Sixers fail to slow down Suns' guards in loss


Sixers fail to slow down Suns' guards in loss


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.

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Ben Simmons is on track to return to the Sixers in January, Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday. 

Previous reports indicated that Simmons, who suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot in the Sixers' final training camp scrimmage on Sept. 30, would be out three months. Friday's news jives with that, but this is the first time the Sixers have given a timetable.

"It's not doom and gloom," Brown said. "Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd (Bayless). Jahlil (Okafor) is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game."

With long-term ramifications in mind, there had been some speculation that Simmons' camp wanted him to sit all season. 

This is rather encouraging news and it means the Sixers may avoid watching another of their top picks miss his entire first year.

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."