It's time for the Sixers to get dirty

It's time for the Sixers to get dirty


Basketball can be a finesse game, one with ooh-and-ahh-inspiring dunks and three-point shots that put highlight reels on repeat.

Dario Saric is ready to abandon that style for a gritty approach he believes can turn around the Sixers’ skid.

“We need to come on the court and play dirty, play tough,” Saric said. “Sometimes it’s maybe not fancy, maybe it’s not looking good. We need to just come and maybe have the right play, tough play.”

After jumping out to a hot start this season, the Sixers have lost eight of their last nine games. They dropped to 14-17 after giving up a 22-point third-quarter lead in a 114-109 loss to the Raptors (see observations). DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 45 points. 

The Sixers were shorthanded without starters Joel Embiid (back tightness) and JJ Redick (right hamstring tightness), but once again failed to hold on to a second-half advantage. They did the same at nearly the same point in the third quarter against the Kings on Tuesday. 

“I think they jumped us,” Brett Brown said. “They just crawled into us. It wasn’t like they double-teamed Ben (Simmons) or they blitzed pick-and-rolls. They got physical.”

The same type of physicality Saric was calling for after the loss. The Raptors committed to playing the Sixers in the second half with the same toughness the Sixers exhibited in the first. They stifled the Sixers with a 14-0 run and erased the 22-point differential while knocking down 5 of 8 threes during that stretch. 

“We just were a lot more aggressive, making everything tough for them,” DeRozan said. “We didn’t want them to get any open shots, no feel-good shots, nothing easy going to the basket. We made everything hard.”

The Sixers, on the other hand, made the game easier for the Raptors by basically handing out free points. The Raptors scored 32 points off 35 free throw attempts (DeRozan shot 13 of 15) and another 32 points off 24 turnovers. Eleven of the Raptors’ 34 points in the third came from the six Sixers’ errors. 

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to fix it,” Brown said of turnovers. “I’m the head coach. It is on me and it keeps us up late at night.”

While Brown points to himself on turnovers, Saric sees the Sixers’ recent struggles as a task for the entire team. After all, the competition doesn’t lighten up because of a depleted roster. The Sixers face the Raptors again on Saturday before playing the above-.500 Knicks, Trail Blazers, Nuggets as well as the upset-capable Suns on the road. 

“It’s on us as players to fix it,” Saric said. “Coach has tried to help us every day to be ready.”

Maybe more grit can turn things around. Maybe extra fight for, say, rebounds and loose balls can spark a win. Maybe Saric's call for this approach will boost the Sixers out of this slump. And if it does, "ugly" basketball won't look so bad after all. 

“If it’s the ugly play, sometimes I think if we start to do things like that, we can be so much better,” Saric said. 

Sixers bringing 'bunker mentality' into road playoff setting

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Sixers bringing 'bunker mentality' into road playoff setting

You’ve witnessed the Miami scenes. 

The pristine beaches, exciting nightlife, eclectic cuisine. The list goes on.

It all adds up to one of the best destination experiences in the United States.

And the Sixers don’t want anything to do with it.

This is a business trip.

Scratch that. This is battle.

“It just becomes, I think, a little bit more insular, a little bit more of a bunker mentality,” Brett Brown said at Wednesday’s practice. “It’s a little bit more of trying to minimize distractions. You’re not in your own bedroom. You’re not in your own sort of comfort zone, your own routine, rhythm to your day.

“It’s a huge part of young players figuring out life on the road and it certainly gets exacerbated in the playoffs. But I like it. I like the mentality and the spirit of being together. I think we have a very close team and I think it forces you to become even closer when you’re just not at home.”

Games 3 and 4 inside AmericanAirlines Arena will feel like anywhere but home for the Sixers. In the first road playoff game for this young team, the players will have to deal with crowd noise and an extremely physical opponent.

The volume will subside as the Sixers are able to string together baskets, and they know the only way to do that is take the smart approach to the Heat’s increased physicality.

“It doesn’t have to be macho versus macho,” Brown said. “That’s not how we want to play. We want to have an intellectual response to physicality. It can mean speed, it can mean space, it can mean the technique of just creating a lead and getting open. A simple jab step and putting your arm in somebody’s chest and throwing out a lead hand as an example of stuff you’d learn in eighth grade. But it all equals fundamentals, poise, technique, that stuff to combat physicality.

“It’s not they punch you, you punch them, they punch … it’s not that at all."

“You don’t want to do anything that can put yourself in a predicament, allow someone to get hurt,” Robert Covington said. “Nobody wants to get fined, nobody wants to be on the back end of something like that because it can be retaliation that can come from it. You have to play smart and just have to sit up here and do it different ways. You cannot get caught up in the moment and do something crazy.”

Whatever physical tactics the Heat attempt, the Sixers promise they’ll be ready this time around.

“I’ve got a few hits for people coming their way,” Ben Simmons said.

“I’m ready to play.”

Sixers officially list Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 3

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Sixers officially list Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 3

MIAMI — Just over 24 hours before the Sixers face off against the Heat in Game 3, Joel Embiid was listed as doubtful because of a left orbital fracture, or a 75 percent he will not play. That doesn’t mean, though, that status won’t change.

Embiid went through his second straight day of light practice Wednesday shortly after the team arrived in Miami. The Sixers will hold morning shootaround Thursday and could evaluate him again in pregame warmups before he is ruled in or out. 

Embiid was knocking down threes prior to the start of practice. 

Brett Brown said Embiid did a “little bit” of contact work Tuesday and handled it “quite well.” Conditioning is also a big part of his return. Embiid has not played in a game since March 28 when he suffered the fracture and a concussion. 

“It’s going to take time getting hit fitness up,” Brown said. “I think because he is an athlete, whenever the time comes where he does play, I think it’ll move in a more rapid way. I think his body looks great … I feel like it’ll kick in quicker than most.”

Embiid expressed his frustrations of being sidelined with an Instagram post shortly after the Sixers lost Game 2. They had previously won nine straight without him, which helped with his patience. 

“His spirit was very high,” Robert Covington said of his first practice. “Overall, he felt really good and we felt really good to have him out there with us.”

Embiid will have to shake off some rust when he does return. He thrives on consistent action to stay in game shape, and he’s been out for three weeks. If he’s not at 100 percent when he plays, Brown could see him still making an impact. 

“Defensively, he immediately comes in and changes the landscape,” Brown said. “The game is being played so fast right now and he has not been with us for a while, so I think the adjustment offensively might be a little more noticeable than defensively initially. He’s so gifted and he’s intelligent. He really is as smart and as instinctive a player as I’ve coached. He can look at something without doing it and then go do it.”

The Sixers are expecting another physical matchup with the Heat, especially with the next two games being in Miami. Embiid’s tough play would help them in that aspect as they try to take another series lead. The team has an approach, though, even if he cannot battle on the court. 

“It doesn’t have to be macho versus macho,” Brown said. “That’s not how we want to play. We want to have an intellectual response to physicality." 

The Sixers are looking for their first win of the season in Miami.