Sixers sticking with plan after rough preseason

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Sixers sticking with plan after rough preseason

BOX SCORE

No matter what you think you saw during the Sixers’ 125-102 exhibition season loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), it hasn’t dissuaded coach Brett Brown.

The Sixers are sticking with the plan.

Obviously, the plan has very little to do with winning games and making the playoffs this season. Though no one will admit it, the Sixers are in full tank mode, which they like to call, “rebuilding.” And as Brown pointed out when he accepted the job to coach the team, rebuilds can often be painful.

Wednesday’s loss to the Timberwolves featured plenty of pain.

“It is what I expected. It’s always more real when it’s in real time,” Brown said. “You always see it clearer, the enormity of the challenge -- it’s ever present, it’s real, it’s present and you’re a part of it now. When I accepted the job in August I was living it and breathing it with them and I love it. We go to practice, we work, the guys are into it, they give 100 percent effort. There are things we all have to do better and that’s the bottom line.

“I like this group and I like coaching this group -- their hearts are in the right place. There is a skill level we have to develop and we will. We will not go astray from the plan.

“The plan is to keep this group together in relation to keeping the locker room together in relation to keep the development side going.”

Things will become even more real next Wednesday when the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat come to town. Pain just might be the operative word. Miami is favored to threepeat this season, while the Sixers are picked to finish last … in the entire NBA.

So with a week to go before the games count for real, Brown sees plenty of work ahead of him and the team. With a team that lacks rebounding and an inside presence, the Sixers spent a lot of their practice time concentrating on protecting the paint, which they did well against Minnesota. But in concentrating in shutting down the paint, the Sixers’ defense left everything else open and the T’wolves took advantage of it.

Minnesota shot 15 for 29 from three-point range. Big man Kevin Love, a veritable double-double machine, took just two shots from inside the paint and went 4 for 6 from beyond the arc.

When Love is looking for the three-pointer instead of a basket at the rim, it tells a coach something.

“You look at it and we took a step back defensively, there’s no doubt about that,” Brown said. “We put a large emphasis on playing defense and trying to guard the paint and they made us pay from the three-point line. Give them credit -- they shot it. It will be interesting when you go back and look at how they got those three-point shots. I didn’t feel as the game was unfolding that it was because we were doing such a great job moving around and defending the paint. I feel like we got a little bit lazy, a little sloppy and it didn’t feel like that desperation was there.”

One has to wonder if teams will shoot the three-pointer as well as the T’wolves did on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, one also has to wonder if the Sixers will be able to score in a half-court set. Though the Sixers got off to a quick lead, they promptly fell behind by double digits when their shots wouldn’t fall.

The Sixers were 3 for 22 during the first half on shots outside of the paint. Of those shots, the Sixers went 3 for 10 on three-pointers during the opening half and 4 for 19 during the second half.

The Sixers made just three shots from two-point range outside of the paint.

Still, Brown and the Sixers figure they will get their points. All five starters scored in double figures with two-guard James Anderson leading the way with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting.

Defense remains the concern.

“They hit a lot of shots tonight and we’re trying to protect the paint,” said Evan Turner, who scored 11 points on 2-for-15 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and five assists. “We have to do a better job of communicating.”

It will be a long week of practice waiting for the Heat to come to town for the opener. There is a lot of work to do.

“There are a lot of teams that have the people that can shoot the basketball,” said Thad Young, who also had 11 points. “But we have to concentrate on defensive structures and run guys off the line. Right now, because we have such a young team, we just have to stick with the principles that have been taught.”

In other words, they’re sticking with the plan.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Malik Monk, Lonzo Ball lead the way in wins

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Malik Monk, Lonzo Ball lead the way in wins

The Sixers acquired some more draft picks this weekend, including a "first round pick." Meanwhile, the Lakers still have the third-best lottery odds, meaning the Sixers have a decent shot of having their pick convey to them this season.

With that in mind, let's take a peek at who rose and fell this weekend.

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Saturday was pretty much peak Malik Monk. Monk can shoot and shoot he did, to the tune of 33 points in No. 11 Kentucky's 76-66 home win over No. 13 Florida. Monk didn't quite get 47 points like he did vs. North Carolina in non-conference play, but the freshman shooting guard scored a point per minute played. He shot 9 for 18 from the field, an impressive 5 of 7 from three, and got to the free-throw line with ease. He made 10 of 11 from the stripe. 

