Sixers get taught lesson by efficient Spurs


Sixers get taught lesson by efficient Spurs


Sometimes it really is as simple as it looks.

The extra pass, ball movement, check the egos at the door, place the team above individual accolades, etc., etc. That’s the way the San Antonio Spurs do it with coach Gregg Popovich and veterans like Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

In the Spurs’ 109-85 victory over the Sixers on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), it was all right there for everyone to see. The Spurs didn’t just run a clinic on Monday night, they did it especially for the 76ers as if to send a message …

This is how it’s done.

“That’s the Spurs and that’s what we aspire to get to,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.

Brown should understand it more than most. After all, his only other gig in the NBA was with the Spurs when he spent 12 years learning from Popovich the way an NBA team is best run. It’s a lesson he’s been trying to pass on to his young team as the Sixers begin the sometime painful lessons in a rebuilding season.

So as the Spurs went on surges to build leads of 18 points in the first quarter and 29 points in the third quarter, Brown could say to his team, “See, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“What you saw was the extremes of a team that has been together and move the ball and shared the ball and moved freely versus a team that became static and stagnant and tried to do it individually and really had no rhythm to what we were doing,” Brown said.

“It’s played the right way. Everyone talks about play the right way. What does that mean? To me it means you share the ball. As simple as a concept as that is, it’s really hard at any level because you get egos involved and other factors are involved. Its impact is far reaching to other aspects of the game. That’s the essence of offense -- sharing it.”

Actually, the Sixers weren’t as awful as the final score indicated. They committed just 15 turnovers and four of them were by big man Spencer Hawes. The Sixers also continued to get buckets in the paint, pouring in 52 points from up close. The Sixers blocked nine shots and did a decent job at keeping the Spurs off the offensive glass.

Plus, Evan Turner scored 20 points for the seventh time in eight games while Hawes notched his fifth double-double of the season with 17 points and 13 boards.

There was some good stuff for the Sixers in the loss. Sometimes a team just goes up against a buzzsaw, even with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan taking the night off.

“They have so many ways to beat you, and the chemistry is unbelievable,” Hawes said. “Even without [Duncan] in there, they have so many weapons.”

In a season that will go down as one big learning experience, Monday’s loss to the Spurs might end up hitting harder than most games. After all, Brown brought along the Spurs’ offense and ethic when he was hired for the Sixers’ job and likely won’t have to explain too much in the postgame film session.

It was all right there in streaks of black and silver racing up and down the court.

“The biggest thing we took from tonight from seeing it first hand was the unselfishness on both ends of the floor,” Hawes said. “They sell out for each other on defense and they get excited when they make the extra pass. Whenever we play the Spurs it seems like they only shoot threes and layups.

“We run the same offense. But look at how they did it and how we did it.”

They also run opposing players ragged. Though the Spurs were playing the second game of a back-to-back, rookie Michael Carter-Williams struggled to keep up with Parker. But it wasn’t like Carter-Williams was too slow or far out of position.

The Spurs just move the ball that fast.

“They throw the extra pass and it’s really hard to cover,” Carter-Williams said after his 2-for-11 shooting night.

And it isn’t just the offense for the Spurs, either. The Sixers shot 41 percent from the floor in the loss, marking the second time this season they failed to shoot at least 47 percent.

But as Brown explained, the Spurs’ offense spreads to all aspects of the game. The Sixers struggled to get out on the break and when stuck in a half-court offense, they didn’t get much ball movement.

“It spills over into many areas and facets of the game where the ball sticks and people don’t get touches. It’s deflating,” Brown said. “Then you go back to the other end and the ball is moving and you have to chase them around and it’s like ping-pong. They make the passes and they find the right people and they can shoot. It’s what we aspire to get to. That’s what we saw.”

The lessons learned in the loss to the Spurs will be put to the test on Wednesday night when the Sixers host the Houston Rockets. After that, the team hits the road for its first extended streak of the season with games in Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas.

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

The Sixers officially get back to work Wednesday night in their regular-season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder (see game notes).

Before tip-off, Sixers insider Jessica Camerato and producers/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick run the Give and Go to break down some burning questions surrounding the team.

What is the one stat that will most define the Sixers' season?


The Sixers want to build a defensive identity and understandably so — they ranked last in the league in rebounds with a minus-518 differential and were outscored by 10.2 points per game, also last in the NBA. That being said, I am looking at turnovers this season. Last season, the Sixers were prone to throwing away points with errors. They ranked 29th (second to the Suns) with 16.6 turnovers per game. The team is down two ball handlers in Jerryd Bayless and Ben Simmons (both injured), which heightens the challenge. In order for the Sixers to get into any type of rhythm and build an offensive flow, they have to actually maintain possession.

It's got to be defense.

Brett Brown is banking on Joel Embiid being the centerpiece to the team's defense, and he better be for the head coach's sake. Embiid also better get some help from the guys around him on that end of the floor or it will be another year-long parade of bad rotations, easy buckets at the rim and wide-open jumpers. In Brown's three years as Sixers head coach, the team has ranked 29th, 20th and 30th in opponents' points per game. That has to change if the Sixers want to take the next step in their rebuild.

With an abundance of big men and Simmons eventually taking the court as the team's main facilitator, the Sixers need players that can shoot. Last season, they took the eighth-most three-point attempts in the NBA while finishing 24th in three-point percentage. That second number has to go up if the Sixers ever want to create floor space.

Who will be the Sixers' MVP?


