By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 103, Minnesota 94 – Box Score
It’s official: the Sixers will not have the worst record in NBA history. Friday night’s performance earned them their 10th win of the season, thereby surpassing the ’73 Sixers’ mark of 9-73 with 30-plus games to spare. Many of the pundits who declared them a disgrace to the game a couple months ago may just have to face the fact that the Sixers are drawing closer to the day when they might be *gasp* good.
With the Wolves missing their top two point guards in Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams, the Sixers were happy to take advantage of 21 Minnesota turnovers, usually the neighborhood where they themselves reside. For the second game in a row, Coach Brett Brown received a balanced effort from up and down his roster. Not only did his two Rising Stars have marquee nights, but the bench unit powered a pivotal 11-0 run spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters to propel the Sixers to victory.
The presumptive rookie of the year took the court Friday night, but while Andrew Wiggins had some nice moments, an impartial observer would have pegged Nerlens Noel as the man deserving of the award. Noel recorded 14 points on 7-8 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, and a career-high 6 blocks. In the process, he became the first Sixers rookie to record as many as 4 steals and 6 blocks in a game. Grantland’s Bill Simmons coined the combination of those defensive statistics ‘stocks’; right now, Noel’s stock couldn’t be higher. His versatile skill set was on full display when he showed off his point guard skills and found JaKarr Sampson for the the oop:
The only area Noel struggled was guarding Nikola Pekovic, who has about 70 pounds and probably close to 100 more kills in an Eastern European forest over the Sixers big man. Pekovic bullied his way to 16 first half points, but Noel did a much better job in the second half fronting the post with the Sixers wings rotating well behind the ball. Pekovic scored just two points after the break.
The other Sixer taking part in all-star weekend, Michael Carter-Williams shined in tallying his 5th career triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. There’s a strong correlation between the Sixers winning the last two games while MCW averages 10 assists and just 11.5 field goal attempts. He’s doing a much better job not forcing the issue offensively and making a more concerted effort to get his teammates involved. The sharing of the ball looks to be contagious and the Sixers are earning much better looks throughout the game. There were quite a few instances where the Sixers made 3 or 4 passes around the perimeter without a dribble, resulting in a wide-open shot. It’s a system the Spurs have perfected over the years and the Hawks are now using toward the best record in the league. Brett Brown might have these young guys slowly buying into the same message.
In his first trip back to the Wells Fargo Center since being traded, Thad Young had a bit of an erratic game with 10 points on 3-10 shooting with 5 turnovers. One of the classiest guys you’ll come across received framed jerseys and a video tribute from the Sixers organization, as well as a worthy round of applause from the fans in attendance. You have to feel for him being traded away to a team struggling even more this season than the Sixers. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire. Hopefully, Thad finds his way to a contender as a free agent next season; he certainly deserves it.
Finally, for those worried about the whole draft lottery implications of this recent onslaught of wins, you’ll be happy to know the Sixers head to Atlanta for their next game Saturday night. The Hawks have now won 18 straight; the first 3-game winning streak of the year might have to wait.