76ers

Off social media, Nik Stauskas seeking light at the end of the tunnel

Off social media, Nik Stauskas seeking light at the end of the tunnel

Atop Nik Stauskas' Twitter page -- the one he visited only occasionally this season -- is an unattributed quote: "When you master your mind, you master your life."

The Sixers' backup wing endeavored to do that in his third NBA season and second with the team. He sought out the counsel of a sports psychologist before the year got underway. He swore off social media once it began and for the most part stuck to that vow.

The result was tunnel vision. No longer did he allow negativity to seep in, to sap him. No longer did others' slings and arrows knock him off-stride.

That led in turn to incremental improvement -- he averaged 9.5 points a game on 39.6-percent shooting (36.8 percent from 3), all career highs -- but leaves us all with a question, now that the offseason is upon us: Where, exactly, is he tunneling to?

And when will he see the light?

It's possible he will remain a useful reserve next season on a team that surely will look very different from the current one. Or that he will slide another seat or two down the bench, or even out of town. Hard to say.

Coach Brett Brown clearly believes in him; he said recently that Stauskas has "as much 'game' as anybody on our team, in the wings," and late in the year he was even employed as the backup point guard. (Brown also said that in practice he has "ruthlessly" addressed Stauskas' weaknesses, notably on defense.)

Yet Stauskas knows he has to be better, that he has to keep tunneling.

"There's still things this year, just consistency-wise, that I haven't been as great (at) as I would have liked to (be)," he said recently. "Just for me to continually see a little bit of progress, it's like the light at the end of the tunnel."

So to speak.

"That gives me hope," he continued, "if I keep putting in the work, things will continually get a little bit better."

He doesn't turn 24 until October, remember, and just three years ago Sacramento used the eighth overall pick to draft him. Acquired in a larcenous trade from the Kings before the '15-16 season -- a Sam Hinkie special, to be sure -- he is a bright, aware guy. He's done some TV work in his native Canada and is toying with the idea of one day becoming a motivational speaker.

Truth be told, though, he might be too bright, too aware. Too apt to hear every barb, internalize every slight.

He first sat down with a sports psychologist while at Michigan, where he was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 2013-14, his second and last season there. He discontinued those sessions his first two NBA seasons, then reached out once more before this one began.

"I felt like if I was going to make the kind of strides I needed to make," he said early in the year, "I was going to have my mental game on point and it be really sharp."

That's also what led to his social media embargo. 

"I just felt like it wasn't healthy for me anymore," he said. "There was a lot of negativity out there. I was focusing on it a lot and it was bothering me."

He hasn't had a Facebook account in a while, and a scan of his Twitter page shows he limited his activity to a single retweet between Oct. 8 and Dec. 24. He emerged from hibernation on Christmas Eve, when the Sixers were in Sacramento, in part because he was seeking out a gym where he could get some shots up, but then disappeared from the social media platform once more. He has had a handful of retweets since Christmas, but his only original post came on Jan. 10 and it concerned Joel Embiid's All-Star campaign.

There has also been an Instagram foray or two, Stauskas said, but nothing too extreme.

"It was actually kind of good the first month, where I was completely off both of them," he said. "It was good to just clear my mind and get away from that kind of stuff. But it wasn't too difficult (to avoid). It was more of like getting rid of a habit, and once you get rid of it, it's just easier not to go on as much."

He hails from Mississauga, Ont., just outside Toronto. Never was a hockey guy, though. Had a court in the backyard where he used to go at it with his brother, Peter. (One game of one-on-one grew so heated that when it ended, Peter chased after him with the shovel they used to clear the snow away.)

Vince Carter was the Raptors' star at the time, and when Nik was 8 or 9, he recalled going to an open practice. A guy came up to him as he sat in the front row of the stands and asked if he wanted to engage in a shooting contest with Carter, and Nik couldn't get out on the court fast enough.

