76ers

Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns brawl while Sixers stay undefeated with win vs. Timberwolves

Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns brawl while Sixers stay undefeated with win vs. Timberwolves

BOX SCORE

The Sixers beat up on the Timberwolves on the scoreboard and on the floor.

The Joel Embiid-Karl-Anthony Towns brawl overshadowed the Sixers beating Minnesota, 117-95, Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

With the win, the Sixers are one of only two teams still unbeaten — the Spurs being the other.

They’re now 4-0 heading into a daunting West Coast swing beginning Saturday night in Portland.

Here are observations from a wild one Wednesday.

Ding! Ding!

Midway through the third quarter, Embiid and Towns got tangled up after a double team that caused a Towns turnover. The two began shoving as the play went down the other end and neither player backed down. It culminated with Towns taking a swing at Embiid and both teams converging on each other on the floor. By the end of it, Ben Simmons had Towns on the ground in a headlock.

Both Embiid and Towns were obviously ejected. On his way off the court, Embiid began waving his arms to the crowd and then began shadowboxing. The crowd ate it up.

Embiid had frustrated Towns all night. This is what Towns resorted to.

KAT vs. … Horford?

For those looking to see two of the game’s best big men go at it playing actual basketball, Brett Brown disappointed you … but it was a smart coaching move.

To Towns’ credit he’s become a much improved three-point shooter. He came into Wednesday taking 9.7 threes a game and was hitting a ridiculous 51.7 percent. With that in mind, Brown opted to use the more mobile Al Horford on Towns defensively. That allowed Joel Embiid to roam and wreak havoc defensively.

As has been the case in their recent matchups, Embiid was too much for Towns to handle in the post. There was one possession early where Towns actually had a nice on-ball block on Embiid, but for the most part, the Sixers’ All-Star center had his way. Embiid had 19 points (7 of 14) in 20 minutes before the ejection. 

Bully ball, indeed

The Sixers simply beat up the Timberwolves all night. They held a huge rebounding advantage (55-34) and just smothered them all night, holding Minnesota to just 40 percent from the field.

Part of that “bully ball” mentality Brett Brown has been preaching was seen by Tobias Harris. Harris had a tough night Monday in Atlanta, going just 1 of 9 from three and 5 of 16 overall. He mentioned postgame that he felt he need to attack more and get easier looks.

Harris was aggressive early, going after mismatches. He was able to punish some of the Timberwolves’ smaller guards by simply taking a few dribbles into the paint and shooting over them. He finished with 18 points (7 of 15) and nine rebounds.

And it wasn’t just Harris. It seemed like the Sixers were hunting mismatches all night. With their size and skill, there are sure to be a lot of those on a nightly basis. You’re also beginning to see the ball movement improve. If these guys develop chemistry, look out.

Up and down Simmons

Ben Simmons came out in attack mode as he often does, but it led to some early turnovers and he still isn’t looking to take open jumpers. There have been games where you can say the looks perhaps aren’t there, but not tonight.

He still showed what he can do defensively, getting this ridiculous help block on his old pal Robert Covington.

And the alley-oop finish wasn’t too shabby, either.

Simmons seemed like he was everywhere in the second half on both sides of the ball.

While he turned the ball over six times, he did fill the stat sheet with 16 points, seven assists, three steals and two blocks.

The pick-and-roll

The last few seasons, the Sixers have been victimized mercilessly by guards who do damage out of the pick-and-roll. Josh Richardson may be completely flipping that.

Not only has Richardson been so much better guarding opposing ones by fighting through screens and accumulating “rearview” blocks, but he’s also quite skilled offensively in the pick-and-roll. The biggest reason is probably his midrange game. The ability to come off an Embiid screen and nail a 12-15 footer opens up so much for both players.

Richardson was solid with 12 points (4 of 10, 2 of 4 from three).

Stop us if you’ve heard this before …

Rookie first-rounder Matisse Thybulle came into play leading the NBA in deflections. All he did Wednesday was rack up five steals and two blocks. Embiid compared Thybulle to his former teammate Covington. Pregame, Covington said he hadn’t had the chance to see Thybulle play yet but was flattered by the compliment.

It appeared nobody on the Timberwolves had seen Thybulle play, as the rookie yet again wreaked havoc with a bunch of deflections.

