Sixers must start fast vs. vengeful Thunder

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Sixers must start fast vs. vengeful Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Sixers are not exactly catching the Thunder at an ideal time. The Northwest Division leaders had their 12-game home winning streak snapped two nights ago when Brooklyn beat them at Chesapeake Arena by 17. It was only their second opponent all season that shot 50 percent or better against them.

The Sixers know OKC will be looking to make amends.

They are going to want to come out here and bury us from the beginning, Jason Richardson said. We have to be ready for their first wave of attack. Those guys are going to be aggressive, because they are very tough here to beat. The fans here are great. They are loud. They are passionate about basketball, so it is going to be one of those games where we have to be mentally prepared and physically as well, because they are going to come out and hit us with the first punch.

The Thunder won just 23 games in their first season in Oklahoma City, 2008-09. But in the four seasons that followed, they've lost a combined 35 games on their home floor.

Oh, they are going to be ready," said Royal Ivey, who spent the last two seasons with the Thunder. "They dont lose two in a row at home, that doesnt happen. They are going to be ready because they are competitors. They are going to come with their hard hats and we have to be ready that first quarter, those first five minutes -- that is going to be key because this building is going to be on fire."

In Iveys tenure with the Thunder, the team never lost back-to-back home games. In fact, the Thunder have not done that since the 2009-10 season when they dropped consecutive home games twice before Christmas.

A great home court and a commitment to winning has made Oklahoma City a target destination for free agents, and that is in spite of the city being the 45th-largest market in the United States.

It is like a college environment, Ivey said. When new guys come in, like rookies, they are like freshmen. I was considered a senior. It is a college environment -- its like a family from top to bottom. First tier, the way they run their organization from the players to the front office to how they treat everybody. My time here was great.

Said Richardson: When free agents hear around the league that an organization is all about winning, taking care of their guys, a first class organization, guys are attracted to that. Because when you have that kind of atmosphere and commitment from the front office that is when you start talking about championships.

The Thunder have rubbed elbows with that championship feeling, losing in the NBA finals last spring to the Miami Heat in five games. Currently, they have the highest winning percentage in the NBA.

They have two of the top seven scorers in the NBA helping them average the second-most points per game at 106. In an earlier meeting this season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 67 points in an overtime victory for the Thunder -- unsurprisingly, that duo is the top scoring tandem in the league.

Ivey vividly remembers battling Westbrook daily in practice. The practice court, he says, is where Westbrook became an All-Star.

He is definitely a competitor, Ivey said of Westbrook. He is fierce. Everybody downplays his attitude, but that makes him good. He is a competitor. He hates to lose. He hates when he turns over the ball. He is hard on himself and he brings it every day in practice and it shows on the court because in practice he is always competing, always trying to outdo somebody.

Ivey went from guarding Westbrook every day in practice to playing against another UCLA product daily: Jrue Holiday.

Jrue is similar, but he is just quiet, Ivey compared. Russell is more vocal and more animated. Jrue is more reserved, but Jrue has that same competitive nature and he gets after it. They are similar pit bulls -- one is a blue-nose, one is a red-nose pit bull.

Dog lovers know that blue-nosed or red, neither is better -- just different.

Holiday, who Wednesday had his second career triple-double, has a right groin strain but is expected to play.

E-mail Dei Lynam at dlynam@comcastsportsnet.com

Sixers-Grizzlies 5 things: Walking wounded duel in Memphis

Sixers-Grizzlies 5 things: Walking wounded duel in Memphis

The Sixers (4-17) open a three-game road trip against the Memphis Grizzlies (14-8) at FedEx Forum on Tuesday night (8 p.m./TCN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded
There will be enough players between both teams for the Sixers and Grizzlies to play on Tuesday ... barely.

The Sixers, losers of seven straight, have several key players sidelined for the opener of this road trip. The biggest absence will obviously be Joel Embiid, who will sit out for rest after struggling Monday in the first game of the back-to-back set.

Joining Embiid on the shelf for Tuesday's game will be Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington while Jerryd Bayless is questionable to suit up. That's in addition to Ben Simmons and Nerlens Noel having yet to play this season.

The Sixers won't find much sympathy in Memphis as the Grizzlies' injury situation is actually worse.

After using an NBA record 28 different players last season because of injury, the Grizzlies have already received a hardship exemption from the league this year to sign guard Toney Douglas. That's because the Grizz are currently down five players, including star guard Mike Conley and swingman Chandler Parsons.

2. One big problem
One player who will be suiting up for the Grizzlies is Marc Gasol, which is certainly bad news for the Sixers.

Now in his ninth season, Gasol is playing some of his best basketball. Despite the center's rebounds dipping to 5.7 a game, he is putting up career highs in points (18.9) and assists (4.2).

The Sixers know all too well just how good Gasol has been this season. The two-time All-Star went off for 27 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks in the Grizzlies' double-overtime win over the Sixers on the night before Thanksgiving.

That was before the Sixers got hit even harder by the injury bug. There's no telling what Gasol will do against a team with one available center in Richaun Holmes.

3. Foul play
With so many players not able to take the floor, the Sixers -- Holmes in particular -- would be wise to stay out of foul trouble.

The Sixers average 22.0 fouls per game, the fifth-highest mark in the league.

On the flip side, the Sixers could benefit from attacking the Grizzlies. Memphis is obviously limited with players because of its own injury issues and actually averages 23.8 fouls per game, the second-highest rate in the NBA.

4. Injuries
Bayless (wrist) is questionable. Embiid (rest), Okafor (illness), Covington (knee/illness), Noel (knee) and Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Zach Randolph (personal) is a game-time decision. Conley (back), Parsons (knee), Vince Carter (hip), James Ennis (calf) and Brandan Wright (ankle) are out for the Grizzlies.

5. This and that
- The Sixers have lost eight straight to the Grizzlies.

- The Grizzlies are 10-0 in games decided by five points or less or have reached overtime.

- The Sixers are 1-6 in games Embiid has sat out this season.

Sixers name Elton Brand as Player Development Consultant

Sixers name Elton Brand as Player Development Consultant

Elton Brand is back with the Sixers, albeit not on the court.

The Sixers agreed with the former NBA forward to name Brand Player Development Consultant. In a press release, the team said Brand will be working with Sixers players in 'every facet of their on- and off-court development' while also working in the front office.

“We are extremely excited to bring Elton Brand back into the organization where he will be a valuable resource to our young and developing team," Bryan Colangelo said in the release. "Elton’s leadership and character displayed throughout his playing career as a player align perfectly with our vision, direction and culture of this basketball team, coaching staff and management group."

Brand retired during training camp after 17 NBA seasons, including five with the Sixers over two stints. The 6-foot-8 forward came out of retirement last season to provide a veteran presence for the Sixers and eventually played in 17 games when the team was snakebitten by injuries. 

He will now continue to be an influence on the Sixers' young core thanks to his new role with the basketball operations department.