It was Monk at his most Monk, so he also had five assists to go with six turnovers. You let an offensive artist go to work like Monk and you're going to get a few turnovers to boot, and that's also to be expected when he takes some of the work left by De'Aaron Fox, who missed Saturday's game. Monk is almost surely a top-10 pick and should be near the top of the Sixers' board. He fits them like a glove if they can effectively build around Ben Simmons with shooters.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
Kentucky wasn't the only team picking up a big conference win, as No. 5 UCLA went on the road and got revenge against No. 4 Arizona to the tune of a 77-72 win. Color exactly no one shocked, but Lonzo Ball had a big role in the win. He shot just 1 of 5 from three (5 of 10 from the field), but he was everywhere offensively. He dished out eight assists, picked up five rebounds and had just two turnovers. Defensively, he also provided two steals.

Ball wasn't just in the news for his performance on the court, which was certainly exemplary. His dad said that he would only play for the Lakers next year, causing an uproar before he somewhat walked back the comments. It would certainly be entertaining to see the Calif. native be the future point guard of the Lakers under the tutelage of new president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, but Ball doesn't have the clout to force his way to LA. Heck, the Lakers may not even have their pick come June.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
While Monk and Ball led their squads to wins on Saturday, Jayson Tatum was unable to do the same. He was stifled along with his No. 10 Duke Blue Devils in a 55-50 loss at Miami. The Hurricanes are the type of team that can give Tatum fits because they're long and can provide the mobile athletes needed to stay with Tatum. Since NBA teams are literally full of those kinds of athletes, it's a concern for the freshman as he presumably takes the leap next year.

Against Miami, Tatum played all 40 minutes and was a paltry 4 of 16 from the field, missing all seven of his attempts from three. He did have seven assists to go with eight points, but it was not a good look for the freshman. Duke can't afford a performance like that from the top-10 prospect if they're going to make a tournament run. They'll need to see more of what he did against Syracuse on Wednesday (also a loss), when he had 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

Josh Jackson, forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Ho hum, Kansas won again. The No. 3 Jayhawks seem poised to become No. 1 overall after losses by Gonzaga and Villanova this week and freshman Josh Jackson is a strong reason why Kansas will be a No. 1 seed come March. Jackson struggled from two (3 for 11) on Saturday in a 77-67 win over Texas but he was 2 for 3 from three and made 6 of 8 from the free throw line. That's important: He's struggled at times from those two areas and is now up to 37.8 percent from three. Jackson still struggles from the stripe at 57.1 percent. 

He had another all-around game against Texas, too. He had five rebounds and five assists and was his pesky self defensively. This came after a 15-point, 11-rebound effort to go with four assists against TCU on Wednesday. Jackson is versatile on both ends and seems like he could fit on any team picking near the top of the lottery.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida State (6-11/205)
The No. 19 Seminoles finally broke out of a slump and Jonathan Isaac made himself heard in a 76-74 win at Clemson. That may not seem impressive since Clemson is unranked, but road wins in conference, especially in the ACC, are hard to come by and worth celebrating when achieved. Isaac was highly efficient as he scored 14 points on just eight shots. He made two treys in three attempts but had just three rebounds, likely a result of Florida St.'s size and length sharing the load on the boards.

The lengthy 19-year-old forward had just one block. However, it was the biggest block he could have made. He denied the Tigers a go-ahead shot in the final 10 seconds and helped preserve the road victory. Isaac has an enticing talent for defending the rim and it's part of why he's a major prospect. FSU does play some zone, so he'll need to adjust to full-time man-to-man defense at the next level. 

Quick Hits 
Let's look at some second-round picks this week, with the Sixers' additions to their treasure chest of picks.

While Arizona lost to UCLA, sophomore guard Alonzo Trier was on fire for much of the game, making 11 of 14 shots en route to a game-high 28 points. Trier has clear offensive talent but has some questions after a PED suspension to begin the year.

