76ers

Road-weary Sixers blasted by Timberwolves

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Road-weary Sixers blasted by Timberwolves

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In a sense, the Sixers really haven’t come off their long, six-game road trip that covered 16 days. For as long as the team was in Philadelphia for Monday night’s game against the Timberwolves, it could have been in Minnesota or any other spot on the map.

That’s because the Sixers didn’t get back to Philadelphia until 5 a.m. on Sunday after flying all night following Saturday’s game in Portland. The cross-country flight didn’t even allow the Sixers a chance to unpack their bags because they have another flight on Monday night in order to get to Cleveland for Tuesday’s game.

So it wasn’t like the Sixers were even home at all. Given the 126-95 loss to the Timberwolves at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), it looked as if the Sixers weren’t all there, too.

“That’s the goal of not getting complacent,” head coach Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ four-game winning streak came to a screeching halt. “That’s where we have to get better and get greedy. We had a successful road trip and we won some games and, yeah, we played a lot of games in a few days and had to fly from one end of the country to the other, but that’s the NBA. Everybody does it. You have to come on your home court and show the people that we’re getting better and we’re better than what we showed.

“That’s not us. That’s not who we are and a reflection of the improvement we have made.”

It was a rough one for the Sixers from the jump. Sure, they shot the ball well during the first half, connecting on 57.5 percent of their shots, including 59 percent of them in the first quarter. And Thad Young continued his white-hot play that got him Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with 13 points in the first quarter.

But 12 first-half turnovers -- eight of them in the second quarter -- led to 18 points for the Timberwolves. The Sixers were within six points with 3:27 to go in the first half, but six missed shots, a turnover, and a thin bench with Tony Wroten out with flu-like symptoms, opened the door for Minnesota to go on a 14-4 run to close the half.

From there, the Sixers got no closer than 18 points.

“It was a back-breaker for us. They were a step quicker,” said Young, who scored a team-high 20 points. “They were pushing it more. They were good defensively, but we didn’t make some plays we should have been making.”

The Sixers aren’t using tiredness, a short stop at home or a long cross-country flight as an excuse, though. After all, turnovers are typically caused by poor judgment or bad decisions. That’s the mental side of the game. The physical side may have left the Sixers a bit overwhelmed, too, but not enough to shoot nearly 60 percent during the first half.

The part that left Brown seething after the game was the mental aspect. The Sixers got down and then they checked out.

“It’s fair to point a finger at it from a physical side to a point, but that’s the hardness. That’s the evolution and the grooming of a program that has the ability to come back and move forward,” Brown explained. “I think there is a physical side of what you saw tonight, but the mental side of it upsets me far more. I feel that and see that far more than I see a fatigue side.”

Brown will get no argument from his players.

“After a while basketball is all mental,” said Evan Turner, who scored 13 points on nine shots in 25 minutes. “People get tired, but you really have to bounce back and stick together, especially with the squad we have.”

Brown and his 25-year-old veteran, Young, understand that the mental part of the game is where the true grind of the NBA season lies. Sure, the Sixers had to fly across the country after nearly three weeks on the road, only to leave a day later, but so what. Every team in the NBA has to make tough road trips.

No, the Sixers aren’t going to find a sympathetic ear from any of their brethren in the league.

“We didn’t get it done and that’s on me,” Brown said. “We have to find ways to keep moving forward and you can’t get too full of yourself. Complacency can’t creep in. It’s human nature to have a weakness and we had a weakness, and I feel like we didn’t show the qualities we have shown recently.”

The good part is the Sixers won’t have to wait long to get back out on the court. Only 90 minutes after the final horn sounded, the Sixers were on a flight to Cleveland for Tuesday’s game.

There’s no rest for the weary. That goes for mind and body.

Bold predictions as Sixers tip off 2017-18 season

Bold predictions as Sixers tip off 2017-18 season

Each NBA season is filled with unexpected occurrences that change the landscape for a team, division, conference or even the entire league.

The Sixers will need to have a few of their own along the way as they seek their first playoff berth in five years.

With that said, Jessica Camerato, Marshall Harris, Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick each provide a bold prediction for the Sixers’ new season.

Camerato: Embiid gets cleared for back-to-back games
Some people may think this should be a given and not a bold prediction, but given how closely the Sixers are monitoring Joel Embiid's playing time, this isn't a guarantee.

