6 observations from Sixers-Nets

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6 observations from Sixers-Nets

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Michael Carter-Williams’ return from a seven-game absence helped the Sixers snap a seven-game losing streak with a 121-120 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay). Here are some observations from the matchup:

1. The Nets didn’t have Kevin Garnett (rest) or Joe Johnson (personal matters) for the return match against the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center, two players that had a big impact in Monday’s rout. But it wasn’t like the Nets were at a loss for replacements. Garnett’s replacement was Brook Lopez, the Nets’ leading scorer with 20.6 points per game. Lopez sat out of Monday’s game. Johnson’s sub was Paul Pierce, the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer and a 10-time All-Star.

2. How much of a difference does Carter-Williams make for the Sixers? You know, aside from the obvious things like the team’s record (1-10 without, 7-9 with).

The Sixers are a righter unit offensively and defensively with the rookie point guard. They also move the ball up the court quicker with MCW in a few basic ways. He takes the outlet pass as deep as possible. When the Sixers secure the ball on a rebound or turnover, Carter-Williams is already breaking off and headed up the floor, but not too far that there is a risk of a bad pass.

Carter-Williams also understands the ball moves quicker on a pass than a dribble. So when the point guard gets the ball in transition, his head is up looking for a teammate moving up the floor with him.

Those things didn’t happen often when Carter-Williams was out of the lineup.

3. With four players 6-foot-10 or taller, the Nets should be a force on the boards and in the paint. Yet, through 25 games this season, the Nets rank 25th in offensive rebounding and 20th in defensive. Overall, the Nets are 23rd in the NBA in total rebounding. So how were the Sixers, with just one 7-footer and one player listed at 6-10 getting any playing time able to clean up the boards against the Nets?

Easy, positioning. When the Nets shot the ball from the outside, it wasn’t uncommon to see two Sixers alone in the paint waiting for the rebound. Plus, because the Sixers attack the paint, they often outnumbered the Nets in there.

4. Tony Wroten has no trouble getting to the basket. The Sixers’ backup point guard has a ton of moves that can get him from the three-point line to the paint in a half-second. But Wroten’s outside shooting is still a work in progress.

Wroten went 8 for 17 from the floor, including 2 for 8 from three-point range against the Nets. Take away the 5 for 8 shooting from three on Dec. 12 and Wroten is 18 for 84 (21.4 percent) from long range. If coach Brett Brown is going to play Wroten along side Carter-Williams in the Sixers’ backcourt, Wroten is going to have to improve his shooting.

5. The Sixers held the Nets to just 15 three-pointers Friday night. That’s a big improvement from the 21 the Nets hit Monday night. But the Nets weren’t without a career night or a big third quarter. Alan Anderson scored 16 of his team-high 26 points in the third quarter and hit five threes. Mirza Teletovic shot a career-best 6 of 10 from three-point range.

6. Thad Young is a pro’s pro. After Friday’s shootaround, he cordially and patiently answered questions about trade rumors and if he requested a trade from the Sixers (see story). He did it all over again before the game following his pregame warmup.

It was tiring just watching him go through it.

No worries, though. Young went out and scored 25 points on 11 for 18 shooting with two three-pointers, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

“I am here, ready to give 110 percent each and every game,” Young said after shootaround. “I am ready to just play and try to win basketball games.”

Indeed he is.

Brett Brown wants Sixers to focus on turnovers, transition defense in next 10 games

Brett Brown wants Sixers to focus on turnovers, transition defense in next 10 games

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers take a pause after each set of 10 games over the course of the 82-game season to identify areas they want to improve in the next increment.
 
They are now 22 games into the season and two into the current grouping. Brett Brown has targeted two aspects, one on each end of the floor, to hone in on: turnovers and transition defense.
 
“Our turnovers continue to haunt us and we can’t let it go,” Brown said earlier this week. 
 
