.

• We'll see if Embiid's camping out in the paint can help the Sixers even out their foul disparity.

Through three games, the Sixers are ninth in personal fouls drawn (24.3). However, they have committed a league-high 28.0 fouls per game.

That has led to opponents attempting 35.7 and making 27.7 free throws per game against the Sixers, both NBA highs.

Officials definitely have tighter whistles when a new season begins as they want to drive home points of emphasis from offseason rule changes and discussions. Still, this is a problem the Sixers need to end quickly if they want to get in the win column.

• The Pistons have been strong on the offensive end so far, scoring over 100 points in each game.

While the entire team deserves credit with five players averaging in double figures, Tobias Harris is leading the pack with some impressive scoring marks.

Harris has put up 24.3 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting from the field and an insane 47.1 percent from beyond the arc.

While Embiid's matchup with Drummond will likely take top billing heading into this contest, the real heavyweight battle could end up being between Harris and defensive ace Robert Covington.

• The Sixers managed one win in three contests against the Pistons last season. The teams split the two matchups at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which has now been replaced by the $862.9 million Little Caesars Arena. The Sixers have the opportunity to become the NBA's first visiting team to notch a win in the new arena.

Richaun Holmes (wrist) is out for the Sixers.

Dwight Buycks (hip) and Reggie Bullock (suspension) are out for the Pistons.

Sixers-Wizards thoughts: Finally, a season opener with meaning

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NBCSP

Sixers-Wizards thoughts: Finally, a season opener with meaning

Sixers vs. Wizards
7 p.m. on ESPN
Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m., Postgame Live on NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app

This is different.

For the first time in a handful of years, the Sixers are set to tip off an NBA regular season with legitimate expectations and hope (see Fearless Forecast).

That all gets started in our nation’s capital as the Sixers open up the 2017-18 campaign against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• You know the numbers by now: 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game.

Joel Embiid was an absolute force during his rookie season. After sitting out two years with foot injuries, Embiid showed the entire league just how dominant he can be when healthy. However, that lasted only 31 games before the big man suffered a torn meniscus.

That brings us back to the final section in that stat line: minutes. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction to start the season, a decision the center made clear that he does not support (see story). With the team eyeing around 16 minutes on opening night, things can get tricky. If he has it rolling early, do the Sixers still take him out at his designated time? Will they go light on playing time early to save him for down the stretch?

With the Sixers finally focused on actually winning some games and not solely on building for the future, it will be interesting to see how Brett Brown handles Embiid’s time on the floor.

• Time for take two on Ben Simmons' rookie season. Much like recent Sixers before him, Simmons sat out what would have been his entire rookie year after fracturing his foot in training camp.

While Simmons likely could have returned at some point in 2016-17, Rookie of the Year campaigns aren’t built on portions of seasons (just ask Embiid). And make no mistake about it, the Sixers’ new starting point guard has his sights set on bringing home the hardware.

Leading a team on the rise with his versatile skill set suggests Simmons will be among the frontrunners for the award. He put up 11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game during the preseason. 

But at some point, he will have to give teams a reason to respect his shooting ability from outside the paint. Simmons was 0 for 3 from three-point range and 9 for 22 from the free throw line during preseason action.

• Speaking of rookies, when is the last time the No. 1 overall pick has come into his first season as under the radar as Markelle Fultz?

Since being selected atop June’s NBA draft, it’s been an up-and-down transition for Fultz. The Washington product showed his scoring prowess in summer league play before going down with an ankle injury. Then a shoulder injury suffered during camp caused him to alter his shooting stroke. Finally, an ailing knee forced him to the sideline for the rest of preseason.

Now Fultz will come off the bench with the second unit. It should be a better situation for him as he can be more of a focal point and to handle the ball more often without sharing the floor with Simmons. However, if the 19-year-old continues down a rocky path to start, will he be able to handle the criticism?

• Outside of the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson pairing, there is always debate about which team owns the best backcourt duo. Is it Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan? What about Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Portland?

Scratch all of that. Besides the “Splash Brothers” in the Bay, my money is on the Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The guards simply get better each season, with 2016-17 being their best yet. Wall and Beal combined to average 46.2 points (23.1 apiece), 13.8 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 steals.

They are simply electric. And if matchups shake out as planned, veterans Jerryd Bayless and JJ Redick could be in for a long night.

• If anyone is looking forward to tipping off a new season, it has to be Brett Brown. The Sixers' head coach has endured one of the most extensive rebuilds in professional sports history and the anguish that goes along with such a plan.