The towering 7-foot-2 presence is going to be the dominating force on both ends. Brown intends for Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense and the offense to go through Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, whose role is restricted (knee). Embiid has shown in a small sampling of preseason games he is capable of leading the team on all sides of the floor.

Of course the answer is Embiid, but let's go another route and say Brown.

The coach got an extension last season and also received a boost in roster talent. Now he just has to figure out how the pieces fit together. That didn't go so well with Okafor and Nerlens Noel a season ago, but playing those two together was essentially the only intriguing thing about the Sixers in 2015-16, which is why Brown stuck with the pairing. With better players to mix and match this time around, I believe Brown will figure out some solid options to have the squad in better position to compete on a nightly basis.

The easy pick is Embiid, but I'm going a little outside the box with Dario Saric.

The 22-year-old Croatian showed off the versatility of his game during the preseason. He's an old school player that excels in the team game. He's what's often referred to as a "glue guy." He has skill, but the skills he lacks he makes up for with grit and basketball savvy.

What is your season projection for the Sixers?

This season was supposed to be a bridge year, the start of rebuilding. That will be delayed until the team is healthy with key players like Simmons, Okafor and Noel back at 100 percent. In the meantime, the Sixers' outlook is better than last season’s 10-win total but less than earlier projections with Simmons in the lineup. Because of injuries, I am shifting their win projection to 19.

The injury bug, starting with No. 1 overall pick, Simmons, has certainly put a damper on the Sixers' projected win total. Las Vegas odds books originally set the mark at 27½, which seemed like a long shot even with a full roster. I say they show strides but fall just shy of doubling last season's win total and finish with 19.

This really depends on the return of Simmons. Simmons will make this team so much better on both ends of the floor. Bayless' absence early will hurt this team as well. And don't forget about all the minutes restrictions. The Sixers are going to struggle early on, but if Simmons returns in January, I think this team can double its win total from last season and win 20 games.

Sixers-Thunder 5 things: Season opener is here, let the fun begin

Sixers-Thunder 5 things: Season opener is here, let the fun begin

Finally, basketball is back.

The Sixers will look to put their miserable 2015-16 season behind them when they get the 2016-17 campaign underway with Wednesday's season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Wells Fargo Center (8 p.m./CSN, Pregame Live at 7).

It should be a fun ride. Let's take a look at the season-opening matchup:

1. Long time coming
If you thought you had a long wait for Wednesday's opener, just think how Joel Embiid and Dario Saric feel.

For Embiid, it will be especially gratifying to take the court for a regular-season game. After being selected No. 3 overall by the Sixers in 2014, the center has been forced to sit out two straight seasons because of a pair of surgeries on his troublesome right foot and endured countless hours of rehab.

Now healthy and fresh off averaging 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds in 14.7 minutes during the preseason, Embiid is ready for his first meaningful game action in 970 days.

"I can't wait (for Wednesday's game)," Embiid said, per the Inquirer. "That's going to be my first official NBA game. I just went through the preseason. I thought I got better game by game. I'm looking to finally get that first game."

As for Saric, he spent the past two years playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey after being the 12th overall selection in 2014 and traded to the Sixers. By joining the Sixers a year early, the Croatian, who averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21.1 minutes during the preseason, passed on an opportunity to potentially earn more money.

Both Embiid and Saric have shown their committment to "Trust the Process" from the start, and now the rookies will finally get to prove their worth on the court for the Sixers.

2. Don't forget there is a D in Philadelphia
With Embiid, Saric, Jahlil Okafor, (maybe) Ben Simmons and some added outside shooting, offense shouldn't be an issue for the Sixers this season. However, the other end of floor remains a work in progress.

Head coach Brett Brown stressed Embiid's need to be the Sixers' anchor on defense throughout the preseason.

“He needs to be the crown jewel, the centerpiece to our defense,” Brown said of Embiid.

That was hard to do with the big man averaging just 14.7 minutes a game during the preseason. With Nerlens Noel sidelined because of knee surgery and a host of new faces trying to find chemistry together, it was more of the same defensive issues as the Sixers allowed 107.1 points per game during exhibition play.

Now, we get it, it's only preseason and a lot of the problems on defense have something to do with the roster's lack of talent in recent years. But it's still a continuing trend for the Sixers under Brown. In his three seasons at the helm, the Sixers have allowed averages of 107.6, 101.0 and 109.9 points per game.

Sure, Embiid can be the centerpiece on defense, but he can't be the only piece.

3. Watch out for Westbrook
Speaking of defense ... it will be tested right from the start by one of the NBA's best offensive players in OKC point guard Russell Westbrook.

With Kevin Durant's bitter departure to the Golden State Warriors, the Sixers and the rest of the league can expect a supremely focused Westbrook.

Just how focused? In 61 career games without Durant, Westbrook has averaged 28.0 points, 8.4 assists and 7.1 rebounds.

Those are MVP-type numbers. And you better believe Westbrook is out to prove he's capable of pulling in that hardware and much more without his former superstar teammate.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (ankle) is expected to play in the opener. Simmons (foot), Noel (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Alex Abrines (hip) is expected to play for the Thunder.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 14 straight matchups to the Thunder.

• Westbrook, who had triple-doubles in both games against the Sixers last season, has averaged 22.0 points, 9.4 assists and 7.9 rebounds against them in his career.

• Brown is 1-2 in season openers as Sixers head coach.

• Nik Stauskas scored a career-high 23 points in the March 18 meeting between the two teams last season.

• The Thunder grabbed 65 and 68 rebounds in the two games against the Sixers a season ago.