Bunch of Good Things But No Win For Sixers Against Grizzlies

Bunch of Good Things But No Win For Sixers Against Grizzlies

Well phooey. With a 33-point first-quarter that saw just about
everything go right for them, the Sixers looked like they were in pretty
good shape to finally win a second straight game (imagine!) tonight
against the Memphis Grizzlies, and even after the Grizzlies cut the lead
to shreds and then took the lead in the second, the Sixers persevered
and gave themselves several opportunities to win the game. But in the
end, gravity was not on their side tonight, and the Grizzlies eked out a
103-100 win that left Malik and Zumoff reaching for the peach schnapps.

It's a tough loss to swallow, because there were so many
positives you'd like to take out of a game like this. Evan Turner was a
marvel tonight, scoring from all over the court on the way to his
season-high 27 points and seven assists. Jrue got stymied a bit in the
second half but was absolutely on fire to start, still ending with 18
points and ten assists. Thaddeus Young scrapped his way to 23 and seven,
and played lockdown D on the other end against one of the NBA's
toughest post matchups, holding Zach Randolph to just four points. It
was an astounding group performance from our young core trio.

Unfortunately,
as good as Thaddeus was on Z-Bo, that's about as poor as Spencer Hawes
was on Marc Gasol. Not entirely Spence's fault, since Gasol is a rough
cover for anyone, and the Sixers made the conscious (and as it turns
out, very poor) choice to let Gasol fire away from the perimeter, which
he did to the tune of a season-high 25 points. Hitting from the
perimeter was a recurring theme for the supposedly ground-and-pound
Grizzlies, and Jrue and Evan also probably deserve a good deal of the
blame for some poor defensive switching and ill-timed help that left the
likes of Rudy Gay (26 points) and Jerryd Bayless (21 points, also a
season high) open to fire away from all over the court.

Really,
though, as with last week against the Spurs, this loss can be blamed on
poor late-game execution. Up 100-97 in the game's closing minutes, the
Sixers had several chances to give themselves some breathing room, and
ended up with the following series of possessions:

1. Jrue attempts a jumper double-teamed in the corner (strip, turnover)
2. Jrue finds Thad in the corner (??) for a three (clang, rebound Grizzlies)
3. Jrue pulls up for a contested two 22 feet away from the basket (clang, rebound Grizzlies)

Three
straight poor, low-percentage decisions from Jrue, 0 points for the
Sixers in three trips. Brilliant as The Damaja has been this season, and
much as we want him to be an all-powerful devourer of worlds at just 22
years of age, this is something that he's struggled with a bit this
season, and you hope and expect that this is just a matter of Jrue
needing to get his reps in these late-game stretches, and that the calm,
cool Holiday we know from the game's first three-and-a-half quarters
will soon start showing up reliably in the last half of the fourth as
well. But in the meantime, it gave the Grizzlies just enough time to
edge ahead by one with about 12 seconds to go.

The play that the
Sixers ran there to take back the lead ended up being unsuccessful, but
it was minorly encouraging just the same. Dribbling into the half-court
as the clock wound down to single digits, Jrue drew the double time
driving to the basket and whipped a pass to Thad in single coverage,
where he hoisted a five-foot jumper for the lead. It missed, but it's a
high-percentage shot, and one we've seen Thad make countless times
before, so you can't be mad at the team for the play ran—which in itself
is a victory of sorts for the Doug Collins 76ers. (Derek Bodner of
Liberty Ballers also points out that had Thad spotted Hawes creepeing up the baseline, Spence might've had an uncontested dunk. Next time.)

With
losses like this against superior teams, you have to keep in mind that
for large stretches of this season, it would be rare that the Sixers
even stayed in the games for this long. If you told me before the
Sixers' home games against the Spurs, Knicks and Grizzlies that they
would win one in a blowout and fight to the end in the other two, I'd
have been perfectly happy with that. (Wish they hadn't lost to the Bucks
in the middle, but such is life.) As long as Thad, Jrue and Evan keep
playing at this high a level—and it's worth pointing out that after
slumping for about a month straight, the Extraterrestrial is finally
back up in space, averaging 22 points, 6.8 boards and six assists over
his last four games—and as long as that funny-looking kid with the big
hair keeps getting healthier and healthier, wins and losses are really
not the most important thing anyway.

And if you really want
wins, there might be some to be had in the not-too-distant future. The
Sixers play their next six at home, with the next five being against the
Wizards, Kings, Magic, Pacers and Bobcats. Now the Pacers are good and
the Wizards have improved lately, but you'd still hope the Sixers could
get at least three of those, and perhaps even—wonder of wonders—two in a
row at some point. And if not, well, Jrue plays in the All-Star Game
soon after, and we (presumably) get Bynum back not long after that.
There is still much in life to look forward to.

Give and Go: How much credit does Brett Brown deserve for Sixers' improvement?

Give and Go: How much credit does Brett Brown deserve for Sixers' improvement?

With the team at the All-Star break, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we analyze the job head coach Brett Brown has done this season.

Haughton
Brown's performance has already resulted in more wins than any other season under his leadership, but it continues to be a complex judgment.

He's still tied to an extremely young roster, which lends itself to the high number of turnovers, mistakes coming out of timeouts and defensive breakdowns. 

However, he has managed to get several players to show growth in their games and make sure the Sixers remain balanced even with Joel Embiid's emergence. That can also be attributed to Brown's emphasis on state of play and not state of pay.

He turned to T.J. McConnell ($874,636 salary) at starting point guard over Sergio Rodriguez ($8 million) because the second-year pro has proven to be a better fit and has routinely moved Gerald Henderson ($9 million) from starter to reserve.