Oregon had some heroics on the road this week and junior forward Dillon Brooks played his part. He drained a three as time expired to beat California on Wednesday and had 36 points in a sweep of Cal and Stanford. 

Let's stick in the area with Villanova senior Josh Hart for this last one. The senior guard has potential as a role player at the next level and an efficient 16 points on 11 shots played a part in 'Nova's 79-63 win over Creighton.

Sixers' trio of double-doubles overshadowed in loss to Knicks

Sixers' trio of double-doubles overshadowed in loss to Knicks

NEW YORK -- Carmelo Anthony stole the show on Saturday with 37 points and a game-winning shot against the Sixers.  

His dramatic bucket was the difference-maker in the Knicks' 110-109 victory (see story), but a deeper look into the box score tells another story of a strong comeback attempt fallen short.

While the Knicks were led by one player (Derrick Rose had 18 points and was the only other Knick to score more than 14), the Sixers fought back with standout efforts from a trio of starters.

The frontcourt of Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington and Dario Saric combined for 67 points and 35 rebounds. That’s 61.4 percent of the Sixers' total offense and 70 percent of their production on the boards.

In a game remembered for one shot, don’t forget about these performances.

Okafor: 28 points, 10 rebounds (six offensive), one assist, 28:45

Okafor scored a season-high 28 points (three shy of his career-high) starting in place of the injured Joel Embiid. He was aggressive from the start, scoring 11 points in the first quarter alone. He followed that up with another 11 in the fourth. Down the stretch, Okafor scored the Sixers' final two baskets, including the critical go-ahead jumper with nine seconds left.

"There was a real bounce even at the start," Brett Brown said of Okafor, who received treatment after the game and was not available to speak to the media. "He is such a gifted scorer when he has that fluid nature that we saw at the start. … I feel like there was a real mentality for Jahlil to look to score."

The most significant aspect of Okafor’s game, though, was in the rebounding column. He has struggled on the boards -- his defense has been the knock on him since he entered the league. On Friday, he grabbed just two rebounds against the Wizards while Richaun Holmes had 10 off the bench.

That changed on Saturday. Okafor pulled down six rebounds … in his first 11 minutes. That equaled his total from the past two games combined. Okafor gave the Sixers a glimpse into what they hope to see more of from their man in the middle.

"Jah did an amazing job on both sides of the court," Covington said. "He made a bunch of tough plays on the offensive and defensive end. He got a couple big rebounds for us, he does that a lot but we’ve just got to get him to keep doing it more consistently."

Saric: 19 points, 15 rebounds (six offensive), five assists, 39:34

How do you keep up with 20 points and 11 rebounds on Friday? Post a 19-point, 15-rebound double-double the next night (a career-high in boards).

Check out Saric's total numbers from in his last two games: 39 points, 17 for 36 field goal shooting, 26 rebounds, nine assists and 73 minutes. Saric ranks second among all rookies in double-doubles (seven) behind only teammate Embiid.

"That’s massive numbers by any standards," Brown said. "His versatility and his skill package, all under the roof of how competitive he is, makes him a very, very unique rookie."

There has been an increase in Saric’s ball movement of late. His comfort level and growing team chemistry is translating into more assists.

"I just think he’s just so at peace within himself, and so his game takes the same type of shape," Brown said. "It’s not forced."

Saric’s game has been driven by effort from the beginning of his rookie season. He approaches each play with a high level of intensity and his stat lines reflect his mentality.

"We fought until the end," Saric said. "We never gave up."

Covington: 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, two blocks, 38:53

Covington's locker was crowded after the game as he was the one who guarded Anthony on the final shot. Yet, in spite of being tasked with Anthony, Covington still posted a 20-and-10 double-double and came up with a major defensive play down the stretch.

With the Sixers trailing 108-107 with just over 30 seconds to play, Covington picked off Lance Thomas' pass to start a fast break. This steal started a Sixers possession that eventually led to Okafor scoring the go-ahead basket. Covington is averaging 3.4 steals in his last five games.

"He helped us coach him to being a two-way player. Now he's for real," Brown said of Covington before the game. "I look at him as somebody that has just grown right before us all and bought in as a wonderful teammate, is a two-way player, is amongst the NBA’s elite wing defenders when you look at his position and can guard multiple people. That has come through work."