Despite a 75-253 record over his first four seasons, Brown was able to not only keep the Sixers together but also still get them to compete to their best ability on a nightly basis.

And while that is certainly to be commended, things have flipped in a hurry for the head man. Brown’s objective now is to win and a fast start would go a long way toward proving he is really the man to transition the Sixers to the next phase of their rebuild. However, with 16 of the team’s first 21 games against opponents that reached the playoffs last season, it will be far from easy.

• The Sixers took two of the three matchups against the Wizards last season to win the season series. Jahlil Okafor actually led the way with an average of 18.7 points against the Wiz.

Sixers-Pacers 5 things: Chance to spoil Indiana's playoff party

Sixers-Pacers 5 things: Chance to spoil Indiana's playoff party

Sixers (28-52) vs. Pacers (40-40)
7 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Two more games, ladies and gentlemen. 

The Sixers' final home game of the season is tonight against the playoff-hopeful Indiana Pacers, currently the Eastern Conference's 7-seed.

Let's take a look inside the matchup:

1. Lottery watch
OK, let's be honest, if you're reading this, you're probably most interested in the ping-pong balls, right? 

The results have been good to the Sixers lately in that regard. They've lost six in a row, the Kings have lost two in a row and the Lakers have won four straight.

The Sixers and Magic are currently tied for the NBA's fourth-worst record. If they finish tied, the number of ping-pong ball combinations for the 4-spot and 5-spot get added together and split in half. However, if neither tied team makes it into the top-3, a coin flip determines who gets the better pick (i.e. who would pick fourth, who would pick fifth).

The Lakers are 25-55, which is 1 1/2 games better than the Suns (24-57). If the Suns lose their final game tomorrow night against the Kings, they clinch the second-worst record. If they win and the Lakers lose their final two, they'd tie.

The Kings, Timberwolves and Knicks are also worth watching. New York is 30-51, while Minnesota and Sacramento are tied at 31-49. The Sixers want the Kings to finish worse than those other two teams to enhance their own draft odds because of the pick swap potential.

2. Pacers pushing for postseason
I still don't understand how the Pacers are not better than .500. They have so many good players -- two difference-makers in Paul George and Myles Turner, a solid point guard in Jeff Teague, a solid forward in Thaddeus Young, one of the game's best three-point shooters in C.J. Miles and a developing bench piece in Glenn Robinson III. 

And yet they're 40-40.

The Pacers have the inside track to clinching one of the East's final two spots. They are a game better than the Bulls and Heat, who are each 39-41. 

Indiana has the Sixers and Hawks left on their schedule. The Bulls have the lowly Magic and Nets. The Heat have the Cavaliers and Wizards.

The Pacers can clinch a postseason berth tonight if they beat the Sixers and either the Heat or Bulls lose. So you better believe Nate McMillan's team will be going all-out.

ESPN's Basketball Power Index gives the Bulls an 86.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, the Pacers an 80.1 percent chance and the Heat a 33.3 percent chance.

3. The best of what's left
The badly undermanned Sixers got solid contributions in Saturday's loss to the Bucks from three players in particular: Richaun Holmes, T.J. McConnell and Dario Saric.

Holmes had 17 points, 10 rebounds and made 3 of 4 threes.

McConnell had 10 points, 10 assists and three steals.

Saric, on a 24-minute limit, had 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.

The number that sticks out the most in all of that is Holmes' three-point shooting. He's 8 for 15 from three in his last five games and is shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc for the season. That's a better-than-league-average number and it's especially impressive from a 6-foot-10 center. That kind of shooting will allow Holmes to be a solid backup center moving forward if he can keep it up.

4. PG County
Paul George probably won't make any of the three All-NBA teams because there are so many elite forwards (LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo), but he'd be the next man up.

George has averaged a career-high 23.5 points this season with 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals. He's shot 45.8 percent from the field, 39.2 percent from three and 89.7 percent from the line.

Since the All-Star break, when Indiana kept him rather than trade him to a team like Boston, his numbers are even better: 26.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 48.3 percent from the field, 40.7 percent from three.

George's worst game in the last two weeks was actually against the Sixers in Indiana's 13-point win on March 26. He scored 21 points on 7 of 17 shooting (1 for 7 from three). 

But tonight could be a different story with Robert Covington out.

5. Injuries
The usuals are out for the Sixers -- obviously Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Jerryd Bayless, along with Covington, Jahlil Okafor and Sergio Rodriguez.

For Indiana, only Robinson III is out.