Sixers' sloppy defense exposed in loss to Bobcats

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Sixers' sloppy defense exposed in loss to Bobcats

BOX SCORE

CHARLOTTE -- The Sixers’ defense is in desperate need of improvement.

That much was evident once again in Friday night’s 105-88 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats (see Instant Replay). The Sixers allowed 36 points in the first quarter and 62 in the first half on the way to suffering their eighth consecutive loss on the road, dropping their record to 7-13.

“I feel like that whole first half was not good defensively,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “We scored, but we have to find ways to individually and team-wise improve defensively or it is going to be a really long year.”

“We have to start off games better defensively,” Tony Wroten said. “We played good defense in the second half like coach said, but we have to play it for 48 minutes. We can’t let teams get 36 or 40 points in the first quarter. It is going to be hard to win games like that.”

Brown has been saying the same thing about his team’s defense from the start of the season. He’s repeatedly pointed out that some of the Sixers’ defensive deficiencies have to do with the team's makeup and style of play. Still, the coach knows opponents are onto the club’s clear weakness and it will only get worse after allowing the NBA’s lowest-scoring team to put up 105 points.

“Al Jefferson was 6 for 21. That wasn’t our problem,” Brown said. “It was more catching that first dribble, guarding that first dribble. The perimeter people did a really good job of exposing some problems that we have to fix.”

While big men have been an issue for the Sixers lately, holding Jefferson to 14 points on an inefficient 28.5 percent shooting has to be considered a small win. It was the team’s effort on other players slashing to the basket that prevented them from an actual victory.

The Bobcats scored 16 of their 22 fast-break points in the first half, while the Sixers totaled 10 for the game. The Bobcats also put up 56 points in the paint en route to shooting 46.2 percent from the field.

“My concern is how easily they scored in the first half and the way that they did it,” Brown said.

Things were particularly bad for the Sixers in the second quarter. They allowed a three-point deficit to balloon to 11 when they were outscored in the frame, 26-18.

The Sixers never really threatened the Bobcats after that point, although Wroten did his part to try and make it a game.

With Michael Carter-Williams not making the trip because of a sore right knee, Wroten took advantage of the opportunity to be in the starting lineup. He scored a game-high 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out eight assists.

Wroten is averaging 19.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds in five starts this season.

“You rely on the starters to set the tempo,” Wroten said. “Since I was starting, I just figured I had to be aggressive.”

“You give him the ball and the lights come on and there is a player that’s engaged,” Brown said. “You try to put him in environments that he can use that attack mentality and tap into what he can bring to the team.

“His challenge is going to be, well, if I am not the starting point guard and I don’t get thirty-something minutes, how do I evolve into a solid NBA player?”

The Sixers get right back at it Saturday night when they face the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets will also be on the second game of a back-to-back set after losing to the Boston Celtics on Friday night.

With T.J. McConnell, Hawks say Sixers have 'identity' worth respecting

With T.J. McConnell, Hawks say Sixers have 'identity' worth respecting

ATLANTA – The final score was a little lopsided and the game was sloppy at times, but after beating Philadelphia, 110-93, Saturday night, the Hawks said they see promise in the rising young Sixers.

The Sixers didn’t have the legs on the tail end of back-to-back games to keep up with another hot team, and Joel Embiid did not play, as Atlanta (26-18) won for the 11th time in 13 games to move within a half game of Boston for the No. 3 spot in the East.

Yet if not for the Sixers' 21 turnovers and a second quarter where Atlanta seemed to make every shot, the Sixers (15-27) looked enough like the team that had won eight of 10 games before arriving in Philips Arena that the Hawks see differences.

The biggest change in the Sixers between Saturday and the first two meetings of the season between these two teams — one played with Embiid and one without — is T.J. McConnell starting at point guard rather than Sergio Rodriguez.

McConnell had a game-high 11 assists against the Hawks in addition to his eight points, and the Sixers had 27 assists on a night where they hit 12 of 29 three-pointers.

“They have an identity,” said Atlanta forward Kent Bazemore, who scored 16. “McConnell is playing really well, putting pressure on the defense and their floor spacing is very good. Very disciplined group.

“Guys are in the right spots, if a guy drives, they have a plethora of options: a guy in the corner, a guy on the jumper, a guy on the wing. They kept us honest for a chunk of the game.”

Ersan Ilyasova scored 21 points on 15 shots and Robert Covington added 15 points and 10 rebounds, but the Sixers were gassed in the second quarter, as the Hawks hit 16 of 23 shots in a 37-point period.

