Like offense, hate defense? Sixers are your team

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Like offense, hate defense? Sixers are your team

Well, you can’t pretend like he didn’t tell you. He told you. He told all of us.

When the Sixers hired Brett Brown, the new head coach was asked about his coaching philosophy. He said he wanted to play fast. But how might that impact the defensive effort, someone wondered?

“We’re not going to sacrifice scoring because we want to play good defense,” Brown said in August (see story). “I think it’s one of the great mistakes when people talk about defense. It doesn’t mean that you are going to be a low-possession team. We want to go. We want to get out in the open court and we want to run.”

They want to get out in the open court. And they do. They want to run. And they do. They don’t want to sacrifice scoring in the service of defense. And they don’t.

Man, was that a prophetic quote. Carnac the Magnificent couldn’t have seen the future any better.

The Sixers’ defense isn’t quite as funny as a Johnny Carson bit, though. At least not intentionally.

The Phoenix Suns beat the Sixers, 124-113, at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday evening (see story). The Sixers have lost 10 of their last 12 at home. They’ve also lost four in a row at home for the first time since the final games of the 2011-12 season.

The reason is simple enough. Just like Carnac, you know the answer before the question is even asked.

Answer: Stop ball.

Question: Name two four-letter words the Sixers would never use.

As someone remarked to Brown, “It didn’t seem like the team was committed to defend.”

“That’s because we weren’t,” Brown replied.

The Sixers entered Monday giving up 109.5 points per game. That’s 30th in the NBA. There are 30 teams in the NBA. That, as you’ve already figured out, is not good.

Even as poor (or no) Sixers defensive efforts go, the performance against Phoenix was particularly glaring. The Suns scored 40 points on 77.3 percent shooting in the first quarter (see 6 observations). They had 62 points on 61.5 percent shooting at the half. They had 95 points on 55 percent shooting by the third quarter. See where this is going? In the end, Phoenix scored 124 points on 53.8 percent shooting. You almost needed an abacus to count up all the oversized numbers.

“We didn’t come out the way we intended,” Brown said. “We want to end this middle third [of the season] being a better defensive team. We talk about it. We drill it. We show it. We’ve got to find a better way to get that done. We are improving. The numbers say that. Forget my opinion. To start the way we started the game at home is disappointing. That’s the bottom line.”

Brown seemed frustrated. He had a right to be. Most teams on most nights would have to try hard to not try that hard on defense. Not the Sixers. What happened on Monday wasn’t all that unusual for them.

Counting Monday, opponents have scored 100 or more points against the Sixers in 40 of 45 games this season. That includes 21 of the last 23 games and seven straight. The Sixers have given up 110 or more points 19 times. And they’ve surrendered 120 or more points nine times.

The last time the Sixers gave up 120 or more points on eight or more occasions was 17 years ago. They did it 12 times in the 1996-97 season.

But wait. There’s more. Like offense and hate defense? Fantastic. Sixers operators are standing by to take your order.

The Sixers have given up 130 or more points three times this season. They haven’t done that in two decades. Hooray history.

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brett Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media.

Once the deal was made official, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo released a statement. 

“We want to wish Nerlens the best of luck in Dallas and thank him for his contributions over the last few years," Colangelo said. "Justin Anderson is a talented, strong and defensive-minded wing who will fit nicely in Brett’s system. I’m certain Justin’s toughness and edge will add a tremendous amount to our team."

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter (see story).

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”