Embiid was not cleared for consecutive games last season as he returned from two years of foot injuries. The Sixers have 14 sets of back-to-backs in 2017-18. Of those, I predict Embiid will play in two pairs of them.

The Sixers will have to check off a comprehensive medical checklist before Embiid is given the green light to play two nights in a row. I do think at some point in the season, they will take this next step and do so on a minutes restriction.

Harris: Fultz won't start more than half Sixers’ games
Yes, Markelle Fultz is the No. 1 overall pick. The Sixers had to trade up to get him. That's why it pains me to admit this. It's not that I want this to be the case, it's just becoming more and more likely with each passing day. Bringing Fultz off the bench to start his NBA career makes the most sense.
 
Fultz is only 19 years old and going up against grown men in the NBA. He's dealing with a shoulder injury he admits has affected his shot, and he's already missed time in the preseason with knee soreness. The knee issue isn't new, as he's dealt with knee problems dating back to his lone season at Washington. 

Add all that up and it's easy to see how his reserve role could go on longer than just the first few games of the season.
 
For Ben Simmons to be most effective, he needs shooters around him. Jerryd Bayless missed almost all of last season, but in 2015-16 he shot 47.7 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. Alongside JJ Redick, Embiid, Robert Covington (I'd like to think he'll shoot better than 28.7 percent from three before January this season) and Bayless, Simmons will have the full complement of shooters he'll need for the Sixers’ offense to pace and space teams to death. 

Coming off the bench will give Fultz the room to grow comfortably, regardless of shoulder and knee issues. It makes sense now and will probably make sense for at least the first half of the season.

Haughton: Redick, Bayless finish top 10 in 3-point percentage
Let it fly. 

As Marshall mentioned above, with ample attention being paid to Embiid down on the block and Simmons serving up those crisp passes, Redick and Bayless should have plenty of good looks from three-point range.

All that’s left is to make the shots. That shouldn’t be a problem for Redick. The career 41.5 percent three-point shooter has finished among the top five in three of the past five seasons, including the No. 1 spot in 2015-16.

Bayless isn’t the same caliber shooter as Redick, but he has made strides to become a serious threat from long range. The veteran combo guard has shot 36.6 percent from distance for his career. However, Bayless connected on a career-high 43.7 percent in ’15-16 with the Bucks, his second season above 40.0.

Recent numbers suggest it will take around a 41.5 percent average to crack the top 10. I say the sharpshooters make the cut and provide the Sixers with an aspect of today’s NBA the team has been severely lacking for quite some time.

Hudrick: Brown gets named NBA’s top coach
Maybe I'm trying to go all LaVar Ball and will this into existence, but my bold prediction is that Brett Brown will win Coach of the Year.

If my season prediction is correct, the Sixers will make the playoffs with the same coach that's finished with a 75-253 record during his first four seasons. Brown has been through so much during his time here. Don't think that'll get lost on voters.

Think about some of the players Brown has had to trot out there. Tony Wroten. James Anderson. Furkan Aldemir. Isaiah Canaan. The one thing you could always say about the Sixers during the tanking years is the players on the court didn't tank. That's a credit to Brown, who had his team prepared and ready to play.

With actual NBA players, Brown will pull this team together. Nobody in this organization deserves vindication of their efforts more.

Wizards' Bradley Beal aims to quiet his buddy Joel Embiid

Wizards' Bradley Beal aims to quiet his buddy Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid has made noise with his mouth and social media presence.

His trash talk took the NBA by storm after the Sixers' preseason finale last Friday against the Miami Heat in Kansas City.

Embiid went after Heat center Hassan Whiteside (there's some history there) in a hilarious Twitter exchange that caught the eyes of many.

Wizards guard Bradley Beal is one of them.

"JoJo is my boy. I like JoJo. We have the same trainer and work out in the summers," Beal said Monday to NBC Sports Washington. "That was crazy. That was really crazy. He was letting his feelings be known."

The Sixers travel to the Wizards for their season opener Wednesday night. While Beal said he likes Embiid’s trash talking because it "keeps guys competitive," he added that his friend better not try it against his team.

"When he plays us, we're going to try to shut him down as best as we can," Beal said. "We aren't trying to hear none of that talking and I'm gonna let him know about it, too."

Embiid joked that he's the social media king.

"To me," he said, "it’s all fun."

The fun shifts to the court Wednesday night.

We'll have to see if the trash talk follows.