76ers

Is road trip crucial for Brett Brown's job?

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Is road trip crucial for Brett Brown's job?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a look at whether the Sixers’ five-game road trip is crucial for Brett Brown’s job security.

Harris
It's only five games — that's less than 1/16th of the season. But it's funny how segments of a schedule and the results of particular segments can make or break a coaching stop. Except this is more than a "stop" for Brett Brown. As the head coach with the lowest win percentage in NBA history, it could very well be make or break time. The Sixers head into the five-game stretch away from Wells Fargo Center losers of four straight and eight of nine. After a 13-9 start, they're now a season worst-tying three games below .500 (14-17). This stretch is huge because of the stated goal by Brown and his players of making the playoffs.

Joel Embiid's day-to-day status is clearly up in the air and we already know he's going to miss at least one game against the Suns or Nuggets because it's a back-to-back to close out the year. They're 1-7 without him and have already lost with him to the Suns.

Simply put, Brown has to have his young team find a way to win at least two of these games. A 1-4 trip would leave the Sixers 15-21. Six games under is a deep hole to climb out of considering the East has proven to be way more formidable than I expected at the outset. I thought 39 games would be enough for the 8-seed. But a quick glance at the standings shows nine teams over .500 and the Sixers can ill afford to lose ground.

Here's the bottom line: whether Embiid can play or not, Brown has to have his team ready to win without him. Ben Simmons is taking a step in the right direction with his take-charge attitude in the team's home loss to Toronto. But they have to have results. Embiid is going to miss more time. We know this. That can't be the excuse of why they miss the playoffs. I'm not saying Brown will lose his job short of a 0-5 road trip. What I am saying is that if they don't start winning some of these games without JoJo, it won't add up to enough wins for Brown to reach his stated playoff goal and be back next season.

To me, Brown's coaching seat is lukewarm heading into this trip. No one expects them to become just the second team in 13 games to beat the Raptors in Toronto. But the rest of those games don't have the same degree of difficulty. The Sixers better win a couple. If they don't? That seat will be scalding to the touch when the Sixers return to Philadelphia.

Haughton
While the Sixers’ holiday road trip is always an important one during the season, I don’t think this edition will make or break Brown’s immediate future with the team.

First, the Sixers have recently been hit with a wave of injuries. The biggest of those, literally, is Joel Embiid. Brown’s squad is an entirely different group with the young star anchoring the paint. That’s in addition to JJ Redick, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Trevor Booker and, of course, Markelle Fultz all missing games in the past two weeks.

It’s hard to judge Brown when he’s not playing with a full deck.

Still, the biggest reason I don’t believe this five-game trip will decide Brown’s fate is that the Sixers don’t have any significant options outside of him at the moment. Lloyd Pierce, Billy Lange and Jim O'Brien are all fine assistants, but Sixers management isn’t about to hand them the keys, even on an interim basis, to this up-and-coming team. And I don’t believe the Sixers would go outside of the organization for a candidate (such as David Fizdale) during the middle of a season.

Unless the bottom completely falls out on the Sixers during this road trip, I fully expect Brown to make it through the regular season. Whether he’s around after that is anyone’s guess. 

Hudrick
At some point, Brown might be playing with a full deck. Right now, he clearly is not.

It’s hard to judge Brown when you see how flawed this roster is without Embiid or No. 1 overall pick Fultz. Embiid is this team’s best player on both ends of the floor. He is an elite talent and his presence is missed every time he’s not out there.

While Fultz has a long way to go to prove he’s an elite NBA talent, he did show something nobody else on this team has: the ability to create his own shot. Sure, it was only six games, but Fultz was able to take NBA defenders off the dribble and get to the rim or create space for a shot (that he probably didn’t take).

“Pace and space” is a great concept. But when you’re forced to play in the half court, having a beast in the post and a playmaker that can create off the dribble comes in handy.

Brown’s job is safe on this road trip and I’d guess through the rest of the season at the very least.

Cousins posts historic triple-double in double overtime win

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Cousins posts historic triple-double in double overtime win

NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins had 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists, Anthony Davis scored 34 points, and the All-Star pair led a 17-point New Orleans comeback in the final five minutes of regulation before the Pelicans pulled out a 132-128 victory over the Chicago Bulls in double overtime Monday night.

Cousins scored seven points in the second overtime on a 3-pointer, a turnaround jumper and two free throws with 8.2 seconds left. He became the first NBA player since Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972 to have as many as 40 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

E'Twaun Moore scored 15 points, including a 3 in the second overtime to help the Pelicans win for the fifth time in six games.

Jerian Grant had 22 points and 13 assists, and Robin Lopez also scored 22 for the Bulls, who appeared well on their way to their fifth victory in six games when they opened the fourth quarter with a 23-5 run to take their largest lead at 104-86.

Chicago still led by 17 when Bobby Portis hit a pair of free throws with 5:06 left in the fourth quarter. But Cousins and Davis led New Orleans back with a stunning 21-2 run. Jrue Holiday tied it at 110 on a 3 with 46 seconds left, and Davis briefly gave New Orleans the lead with an alley-oop dunk of Holiday's lob (see full recap).

