76ers

Sixers-Trail Blazers observations: Smothering defense in win

Sixers-Trail Blazers observations: Smothering defense in win

BOX SCORE

Any time the Trail Blazers are on the schedule, the main objective is limiting the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Sixers held off one, which was enough, in their 101-81 win over the Trail Blazers.

With the victory, the Sixers improved to 10-7 this season and went three games above .500 for the first time since Brett Brown guided the team to a 3-0 start in his first year at the helm. 

• Joel Embiid battled a true center in the 7-foot, 275-pound Jusuf Nurkic. He came up with his eighth double-double of the season: 28 points (11 for 19 from the field), 12 rebounds, and two blocks. Embiid did not get to the free throw line after the first quarter. 

• Lillard scored an unsurprising 30 points, but McCollum netted just five. The pair averaged a combined 47 points heading into the game. McCollum was scoreless in the first half and shot 1 for 14 from the field overall. 

• Ben Simmons finished four seconds shy of a new-career high in playing time. He played 39:03 and neared a triple-double with 16 points (8 for 20 from the field), eight rebounds and nine dimes. Simmons attempted only two free throws. 

• The Sixers took the Blazers out of the game from the start. They ran off with a 16-0 lead and held the Blazers scoreless (0 for 13) for the first seven minutes. (Count the misses here.) The Sixers led 26-14 after one. 

• Lillard scored 12 points in the second quarter to try to get the Blazers back into the game. The Sixers edged them out with balanced scoring among the starters. Even though the Sixers committed 10 turnovers and shot 33.3 percent from three in the first half, their early run was enough to give them a 50-37 lead at halftime. 

• Embiid scored eight points in the third to nearly neutralize Lillard’s nine. The Sixers and Blazers scored 20 points apiece in the quarter. Neither team shot the ball well from three, combining to go 1 for 11. 

• The Blazers’ 81 points were a season low by a Sixers’ opponent and the Trail Blazers’ season-low scoring total. 

• Embiid swatted a Lillard shot attempt all the way back to Portland late in the third. OK, so the ball obviously didn’t go that far, but it was a monster block nonetheless that got me thinking about this moment at shootaround in San Francisco.

• Amir Johnson continued to attack the glass. This time, he balanced his rebounding efforts with five offensive and six defensive boards in 18 minutes off the bench. 

• “Trust the process” took a seat to a new chant late in the game. Fans chanted “We want Okafor” with less than a minute to play and the Sixers up 22. Jahlil Okafor did not get in the game. Furkan Korkmaz, though, played the final 2:09. 

• The Sixers’ turnover problem kept at bay the Trail Blazers’ poor shooting. The Sixers committed 18 turnovers but the Blazers, who shot 33.7 percent from the field, only translated that into 18 points. 

• Injury update: Justin Anderson (left leg), Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Nik Stauskas (right ankle) were sidelined for the Sixers. Al-Farouq Aminu (right ankle) was out for Portland. 

• The rosters were filled with former players on either side. The Sixers drafted Turner (2010) and Maurice Harkless (2012). Jerryd Bayless played for the Trail Blazers his first two seasons (2008-10). 

• Speaking of Turner, his days in Philadelphia are long gone but not forgotten. Turner didn’t live up to the expectations of his draft value and so, years later, this happened:

• Rapper Lil Uzi Vert was at the game again.

Sixers' Joel Embiid healthy but still feels sting of loss to Celtics

Sixers' Joel Embiid healthy but still feels sting of loss to Celtics

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid was his usual colorful self during Sixers media day Friday.

The charismatic Cameroonian, sporting a svelter figure, joked about dunking on his new GM (see video) and talked about his goals for this season.

The biggest thing for Embiid: he’s finally healthy and feeling good going into camp.

“I worked on everything,” Embiid said at the team’s practice facility. “This whole summer was more about working on my body and I feel like I’m a complete player. It was always about just perfecting everything because I’m not perfect. I still make a lot of mistakes and I’m still kind of young in basketball.”

While Embiid’s body is healthy, he still feels the sting of last season’s playoff loss to the Celtics. The issues that plagued Embiid during the regular season reared their ugly head. His tendency to force things created turnovers for Boston and his fitness level wasn’t high enough for a physical playoff series.

