Sixers' sloppy defense exposed in loss to Bobcats

slideshow-sixers-spencer-hawes-ap.jpg

Sixers' sloppy defense exposed in loss to Bobcats

BOX SCORE

CHARLOTTE -- The Sixers’ defense is in desperate need of improvement.

That much was evident once again in Friday night’s 105-88 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats (see Instant Replay). The Sixers allowed 36 points in the first quarter and 62 in the first half on the way to suffering their eighth consecutive loss on the road, dropping their record to 7-13.

“I feel like that whole first half was not good defensively,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “We scored, but we have to find ways to individually and team-wise improve defensively or it is going to be a really long year.”

“We have to start off games better defensively,” Tony Wroten said. “We played good defense in the second half like coach said, but we have to play it for 48 minutes. We can’t let teams get 36 or 40 points in the first quarter. It is going to be hard to win games like that.”

Brown has been saying the same thing about his team’s defense from the start of the season. He’s repeatedly pointed out that some of the Sixers’ defensive deficiencies have to do with the team's makeup and style of play. Still, the coach knows opponents are onto the club’s clear weakness and it will only get worse after allowing the NBA’s lowest-scoring team to put up 105 points.

“Al Jefferson was 6 for 21. That wasn’t our problem,” Brown said. “It was more catching that first dribble, guarding that first dribble. The perimeter people did a really good job of exposing some problems that we have to fix.”

While big men have been an issue for the Sixers lately, holding Jefferson to 14 points on an inefficient 28.5 percent shooting has to be considered a small win. It was the team’s effort on other players slashing to the basket that prevented them from an actual victory.

The Bobcats scored 16 of their 22 fast-break points in the first half, while the Sixers totaled 10 for the game. The Bobcats also put up 56 points in the paint en route to shooting 46.2 percent from the field.

“My concern is how easily they scored in the first half and the way that they did it,” Brown said.

Things were particularly bad for the Sixers in the second quarter. They allowed a three-point deficit to balloon to 11 when they were outscored in the frame, 26-18.

The Sixers never really threatened the Bobcats after that point, although Wroten did his part to try and make it a game.

With Michael Carter-Williams not making the trip because of a sore right knee, Wroten took advantage of the opportunity to be in the starting lineup. He scored a game-high 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out eight assists.

Wroten is averaging 19.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.5 rebounds in five starts this season.

“You rely on the starters to set the tempo,” Wroten said. “Since I was starting, I just figured I had to be aggressive.”

“You give him the ball and the lights come on and there is a player that’s engaged,” Brown said. “You try to put him in environments that he can use that attack mentality and tap into what he can bring to the team.

“His challenge is going to be, well, if I am not the starting point guard and I don’t get thirty-something minutes, how do I evolve into a solid NBA player?”

The Sixers get right back at it Saturday night when they face the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets will also be on the second game of a back-to-back set after losing to the Boston Celtics on Friday night.

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor’s second season in the NBA has been one of learning, marked by injuries, trade talks and DNPs. Throughout these shifting uncertainties, he's had a constant foundation: his fellow Duke players.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Okafor said. “We’re all friends, we’re all a family.”

From those who burst onto the scene to those who struggled to veterans who have seen it all, Okafor has a network of players who already have been through the ups and downs of the league. Even though Okafor competed for only one year at the college level, he got to know many of them while he was coming up the ranks in high school. He formed a stronger bond once he got to the pros.

“He always knows I’m one phone call away no matter what,” Kyrie Irving said. 

Okafor began his second year dealing with a knee injury that held him out most of preseason action. When he got back into the mix, the Sixers looked to determine his place in a logjammed frontcourt.

Minutes were more available at the five-spot when Nerlens Noel was sidelined for the first 23 games of the season. Once all four centers (including Richaun Holmes) were healthy, it was Noel who found himself the odd man out of the rotation. Then the Sixers tried experimenting with a “twin towers” starting lineup of Embiid and Okafor. That pairing didn’t pan out and roles changed.

The Sixers narrowed their roster to a 10-man rotation with Noel as the defensive leader in the second unit. Okafor, for the most part, got the start when Embiid did not play because of back-to-backs or injuries, and was a DNP otherwise.

That situation changed again when the Sixers sat Okafor recently for two games as he was involved in trade discussions. Okafor did not travel with the Sixers for their Feb. 13 contest in Charlotte and rejoined them in Boston for their Feb. 15 game when a deal did not transpire. 

