Nets will have hands full with 76ers’ Embiid, Noel
NEW YORK — The Philadelphia 76ers will not be throwing any major parties when they get their 10th win of the season. When it occurs, it will be noted as representing progress in the rebuilding or Joel Embiid will tweet: “Trust the Process”.
The second chance to match last year’s win total occurs Sunday afternoon when the 76ers visit the Brooklyn Nets.
Through 34 games, the 76ers (9-25) have six more wins than last season and four more than 2014-15, which ended with 18 wins. Embiid sat in those seasons due to foot injuries but is a significant reason for Philadelphia’s slight improvement this season.
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The 76ers began this season with 18 losses in their first 22 games. Philadelphia stopped an eight-game losing streak with an 11-point win over the New Orleans Pelicans Dec. 8 and it started a stretch of five wins in 13 games.
One of those wins was Embiid’s career-high 33-point performance in a 108-107 home win over the Nets on Dec. 18. Since Dec. 8, Embiid is averaging 18.6 points and 6.3 rebounds and six of his 13 20-point games are in this stretch.
In Friday’s 110-106 loss at Boston, Embiid scored 17 of his 23 points by halftime while Nerlens Noel added 13 points in 25 minutes.
Embiid’s latest strong performance came on a night when he was questionable with gastroenteritis. He is expected to play Sunday.
“I feel alright,” Embiid said. “It’s funny because every time I get sick, that’s when I have a good game or I have a good first half. So hopefully I get sick more often and just come in and play.”
Noel’s minutes came at the expense of Jahlil Okafor, who did not play. In the last meeting with the Nets, Okafor and Embiid were in the starting lineup while Noel did not play.
“It’s difficult to play three bigs in a 48-minute window,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to pair up two bigs. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights. We decided to rotate the group because of that.”
Okafor was 0-for-9 in the last meeting with the Nets and started four more games before playing 10 minutes as a reserve Tuesday and not playing Friday.
Another difference in Philadelphia’s starting five will be T.J. McConnell, who will make his fourth straight start. McConnell entered the starting lineup when Sergio Rodriguez injured his ankle. He has totaled 33 assists, including 17 of Philadelphia’s 30 Friday.
The Sixers averaged 22.6 assists per game but have 74 in their last three games.
“Anything we do we have to do by committee,” Brown said. “To have 30 assists on 37 baskets, it reflects of our best ways to score.”
The Nets are at the bottom of several offensive categories such as assists (20.8), field-goal percentage (44 percent), turnovers (17.2) and 3-point percentage (33.7 percent). Those numbers negate a pace of 101.7 possessions per game.
Combined with the league’s worst scoring defense, it has resulted in a 4-22 slide since Nov. 12, 10 of 11 losses since Dec. 14 and a current five-game losing streak.
In Friday’s 116-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Nets recorded 21 assists, shot 45 percent, missed 21 of 30 3-pointers and allowed 23 points off 19 turnovers.
While the Nets reached 100 points for the 24th time, they also went cold at inopportune times. Brooklyn missed 10 straight shots when the Cavaliers took a double-digit lead in the second quarter and then missed 10 of its first 15 attempts when the deficit swelled to 24 midway through the third quarter.
Brooklyn made it respectable by hanging around in the fourth, what it did not do in the previous three quarters decided things.
“We can’t put ourselves in that position, that’s really it,” center Brook Lopez said. “Teams are going to make runs, we can’t stop that. But they’ve got to be shorter runs.”
Lopez scored 17 points Friday, marking the season-high fourth straight game he was held under 20. The Nets are 1-13 when Lopez does not hit 20 and he is shooting 19 of 49 percent, including 4 of 18 from 3-point range in his last four games.
The Nets played their fifth game without Jeremy Lin, who is rehabbing his second left hamstring injury. The Nets are 5-18 when Lin does not play and his absences have resulted in 14 different starting lineups with five different point guards, including Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored seven points in 17 minutes Friday.
“We’ve had some injuries,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said Thursday in Indiana. “I think we’re still searching, still looking at different lineups. It’s an ongoing thing. Right now, we’re still looking at guys in roles. When we have our whole roster completely healthy, it will be a little bit easier.”
Philadelphia has won three of the last four meetings. In Brooklyn’s last home game against the 76ers, Bojan Bogdanovic scored a career-high 44 points in a 131-114 win on March 15.