Sixers sticking with plan after rough preseason

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Sixers sticking with plan after rough preseason

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No matter what you think you saw during the Sixers’ 125-102 exhibition season loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), it hasn’t dissuaded coach Brett Brown.

The Sixers are sticking with the plan.

Obviously, the plan has very little to do with winning games and making the playoffs this season. Though no one will admit it, the Sixers are in full tank mode, which they like to call, “rebuilding.” And as Brown pointed out when he accepted the job to coach the team, rebuilds can often be painful.

Wednesday’s loss to the Timberwolves featured plenty of pain.

“It is what I expected. It’s always more real when it’s in real time,” Brown said. “You always see it clearer, the enormity of the challenge -- it’s ever present, it’s real, it’s present and you’re a part of it now. When I accepted the job in August I was living it and breathing it with them and I love it. We go to practice, we work, the guys are into it, they give 100 percent effort. There are things we all have to do better and that’s the bottom line.

“I like this group and I like coaching this group -- their hearts are in the right place. There is a skill level we have to develop and we will. We will not go astray from the plan.

“The plan is to keep this group together in relation to keeping the locker room together in relation to keep the development side going.”

Things will become even more real next Wednesday when the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat come to town. Pain just might be the operative word. Miami is favored to threepeat this season, while the Sixers are picked to finish last … in the entire NBA.

So with a week to go before the games count for real, Brown sees plenty of work ahead of him and the team. With a team that lacks rebounding and an inside presence, the Sixers spent a lot of their practice time concentrating on protecting the paint, which they did well against Minnesota. But in concentrating in shutting down the paint, the Sixers’ defense left everything else open and the T’wolves took advantage of it.

Minnesota shot 15 for 29 from three-point range. Big man Kevin Love, a veritable double-double machine, took just two shots from inside the paint and went 4 for 6 from beyond the arc.

When Love is looking for the three-pointer instead of a basket at the rim, it tells a coach something.

“You look at it and we took a step back defensively, there’s no doubt about that,” Brown said. “We put a large emphasis on playing defense and trying to guard the paint and they made us pay from the three-point line. Give them credit -- they shot it. It will be interesting when you go back and look at how they got those three-point shots. I didn’t feel as the game was unfolding that it was because we were doing such a great job moving around and defending the paint. I feel like we got a little bit lazy, a little sloppy and it didn’t feel like that desperation was there.”

One has to wonder if teams will shoot the three-pointer as well as the T’wolves did on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, one also has to wonder if the Sixers will be able to score in a half-court set. Though the Sixers got off to a quick lead, they promptly fell behind by double digits when their shots wouldn’t fall.

The Sixers were 3 for 22 during the first half on shots outside of the paint. Of those shots, the Sixers went 3 for 10 on three-pointers during the opening half and 4 for 19 during the second half.

The Sixers made just three shots from two-point range outside of the paint.

Still, Brown and the Sixers figure they will get their points. All five starters scored in double figures with two-guard James Anderson leading the way with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting.

Defense remains the concern.

“They hit a lot of shots tonight and we’re trying to protect the paint,” said Evan Turner, who scored 11 points on 2-for-15 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and five assists. “We have to do a better job of communicating.”

It will be a long week of practice waiting for the Heat to come to town for the opener. There is a lot of work to do.

“There are a lot of teams that have the people that can shoot the basketball,” said Thad Young, who also had 11 points. “But we have to concentrate on defensive structures and run guys off the line. Right now, because we have such a young team, we just have to stick with the principles that have been taught.”

In other words, they’re sticking with the plan.

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."