Sixers get tough on defense in victory over Cavs


Sixers get tough on defense in victory over Cavs


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.

Kevin Durant era begins as Warriors open vs. Tim Duncan-less Spurs

Kevin Durant era begins as Warriors open vs. Tim Duncan-less Spurs

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Kevin Durant era tips off for the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night against an opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, that both Durant and the Warriors would consider unfriendly.

After signing a two-year, $54.3 million deal to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason, Durant is expected to take his place alongside holdover Warriors standouts Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the nightcap of TNT's opening-night doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET).

And he will do so against a Spurs team that also will sport a new look this season -- albeit one with a key piece missing.

In its quest to unseat Golden State as the two-time Western Conference champs, San Antonio will go forward without future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who retired in July after his 19th season.

Before concluding the addition of Durant and the subtraction of Duncan tilts the balance significantly in the Warriors' favor, consider this: The last four times the Spurs played Golden State without their star big man, they won two of them.

The Spurs went after Durant in free agency, then settled for Pau Gasol, who is primed to join a star-studded collection of talent himself. San Antonio returns Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard from a team that won 67 games last season.

"I wouldn't think of ourselves as the guinea pig," Gasol said Monday when asked if the Spurs saw themselves as a test experiment for Golden State's new concoction. "We have an incredible team here with a lot of talent and a lot of experience. It's going to be an interesting, challenging first game."

The Warriors feel the same way, and with good reason.

Even after winning the season series 3-1 last season, Golden State has prevailed just six times in its past 30 regular-season meetings with the Spurs.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, Durant was having similar struggles with his Southwest Division rival. His 25.8-point career scoring average against the Spurs is lower than his mark all teams except the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Warriors will take the court fully aware the NBA hasn't scheduled a coming-out party for Durant on opening night.

"It'll be a really good atmosphere, obviously, and I'm sure there will be a very high level of play on both ends," Curry said. "It'll take a lot to get a win."

The Warriors did more tinkering to their record-breaking, 73-win team than adding Durant. They even plucked one of the Spurs -- David West -- with a team-friendly, $1.6 million offer that was similar to the one ($1.5 million) that lured the veteran away from the Indiana Pacers for a shot at a title in San Antonio last season.

That didn't work out as planned, as West contributed only a career-worst average of 4.0 rebounds and his lowest scoring output in 10 years (7.1 points per game) to the Spurs' quest.

So now, instead of backing up Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge as he did a year ago, he will team with Zaza Pachulia in replacing Andrew Bogut in Golden State's bid for a second championship in three seasons.

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

CAMDEN, N.J. — Toward the end of Sixers practice Monday, Joel Embiid participated in a fast-break drill … by himself.

Embiid brought the ball up the floor in a one-on-none situation against members of the Sixers' coaching staff. 

He's already showed off his three-point shooting skills and now he’s running the break? 

“I’ve always thought I was a point guard,” Embiid joked. “So that’s something that I want to do.”

In all seriousness, Embiid worked on his ball-handling skills during his two-year rehab from foot injuries. It’s not that he wants to become an unconventional point guard, it’s that he is striving to be an all-around threat. Embiid focused on recording his first assist, as an example, during the preseason. 

“I think I’m a complete player,” he said. “I think I can do everything on the court. Doing that shows I think it can help my team, too, in other aspects.” 

With running the break comes attacking the basket in traffic. It could be an anxious moment for a coach to watch a player fresh off two years of foot injuries to drive in a crowd. Sixers head coach Brett Brown said he has to be past the feeling of holding his breath whenever he watches Embiid do so. 

“We are so responsible with how we use him and play him,” Brown said. “It’s like us with children. They go out for the night. You’re nervous, but they go out for the night. He plays basketball for a living, and so he plays. We’ve just got to keep putting him in responsible environments and monitoring his minutes.”

As a point guard, T.J. McConnell appreciates Embiid’s skills, especially given his size. 

“To the people that try to pick him up when he brings the ball up the floor, good luck,” McConnell said. “It’s pretty incredible to see.” 

Robert Covington watched Embiid practice his ball handling during his lengthy recovery. He has seen improvements and likes the dynamic it creates for the team on the break. 

“His handle is really tight and then he’s really strong with it as well,” Covington said. “We’re very comfortable with him pushing the ball.”

That being said, Brown isn’t about to anoint Embiid into a point-center role. He knows Embiid’s desire to be active all over the court, but just as he’s said he doesn’t intend for Embiid to become a go-to three-point shooter, he also wants Embiid to focus on his true position. 

“Joel likes to be a player,” Brown said. “He wants to be a guard. He wants to shoot a three. He wants to be a post player. He wants to play. And we all have seen enough to think he actually can. 

“There are times that he rebounds and leads a break, we want him being aware of get off it, get it to a point guard more than not. I don’t mind him coming down in trail if he’s got daylight, him shooting some. He’s got a wonderful touch and I’ve seen it for two years. 

“... All over the place, I want to grow him. I’m not just going to bucket him up. I still say, like I say to him, 'At the end of the day, you’re a seven-foot-two post player. Post player.'”

Watch Embiid running the floor here: