76ers

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.”

Joel Embiid has trouble with mask, not Heat in Sixers' Game 3 win

Joel Embiid has trouble with mask, not Heat in Sixers' Game 3 win

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — "We're not here to make friends. We're here to win the series." 

With those two sentences, Joel Embiid made it known what he is all about in the playoffs.

The big man fought to return from an orbital fracture to help the Sixers win, and that’s exactly what he did in his first game since March 28. Embiid led the team with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal over 30 minutes in his NBA postseason debut … while wearing a mask with goggles (see story)

“I was excited,” Embiid said following the Sixers’ 128-108 victory Thursday in Game 3 (see observations). “Worked really hard for it. Promised the city that and made it happen. I was kind of sad that I couldn’t play in that first at home because we have a special connection. But I’m glad, came back today and we got a win.” 

Embiid sent a message — he is back, and not backing down. Sitting at the podium with a calm confidence, he talked about everything from his desire to return to in-game chippiness to defending his teammates. 

“I hate sitting out,” Embiid said. “I felt like it was time to come back, especially after watching how physical the game was, Game 2. I love this moment, I love being physical, I love attacking, I love contact.” 

Returning meant wearing a protective mask on his face. Though irksome in some ways, Embiid noted his game is too strong to be held back. 

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player. If the shots aren’t falling and it gets foggy or I can’t see, there’s a lot of different stuff I can do, especially defensively because I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the league.”

There was plenty of contact in Game 3, and his mask wasn’t safe from it either. At one point, Embiid’s goggles landed on the court. Justise Winslow stepped on them, downplaying it after the game. 

“He kept throwing it on the ground, so I don’t know if he didn’t like it or what,” Winslow said. “But I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

Embiid didn’t quite see the situation as “throwing it on the ground.” He added an extra punch to the end of his recount. 

“Justise stepped on it and tried to break it with his hands,” Embiid said. “But little do they know is that I have about 50 of them. So it’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. 

“I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.” 

When the game was in hand, Embiid was eager to see the Sixers finish with as large a margin of victory as possible. He thought back to Game 2 when Goran Dragic scored a layup with 1.2 seconds to play, and how Jordan Clarkson had thrown a ball at Dario Saric for scoring similarly during the regular season in Cleveland. So on Thursday, Embiid wanted them to run up the scoreboard. 

“I wish I was there in that Game 2 because I was kind of pissed about it,” Embiid said. “It’s basketball. It’s always good to blow a team out. I think we were up 18 or 20. If you could get that lead up to 22, I think it’s good. I love blowing teams out. I like the fact that we did that.” 

There's less than 48 hours until the Heat will look to bounce back in Game 4 and even up the series. Embiid knows the Sixers are in for a battle. 

And he likes that. 

“Game 4, they’re going to try to do what they did at Game 2, come out and be really, really extra aggressive and try to punch us in the mouth,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to be ready for that and I’ll for sure be ready.” 

Joel Embiid's return sparks Sixers' physical Game 3 win in Miami

Joel Embiid's return sparks Sixers' physical Game 3 win in Miami

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Joel Embiid is 1-0 in the playoffs.

The Sixers beat the Heat, 128-108, Thursday with their mask-wearing center back in the starting lineup to take a 2-1 lead on the series. 

• Embiid made his long-awaited return, playing in his postseason debut and first game since March 28. Donning a face mask with goggles (see story), Embiid rejoined the starting lineup. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes. 

He looked eager as well as affected at times by the long layoff from the left orbital fracture and concussion. He was aggressive at getting to the line (and drawing fouls on Hassan Whiteside), but shot 10 for 15 once there. Embiid knocked down threes (3 of 4), at the same time committing a 24-second violation trying to back down to the basket. Considering how long it’s been since he played, Embiid’s conditioning looked better than expected. 

• This game was not decided until the final quarter. The Sixers led, 96-94, after three. Brett Brown started Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova and Embiid to open the fourth. That group outscored the Heat 9-1 to push the lead to 10 and change the tone of the remainder of the game. 

• First it was Kelly Olynyk. Then it was Dwyane Wade. In Game 3, Justise Winslow was the offensive spark plug off the Miami bench. Winslow scored 19 points in the first half, seven more than the Heat’s next leading scorer. He also was an agitator throughout the game, continuing to try to get under the Sixers’ skin as he had done in the previous games. Check out what happened with the goggles from Embiid’s mask.

• Justin Anderson looked like he had been waiting for this defensive assignment all season. Brown tasked him with defending Wade in the first half, and that matchup turned chippy. Anderson and Wade both were called for physical taunting technical fouls after Anderson pushed off on Wade and Wade grabbed his arm and flung him around. Anderson had played less than two minutes in the series prior to Game 3. 

• The game was physical with whistles and double techs throughout the night. Just how physical was it?

• Late in the third quarter, the Sixers rolled out the lineup of T.J. McConnell, Marco Belinelli, Anderson, Ilyasova and Embiid. None of these players are hesitant to mix things up. At one point a play culminated with Embiid and Anderson jumping up to block an Olynyk shot with the Heat forward landing on the ground. 

• Brown had planned to play Markelle Fultz more than the five minutes he clocked in Game 2. That didn’t happen. Fultz was on the court for 4:21 in the first half without a shot attempt (one rebound, one assist, two fouls). McConnell got the backup point guard minutes in the second half. 

• Game 4 will be played at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon on NBCSP in Miami.