Sixers benefitting from Brown's focus on fitness

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Sixers benefitting from Brown's focus on fitness

The ongoing theme with the Sixers when asked about their Maine-born coach with the thickest of New England accents is that Brett Brown speaks nonstop about “career-best fitness.”

While that phrase might have been annoying at first to Brown’s players, that is no longer the case. The Sixers are clearly reaping the benefits of the head coach’s hard stance on being in shape.

“First we had to do a conditioning test and then we had to drop weight,” said Evan Turner, who is down nine pounds and 2½ percent body fat. “He told us what weight he wanted us to be at. He was kind of nice about it, but he wasn’t if you didn’t hit that weight number. That was key.”

Turner admitted that his clothes now fit better and it is easier to compete in back-to-back games.

For a guy like Tony Wroten, who is in just his second NBA season, Brown’s approach is what the guard grew accustomed to in college at Washington.

“In college, you run around and do a lot of conditioning,” Wroten said. “When I first got here, not only did the coach e-mail me about it but also the strength and conditioning coaches, what summer was going to be like and this is what we are going to do.

“I knew they were serious. At the time, I was like what is this? This is like college, but Coach always says it is going to pay off in the long run and it has. We can run at the end of games. We are still pacing, so working on it in the summer helped a lot.”

Wroten isn’t just drawing on his own experiences out on the court. He has also witnessed the impact of the Sixers’ focus on fitness in his teammates.

“In film the other day, in the fourth quarter you see Mike [Carter-Williams] picking up full court,” said Wroten, who missed Saturday’s game with back spasms. “In the NBA, no one plays full court at all, but for him to be able to do that in the fourth when we only had seven, eight people and he had played a lot of minutes [was key]. It showed the little things.

“Sometimes teams will say to us, ‘Are you guys ever going to stop running?’ And they are serious, but at the end of the day we are going to keep running, keep running and keep running.”

Against the Pacers on Saturday night with Wroten, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young all out of action, Carter-Williams played 38 minutes, the rookie point guard’s career high for a regulation game. MCW’s full-court ball pressure went a long way in getting him seven steals to go with his career-high 29 points.

The Sixers’ ability to keep their foot on the gas is reflected in their pacer (102.4 possessions per game) and their fast-break points (18.3 points per game).

Brown stresses that what the Sixers are doing with fitness is not groundbreaking. He says the NBA’s 29 other teams implement the same mentality but maybe not as strongly.

“It is all about recovery,” Brown said. “Playing 82 games, back-to-back games, how do you back it up? What do you do on a plane if you are flying? It is the people who take care of their bodies and are prideful with their diet, nutrition and hydration and massages and ice down.

“All the programs do it, so it isn’t like we found something tricky. We just want to be responsible with it and proactive with it.”

“He just puts a little more emphasis on it,” Hawes said. “Especially the little stuff like getting in your massages, getting off your feet when you have an opportunity to, nutrition, career-best fitness. It is big for him and I think guys have responded to it.”

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