By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Phoenix 122, Philadelphia 96 – Box Score
New York 91, Philadelphia 83 – Box Score
‘Could Kentucky beat the Sixers?’ Friday night, it looked the Sixers had heard more than enough about that tired, old media trope. Sorry Eric Bledsoe, you can’t say something, even in jest, on our own color announcer’s radio show. The Sixers looked visibly pissed off about the whole situation, and certainly frustrated about still being winless. Noel committed that fragrant foul in the first minute of the game, and the team actually played attacking, aggressive ball from the outset, jumping out to a 16-7 lead and holding on to the lead through the end of the first quarter.
Unfortunately, they didn’t direct any of that energy to properly guarding pick-and-rolls or rotating to open three-point shooters during the second quarter. Phoenix dropped a 41-spot on the period, turning what was a competitive game into a laugher and transforming the entire second half into extended garbage time. His opening-minute tactics were the only time Noel was even noticeable on the court, finishing with just 3 points in 28 minutes, while only hitting 1 of his 5 free throw attempts. Michael Carter-Williams continued to look frustrated by the whole situation, as he forced a number of poor shots to the tune of a 6-18 outing from the floor. The entire night was eminently forgettable, sad for a game that started with such promising vigor.
The next night in New York proved to be a better showing from the Sixers. Although yet another poor shooting night kept Philadelphia from ever getting too close, there were a few bright spots. For one, Noel was anything but the invisible man from the night before, dropping career-highs of 17 points and 12 rebounds. While guys like Quincy Acy and Amar’e Stoudemire won’t remind anyone of the Grit-n-Grind Grizzlies defensive frontcourt, it was still great to see Noel agressively attack the basket and show off some semblance of developed post moves. Much of the talk recently has shifted to next summer’s draft and which of the highly-coveted big men could play alongside Joel Embiid (with Noel the odd man out). More performances like Saturday night will help people reconsider that line of thinking.
Also on the evening, Robert Covington finally flashed the great shooting potential we’d heard so much about, hitting all 4 of his three-point attempts for a career-high 14 points. His perimeter barrage helped the Sixers close to within single-digits in the fourth quarter and showed what the team might be capable of with some competent floor spacing on offense. Coming off the bench recently, Hollis Thompson had his best game in some time, draining a couple threes and looking aggressive on some successful drives to the rim. Thompson finished with 10 points in 22 minutes off the bench, and can hopefully use this outing as a springboard to return to the promising form we saw in the preseason.
The Sixers host the Trailblazers tonight, once again bringing to mind the question of how on earth the team won in Portland last season. Prediction: Damian Lillard hits all the threes.