Sixers 'can't guard anybody' in huge loss to Nets

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Sixers 'can't guard anybody' in huge loss to Nets

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NEW YORK -- There was no complex answer or obscure basketball nuance that only those close to the game could see and understand in the Sixers’ 130-94 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night at the Barclays Center (see Instant Replay).

It was very simple.

“We can’t guard anybody. We can’t guard our own man,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the team’s seventh straight loss. “It starts with individual breakdowns and we’re just trying to put out fires all behind it.”

Brown isn’t quite doing it justice. The Sixers’ defense hasn’t just been terrible over the past two games. It’s been historically bad.

For the second straight game, the Sixers allowed an opponent to hit 21 three-pointers and have given up 269 points in those matchups. The 42 three-pointers shattered the NBA record for most allowed in a two-game span as both the Nets and Trail Blazers on Saturday night set franchise records.

Meanwhile, the Sixers allowed at least 15 three-pointers in a game for the sixth time this season. That’s also an NBA record … just 26 games into the season. And just to add to the defensive woes, Nets guard Joe Johnson scored 29 points … in the third quarter (see video).

Johnson put together one of those once-in-a-lifetime stretches in which everything he pushed in the direction of the basket went in. He hit eight three-pointers in the third quarter from nearly every spot behind the arc and went 10 for 13 from long range in the game (see 6 observations). Actually, Johnson’s postgame shot chart looks like target practice at a carnival bull’s-eye game.

Johnson made four threes from above the break, three from the right corner and three more from the left corner. On one of those three-pointers, Johnson was fouled and knocked to the ground by James Anderson.

Needless to say, Johnson made the foul shot.

Amplifying the Sixers’ defensive woes is the fact that Johnson scored the fifth-most points in a quarter in NBA history and the most against the Sixers in one quarter. However, Johnson’s 37 points is only the fourth-highest scoring night against the Sixers this season.

Arron Afflalo (43), Kyrie Irving (39) and Caron Butler (38) had more points, but maybe not bigger nights.

“It just seems that I was in the right spot at the right time,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of wide-open shots and it was like when I was coming off pick-and-rolls, guys weren’t even guarding me, so I made a couple of tough shots, but for the most part I was [wide open].”

Yes, there’s the problem. Certainly the Sixers’ perimeter defensive woes have been well documented this season and Johnson wasn’t even the only player for the Nets to have a big game on Monday night. Point guard Deron Williams scored 13 points on just eight shots and dished out 13 assists that went for 34 points.

But it gets deeper than all of the three-pointers and the avalanche of points. On defense, the Sixers aren’t just bad, according to Brown, but they also are annoying. Brown said the team whined to the refs, bickered and on top of that, didn’t guard any one.

Yikes.

“I think it started with our inability to guard our man,” Brown said. “Our transition defense is that poor. I think we cry too much to the referees for fouls. We don’t get back. We whine a lot right now and we have to get over that.”

The way things have developed over the past two games have not sit well with Brown or veteran Thad Young. Hardworking and prideful, Young has not gotten used to losing despite his seven years with the Sixers. There was frustration and a terseness in his words in summing it up after the game that cut through the heavy mood in the locker room.

There is nothing fun about the way things have developed for the 7-19 Sixers, says Young.

“You can’t swallow it. You have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to figure things out,” Young said. “We have to get guys off the three-point line, make them take layups and tough twos instead of easy threes. We make a lot of mistakes on defense and we can’t have that.”

With 11 straight losses on the road and six of the next seven games to be played away from the Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers need to figure out things quick. At the very least, the Sixers need to make scoring a little tougher for the opposition.

“The last two games confirm that we have some issues defensively that need to be fixed or it’s going to be beyond a long season,” Brown said.

The Sixers are off until next Friday when the Nets visit Philadelphia. Can they keep them under 130 points?

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

Nerlens Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday vs. Pistons

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee/illness) is available to play. Jahlil Okafor (illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.