Then of course, there has been Brown's handling of the Sixers' mashup at center. The coach has found each guy minutes when he can and, according to the players, been up front about all potential minutes and trade scenarios.

Perhaps Brown's finest job this season has come in a role he thought was over: team delegate. Once Sam Hinkie exited and Bryan Colangelo proclaimed he would be more open with information, Brown certainly had to think his days of standing in front of the media to explain every single thing going on with the franchise were over. Think again. 

Still, Brown's been there each day, answering just about every question thrown his way from injuries to trade rumors. If nothing else, he deserves to be commended for dealing with that ... again.

Hudrick
It's amazing what a few NBA-caliber players can do.

After accumulating a 47-199 record over his first three seasons, Brown has led the Sixers to a 21-35 mark so far this season. Sure, much of the credit for the team's success has to do with adding legitimate NBA talent (and a legitimate NBA star in Embiid). With that said, you're finally starting to see Brown's fingerprints on the Sixers.

A protégé of Gregg Popovich's with the Spurs, Brown preaches defense and ball movement. The Sixers' defense has been a catalyst for their success this season. As Brown says in his Bostralian accent, the defensive end is where the Sixers' "bread is buttered." 

With unselfish players with decent court vision like Dario Saric and Gerald Henderson added to the mix, the Sixers don't look like a total disaster in the half court. They're ninth in the NBA at 23.5 assists per game. They haven't finished higher than 15th in the league in any of Brown's three seasons. 

When you consider what Brown has gone through and how he's managed to keep everything positive, it's incredible. Hinkie pegged Brown as his guy, knowing that Brown was an excellent teacher and had the right attitude to deal with losing. You have to be encouraged by what you've seen out of Brown and the Sixers this season.

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

VOORHEES, N.J. — They had taken another “0-for” on the power play on the road and lost a game in which they deserved to at least get a point.

Dave Hakstol had seen enough. Numbers don’t always tell a story. Yet, in the Flyers' case, they did: 4 for 42 on the power play over 12 games, including that 3-1 loss at Calgary.

The next morning in Edmonton, Hakstol met privately with Jakub Voracek to discuss, among other things, the power play. That night, Hakstol moved Voracek off the first unit power play and replaced him with Ivan Provorov.

He then told Shayne Gostisbehere to change his location on the power play on the half wall and let Provorov, the Russian rookie, worry about the blue line.

In the two games since, the power play is 3 for 6 and has the Flyers back up to ninth in the NHL after falling to 13th during that 12-game span of utter futility.

How the power play goes tonight against the Washington Capitals is critical if the Flyers have any shot of taking points away from the top club in the league.

“It’s a little bit different look,” Hakstol said. “We’re comfortable with either of the setups we have there. Whether it’s with Jake on the flank of the [Claude] Giroux unit or having Ghost there.

“Both are effective. Within the game, we can go back and forth with the other. We’ve had some pretty good play out of the other unit, regardless of the setup.”

Provorov has a very accurate point shot. Gostisbehere has the hardest shot of any on the top unit. The rest of the first unit – Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds – hasn’t changed.

“We can’t score,” Provorov said bluntly. “We needed to change something up to spark the scoring. It definitely helped us. Now the two units have a different setup in the zone.

“Just a little different. It took us first game to get used to. We did pretty good in the second game [Vancouver].”

Ghost has never played the half-wall. He thinks this will help him snap a 32-game goal drought. He had three assists – two on the power play – against the Canucks on Sunday.

“It’s completely different,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve always been at the top [blue line]. It’s definitely a different perspective from that view. I think I’ll get a lot more shots and plays that can be made.”

Voracek watches him when that unit is on the ice and offers advice after the shift.

“I have been talking to Jake a ton for pointers,” Gostisbehere said. “When I am out there, if you see something I could have done, please tell me. He is such an easy guy to talk to. He will give you the pointers right away.”

Hakstol said moving Ghost closer to the net has a payoff.

“He is in a pure one-timer side there if he gets himself in the right position,” Hakstol said. “But there is still some work we have to do there in terms of his overall positioning in that spot.

“He brings a different element than Jake does in that spot. Both of them were very, very effective in that spot. They just have different weapons.”

Even though there have been changes, Voracek still rotates back to the first unit if Provorov is on the ice the previous shift before the power play begins.

Because of Travis Konecny’s knee and ankle injuries, Sean Couturier’s second unit has changed the most. Mark Streit anchors from the point with Coots, Nick Cousins and Matt Read below the blue line and Voracek on the right-wall.

That unit has more player rotation on the ice than the top unit.

Hakstol doesn’t buy the argument the Flyers' power play crashed because it became too predictable. 

“In the game now, there’s not much hidden,” Hakstol said. “Everyone knows what the other team is trying to do, regardless of 5-on-5 or special teams.

“For us, it was a good time to make a small change that changes the look for our guys on the ice.”

Loose pucks
• A dozen players showed up for the optional morning skate at Skate Zone, more than half of what was expected. 

• Michal Neuvirth will start in goal tonight against Washington. 

• On Tuesday, Voracek got hit with a puck below the belt, during a tip drill in which Voracek tipped a shot into himself. “Feeling better,” he said today. 

• This morning was goalie Steve Mason’s turn to get hit. He took a point shot from Andrew MacDonald in the mask. Mason was temporarily shaken but no damage to either him or his mask.  

Lineup
F:
Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Voracek
Raffl-Cousins-Read
VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning
Gostisbehere-Streit
Del Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth