Sixers won't abandon risky, up-tempo offense

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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.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid will have to hope NBA coaches trust the process.

Embiid on Thursday was not named a starter in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler locked in the three Eastern Conference frontcourt spots. Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan rounded out the backcourt.

James (25.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists) and Antetokounmpo (23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists) were locks as starters. That left Butler, Kevin Love and Embiid as the next in contention. Butler is a two-time All-Star averaging 24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 36.8 minutes for the 21-22 Bulls. Love is posting 20.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 31.6 minutes per game on the Eastern Conference-leading, 29-11 Cavaliers.

The Western Conference starting spots went to Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis. 

The voting was made up of fan votes (50 percent), player votes (25 percent) and media votes (25 percent). Embiid has a chance to be voted in by the NBA coaches, whose reserve selections will be announced on Jan. 26. 

Embiid would have been named a starter had the results been based on fan voting (50 percent). He finished third ahead of Love and Butler.

Embiid was in the running for a starting role during a breakout rookie season. He is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. Even though his playing time is capped at 28 minutes, he ranks seventh among all players in scoring per 48 minutes. He is eighth overall in free throw attempts per game (7.9) and 10th in those made (6.2).

Embiid had obstacles, though, when it came to the voting: rookie status, 28-minute restriction, limited games played (29) because of his allocated workload, and the Sixers’ record.

Even though the All-Star Game highlights individual achievements, team record is often taken into consideration. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine games (see story), but still stand well below .500 at 14-26.

When it came to the players’ vote, it is hard for a rookie who hasn’t even competed against every team in the league to make a strong enough impression for another player to influence their perception of the top talent. Embiid finished outside of the top five in the players' vote, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Butler, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. Meanwhile, the Sixers' big man finished fifth in the media vote.

Embiid and the Sixers were very active in pushing for the fan votes. Embiid received the social media support of celebrities including Triple H, Kevin Hart and MLB MVP Mike Trout, among others. The Sixers promoted Embiid through a Shirley Temple campaign based on his favorite drink.

Embiid picked up major steam in the last week of voting. He had trailed Love by 16,028 fan votes in the second returns on Jan. 12.

He took to Twitter to express his gratitude.