Like offense, hate defense? Sixers are your team

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Like offense, hate defense? Sixers are your team

Well, you can’t pretend like he didn’t tell you. He told you. He told all of us.

When the Sixers hired Brett Brown, the new head coach was asked about his coaching philosophy. He said he wanted to play fast. But how might that impact the defensive effort, someone wondered?

“We’re not going to sacrifice scoring because we want to play good defense,” Brown said in August (see story). “I think it’s one of the great mistakes when people talk about defense. It doesn’t mean that you are going to be a low-possession team. We want to go. We want to get out in the open court and we want to run.”

They want to get out in the open court. And they do. They want to run. And they do. They don’t want to sacrifice scoring in the service of defense. And they don’t.

Man, was that a prophetic quote. Carnac the Magnificent couldn’t have seen the future any better.

The Sixers’ defense isn’t quite as funny as a Johnny Carson bit, though. At least not intentionally.

The Phoenix Suns beat the Sixers, 124-113, at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday evening (see story). The Sixers have lost 10 of their last 12 at home. They’ve also lost four in a row at home for the first time since the final games of the 2011-12 season.

The reason is simple enough. Just like Carnac, you know the answer before the question is even asked.

Answer: Stop ball.

Question: Name two four-letter words the Sixers would never use.

As someone remarked to Brown, “It didn’t seem like the team was committed to defend.”

“That’s because we weren’t,” Brown replied.

The Sixers entered Monday giving up 109.5 points per game. That’s 30th in the NBA. There are 30 teams in the NBA. That, as you’ve already figured out, is not good.

Even as poor (or no) Sixers defensive efforts go, the performance against Phoenix was particularly glaring. The Suns scored 40 points on 77.3 percent shooting in the first quarter (see 6 observations). They had 62 points on 61.5 percent shooting at the half. They had 95 points on 55 percent shooting by the third quarter. See where this is going? In the end, Phoenix scored 124 points on 53.8 percent shooting. You almost needed an abacus to count up all the oversized numbers.

“We didn’t come out the way we intended,” Brown said. “We want to end this middle third [of the season] being a better defensive team. We talk about it. We drill it. We show it. We’ve got to find a better way to get that done. We are improving. The numbers say that. Forget my opinion. To start the way we started the game at home is disappointing. That’s the bottom line.”

Brown seemed frustrated. He had a right to be. Most teams on most nights would have to try hard to not try that hard on defense. Not the Sixers. What happened on Monday wasn’t all that unusual for them.

Counting Monday, opponents have scored 100 or more points against the Sixers in 40 of 45 games this season. That includes 21 of the last 23 games and seven straight. The Sixers have given up 110 or more points 19 times. And they’ve surrendered 120 or more points nine times.

The last time the Sixers gave up 120 or more points on eight or more occasions was 17 years ago. They did it 12 times in the 1996-97 season.

But wait. There’s more. Like offense and hate defense? Fantastic. Sixers operators are standing by to take your order.

The Sixers have given up 130 or more points three times this season. They haven’t done that in two decades. Hooray history.

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens [Noel]-Jahlil [Okafor] thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist. 

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."