The offensive game is still a work in progress. He turned the ball over three times, but does appear to be getting better with his shot selection.

Bench mob

We make a lot of the Sixers’ starters — and for good reason — but on Wednesday they got some nice contributions from their bench.

With Shake Milton out, Furkan Korkmaz will get the minutes Milton took from him back. He took advantage of that opportunity Wednesday, finishing on a floater in a pick-and-roll, hitting three threes and then converting all three free throws after being fouled on an attempt. He had 17 points overall (3 of 8 from three).

James Ennis, who’s had a rough go so far this season and played just eight minutes Monday night in Atlanta, provided some of the things that made him such a valuable contributor during the playoffs. During one sequence, he had a nice help block on rookie Jarret Culver and then followed up a Simmons’ miss on the ensuing fast break with an athletic put-back. He was extremely active on the offensive glass, pulling down five offensive rebounds and 10 boards overall.

The new skipper

Phillies manager Joe Girardi was in the house Wednesday. No, he didn’t ring the bell – that honor went to Eagles rookie running back Miles Sanders – but he did catch up with our Serena Winters.

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Is Sixers' Tobias Harris an All-Star? He's making a compelling case

Is Sixers' Tobias Harris an All-Star? He's making a compelling case

Around this time last year, Tobias Harris was leading the surprising Clippers to a strong start. Harris was averaging over 20 points a game while flirting with the 50-40-90 shooting line. He was a borderline All-Star.

Fast forward a year later and the 27-year-old resembles that player more now than he ever has during his tenure as a Sixer.

Harris added another impressive performance to his recent stretch of strong play in the Sixers’ 116-109 win over the Pelicans Friday night (see observations).

It wasn’t the cleanest performance for the Sixers, but Harris’ team-high 31 points helped the Sixers stay a perfect 14-0 at the Wells Fargo Center and become the only undefeated team at home in the NBA.

Every night is an opportunity for me to go out there and do the best I can to help our team win,” Harris said. "I’d love to be an All-Star — it’s a goal of mine as a player. I felt last year I was an All-Star in the beginning of the season. It didn’t happen that way. But I think each and every night, especially with our team, we have a nice amount of talent and I want to play at my best every single night to help us win games.

It hadn’t been the smoothest transition for Harris since he arrived in a blockbuster trade from Los Angeles.

The Sixers had just traded for Jimmy Butler a couple months prior and they were still trying to figure out how to use the mercurial star alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. With Harris, it was another mouth to feed and another piece to fit into the puzzle.

On paper, it looked like a master stroke by GM Elton Brand. Harris had become an elite three-point shooter and a go-to scorer for the Clippers. But the chemistry didn’t develop as quickly as they would’ve liked as Embiid missed a significant amount of time down the stretch with tendinitis in his left knee.

Over the last 16 games — and with Butler in Miami — Harris seems to have found his niche with the Sixers.

“Yeah, there’s definitely a comfort level, just being able to get familiar with guys on this team on and off the floor,” Harris said. “I think as a team, the comfort level from each and every one of the guys that’s on the floor is continuing to increase. I’m able to find ways to play with Ben in different pockets of the game, and Joel, also. There’s been a lot of things that I’ve liked. I’m going into games understanding more of what we need to do, where I’m at, where I’m going to get this play, that play, things like that.”

While the All-Star game doesn’t generally account for defense, that is likely where Harris has seen his most improvement.

In Friday night’s game, he was tasked with guarding former Sixer JJ Redick. As we saw during Redick’s time in Philly, that’s not an easy ask. Redick runs a marathon every game, navigating around screens and running dribble handoffs. Harris did a decent enough job, as Redick went 6 of 15 on the night.

Improving on the defensive end was Harris’ biggest point of emphasis this offseason. He went to Brett Brown before the season began and let him know that he wouldn’t be the weak link amongst a starting five that had elite-level defenders.

The notion of putting Harris on someone like Redick wouldn’t even have crossed his head coach’s mind last season.

“Could Tobias have done something like that last year? I didn't see him like that,” Brown said. “Maybe he could have, but I never saw him or played him like that and this year I do. And I think that it's part of your question about, 'Oh, he's having a great year,' and you go right to offense. I think he's having a hell of a year defensively.”

Harris is 13th in the conference in scoring and fourth among forwards. His 2.6 win shares are second-most among any forward in the East.

