No Bynum means no relevance for Sixers

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No Bynum means no relevance for Sixers

Andrew Bynum was supposed to talk on Monday. He didn’t. Something happened. Something always happens with Bynum -- except playing basketball. That never happens. Not this year. Not so far.

So he didn’t talk on Monday. On Tuesday, before the Sixers faced the Magic in a game that no semi-sane person would willingly watch, reporters surrounded Bynum’s locker at the Wells Fargo Center. This is SOP (standard operating procedure) for BTD (Bynum Talking Day). We waited. Then we waited some more. Bynum never showed. Then the locker room closed because media hours were over.

Don’t feel bad for us. This isn’t about that. This is about Bynum and his team and what happened next -- or, rather, what didn’t. The reporters waited outside the locker room and hoped Bynum would materialize and talk because, well, it’s the Sixers and what else is there to write about a going-nowhere team playing another going-nowhere team in late February? Exactly. Not much. Not anything, really.

So we waited. After a while, a Sixers PR handler materialized and told us that Bynum would not talk on Tuesday after all. We were told he would talk Wednesday after practice. Then we were told there wouldn’t be practice on Wednesday and that Bynum won't talk until Friday. That’s the current plan -- Friday. But you know how plans and Bynum get along (hint: not well).

According to the PR person, Bynum apologized “for not being here sooner.” I assume he meant on Tuesday, but he could just as easily have been talking about the entire season. Bynum also wasn’t on the bench for the Sixers' 98-84 loss to the Magic (see game recap). That sparked a conversation on Twitter and press row about where he was (supposedly in the building) and why he wasn’t sitting with the team (supposedly getting treatment).

That’s when it occurred to me: The semi-regular Bynum updates/sightings are the only things keeping the Sixers relevant.

Imagine how bleak the Sixers’ situation would be if they didn’t have a giant 25-year-old with two question marks for knees to dangle in front of us every week or so. If Bynum wasn’t on the roster, if the mystery about him didn’t exist, the fire for professional basketball in this town would have already gone out. As it is, the embers are barely glowing, and that’s only because Bynum remains a curiosity and a concern.

The Sixers missed a grand opportunity this year to increase interest in the team. There was a monstrous void for months with nothing even remotely compelling or promising to fill it. The Eagles had a horrible season. The Flyers were in a lockout. The Phils were on hiatus after a disappointing campaign. And the Sixers still couldn’t get the fans or the media to focus on them. The one lasting storyline this season has been Bynum and his unknown return date.

Sports are ultimately entertainment. It is why the Sixers built the world’s largest T-shirt cannon and fire off confetti after inconsequential wins and hand out Big Macs when the team scores 100 points. It’s part of the show. When the actors and the plot aren’t very good, you need something else to get people inside the theater.

About that: attendance numbers are tricky. More than once, someone with the Sixers told me their figures in that department are up this year from last year. Having been in the building for all but a few home games, I find that hard to believe. So do the people who track these things. According to them, the Sixers averaged 17,502 fans last season (14th in the NBA). This year, those same people have the Sixers averaging around 16,400 (19th).

But whether the attendance is better or worse doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is that the attendance isn’t good. It’s why Sixers CEO Adam Aron went on Twitter recently and gave away free lower bowl tickets to 12 fans -- because the seats were available. He could have given away 120 or 1,200 seats without issue.

Which brings us back to Bynum. His saga -- his knees and what the Sixers knew and when they knew it and whether he and/or the team misled the town -- is the only thing that gets anyone to glance (however momentarily) in the Sixers' direction these days. Without him -- or, rather, without his mouth and his hair and his off-court antics -- the Sixers would be completely ignored instead of mostly ignored. How grim.

Forget about a tree falling in the woods. Here’s a better question, one you and the Sixers already know the answer to: If a giant tree of a man doesn’t play and doesn’t talk, does his team make a sound?

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

NEW YORK -- LeBron James scored 25 points, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also surpassed 20, and the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the New York Knicks 126-94 on Wednesday night.

James had nothing to say Wednesday morning about Knicks President Phil Jackson and not much more about his decision to not stay with the team in a Donald Trump-branded hotel, but he and the Cavs made a loud statement at Madison Square Garden.

It was their second straight win after a three-game skid, and they did it easily in handing the Knicks their worst loss of the season. Irving led Cleveland with 28 points and Love scored 21, 16 in the first quarter.

Brandon Jennings scored 16 points for the Knicks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped and lost for the just the third time in 10 games. He started for Derrick Rose, who missed his first game of the season with lower back pain.

Tristan Thompson grabbed 20 rebounds for the Cavs. They played without guard J.R. Smith, who returned to Cleveland for additional testing after hyperextending his left knee Monday in Toronto (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo drops triple-double in Bucks’ win
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo got his second triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks over the Portland Trail Blazers 115-107 on Wednesday night.

Antetokounmpo had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his seventh career triple-double -- second-most in franchise history -- and is the only NBA player averaging at least 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals this season.

Jabari Parker added 27 points for Milwaukee, which rebounded from a one-point home loss to San Antonio on Monday to win for the fifth time in six games.

The Bucks entered holding opponents to a NBA-best .311 shooting percentage from 3-point range, but Portland drill a season-high 17 of them.

Damian Lillard made five of them and scored a team-high 30 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists.

C.J. McCollum added 23 points, including four 3-pointers, as the Blazers continued a nine-game stretch of playing eight times on the road (see full recap).

Streaking Rockets roll over Lakers
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon made a career-high eight 3-points and scored 26 points to help the Houston Rockets cruise to a 134-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

James Harden added 25 points in three quarters for the Rockets. They scored a season high and extended their winning streak to a season-best four games.

The Rockets were up by 12 in the third quarter, then had a 22-6 run to make it 96-68 and put the game out of reach with about 3 minutes left in the quarter. Houston made four 3-pointers and got a nifty one-handed dunk from Clint Capela in that run to pad the lead.

Gordon already had four 3-pointers seven minutes into the first quarter after making each of his first four attempts. It was his seventh straight game with at least four 3-pointers, which is a franchise record.

Houston's winning streak is its longest since taking five straight in January.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 24 points. They have lost four in a row, their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

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