A slimmed down and more toned Embiid took the podium Friday, supremely confident that he had helped remedy some of his issues with the help of training guru Drew Hanlen. 

“I watched every game from this past season — playoffs included — probably twice,” Embiid said. “Especially that last game, I watched a lot. That game, the layup that I missed to tie the game … I watched it all and it was painful, but I have one goal in mind. Like I said, I was excited to go into the summer finally healthy and we’re going to see what happens this year.”

Embiid was active this summer. From dunking on random dudes on blacktops around the city to participating in the NBA Africa Game to trying to (unsuccessfully) win a fan $25K at a Drake concert, the All-Star center never stopped.

But all along, his focus was on basketball and taking his game to the next level. Sure, he was disappointed the Sixers couldn’t land LeBron James or another star-caliber player, but it’s just served as motivation. 

Embiid has already stated on more than one occasion that he expects to be an MVP candidate. With the goals he has set out for the team, he’ll need to be one.

“An appearance in the NBA Finals and winning it all,” Embiid said when asked of aspirations this season. “I feel like we’ve got the talent to make it happen. Last year was unfortunate, but it’s behind us. I think this year we’ll be much better and we added a couple pieces. It’s going to be exciting.”

Embiid’s huge personality is only outdone by his dominance on the court. He’s always talked a big game, even when he’s been sidelined with injuries. But the big man has always backed it up.

It’s easy to see why fans have fallen in love with Embiid and why he’s returned that admiration. From the time he was drafted out of Kansas and his two subsequent missed seasons because of injury, this fan base has, by and large, had his back.

“I always feel like I have a good connection with the fans,” Embiid said. “It’s not just on the court, it’s also off the court. I appreciate them, definitely, and I think they appreciate me a lot, too, so we both have a mutual respect. I love it. 

“I envisioned myself being in this situation when I got to Philly. That’s the place I want to be for the rest of my career. I’m excited. We’ve got a great connection. I’ve got a lot of love for the city and a great connection with the Sixers.”

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Confident Markelle Fultz has his swagger back

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Confident Markelle Fultz has his swagger back

This was a different person.

Markelle Fultz appeared to be a new man when he sat down at the podium Friday for Sixers media day, and not simply because he’s in better shape and sporting some fresh cornrows.

Fultz exuded confidence from the moment he stepped into the room, which was a far cry from the player that was unsure of himself during a much-scrutinized rookie season.

What a difference a few months can make.

“Everybody knows what happened last year, so this summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back. It was a very productive summer,” Fultz said. “I’m happy with the work I put in with Drew (Hanlen). We put up a lot of shots, a lot of hours in the gym. I’m happy with where I’m at right now going into training camp.”

Happiness was a fleeting feeling for Fultz a season ago. 

Injuries started accumulating right away for the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. Fultz sprained his left ankle during summer league and had right knee soreness during the preseason.

Then came the elephant in the room with the mysterious shoulder issue that forced the guard into that funky shooting motion and a 68-game absence. 

While Hanlen claimed it was actually “the yips,” Fultz, showing just how much more confident he is in himself, swatted down that assertion.

“I think it was a mis-term in words, but me and Drew have talked,” he said. “What happened last year was an injury. Let me get that straight. It was an injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through the certain paths that I needed to, to shoot the ball. 

“Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course, you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal.”

Unfortunately for Fultz, what also became normal were the critics. And he’s heard them all.

Broken jumper? Yep.

Inside of his own head? Uh huh.

Bust? You bet.

That was part of the motivation behind Fultz linking up with respected trainer Hanlen and putting in three-workout days that included hundreds of jumpers during each session.

Now looking back on all of the opinions about his game, Fultz actually considers it a positive. Just chalk it as fuel on the fire.

“The adversity I went through last year, I don’t think any 19-year-old ever went through what I went through last year,” he said.

“I normally work hard. I’m a hard worker, but I had a lot of motivation going into this summer. Last year I had an injury that stopped me from being able to be myself 100 percent. So this summer I was really focused on just working hard to get my shot back to how I would like it. Confidence-wise, I’m very confident going in. I’m very excited for this season.”

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