Okafor has a long list of players he can ask about these trying scenarios.

“I get help from all those guys,” Okafor said. “I can look to any one of [them] for advice.”

Former Blue Devil Austin Rivers has been in Okafor’s situation when it comes to decreased playing time. The 2012 10th overall pick had troubles carving out a role early on with the Pelicans. He dealt with injuries and was hit with DNPs when the team added more guards to the mix. Now in his fifth season, he has established a spot on the Clippers. 

“It’s a good thing,” Rivers said of the challenges. “If you’re truly a good player and a competitor, it’ll breed maturity and a level of respect and hard work. It’s a humbling experience. It’s the best thing for you; it’s the best thing that happened to me. I went through struggles to come back a better player and person. I think it’s the same thing he’s doing now. He’ll appreciate it.”

Irving, formerly the first overall pick, didn’t struggle with his role with the Cavaliers. He was a focal point from the start and had become a three-time All-Star and NBA champion by the end of his fifth season. Because of this, Okafor looks to Irving for his knowledge of managing the spotlight.

“Guys have to go through what they go through just to build character, build whatever they need, that armor, to deal with what this NBA life entails. It comes with a lot,” Irving said. “It’s just patience. Despite what's going on in the outside world, you’ve got to remain calm and give everything you have to this game of basketball.”

Last season, Okafor established a mentor relationship with Elton Brand when the 17-year veteran signed with the Sixers in January of Okafor’s rookie year. Okafor still speaks with Brand, who became a player development consultant for the Sixers, on a weekly basis for guidance.

This season, he has another veteran Duke player in the locker room. Gerald Henderson got to know Okafor before they played together on the Sixers. Henderson was on campus completing his degree when Okafor was there ahead of his freshman season. The two spent time together then, and Henderson continues to look out for him now as a teammate.

“I was around him a lot, working out with the team, seeing how good of a kid he was,” Henderson said, also adding, “It’s a man’s league. It’s not like you’ve got to hold somebody’s hand through something. Jah’s a man in himself. But at the same time, I’m always checking on him, seeing how he’s doing, make sure he’s not down, make sure he’s still getting his work in and focusing on the right things.”

The trade deadline is two days away.

Whether Okafor remains in a Sixers jersey or puts on a new uniform, the one he wore in college always will be a part of his journey through the NBA.

“It’s bigger than basketball,” Okafor said. 

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Another team has emerged in Jahlil Okafor trade talks: the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers are pursuing Okafor in an attempt to add help for Paul George, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Jeff Goodman and Chris Haynes.

Indiana would make some sense for Okafor because of their style of play. The Pacers rank 25th in the NBA in fastbreak points per game. They're 25th in speed/distance traveled on offense. (The Sixers are first.) 

And Indiana is also in the top-third of the league in post touches and paint touches per game. 

Al Jefferson, a plodding post player Okafor is often compared to, averages 8.5 points for the Pacers this season and has played in every game.

What might the Pacers be willing to part with?

Thaddeus Young would be a solid return, but it's hard to see the Pacers doing that because it wouldn't make them a better team.

C.J. Miles? Probably not. The guy's an elite three-point shooter.

Forget about Myles Turner, one of the best young bigs in the NBA. 

A trade that might make sense for both teams would be Monta Ellis and a 2017 first-round pick for Okafor. (Before you continue reading, just know I'm not advocating for such a deal, just bringing up the possibility.)

Ellis has fallen out of favor in Indiana, playing six fewer minutes per game than he did the last two years. And as a 31-year-old, undersized two-guard who's long struggled from three-point range, he's not the most efficient player. He's also owed $23 million the next two seasons.

The Sixers could use additional scoring, but could do better than Ellis in free agency. This theoretical trade would really be about the first-round pick.

If the season ended today, the Pacers (29-28) would get the 18th overall pick. In that regard, the pick coming back wouldn't be much different than what they could have received from New Orleans before the DeMarcus Cousins trade.

The Sixers seemed unwilling to take on the contracts of Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca in a trade with New Orleans because, even though they have salary cap flexibility, they don't want to limit their payroll for multiple future seasons. The same would likely be true with Ellis, even though he'd fill more of a need.

Okafor for Miles would be a good trade for the Sixers. So would Okafor for Young. But again, neither deal would make Indiana better in the short term, so it's probably a pipe dream.

The trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m.