Sixers fail to slow down Suns' guards in loss

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Sixers fail to slow down Suns' guards in loss

BOX SCORE

Sometimes it doesn’t take long for a team to figure out it just ain’t their night. For the Sixers and coach Brett Brown on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center, it took all of 25 seconds.

That’s when Brown angrily called for timeout after P.J. Tucker made a wide-open layup. Somehow, the Sixers had gotten their wires crossed on a defensive switch to give Tucker an easy basket and set the Suns off onto a 124-113 victory (see Instant Replay).

“We didn’t come out the way we intended,” Brown said with a raspy voice, hoarse from an evening spent urging his players and the refs. “We want to spend this middle third of the season being a better defensive team. We talked about it, we drill it, we show it. We’ve got to find a better way to get that done.”

The first-quarter play not only sent the Sixers to 14-31 with their second straight defeat at home, but also seemed to stoke up some anger lurking beneath the surface. Brown, along with Thad Young and Evan Turner, were whistled for technical fouls and center Spencer Hawes fouled out with 3:06 left in the game. During the third quarter, the Suns attempted 16 free throws. They took 35 of them in the game.

Still, the Sixers hung around to slice a 16-point deficit to just eight with 4:33 remaining. However, the Sixers never drew closer, in part because of the Suns’ quick start when they made their first six shots and hit 77 percent of their shots in the first quarter.

This one was over early.

“When you cut to the chase, it comes down to the first period and the way that we started,” Brown said.

There is a method to Brown’s madness. A timeout just 25 seconds into an NBA game isn’t as debilitating as it could be in the NFL where timeouts are as valuable as gold. Still, for a coach to stop the game after just one trip up and down the court sends a pretty stern message.

The Sixers say the message was received.

“We made some careless mistakes. We were supposed to switch on (Channing) Frye. We said that from the beginning of the game and we didn’t cut off the baseline down low,” Michael Carter-Williams said. “[Brown] just wanted us to know that he didn’t want us to make that mistake all night.”

The Sixers put the message to practice, but not during the first quarter. The Suns shot 9 for 13 on shots in the paint and 8 for 9 on shots outside of the paint, including 3 for 4 on three-pointers. But after the first quarter, the Suns went 12 for 29 in the paint, showing that the Sixers made the proper adjustment in allowing easy shots.

But the Suns’ guards Goran Dragic and Gerald Green didn’t have much trouble hitting from the outside. The combo went 19 for 25, including 7 for 9 from three-point range, for 54 combined points. Green, who has played for seven NBA teams in eight seasons, led all scorers with 30 points on 10 for 12 shooting.

“[Green] was hot and I respect him because that man has resurrected his career,” Brown said. “In the past he’s been just a track star and a high flyer. But you look at the package he’s been able to create -- a skill package -- I respect his route. Many people may have written him off. Tonight he made shots and he made plays. We give him credit.”

Brown was not as willing to give credit to his team’s defense, though.

“We are improving. The numbers say that -- forget my opinion,” Brown said. “But to start the game the way we did at home is disappointing. That’s the bottom line.”

The Sixers return to action on Wednesday when they head to Boston. After that, the Sixers host Atlanta on Friday night before heading to Detroit for a game on Saturday.

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Training camp is an opportunity for Brett Brown to assess all the pieces he has available to construct the best roster possible. There are no clear-cut formulas to create the most successful lineups, not when the team has so many players that can be utilized at multiple positions. 

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Brown said Wednesday after Day 2 of training camp. “You’re going to see a bunch of different looks, blue and white. That’s part of my job. That’s part of what I’ve got to get done when we play on opening night.” 

Among these combinations is pairing Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. Given their versatility, the rookies can play multiple positions to share the court. Brown has eyed their size and skills at the two- and three-spots.

“The pluses are you have 6-10, do-alls that really can jump into a very versatile defensive world with perhaps a lot of switching,” Brown said. “I think they’re elite defensive rebounders that can rebound and lead a break and take off. ...

“The disadvantages are, you’re playing two guys out of position that’ve never played a second of NBA basketball and have never played together. It comes down to familiarity, it comes down to some type of comfort level that they’re going to have to navigate and figure out each other a little bit more.”

Saric and Simmons, like the rest of the Sixers, are learning one another’s games in training camp. Saric described Simmons’ skill set as “amazing” considering his stature and speed, noting, “I never played with somebody who’s that [many] kilograms.” 

“I think we will find a way to play together,” Saric said. “I think we can do it. Coach said most of the time we will play together. Maybe I can push the ball, he can push the ball too. ... He’s an unbelievably good passer and I think we’ll find a way how to play and I’m very happy because of that.”

Simmons entered the league touted as a point-forward. Exceeding the combo position, Simmons has played pure point at times, both on the offensive and defensive ends. He has been tapping into the Sixers' guards and veteran leader Elton Brand to help enhance his communication running the floor.

“[The] challenge is probably guarding the point guard position. They’re a lot quicker,” Simmons said. “But I also have a lot more length and strength. I think just being able to get to the rim. Also, if I have a smaller guy I can post it up.”

Saric also has ball handling skills in his arsenal. He grew up playing point guard from ages 8 to 14 before hitting a growth spurt. Saric looked up to Magic Johnson at the position. 

“To make other players happy and to make other players better, I think that’s the role of point guard,” Saric said. 

Brown will use the next four weeks as a trial period to maneuver different combinations and looks, including a towering duo of rookies.  

“Now is the time to do that," Brown said, "with the end game being whenever that type of thing happens, you have something quite special if they’re paired — when they’re paired, because I’m going to play them together — when they start really feeling each other’s game out in the environment that I've put them in a lot better."

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.”