Atlanta stretched a 62-54 halftime lead to 18 points late in the third quarter, but the Sixers cut the deficit to 94-87 with 6:46 left in the game on a pair of free throws by rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

The Sixers whipped the Hawks, 20-11, in fast break points.

“They were getting some threes in transition,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who was on the Spurs' staff for years with Sixers head coach Brett Brown. “Right now, they’re pushing the pace.

“T.J. McConnell does a great job of getting outlets, getting up the court and finding shooters quickly and they’re letting it fly. Covington and Ilyasova and those guys are collapsing us early and shooting early threes.”

The Sixers had problems on the boards in Atlanta, where Dwight Howard grabbed 15 and Paul Millsap added 10 as the Hawks built a 48-38 rebounding edge. Those numbers were every bit as important as Millsap’s 21 points and the 13 added by Howard.

That disparity on the boards and the Sixers' collective loose handle did in the visitors. Atlanta scored 17 points off the Sixers’ 21 turnovers.

Embiid was scheduled to rest Saturday anyway. It’s unclear whether he’ll play Tuesday against the Clippers, who will be without guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin, or Wednesday at Milwaukee.

Embiid suffered a knee contusion in Friday night’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers and Brown said he’d be further evaluated Sunday.

Get him back in the mix, and The Sixers have a shot at starting another winning streak.

“We did a good shot of holding them to one shot,” Howard said after the Hawks outscored the Sixers, 14-0, in second-chance points. “They play really hard. They play aggressive. They play good team basketball. They share the ball and find the open man. They have a good group of young guys.

“It wasn’t as easy as people expect out of Philly teams. You have to respect them.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich blasts President Trump

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich blasts President Trump

CLEVELAND — Gregg Popovich would bench President Donald Trump.

San Antonio's longtime coach, who has been highly critical of Trump in the past, went on a lengthy rant about the new president on Saturday night, calling him a bully and saying he hopes he can change while in office.

While meeting with reporters before the Spurs played the NBA champion Cavaliers, Popovich didn't hold back in offering his disdain for Trump and members of his administration.

Popovich initially was asked about his views on the women's marches in Washington and around the world before he unloaded on Trump.

"Their message is obvious," the five-time champion coach said of the protesters. "Our president comes in with the lowest (approval) rating of anybody whoever came into the office. And there's a majority of people out there, since Hillary (Clinton) won the popular vote, that don't buy his act. And I just wish that he was more -- had the ability to be more -- mature enough to do something that really is inclusive rather than just talking and saying, `I'm going to include everybody.'

"He could talk to the groups that he disrespected and maligned during the primary and really make somebody believe it. But so far, we've got (to) a point where you really can't believe anything that comes out of his mouth. You really can't."

As he said following Trump's election in November, Popovich wants Trump to succeed but believes he will do so only if he changes.

Popovich pointed out that Trump visited CIA headquarters on his first official day in office, but used the occasion to talk about himself.

"Instead of honoring the 117 people behind him where he was speaking, he talked about the size of the crowd," Popovich said. "That's worrisome. I'd just feel better if somebody was in that position that showed the maturity and psychological and emotional level of somebody that was his age. It's dangerous and it doesn't do us any good. I hope he does a great job, but there's a difference between respecting the office of the presidency and who occupies it.

"And that respect has to be earned."

Popovich was also critical of those who don't hold Trump accountable for his words.

"It's hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids and we're watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist and make fun of handicapped people. And what really bothers me are the people around him: the Sean Spicers, the Kellyanne Conways, the Reince Priebuses that know who he is and actually have the cynical approach and disingenuous attitude to really defend him and try to make it look like he didn't say what he said.

"And so when he's mad at the media for them reporting what he said, that just boggles my mind."

Popovich said others would have been punished for some of the things Trump has said in the past, including when he mocked a reporter with a disability.

"If our children would've said it, we would have grounded him for six months," he said. "Without a doubt. But we ignore all that because, because why? That says something about all of us and that's what's dangerous, or that's what scares the hell out of me to this day. It makes me uneasy."

Popovich concluded his rant about Trump by decrying his inability to handle media criticism.

"It does boggle the mind how somebody can be so thin skinned," he said. "It's all obvious, it's about him. If anything affects him, if it's `Saturday Night Live' or `Hamilton,' or she got 3 more million votes than you. `They're illegal.' It doesn't matter what it is, there's a pattern there. And that's dangerous. I'd like to have someone with gravitas, but he got there through the electoral college, which is part of our system, and I hope he does some good things.

"There was a young lady on today who said, `I just wished he had gone up there and said something like, and I know I said certain things, or you know I would really like to bring the people who don't feel, or I know some of you are scared.' But he can't do that because bullies don't do that. That's why."