Sixers won't abandon risky, up-tempo offense


Sixers won't abandon risky, up-tempo offense

It’s a remarkable stat when put into a proper context.

The Sixers shoot the ball so quickly that 46 percent of the shots they have taken this season have come in the first 10 seconds of a possession. No other team comes close to matching that number.

Meanwhile, the Sixers average 100 possessions per game, which are nearly two possessions more than the next closest team.

In other words, when rookie NBA head coach Brett Brown says the Sixers are going to use their speed, he isn’t kidding.

“We’re adamant about playing at that pace,” Brown said after Monday’s practice session at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

But in the midst of a four-game losing streak with losses in eight of their last nine games and in 10 of their last 12, could the Sixers be going too fast? After all, as Hall of Fame coach John Chaney used to say about his deliberate and static offense at Temple University, “speed kills.”

The Sixers have committed 93 turnovers in the last five games, with 26 in the victory over Milwaukee on Nov. 22. They also have had 33 shots blocked during the most recent losing streak. That means in the last four losses, the Sixers have given away an average of 25 possessions per game without getting a shot at the rim.

Is the speed game killing the 6-12 Sixers? Perhaps. But at least Brown knew there would be some issues with playing at such a high tempo with the youngest team in the NBA.

“We knew it. We knew the problems would come,” Brown said. “We wanted to focus on the pace. We knew there would be pain and we’d take a hit. … We’re going to get better down the road incrementally when we understand how to use [a high pace] and not use it recklessly. We knew it was coming but, honestly, we didn’t know it was going to be this poor at times.”

The players enjoy the freedom of playing at a breakneck speed and the chance to make decisions on their own. However, there is some danger in that freedom. Now that teams have had a chance to go over the game film on the Sixers, there are fewer surprises. The opposition understands that it isn’t too difficult to get the Sixers to take a quick shot or coax a turnover.

Sometimes with quick shots and turnovers, the Sixers’ defense is put on its heels. Considering that the Sixers give up a league-worst 110.1 points per game, the defense has been tested often (see story).

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are going to give up and slow it down. Far from it. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams says the Sixers need to find a balance.

“We’re trying to find an in-between of playing fast and taking good shots,” Carter-Williams said.

To find the right recipe, Brown says he has to come up with some different ideas. The coach also said the onus will be put on him to teach his players the difference between a quick, bad shot and a quick, smart shot.

Brown also wants his players to understand that playing at a high pace is the only chance the Sixers have against some of their opponents.

“I just want to coach it better,” Brown said. “I don’t want to get on our heels and say we’re not going to run anymore because it comes with too many problems, which it does a the moment. I want to persevere with this style and this way of playing because … we have learned that we are not going to beat some of the teams we’ve beaten any other way.”

Meanwhile, with Orlando headed to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night following a game in Washington on Monday, the Sixers’ speed will again be a weapon. And just like with any weapon, there are plenty of risks.

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”