Throw in the last 16 games, where Harris has averaged 22.1 points and shot over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three, and the case is making itself.

You don't need much more ammunition," Brown said. "I mean, he's been so steady and just responsible, reliable, go-to guy. I put him kind of in a bunch of different spots — middle pick-and-roll, iso, three balls, making his free throws, plays that back down pound, pound game and can jump over people, smaller people. He's having a hell of a year.

A good enough year to be in Chicago on Feb. 16 for the All-Star game?

There’s a strong case to be made.

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After unusual path, showman Norvel Pelle doesn't 'mess up' his moment

After unusual path, showman Norvel Pelle doesn't 'mess up' his moment

Norvel Pelle is not the typical NBA player.

A native of Antigua and Barbuda, Pelle was a top recruit out of high school — that part was normal. Then his path went sideways.

The wiry center never played college basketball because of eligibility issues. He traveled to Delaware, Italy, Taiwan and Lebanon before signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Sixers this summer and reaching Friday night, where Brett Brown turned to Pelle, in his third NBA regular-season game, as Joel Embiid’s main backup. 

“It’s just knowing that this opportunity is once in a lifetime,” Pelle told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I worked hard to get here and I can’t mess up. So, just getting the jitters out — obviously there are going to be jitters regardless, but just meditating and staying positive throughout the whole thing.”

In 12 minutes, Pelle was exceptionally active. He had six points, five rebounds, three blocks and a handful of altered shots. Every time Pelle has stepped on an NBA floor, it seems he has been immediately challenged by players on a mission to embarrass him. It hasn’t always gone his way. Julius Randle slammed one in over Pelle in his NBA debut in New York and Kevin Porter Jr. dunked on Pelle last Saturday and then flexed in his face despite the Cavs trailing by more than 40 points. 

A member of the G League’s All-Defensive First Team last season, Pelle sees no shame in taking the occasional ferocious dunk to the face. He’s a showman who enjoys playing to the crowd and feeds off its energy, and he never likes to show any fear. 

“Next play,” he said of his mentality. “Next play, next play, next play. At the end of the day, I’m a shot blocker, so if I get dunked on, I get dunked on — that’s my mentality. Next play.” 

After picking up two early fouls, Pelle waited out a series of pump fakes from former Sixer Jahlil Okafor to record his first block of the night, leading to a Ben Simmons dunk. He then denied a slam attempt by Brandon Ingram, creating a fast break that concluded with a James Ennis three. 

“You know every game he's going to bring you energy,” Simmons said following the Sixers' 116-109 win over the Pelicans (see observations). “He loves blocking shots, just risking his body for those blocks and protecting the rim. I love having him as a part of this team.”

Both Simmons and Brown said Pelle reminded them of Nerlens Noel. Like Noel, Pelle’s offensive game is not too extensive — it’s mostly screening and rolling, lob catching and energy. The defensive package, though, is intriguing.

“Just wanted to see what we have in him,” Brown said. “We had a little taste in New York. I wanted to see more. And I thought he was really good. I thought he was really good. He is sort of Nerlens like to me — rim protector, shot blocker, quick off the floor. I thought he was good.”

It’s uncertain whether Pelle could eventually have a consistent role with the Sixers. The man whose job he temporarily took Friday, Kyle O’Quinn, was signed this offseason to be insurance for Embiid. Al Horford should assume the primary backup center position once he returns from the left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness that’s sidelined him the past two games. 

Pelle’s two-way contract also means he can’t be with the Sixers for more than 45 days between the start of Blue Coats training camp and the end of the G League regular season, and he’s not eligible for the NBA playoffs.

Brown didn’t attribute Pelle’s five fouls vs. the Pelicans to being “undisciplined,” but the big man would likely need to refine his game a bit if he was tasked with a regular role.

Embiid wasn’t worried about any of that. 

“I told him if he got the minutes, he would probably lead the league in blocks,” he said. “He has a chance to become a fan favorite, so he should just keep doing whatever he’s doing.”

After all the empathic dunks and dramatic poses and swatted shots in foreign gyms, Pelle had time to reflect Friday night. 

“This was more than what I expected,” he said. “I’m appreciative of everything and everybody. I’m taking it day by day, moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity and just go out there and do what I have to do.”

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