Sixers use stifling defense to blow out Trail Blazers

Sixers use stifling defense to blow out Trail Blazers


The Sixers blew out the Trail Blazers by 20 points and reached the 10-win mark, their 2015-16 total, 17 games into the season (see observations)

Still, when Brett Brown assessed their 101-81 victory, he did so with a non-complacent eye. Not getting wrapped up in a win in November keeps the team even-keeled and focused. 

“I would give us an A on defense and like a C-minus on offense,” Brown said. “We’re happy with [the record], but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The Sixers held the Trail Blazers scoreless for the first seven minutes of the game (16-0) (see video). They notably restricted C.J. McCollum to only five points, 16 below his average. 

“I think we’re just very consistent on defense,” Ben Simmons said. 

Brown noticed room for improvement on the other end: committing less turnovers (18), finding Joel Embiid (28 points) more often, taking better-advised threes (3 for 11 in the first quarter) and minimizing possessions during which they didn’t get a shot attempt. Expect the team to focus on these areas so it doesn’t get ahead of itself for the next game on Saturday. 

“If you said you could have offense versus bad defense,” Brown said, “I would take the bad offense and have good defense any day of the week.” 

Embiid surpassing Thanksgiving milestone
Brown uses different points in the season as milestones. He eyed Thanksgiving as a checkpoint when it came to Embiid’s fitness level. Well, the holiday is here and Embiid has been averaging 32 minutes in his last five games. 

“He has exceeded my expectations to date kind of all over the place,” Brown said.

Embiid has been playing minute restriction-free. He has sat out only two games after appearing in 31 last season. Embiid is averaging 22.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 blocks and 0.8 steals in 29 minutes per game. He delivered a monster block on Damian Lillard that nearly shot the ball out of the arena. 

“Not to be cocky, but I think I’m the best defensive player in the league right now,” Embiid said.

The big man projected his fitness level is at 81 percent with room to improve. 

“It’s not all the way there but I think it’s getting better,” Embiid said. “I’ve still got to work on a lot of things, but it’s getting there. I can’t wait to be at a hundred percent.”

With a 20-point lead and the game wrapped up, the Sixers' home crowd broke out into a chant. Only it wasn’t “Trust the Process.” It was “We want Okafor.” Brett Brown didn’t nudge out of consideration to Jahlil Okafor, who has appeared in two games this season. 

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Brown said. “I think you get into a playing rhythm, a playing routine and that’s fair. To just hoist somebody a little tiny window of minutes isn’t something that interests me. I say that out of respect to him. I don’t think that puts him in a position that I want to put him in.”

Okafor is out of the Sixers’ rotation and their future plans since the team declined to exercise his player option. Okafor has made it clear he wants to be traded or bought out so he can find an opportunity to play. 

Embiid heard the chants and would like his close friend to be the court too, but at the same time gets the team’s game plan at this point. 

“I just want what’s best for him,” Embiid said. “I think he’s really good offensively. Defensively I think he’s gotten so much better, even in rebounding. I think he deserves a chance. But it’s hard. It’s business. We’ve been playing so well and I understand the coaches and the front office want to keep the same lineup because we’ve been playing so well.” 

Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

USA Today Images

Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell's 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs' 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah's 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Pacers use late run to edge Clippers
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles' fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games (see full recap).

Jokic, Murray lift Nuggets over Wizards
WASHINGTON -- Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 25 points to keep the Denver Nuggets' playoff hopes alive by beating the Washington Wizards 108-100 on Friday night.

The one-two punch of Jokic and Murray plus outside shooting from Will Barton allowed the Nuggets to withstand a third-quarter charge from the Wizards and maintain their sights on one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. Denver went into the night two games back of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz and shot 50 percent from 3-point territory to stay very much in the race with nine games remaining.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 24 points as it failed to gain ground in a competitive East where five teams are separated in the standings by four games (see full recap).

Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

USA Today Images

Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

The Coach of the Year award in every sport typically comes down to: 

1. Which team overachieved the most?

2. Which team increased its win total the most?

3. Which team that fits both descriptions has a media-friendly coach?

Brett Brown is a deserving candidate this season. Not saying he'll win, or even that he stands out as the most deserving, but he's more than just "in the conversation."

Before getting to the other candidates and their likelihood of winning, let's acknowledge why Brown deserves serious consideration. 

We all knew the Sixers would be better this season. A second year of Joel Embiid and the first of Embiid and Ben Simmons. Finally, a good veteran shooter in JJ Redick.

But did you expect the Sixers to up their win total by 20 games? Currently, that's what they're on pace to do.

Did you expect them to pick up wins over the Rockets, Spurs, Celtics, Raptors, Cavs and Spurs again? Yeah, the Sixers have laid some eggs this season, but they have just as many high-quality wins.

Factor in the continued development of players like Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell and it should be clear that Brown has gotten a whole lot out of this team.

Now, on to the other candidates. The way I see it, there are six in addition to Brown: 

• Dwane Casey (Raptors)
• Nate McMillan (Pacers)
• Brad Stevens (Celtics)
• Mike D'Antoni (Rockets)
• Quin Snyder (Jazz)
• Doc Rivers (Clippers)

Just being realistic here, I think Casey wins it. The Raptors will be the 1-seed in the East and may even end up with the NBA's second-best record given the Warriors' injury report.

It goes beyond that, though. Toronto revamped its system to place less stress on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The result has been the emergence of the NBA's best bench. DeRozan is also now shooting threes, a big benefit to the Raps' spacing.

Lastly, Casey is a media darling. He's done the podcast circuit this season, and his long tenure as a personable NBA assistant will help him with voters.

Nate McMillan
McMillan's Pacers have overachieved, but that has so much more to do with Victor Oladipo than anything else. That's not meant to discredit McMillan, but the gap between expectations and reality for Oladipo is the reason the Pacers have surprised. Unless the Pacers finish several games ahead of the Sixers, I can't see McMillan finishing ahead of Brown.

Brad Stevens
The Celtics have faded of late, mostly because of mounting injuries to their backcourt. Stevens deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team 25-plus games over .500 with so many young pieces, but he won't finish ahead of Casey.

Doc Rivers
Rivers' case is dependent on whether or not the Clippers make the playoffs. The Clips, based on talent alone, have no business being 38-33 in a loaded West. They just play extremely hard and have been maybe the hungriest NBA team this season — so many contributions from guys on two-way contracts.

But LA is now 2½ games out of the 8-seed, so we can almost close the book on Rivers for COY.

Mike D'Antoni
The Rockets have been the best team this season and D'Antoni is a huge reason why. The Chris Paul addition is a bigger reason why, but the Rockets are where they are because of how Paul has been integrated into D'Antoni's system, and because Houston is finally focused on defense. D'Antoni should finish in the top three of the Coach of the Year voting, but it's hard to win when you add a veteran superstar in the offseason.

Predicted order of finish: Casey, Brown, Snyder, D'Antoni, Stevens, McMillan, Rivers