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.

Instant Replay: Nuggets 106, Sixers 98

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Instant Replay: Nuggets 106, Sixers 98

BOX SCORE

The Sixers were shorthanded against the Nuggets and it showed.

Playing without Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless (see below), the Sixers didn’t get enough throughout the game from their offensive leader Joel Embiid. He finished with 17 points, but scored only seven through the first three quarters. 

The Nuggets’ second-half push led them to a 106-98 victory over the Sixers. 

How it happened
The Sixers led 27-18 after the first quarter and led by 10 with 3:27 to go in the first half. The Nuggets, however, closed out the second quarter on an 11-3 run. Jamal Murray scored 14 points in the quarter. 

The Sixers faltered in the third as the Nuggets outscored them 23-17. They shot 5 for 19 (26.3 percent) from the field, including 0 for 6 from Embiid, who scored one point off a free throw. Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton combined for 17 of the Nuggets’ points. After only committing five turnovers in the first half, the Sixers committed seven in the third quarter alone. They dropped to 0-11 when trailing after three.

The Nuggets opened the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run. The Sixers were left chasing down the stretch. Embiid drained a three with 1:15 remaining to bring the Sixers within four, but that wasn’t enough. The Nuggets held them off to improve to 8-14 while they Sixers dropped to 4-17. 

Inside the box score
• Embiid struggled for most of the game, shooting 2 for 11 from the field through the third quarter. He totaled 16 points on 5 of 15 shooting. Embiid did record a career-high five blocks, but also had three turnovers.

• Dario Saric followed up Saturday’s double-double with another strong performance: 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting and eight rebounds.

• Ersan Ilyasova (eight rebounds) and Sergio Rodriguez (seven assists) also scored 17 points each.

• The Nuggets were led by a season-high 24 points from Gallinari. Barton dropped 22 points and eight rebounds, while Murray also scored 22 points off the bench. 

(Lots of) injury updates
Okafor missed the game because of gastroenteritis and will not travel to Memphis. Covington was out his second game in a row with a left knee sprain. Bayless sat out his fifth straight game with left wrist soreness. 

Nelson applauded
St. Joe’s alum Jameer Nelson received a warm welcome from the Sixers’ crowd when he checked in for the Nuggets. The 13th-year NBA veteran was a leader on the 2003-04 Hawks team that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and went 27-0 in the regular season. Nelson played high school basketball in Chester, PA. On another St. Joe’s note, Nelson’s former teammate Dwayne Jones has been helping the Sixers rebound during shooting drills at practice and pregame warmups. 

Up next
The Sixers are traveling to Memphis Monday night to play the Grizzlies (13-8) on Tuesday. The team will continue on to New Orleans to face the Pelicans (7-14) Thursday.

Sixers-Nuggets 5 things: Defense needs to improve to stop skid

Sixers-Nuggets 5 things: Defense needs to improve to stop skid

The Sixers (4-16) close out their four-game homestand against the Denver Nuggets (7-13) at the Wells Fargo Center tonight (7:00/CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Missing the stop sign
Apparently, tis the season for giving up points.

The Sixers' defense folded again in their latest loss, a 107-106 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Saturday night. The Sixers have allowed 107.8 points per game this season (25th in the NBA) and 109.1 during their six-game losing skid.

The Sixers let All-Star Isaiah Thomas do the damage on Saturday as he scored 37 points to become the fifth point guard to reach the 30-point plateau against them this season.

On the other side, the Nuggets' defense has actually been even worse. They rank 27th in the league with 109.5 points allowed per game.

2. Hello again
With Joel Embiid also making his debut this season, Dario Saric was always going to play second fiddle when it came to rookies on the Sixers' roster. That has certainly been the case now that Embiid has been putting up dominant numbers while Saric has been up and down.

However, Saric was on the same level as his fellow rookie against the Celtics. The Croatian broke out of a recent slump to notch a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds, which both matched career highs.

That performance also included this highlight-reel moment when Saric destroyed Jonas Jerebko's ankles (see video).

“I prepared a little bit more for this game,” Saric said (see story). “After I have some bad rhythm of five or six, maybe, games. Now I concentrate more. I try to give my best, try to play my best, try to think before everything happens.”

3. Clean the glass
The Sixers will need a similar effort from Saric on the boards if they want to compete with the Nuggets.

Denver is the No. 1 rebounding team in the entire NBA with 49.6 rebounds per game. The Nuggets attack the glass on both ends, too, as they are tops in defensive rebounding and No. 2 in offensive rebounding.

The offensive boards are also a main reason Denver sits third in second-chance points with 15.6 a night.

None of that bodes well for a Sixers team that rates just 20th overall in rebounding.

4. Injuries
Jahlil Okafor (gastroenteritis) is questionable. Robert Covington (knee/illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Nikola Jokic (wrist) and Gary Harris (foot) are out for the Nuggets.

5. This and that
• The Sixers lost both meetings with the Nuggets last season by a combined four points.

• Monday's game will feature both players who won the NBA's Rookie of the Month awards in Embiid and Nuggets guard Jamal Murray. Embiid is averaging 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 23.2 minutes per game. Murray is putting up 9.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 21.7 minutes a night.

• In seven career games against the Sixers, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has averaged 7.6 points and 6.9 rebounds. Those are actually his lowest and third-lowest marks, respectively, against any NBA team.