Collins still focused on being Sixers' 'fixer'

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Collins still focused on being Sixers' 'fixer'

The opportunity was there to stay in the hunt for the postseason. There was a 10-point lead after the first 12 minutes, which shrunk to seven at halftime and three going into the fourth quarter.

The Sixers’ play in Milwaukee Wednesday night looked like that of a group asking, “Can we do this?” as opposed to saying, “We can do this.”

After the 94-92 loss, head coach Doug Collins was short with his answers to the media during his press conference -- visibly frustrated after suffering a 29th loss in 51 tries.

One day earlier, Collins sat at the team’s practice facility and described what was so visual in his face 24 hours later. No, he didn’t know the two-point loss to the Bucks would happen, but too many nights this season he has felt the pain that comes with falling short.

“Our guys, last year going into the playoffs, we knew what we could hang our hat on each and every night,” Collins said. “And in the offseason we had the draft and we were very happy with that. And then in July we made the big trade. And since that point in time, it has been more disappointment than anything else. It just seems at every turn there is something else that keeps coming up.”

The disappointment that accompanies Andrew Bynum is seven months long. The former All-Star center has yet to practice with the team that gave up an All-Star, two young, talented players and a draft pick for his services.

Sure, injuries to Jrue Holiday, Nick Young, Thaddeus Young and Jason Richardson have hurt in their given moments. But quite frankly, they could have been by-products of Bynum’s sustained absence. After all, the presence of a seven-foot scoring player in the post changes the game for everyone involved.

“I never coached a dominant low-post scorer,” Collins said. “I watched the Lakers play the other night against Charlotte. I watched and I said now watch the Lakers’ plays here in the last 12 minutes of the game. Come down, throw the ball into Kobe [Bryant] in the post. If he doesn’t get double-teamed, go to work. If he does, kick it out for a three-point shot.”

Collins was speaking like a teacher in a classroom, passionate to get his lessons across and understood.

“Andrew Bynum was a guy you were going to play through the post,” he said. “The way you calm the game down is you play through the post. When you don’t play through the post there is a movement and a lot of ups and downs in a game because a lot of times you are not getting those easy shots.”

Easy shots have been hard to come by for the Sixers. The Sixers attempt the NBA’s second-fewest free throws per game (16.5) and make the least (11.9). They rank among the bottom 10 teams when it comes to three-pointers made (6.1).

Collins went into the season thinking the foul line and three-point line would add up to 40 points a night for the team. On average, that combination has fallen 10 points shy, leaving the Sixers the second-worst scoring team in the league.

How can Collins get more, given less? It is a question he contemplates daily when the 60-year-old rides the elliptical for an hour.

“First of all, I always say, ‘What can I do to help this team?’” Collins said. “I am very hard on myself, very, very hard because I see everything that goes on and I am a fixer by nature -- I am a problem-solver. Ever since I was in the eighth grade, in my family I have been the kid that all that responsibility falls on. That’s what I do. When I can’t reach guys or I can’t get something switched, it frustrates me.”

But in a day and age that is drastically different between players and coaches compared to when Collins played, frustrations need to be tempered if not hidden.

Relationships are the very thing that keeps Collins wanting to be in the gym every day -- that and teaching. But Twitter, texting and the guardedness of a “me” generation makes building bonds with the players he coaches a legitimate challenge.

“Players don’t want to talk on the phone, not to me,” Collins said. “I talk to the parents all the time and they say they try and call their children on the phone and they won’t answer. They shoot them a text and they get right back to them. You don’t take it personally. You just understand that’s the way it is.”

Eye contact, a voice on the phone, those allow for personable exchanges that cannot be duplicated in 140 characters. Still, Collins spends time every evening reaching out to his players in that manner to bridge a generation gap and forge a union.

“It is getting harder and harder in this business to create those kind of relationships,” Collins said of those bonds he has with the likes of Grant Hill and Michael Jordan. “Number 1, the players are getting much younger and I am older, and they don’t allow that many people in. So there is a real trust that you have to build and sometimes a trust is so hard to build and so easily broken. I mean, one little thing can break a trust. I have to be consistent and true every single day. When I show up there cannot be any wavering.”

Every day, Collins wants to win. Every day, he wants his team to be better than they were the day before. Every day he is working to guide young men into becoming polished professionals.

For those who think the exasperation often seen on his face in the course of a game this season is a sign of his wanting to move on -- as he has by the end of three years in each of his previous three NBA coaching stops -- hold that thought.

“The one thing that has helped me is I have had brakes between coaching,” Collins said. “I think that keeps you fresh. I think you keep learning. Then you get to be 60 and whatever happens this season is not going to decide who I am after 40 years of being in this business in three different areas.

“The neat thing about it for me is the one thing you want is to be respected. Through the years, the friendships from players and coaches from other teams and the respect they give you, you really feel that.

“As long as I am having fun and feel like I am making a difference, I will try [to keep coaching]. The moment I feel like I am not making a difference in the young players’ lives or doing my job to get the winning in a place that it should be, then I will make that decision.”

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

Best of NBA: Heat stun Warriors on Dion Waiters' 3 with 0.6 seconds left

MIAMI -- Dion Waiters' 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left capped his 33-point effort, and the Miami Heat beat Golden State 105-102 on Monday night to end the Warriors' seven-game winning streak.

The Heat wasted a 10-point lead in the final 4 minutes, and Kevin Durant tied the game on a dunk with 11.7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Waiters walked the ball up the court and drilled what became the game-winner over Klay Thompson.

Stephen Curry missed a 3-pointer as time expired for the Warriors (see full recap).

Rivers, Crawford lead Clippers past Hawks
ATLANTA -- Austin Rivers scored 27 points and Jamal Crawford broke out of a shooting slump with 19, helping the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Atlanta Hawks 115-105 on Monday night.

Crawford had eight points in the fourth quarter, including a driving basket after Atlanta cut the Clippers' lead from 24 to five points.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 25 points. Dennis Schroder had 21, and Dwight Howard added 16 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Wizards beat Hornets behind Wall’s 24
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- John Wall firmly believes the Washington Wizards are a good team with plenty of playoff potential.

The key, he said, "is we just got to believe it every time we step on the court."

Wall had 24 points and seven assists, and the Wizards looked plenty confident as they continued their run up the Eastern Conference standings with a 109-99 win against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night (see full recap).

Kings snap skid with win over Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and the Sacramento Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with a 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Ty Lawson added 19 points and helped Sacramento turn the game around with a strong second quarter. Lawson scored nine points in the second, and the Kings outscored the Pistons 37-24 in the period to take a 65-62 lead into halftime.

A 3-pointer by Lawson put Sacramento up 101-90 in the fourth, and the Kings held on from there to stop Detroit's three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Jones, Holiday lead Pelicans past Cavs
NEW ORLEANS -- Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James' dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James' drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds (see full recap).

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. Embiid is reportedly expected to return Friday against the Rockets.

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens, really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going, it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period, it got kind of sore on me again,” Okafor explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being 100 percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded, as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014.

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.