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?

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good, but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."