Murray's 38 points lead Nuggets over Trail Blazers
DENVER — Jamal Murray scored a career-high 38 points, including a three-point play in the final minute, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 104-101 on Monday night.

Nikola Jokic had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Will Barton hit four free throws in the final 10 seconds to secure the win and spoil Jusuf Nurkic's return to Denver.

Nurkic had 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in his first game back at Pepsi Center. Damian Lillard had 25 points and seven assists for Portland.

Nurkic played two-plus seasons with the Nuggets to begin his career, and was playing his first game in Denver since he was dealt to Portland last season. He received a smattering of boos when he was introduced as a starter and a few during the game (see full recap).

Bucks beat Suns hours after firing Kidd
MILWAUKEE — Khris Middleton spent three-plus years under Jason Kidd's tutelage, blossoming into a dangerous scorer with the Milwaukee Bucks.

He showed off what he learned in the Bucks' first game without Kidd.

Middleton scored 35 points, Malcolm Brogdon added a career-high 32 and Milwaukee beat the Phoenix Suns 109-105 on Monday night hours after firing Kidd.

"It's tough for me," Middleton said. "He took my game to another level. He took this team to a whole other level. Today was a tough day."

Assistant Joe Prunty was promoted to replace Kidd for the rest of the year. After a slow start, the Bucks heeded the new coach's call to focus (see full recap).

Rockets come back to top Heat
HOUSTON — Chris Paul wasn't thrilled with how the Houston Rockets played Monday night.

The veteran was perfectly happy with the outcome though.

James Harden scored 28 points and the Rockets overcame a big early deficit to beat the Miami Heat 99-90.

"You have those games during the season where (you) win the game and move on ... out of 82 of them sometimes it's going to be ugly, but you just want to win," Paul said.

Miami led by double digits before halftime, but the game stayed close throughout most of the second half. It was tied with about three minutes left when Harden hit a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired. That was the start of a 7-2 run that made it 95-90 with 38 seconds left (see full recap).

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

Sixers' loss falls on Brown? No, his stars went missing

BOX SCORE

For a team that almost won its eighth game in nine tries Monday night, the flaws on this Sixers squad are obvious.

They blow big leads.

They turn the ball over too much.

They don’t have a dependable perimeter scorer late in the game.

And they’re reliant on their stars to cover up those problems. While Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s season-high 20 points (see highlights) and Dario Saric’s 22 almost saved the team Monday, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have to show up if the Sixers want to win night in and night out, and they didn’t in an ugly 105-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies (see observations).

“Our stars weren’t stars tonight, and our wings were below average," Brett Brown told reporters. "I think [Luwawu-Cabarrot] played well. I think in general the story should be the turnovers. You can’t win any NBA game that matters, and you certainly can’t even consider the playoffs, if this ends up just part of who we are.”

The Sixers, who led the NBA with 18.1 turnovers per game entering Monday’s contest, had 24 turnovers compared to just 12 for the Grizzlies. Ten of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter.

Twenty-four turnovers, and 39 points off those turnovers, are obviously unacceptable statistics. But Brown knows a young team that plays fast like the Sixers will have plenty of games with turnover totals in the high-teens. The Sixers can win those games, but only if their stars play like stars.

Simmons had only eight field goal attempts against the Grizzlies, and didn’t take a free throw for the second straight game. He had just six points along with seven assists and four turnovers.

Embiid scored 15 points, going 5 for 13 from the field and 5 for 9 from the line. While the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week pulled down 14 rebounds, he wasn’t himself.

“This wasn’t one of Jo’s games,” Brown said. “For whatever reason, from the start to the end, this just wasn’t one of his games. It was clear there wasn’t much going on tonight. When you see him miss the type of free throws that he missed, you know something’s going on. He’s had a great season, he’s a Player of the Week, and sometimes those games happen.”

Like Brown, Simmons was frustrated with the loss, and he agreed with his coach’s sentiment that “the stars weren’t stars.”

“Yeah, we weren’t,” Simmons said. “We sucked. We didn’t make big plays down the stretch, didn’t take care of the ball. Defensively, we weren’t too bad, but yeah, he’s right.”

Coaching this Sixers team is not an easy job. It may look easy when Embiid is playing like the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon and Simmons is making freakish play after freakish play, but Brown must feel helpless as he watches his young team gift the opposition free points while its big lead vanishes. When the Sixers win, it’s been pretty, but many of the losses have followed the same ugly pattern.

Brown can stress how important it is to take care of the ball, call timeouts to try to stop the opponent’s momentum and draw up plays to get his stars the ball in crunch time. He did all of those things Monday, and it wasn’t enough, because Embiid and Simmons had off nights on the same night. Many Sixers fans will want Brown to do more and will think this team should be beyond these sort of collapses. While that's a fair perspective, you can also understand Brown's exasperation.

“I thought that we had not much leadership,” Brown said. “I thought our poise was poor. I thought it was an immature loss. I think it’s a game where you look at the mistakes that were made and the opportunities that we blew, those types of words come to mind. It’s not something that we leave Memphis dusting off, thinking that there are 82 games and stuff like this happens — that’s not good enough. This is a game we should have won, we were in a position to win and we didn’t have the maturity to close it out.”