"I made my first three or four shots," he said. "I think he took it a little bit seriously after I made my first couple shots."

"I remember that," Carter said earlier this season. "We talked about it when he first got in the league."

Carter, now 40 and with Memphis, is wrapping up his 19th season. When the Sixers played the Grizzlies in the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 23 -- a 104-99 Grizzlies victory -- he and Stauskas actually guarded each other. (Stauskas outscored him, 10-7, though neither shot well.)

"It's crazy," Stauskas said. "That was like one of my childhood heroes. ... I would have died if you would have told me when I was a kid I was going to get a chance to actually go up against him and guard him."

Now Stauskas is seeking something more, after a season that didn't meet his expectations -- in part, he said, because he always likes to "dream big and set the bar really high."

He will do so again this offseason while splitting time between Toronto and Philadelphia.

And, of course, maintaining his tunnel vision.

"You can never sharpen up your mental tools enough," he said.

The rest, he can only hope, will follow.

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers received a crash course in top-caliber NBA basketball from the Warriors with two games in eight nights against the defending champions. 

Both were winnable games for the Sixers in the first half. Both were blown open by the Warriors in the third quarter. Both resulted in a Sixers loss.

This time, it was a 124-116 loss Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Instead of taking silver linings and pats on the back, the Sixers are absorbing lessons, tried-and-true experience-based lessons from competing against the best in the league and watching it slip away. 

“They didn’t flip a switch,” Joel Embiid said Saturday. “We were just bad in the third quarter. But you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They were aggressive and they were physical with us, especially in the second half. They did what they had to do, and they got a win.”

Protect the third quarter
On Saturday, the Sixers scored a scorching 47 points in the first quarter and led the Warriors 74-52 at halftime. That edge far surpassed their one-point deficit in last weekend’s game and put them on a commanding path at home.

The Warriors quickly dashed any hopes of an upset by outscoring the Sixers, 47-15, in the third. Steph Curry scored 20 of those points. That quarter set the tone for a Warriors' comeback win. Similarly, the Warriors outscored the Sixers by 15 points in the third during their 135-114 victory on Nov. 11.

“After coming out of halftime, we knew what we were getting into,” Embiid said. “We knew that the first game, we knew that tonight, that needed to stay locked in. We didn’t do a good job the first time and then the second time we definitely didn’t do a good job.”

Play aggressive and smart at same time
The Sixers committed seven of their 12 turnovers in the third, which led to 14 of the Warriors’ 47 points. Ben Simmons echoed Embiid’s opinion of needing to be more focused. The rookie point guard also noted the Sixers should have been better with defensive assignments and played more aggressively. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from long-range and didn’t get to the foul line once in the third.

Simmons only attempted one field goal in the quarter. Brett Brown noted he played Simmons the entire second quarter and the first eight minutes in the third. The combination of a shorthanded eight-man rotation and the effects of coming off a West Coast road trip factored in. 

The Warriors, meanwhile, stayed cool and collected in the face of a 22-point halftime deficit. They bounced back to shoot 62.2 percent from the field in the second half. The Sixers noticed the Warriors’ unwavering self-assurance even as they fell further and further behind in the first half.

“There’s a confidence that they have in what they do and who they are that over the course of a full game," JJ Redick said, "if they play the right way, they’re going to have a chance to win."

Breaking the double team
The Warriors stifled Embiid in their first matchup (12 points). After watching his 46-point performance against the Lakers, which head coach Steve Kerr deemed “terrifying,” the Warriors knew they had to be extra cognizant of the big man, especially on his home court.

They once again swarmed Embiid with a double team, a defensive look he’s still adjusting to. Embiid felt the pressure. He committed three turnovers in the game-changing third quarter (five on the night). 

“I’m more impressed by what they do defensively,” Embiid said. “Especially for me, they really had me guessing. They double-teamed me the whole night, from the top, from the baseline, from the post fader. They really had me guessing.”

