The 76ers (1-4) lived up to the adage of “young teams find ways to lose games” Thursday night when they squandered a seven-point lead in the final 50 seconds in losing 105-104 at home to the Houston Rockets. Joel Embiid scored 21 points but was at fault defensively in the closing seconds when he drifted away from Eric Gordon after an inbound pass on the sideline, giving Gordon space to drill the game-winning three-pointer from the left corner at the buzzer.
J. J. Redick scored a season-high 22 points and rookie Ben Simmons added 20 for Philadelphia, which has lost two of its four games by five or fewer points. The young 76ers also got caught up in a run-and-gun game with the Rockets, getting to the foul line just 10 times after averaging 23.8 free throws in their first four games.
The Mavericks are looking to avoid their first 1-6 start since the lockout-shortened 1999 season after a 96-91 setback at Memphis on Thursday night, splitting their home-and-home set with the Grizzlies. Harrison Barnes had 22 points and 11 rebounds and Wesley Matthews added 18 points as Dallas rallied from a 22-point first-half deficit to take a fourth-quarter lead before faltering down the stretch, much to Matthews’ frustration.
“We shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place,” he told The Associated Press. “We put ourselves there. (Wednesday night) we had them down 19 playing the way we did in the second half. What team do we want to be?”
Dirk Nowitzki had a season-high 14 points, but his slow shooting start continued as he went 5 for 13. Nowitzki is shooting at a career-worst 34.8 percent clip, but Dallas is willing to live with that since its defense has improved following Nowitzki’s move to power forward with the insertion of Nerlens Noel at center.
Three keys to the game
Get Redick going - The 76ers' decision to sign the veteran guard for $23 million raised a lot of eyebrows over the summer, but it was also understood he'd be the perfect player to keep defenses honest on the perimeter.
Redick has been uneven, going 8 for 15 from three-point range in the first two games before going 0 for 5 in the next two, but Philadelphia is a better, more balanced team when he hunts his shot. Redick went 3 of 8 from beyond the arc but 9 of 16 overall against Houston as all five starters took at least 11 shots.
The "D" is back in Dallas - Though it's a small sample size of two games and also a non-flashy offense in the form of the Memphis Grizzlies for both games, the decision to move Nowitzki out of the middle back to his customary power forward position and start Noel has paid dividends defensively.
The Mavericks limited the Grizzlies to 43.4 percent shooting and 95.0 points per game after allowing opponents to shoot 49.3 percent and score 112.5 points per game in the first four contests. Dallas was also a plus-6 in rebounds against Memphis after being out-rebounded by 51 in the first four games.
Philadelphia's struggling bench - The Sixers have a great young nucleus around Redick in their starting five, but there is a dramatic fall-off in quality off the bench. Philadelphia's reserves are averaging just 25.4 points while shooting 33.1 percent, including 24.4 percent (11 for 45) from 3-point range.
Though Thursday night's loss was the first time the 76ers' bench outscored an opponent's bench, they had just 18 points. Opponents are getting 33.0 points per game from their bench versus Philadelphia, and the 76ers are walking too fine a line to make up almost eight points every game.
Matchup to watch
76ers C Joel Embiid vs. Mavericks C Nerlens Noel - You must forgive 76ers fans if they watch this game with a pang of lament as these one-time teammates who only practiced together while with Philadelphia are now on the court playing for the first time, but as opponents.
Noel, the No. 6 overall pick in 2013, was acquired from New Orleans but sat out the 2013/14 season due to knee surgery. Embiid was drafted third overall the following year, but he missed the first-two plus seasons due to a variety of injuries.
Noel may finally have found his place with the Mavericks after cracking the starting five, and leading the charge to contain Embiid will be a good test for Rick Carlisle's revamped defense.
Philadelphia 76ers projected starting lineup
PG - Jerryd Bayless | SG - J. J. Redick | C - Joel Embiid | SF - Robert Covington | PF - Ben Simmons
Dallas Mavericks projected starting lineup
PG - Dennis Smith Jr. | SG - Wesley Matthews | C - Nerlens Noel | SF - Harrison Barnes | PF - Dirk Nowitzki
Redick could be a sneaky add for Daily Fantasy players as he's averaged 16.3 points in his last 13 games against the Mavericks while shooting 53.4 percent (39 for 73) from three-point range.
Nowitzki has averaged 22.1 points in 32 lifetime games versus the 76ers, shooting 41.2 percent from beyond the arc, but hasn't hit that mark in the last seven matchups.
It's an interesting sign from oddsmakers that they have made the 76ers a road favorite, even if only by one point, in a place they haven't won since 2005. Philadelphia is also 1-4-1 against the spread in its last six trips to Dallas and 2-6 against the spread in its last eight games following a straight-up loss.
The over/under has dropped 3.5 points to 207 since opening at 210.5, which makes the over a stronger play since the 76ers will look to run at every opportunity against a slower Mavericks team.
This will be an early season test for 76ers coach Brett Brown to see how his team responds from a disheartening loss in a game they had all but won.
It's too early to tell how much they miss No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, who's sidelined with a shoulder injury, and it's still somewhat odd Brown prefers Amir Johnson over Jahlil Okafor, who played as well as could be expected filling in for Embiid since he is not cleared to play on back-back nights.
Given Philadelphia's scoring issues off the bench, Okafor seems to be a no-risk solution to try out.
For the Mavericks, this will be a real test for their new-look defense given how the 76ers will push the ball at every chance. Carlisle may need to lean on J.J. Barea for some veteran savvy at the point if rookie Dennis Smith plays out of control.
Everyone is still waiting for Nowitzki to break out of his shooting slump, but no one knows when that will happen.
The 76ers should bounce back here, using their athleticism in attacking the paint and ending their lengthy losing streak in Dallas with a 109-101 victory.
This game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Southwest and NBCSports Philadelphia. Tip-off time is 8:30pm ET.
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