Sixers get tough on defense in victory over Cavs

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Sixers get tough on defense in victory over Cavs

BOX SCORE

It was just a matter of time until the Sixers’ pick-your-poison style of defense paid off. After suffering big losses to the Warriors and Wizards this weak beneath a hail of three-pointers, the Sixers finally met a team that missed.

Or maybe it was matter of execution.

The Sixers overcame a slow first quarter to whip the Cleveland Cavaliers, 94-79, on Friday night to halt a two-game losing streak (see Instant Replay). They won in part because the Cavs shot poorly, connecting at a 33-percent clip from the field with just nine three-pointers.

Given that the Warriors and Wizards combined for 33 three-pointers in back-to-back games, Friday’s win was a step in the right direction.

“The defensive is something we talked about a lot,” head coach Brett Brown said. “You see the numbers against us in the previous two games with the threes and all those types of things and we didn’t roll over.”

The Sixers were down by 14 points after the opening quarter, but took a two-point lead into halftime. By the end of the third quarter, the Sixers led going into the final quarter of a game for the first time this season.

According to Brown, the Sixers did a lot more than watch the Cavs miss shots and corral the rebounds. Actually, the coach says, the Sixers’ woes in defending the perimeter weren’t because of a failure to contest shots while the focus remained on protecting the paint. Instead, it all gets back to energy and running.

Because the Sixers were slow on transition defense, they got burned on three-pointers, Brown says. Against the Cavaliers, the Sixers were able to push the pace offensively and defensively.

The result was the Cavs’ poor shooting.

Cleveland went 9 for 26 from three-point range. They also settled for a lot of long two-pointers, hitting just 7 of 29 shots in the area outside of the paint and inside the thee-point line.

“What we saw as a coaching staff was a team that was beyond bad in transition defense,” Brown said. “It started there and everything grew from there. I feel like the thing I get from it was watching a tape and seeing the carryover and seeing it and working out in the game.”

Credit sixth man Tony Wroten for providing the spark. With the Sixers posting just 14 points in the opening quarter, Wroten pushed the pace on both ends of the floor during the second quarter and was on the floor with point guard Michael Carter-Williams in crunch time during the fourth quarter, too.

Perhaps it was the combination of Wroten with Carter-Williams that gave the Sixers the defensive boost? At the very least, Wroten’s offense surged while on the floor with the rookie point guard. The result was a career-high 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting with a pair of three-pointers, four rebounds and four assists.

Carter-Williams had nine rebounds (four offensive) with seven assists and 11 points.

That’s not a bad backcourt combo.

“Tony responded to backing up Michael Carter-Williams,” Brown said.

The next step for Wroten is consistency. Though he is a bundle of energy every time he hits the floor, Wroten sometimes has problems harnessing that exuberance. With double-digit scoring in five of six games, Wroten is fairly dependable off the bench in helping with some scoring.

But the ratio of assists to turnovers (11 to 9) isn’t ideal. Of course, those numbers might be the result of an energetic player trying to make things happen.

“It’s taking a risk,” Wroten said. “It’s something I’ll need to work on, but at the end of the day I’m going to try and make plays.”

Brown agrees, adding that in order for Wroten to raise his game, he’s going to have to find a middle ground between high energy and poise.

“He plays with reckless abandon. He’s an attack-first guard,” Brown said. “His challenge is can he take that fantastic mentality and polish it up to where there is a level of intellect and poise and say, ‘OK, now you’re an NBA point guard.’ There’s a collision there if you’re not careful. That’s the challenge of coaching Tony Wroten. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and he gets emotional. He can throw the greatest pass you’ve ever seen in your life, or he could hit someone in their shoe. That’s the challenge of coaching Tony.”

The Sixers and Cavs get at it again on Saturday night in Cleveland for the second game of a back-to-back. After that, Brown’s old team, the San Antonio Spurs, come to Philly for a game on Monday night.

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."