Turnover problems are nothing new to the Sixers. As a young team, they struggled heavily last season and ranked 29th with 16.4 per game. This season the number is higher. The Sixers currently are at the bottom of the NBA with 17.3 turnovers per game.*
 
They are running into problems late in games. The Sixers average 3.6 turnovers in the first quarter (tied for 22nd with the Clippers) compared to 5.0 in the fourth (also 30th in the NBA for that quarter). 
 
Brown frequently highlights points allowed off turnovers when assessing a loss. The Sixers are tied with the Timberwolves for 25th with 18.2 points in that category.

Rather than just looking at turnovers as a whole, Brown is delving into the who’s and why’s of the problem. Joel Embiid leads the team with 3.7 turnovers per game. The Sixers look to him as the focal point of the offense. As a rookie, he is adjusting to NBA defenses, especially double teams, while being the go-to at the basket. 

Sergio Rodriguez is behind Embiid with 2.7, not counting Jerryd Bayless (3.0) who only has played three games. Rodriguez has said he “takes risks” at the point but is trying to be more secure with the ball in his hand (see story)

“We’ve got repetitive examples of people either too much in a crowd,” Brown said. “Examples of people not handling pick and rolls when they come out and hedge. Post players dribbling too much and not reacting to double teams and to pass outs.”
 
On the opposite end of the court, the Sixers are last in the league with 18.5 fast break points scored by opponents. Their defense fluctuates when Embiid is on the sideline, based on his 28-minute restriction. However Brown does not want the rest of the team to lapse without their big man. Brown has been emphasizing the need for pace and has been stressing all season the importance of career-best fitness to get up and down the floor.

“We still don’t get back the way I want to in transition defense,” Brown said. “We do see differences in our defense dramatically when Joel is in the game or not. But it still doesn’t camouflage the fact that we have to get back on defense.”

The Sixers will have to tackle these issues in a 10-game period in which they are shorthanded with a slew of injuries and illnesses. 

"The good thing is, we’ve selected two things that have hurt us and we need to claim them again," Brown said. 

*All stats according to NBA.com

Best of NBA: Magic overcome Wall's 52 points to beat Wizards

Best of NBA: Magic overcome Wall's 52 points to beat Wizards

WASHINGTON -- Elfrid Payton scored 22 of his season-high 25 points in the first half and the Orlando Magic overcame John Wall's 52-point performance to beat the Washington Wizards, 124-116 on Tuesday night.

Wall had the highest-scoring game of his career and kept Washington in it with 33 points in the second half as the Wizards cut the lead below 10 in the fourth quarter. The guard made 18 of 31 from the field and added eight assists.

Payton went 8 for 8 from the field and 3 for 3 from the line off the bench in that first half, nearly matching his previous season best of 23 points in the first two quarters alone. Payton finished 9 for 12 and handed out nine assists.

Orlando won its third straight game and its 124 points were a season high (see full recap).

Spurs trounce Timberwolves to reach 13-0 on the road
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points and the San Antonio Spurs improved to 13-0 on the road this season with a 105-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

Leonard hit 11 of 15 shots after not scoring at all in the first quarter and Patty Mills scored 15 points off the bench for the Spurs (18-4), who played without Tony Parker after he bruised his left knee against Milwaukee on Wednesday night. San Antonio overcame a slow start to shoot 52.7 percent.

The Spurs moved past the 1969-70 New York Knicks to take sole possession of the second-best road start to begin a season in NBA history. The Golden State Warriors started 14-0 last year.

Zach LaVine scored 25 points for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns had 11 points and 14 rebounds, but shot just 3 of 16 (see full recap).

Anthony, Knicks blow past depleted Heat
MIAMI -- Carmelo Anthony matched a season high with 35 points, and the New York Knicks beat the injury-ravaged Miami Heat 114-103 on Tuesday night.

Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which is three games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season. The Knicks lost Derrick Rose to back spasms in the third quarter.

Goran Dragic scored 29 points and Hassan Whiteside finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who fell to 2-8 at home.

The teams were tied at 68 late in the third quarter, when the Knicks went on a 27-13 run over the next eight minutes to take control. Anthony finished 13 for 27 from the field, and Porzingis and Joakim Noah combined for 22 rebounds (see full recap).