Shockingly, it appears that the Philadelphia 76ers’ season-opening victory over the Miami Heat was a total fluke. The Jan. 17 rematch featured a frustrated Heat team coming to the Wells Fargo Center on a three-game losing streak with the media aflame over their inability to defend, up against a far more hapless Sixers team coming off a last-second victory against the Charlotte Bobcats.
It seemed that the Heat decided to use their matchup with the Sixers as their “statement game,” holding them to 36.9 percent shooting and forcing 23 turnovers. As it turns out, the team that won the last two NBA championships and features the best player on the planet is very good.
In the game, which the Sixers lost 101-86, nearly every Sixer underperformed on offense due to the incredible defense played by the Heat. The Sixers finished the game with only 16 assists, a number that the Heat nearly doubled with 30 of their own. The starting five for the Sixers of Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, James Anderson and Michael Carter-Williams scored 11, 10, 10, 4 and 7 points, respectively. In contrast, the Heat had two starters score over 20 points in LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Basically, the Heat gave the ball to LeBron, and the Sixers didn’t have a defensive response, allowing him to dominate the game with 10 assists and 21 points. In summary, the Heat are still very good, and the Sixers are still very bad.
Near the end of the fourth quarter of the Sixers’ Jan. 18 blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls, Lorenzo Brown decided that he’d had enough with the team not playing defense. Deciding that he wanted to take on more defensive responsibility, and presented with the opportunity to finally make a big stop, he stood in front of Hollis Thompson and stopped him from scoring an easy layup following a steal.
The problem? Thompson and Brown both play for the Sixers. The benefit? A new frontrunner for most “Sixers” moment of the year, easily leapfrogging the infamous James Anderson never-give-up series of missed three-pointers from the same location on the floor in an early-season game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Including that play, the game was fairly on par with the recent play for the Sixers. They lost 103-78 in a game that easily could have been a 40-point loss had the Bulls not relented early in the second half. The notable stat line of the game came from Carter-Williams, who posted an awful line of 10 points on 5-22 shooting with five turnovers.
Also notable is the fact that the Sixers shot 2-19 from three-point range, which is a shooting percentage of 10.5 percent. On the Bulls, Joakim Noah finished the game with 21 points on 14 shots, with 16 rebounds and four blocks. Throughout his career, Noah has been the equivalent of the “Academy” that makes up the Oscars voters to the Sixers’ Leonardo DiCaprio — frequently posting absurd stat lines and doing seemingly superhuman things on the court to crush the Sixers’ hopes.
In the Sixers’ Jan. 20 107-99 loss to the Washington Wizards, Carter-Williams bounced back in a big way following his poor performance in the last few games, with possibly the best performance of his young career. He scored 31 points on 59 percent shooting with six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Besides the opening-day near-quadruple-double against the Heat, this was his most commanding game this season. He was two points from his career-high scoring total of 33, which he posted Jan. 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When asked about his huge game, Carter-Williams summed it up well when he told NBA.com, “I struggled the past two games. I think I was trying to force the issue a little bit, and this game I was more relaxed and taking what’s open. If the lane was there, I was going to score and be strong. If my teammates were open, I was looking to get them the ball.”
On Jan. 22, the Sixers defeated the New York Knicks 110-106 at Madison Square Garden. The most notable aspect of the game was Evan Turner’s impressive scoring night. He ended the game with a career-high 34 points, including multiple difficult late buckets that really sealed the game. While the win was nice, it was much more due to the Knicks’ ineptitude than the Sixers’ impressive play. The win negatively impacted the Sixers’ draft position, moving them from third-worst to fourth-worst, usurping the Utah Jazz.
With the Sixers currently holding the fourth-worst record in the league, this week’s future Sixers evaluation features Dante Exum, shooting guard from Australia, and Noah Vonleh, center from the University of Indiana.
Standing at 6 feet 6 inches with a 6-foot-9-inch wingspan, Exum of the Australian Institute of Sport, an academy for the year-round training of athletes, is being largely overlooked by the American public. Though his early experience came at the point guard position, he has shown an ability to play off the ball and could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Sixers if they happen to fall out of the top four or five picks. Exum is currently predicted to go fifth in the draft. His ability to dribble, his explosiveness and his finishing talent make him a suitable player to take the second guard spot in the Sixers’ starting lineup next to Carter-Williams.
Though he’s a center this year, Vonleh has the athleticism and shot-blocking ability to make the move to power forward to allow Nerlens Noel to play center next season. He has a player efficiency rating of 27.4 for the Hoosiers this year and is a rebounding force, almost averaging a double-double per game. The issue with Vonleh is his tendency to foul. This year he averages 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes, which means that in every game he is very close to fouling out. This is potentially problematic when he makes the big step to the NBA. Still, he would be a nice choice for the Sixers if they end up getting the No. 9 or 10 pick from the New Orleans Pelicans.