After surprising start, Sixers come back to reality

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After surprising start, Sixers come back to reality

Thaddeus Young heard the talk -- the endless chatter about the Sixers tanking (or rebuilding, if you prefer a more genteel euphemism). He’s been here six seasons. Young has seen all sorts of Sixers iterations -- from teams that struggled to win 27 games to the squad that overachieved and came within one victory of the Eastern Conference Finals to this year’s squad and its early-season surprise.

Young recently talked about the organization’s ebb and flow. But when he was asked about playing for a franchise that everyone thinks is focusing on tomorrow instead of today, Young brushed it aside.

“I don’t get into that type of stuff,” Young said. “I just show up ready to play and help my team win games. I’ve been helping with these young guys. Hopefully, they’ve been able to take in some of the things that we’ve been trying to instill in them or teach them or show them and they can take it with them on the court.”

They took it on the court. Then they took it right to the Heat. And the Wizards. And the Bulls, too. The first three games were excellent. The fourth was not.

The Sixers did not take it to the Warriors. Golden State thumped the Sixers, 110-90, at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday (see story).

“When we dribble a lot and don’t move the ball, it becomes very stagnant and terminal and we have real issues,” Brett Brown said. “And we’re not dynamic. We don’t boast [isolation] guys that are going to go break people down one-on-one and people are going to stand there and watch them. We need to move the ball. I didn’t feel like we did that [Monday]. I thought we were very static. I thought we were individual. That’s on me to help them continue to understand the importance of playing as a team so it doesn’t become an individual exercise.”

If they don’t move the ball, they become “stagnant and terminal” and “have real issues.” That about covers it.

The Sixers shot 35.2 percent from the field, 20 percent from distance and 62.2 percent from the line against the Warriors. They totaled 19 assists but a season-high 24 turnovers (see Instant Replay).

Brown went out of his way to credit the Warriors for being “a very underrated defensive team," but the head coach also admitted the Sixers were “sloppy” and “careless with the ball.”

If their ball handling was ugly (and it was), this was worse: Andre Iguodala had a game-high 32 points (27 in the first half), several highlight dunks, a ridiculous leaping, behind-the-back pass and seven three-pointers (see 5 observations). The Sixers, as a team, hit only five three-pointers.

And what of Michael Carter-Williams? He was just the second rookie ever to be named Player of the Week to start his career (see story). But on the same day that was announced, MCW went 4 for 17 from the field (1 for 7 from three-point range) with six rebounds, four assists and six turnovers.

“I think he wants to attack bigs,” Brown said. “It’s his nature. I like it … but he’s going to have to get use to going at that size. And then there will be an education where you have to kick it out to shooters or maybe you have Spencer [Hawes] or the pick-and-pop guy behind you that’s open. It’s part of the process. It’s part of his learning curve.”

His learning curve -- and the team’s. The Sixers got off to their best start since going 3-0 in 2006-07. Now they have a loss. It was bound to happen. They will lose quite a few more before the season is over. That is also bound to happen. This is one of the few towns where writing sentences like that is somewhat necessary. Sometimes people can get a little carried away and forget about reality. You are no doubt shocked.

This is a fickle place. Always has been. The wind likes to blow through Philadelphia first before deciding which way public opinion is gusting for the moment. Some fans and media members who initially wanted the Sixers to tank this season in a blatant attempt to increase the odds of landing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker changed course completely after the Sixers won their first three games. Suddenly, certain people started talking openly -- and without irony -- about the Sixers making the playoffs.

That actually happened during a popular sports talk radio program on Monday. The hosts wondered whether we might have been wrong about the Sixers (reasonable). At which point they fielded a call from a man who suggested they would go 25-5 to start the year (far less reasonable). After playing three games and winning three games. That is staggering and willful delusion, even in this city.

It should be noted, again, that the Sixers were really good in their first three games. But it should also be noted, again, that they were pretty terrible in their fourth outing. So where does that leave the Sixers? Where are they on the good-to-terrible spectrum?

“I have no idea,” Brown said.

It was an honest response. He must be new.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."