The reason Brett Brown is talking about practice

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The reason Brett Brown is talking about practice

NEW YORK -- Brett Brown is talking about practice.

In the thick of an NBA season, practices can be a rare commodity, especially on an injury-stricken team shorthanded in healthy participants. Between games, travel days and the basic need to rest, the schedule doesn’t allow for many afternoons to run drills and scrimmages in the gym. 

But Brown wants to have more of those opportunities and balance them with the awareness of the team’s injury situations.

“I think we need to get better individually,” Brown said Sunday after practice. “I think that we’re going to have to do a little bit more practice and be maybe a little less concerned always about load management. We are so mindful of sports science and the rhythm of the NBA calendar, you just need to work to improve. It’s a simple formula.

“And we work. We try to work intelligently and not take tolls on their body all of the time. It’s especially been effective with just the mass injury we’ve had. So there’s a portion of what I’m saying that needs to be tempered with the reality of a schedule and a reality of a health. But we have to find ways to improve individually that will add up collectively and to the obvious areas that we need a little bit of growth.”

The Sixers are in the midst of a season-high five-game skid, as they approach the next four games on the road (Knicks, Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Suns). It is no secret Joel Embiid is the key to their success, and while he did return Saturday after missing three games because of back tightness, he did not go participate in Sunday's practice. Embiid received treatment while the team went through their work.

Embiid isn’t the only one missing out at this time. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) has not been cleared for full-contact, preventing him from being completely involved when the Sixers do practice.

Justin Anderson participated in his first complete practice Sunday since being sidelined by shin splints in his left leg in mid-November. Anderson has missed the last 18 games and is eyeing Thursday to play, so a day like Sunday morning was key to his upcoming return.

Having a full roster would be ideal, but that’s not the case for the Sixers.

“We need to be able to point to ways that we think we can improve,” Brown said. “It starts with just like team practice. It’s just the rhythm of our schedule is challenging and the realities of our injuries to date are challenging. Somewhere we got to find that.”

If the Sixers are going to squeeze in on-court work, it won’t be easy. The team will play in four cities over the next seven days, including a back-to-back against the Nuggets and Suns.

“It’s really hard to go out and compete and play and turn around less than 24 hours and practice and then go play again the next day,” JJ Redick said. “So there’s days between games where a lot of times you need the recovery and to sharpen your own skill work.”

Brown enters the next third of the season — his measurement for breaking down the 82-game schedule — with the goal of getting over this losing skid. The extra time on the court couldn't hurt in reaching that target.

“To cleanse ourselves of the past losing, that losing isn’t a part of how we see the world,” Brown said of his objective. “There’s one layer that I got to try to keep our spirits up, but keep it incredibly honest. We aren’t accepting losing. This doesn’t represent who we are.”

Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

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Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

CLEVELAND -- There was none of the usual postgame chatter or music in the Cavaliers locker room.

The mood was somber and quiet, not the same place.

"Right now we're in Strugglesville," LeBron James said. "But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely."

Isaiah Thomas made two free throws with 11 seconds left and Cleveland came up with a defensive stop in the frantic final seconds after blowing a 23-point lead to beat the Orlando Magic 104-103 on Thursday night and snap a four-game losing streak.

After Thomas made his shots, Orlando's Elfrid Payton missed a contested layup with three seconds left. The three officials ruled there was an inadvertent whistle and held a jump ball at midcourt.

Magic forward Aaron Gordon grabbed the toss and sank a 45-footer as the horn sounded and Cleveland's crowd shrieked in disbelief. But Gordon committed a jump-ball violation with the move and Cleveland only had to inbound the ball to come away with a victory following a crazy and exhausting final sequence that left everyone dazed.

"No, I don't," said Thomas when asked if he knew what happened. "It was a lot of back and forth. I'm just glad we just came out with the win" (see full recap).

Rockets cruise past Timberwolves in Harden’s return
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon scored 30 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 116-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.

James Harden returned to the Rockets' lineup after missing seven games with a left hamstring strain and finished with 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting, and added seven assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes. Houston went 4-3 in his absence.

Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela added 20 points for the Rockets. Houston has won 15 of the past 17 meetings with Minnesota, including a 10-game winning streak at home.

Gordon closed out a big third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass from a step behind the half-court line. After hitting the shot under heavy pressure from Andrew Wiggins, Gordon gave a high-five to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who was sitting courtside near the shot.

Gordon's 3-pointer helped the Rockets finish the third quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 89-70 lead into the fourth with their largest advantage of the game. Gordon made 11 of 19 shots, including 7 of 13 from 3, and fell just short of his season-high 33 points against Utah on Dec. 18.

With Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza sitting out the first part of a two-game suspension for a postgame locker room incident on Monday night in Los Angeles, Luc Mbah a Moute started in Ariza's place, scoring 14 points in 32 minutes.

Along with Ariza, reserve guard Gerald Green was also serving the first of a two-game suspension for the altercation with the Clippers (see full recap).

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams


BOSTON -- What a difference two games make.

The Sixers entered this week 0-8 against the top three Eastern Conference teams: the Celtics, Cavaliers and Raptors. By Thursday night, they had picked up two straight wins over them.

The Sixers followed up Monday’s victory over the Raptors with an 89-80 win over the Celtics (see observations)

“I think we are in a good position right now,” Ben Simmons said. “Still a lot of improvement, a lot of things we’ve got to pick up on, but I think we are doing really well and getting better.” 

All season long, a downfall of the Sixers has been giving up leads. Ten, 15, 20 points have been erased just like that. 

The Sixers’ largest advantage was 21 points in the last two games, and in both instances their opponents fought back. The Raptors cut the lead to one with three minutes to play; the Celtics got within seven with two minutes on the clock.

Unlike in the past, the Sixers held on for wins.

“We’ve been in that situation too many times,” Joel Embiid said. “We just have to stay calm and keep moving the ball. We made a couple mistakes, but everything was fine and we got the win.” 

The game was missing two key players. The Celtics were shorthanded without their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving (shoulder). The Sixers were down starting shooting guard JJ Redick (leg). Brett Brown considered their absences “almost a wash.” 

Newly-announced All-Star starter Embiid led all players with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, his 19th double-double of the season. 

“They are still a great team,” Brown said of the Celtics. “For us to come in here and build a lead, hold onto the lead, close out the game, and at times not in a pretty way, is a fantastic result for us.” 

With the win, the Sixers snapped a seven-game losing streak at TD Garden dating back to April 4, 2014. They also avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics. 

The Sixers moved above .500 (21-20) and into the eight spot in the East. The Celtics and Raptors could be postseason pairings if the Sixers hold their ground in the standings, a scenario they are well aware of in these regular-season games. 

“I don’t know what seed we are going to be, but that’s a potential matchup in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “We always want to come out and try to dominate and let them know that’s it’s not going to be easy.”