DALLAS — The headlining matchup of the night was Joel Embiid against former teammate and best friend Nerlens Noel, but by the end, I was left wanting to see more of Embiid vs. Dirk Nowitzki in the Sixers' 112-110 win Saturday night over the Mavericks.
Embiid started the game against Noel. He began out on the arc early on and quickly shifted to attacking the basket. Instead up pulling up from long range, he often caught the ball behind the three-point line and drove the hoop (23 points and nine rebounds on the night).
Embiid had a clear physical edge against Noel and used it in his favor. If you go by the official listings, Embiid has 40 pounds on Noel (260 to 220), but based on the fact Embiid estimates he weighs between 280 and 285 pounds, that differential probably is much larger.
The 20-year veteran Nowitzki did a solid job defending Embiid, especially during the Mavericks’ second-quarter push. During a one-minute span, Embiid missed a jumper while guarded by Nowitzki and then Nowitzki blocked another shot attempt.
This wasn’t a battle for the ages, but it was a matchup of two different ages of NBA basketball — a 39-year-old future Hall of Famer against a 23-year-old star on the rise. Embiid hit a trio of threes in the same game Nowitzki moved into 12th place on the NBA’s all-time three-point leader list. Watching the two compete had me thinking of all the matchups they could’ve had if Embiid hadn’t missed his first two seasons.
• This game was a contest of two teams looking for their second win of the season. The Sixers found themselves in familiar territory as they had to hold on to a lead late in the fourth. Would this game turn out different than Wednesday's one-point loss to the Rockets?
The Sixers led 109-107 with 20 seconds to play. Embiid hit a shot over Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes answered with a trey. Up 111-110 with 8.9 seconds on the clock, Jerryd Bayless drew a foul on Yogi Ferrell and only hit one of two free throws. That gave the Mavs a final chance. Ferrell sprinted to the basket where he was fouled by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot with 0.2 left.
When Ferrell missed the first free throw, both teams made defensive adjustments. Embiid, Dario Saric, Noel, and Salah Mejri subbed back in for the final shot. The Mavs failed to connect.
• Overheard from the stands: “I can’t believe they’re playing Ben Simmons as a point guard.” As if on cue, Simmons dunked the ball so hard the basket still was shaking during the Mavs' possession. He played aggressively in the paint, as Brett Brown wants him to focus on finishing at the rim, and tallied 23 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a block in 34 minutes.
• Dario Saric got the start with JJ Redick sidelined by lower back tightness. He has been struggling to hit his stride early in the season and looked to find a rhythm immediately. Saric pulled up for the first shot of the game, a three, and knocked it down. He scored all of his 12 points from long range (4 for 12 from the field, 4 for 7 from three).
• As for Redick, he’s not concerned about his back. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” Redick said. “I’ll be fine. It’s not a big deal.” He started feeling tightness Friday morning.
• Embiid continued to play physical after stating earlier this week, “I’m not made of glass.” And there were still tumbles. Embiid was tripped up by Wesley Matthews, fell out of bounds and came up holding his back. He shook it off and stayed in the game.
• Nik Stauskas received playing time in the absence of Redick. He scored his first points of the season (four) and picked off a steal. Stauskas put time in before the game working on his shot.
• Both teams could attribute a large chunk of their turnovers to one player. Embiid committed seven of the Sixers' 14, while Dennis Smith Jr. was charged with six of the Mavs' 18.
• A sneaky J.J. Barea drove by Embiid for a clear look at the basket and a layup. Reminder: Barea is listed at six feet tall.
• Mavericks fans dressed for the theme Saturday night.