Remember what caused the loss
The Sixers had chances to hand the Warriors a loss, both at home and on the road. When they plan for the rest of the season, the months and months ahead, they can point to what they did right and just as importantly what went wrong in competing against a team as dangerous as the Warriors. 

"We feel good about how we played for large majorities of the game and then you just blink and you get hit in the mouth," Brown said. "The repetition of playing the NBA champs and feeling like you're there and then all of a sudden to zoom in and say why aren't we? Why weren't we? Where did the game change? And understand that better and try to fix it, try to arrest it. That's the benefit to playing them in close proximity."

Sixers-Warriors observations: 22-point halftime lead evaporates against defending champs

Sixers-Warriors observations: 22-point halftime lead evaporates against defending champs

BOX SCORE

The excitement of a monster first half and the letdown of a lackluster second.

The Sixers went through dramatic ups and downs Saturday night in a 124-116 loss to the Warriors that seemed like an upset early on but turned into a disappointment for them.

• The Sixers scored … ready for this? You sure? Forty-seven points in the first quarter. They led the defending champions by 21 during a quarter that prompted double takes at the scoreboard.

The Sixers put together enough noteworthy plays in the first 12 minutes for a highlight reel: one-handed dunks and three-pointers by Joel Embiid, slams by Ben Simmons and a steal followed by a trey by Robert Covington to name a few.

The team shot a monster 73.1 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three, led by 4 for 4 from Covington in the first game since signing his contract extension.

• You didn’t expect the Warriors would be quiet out of halftime, did you? Veteran teams — championship-winning veteran teams — make adjustments. They outscored the Sixers, 47-15, in the third and took a 10-point lead heading into the fourth. Steph Curry netted 20 points in the quarter. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from three during the third and did not hit a basket in the final 2:20 of the quarter.

• Where did the third shut down on the Sixers end? Simmons attempted just one field goal in the third (0 for 1) compared to eight attempts in the first half. JJ Redick (0 for 3 from the field) was scoreless, too. Adding to that, Embiid had two points and did not pull down a rebound in the quarter. (Saric had six.) 

• The problem with playing the Warriors is, give them an inch — in many cases, all they need is a deficit less than 20 points — and they will take advantage. Even though they looked completely out of the game in the first half, they have been there, done that and know how to flip the switch. 

• Twenty-plus point performances by Simmons (23 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists), Embiid (21 points, eight rebounds), Covington (20 points, six rebounds) and Redick (20 points) were not enough to overcome 35 points by Curry and 27 from Kevin Durant. 

• The Sixers and Warriors flip-flopped shooting halves: 59 percent by the Sixers compared to 47 percent by the Warriors in the first half. In the second, the Sixers shot just 38 percent while the Warriors knocked down 62 percent.

• Simmons did whatever he wanted early on.

There was this …

… and this

… to name a few.

• Injury update: Markelle Fultz (right shoulder), Justin Anderson (left leg), Nik Stauskas (right ankle), Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) and Jahlil Okafor (personal) were out for the Sixers. 

• In years past, the seats would have been occupied by those wearing Warriors jerseys for a must-see opponent in town. On Saturday, it was clear the fans came to the Wells Fargo Center to watch the home team. 

• The early matchup between Saric and Zaza Pachulia was intriguing to watch. They both bring international experience to the court and had been familiar with each other’s game before Saric got to Philadelphia: Saric following Pachulia in the NBA and Pachulia learning about Saric’s play in Turkey. Pachulia referred to the Sixers forward as a  “young, talented kid” and “smart” last season.

• Notes and Numbers: The Sixers tied the record for most points scored in a half (74) by either team at the Wells Fargo Center. … Redick netted career three-pointer No. 1,300. He currently ranks 15th among active players. … The Warriors improved to 4-0 in the next game following a loss. They were defeated by the Celtics on Thursday. … The Sixers have lost 10 straight against the Warriors. Their last win was on March 2, 2013.