Philadelphia 76ers

Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

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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

Sixers have more in common with 08-09 Magic than they think

Sixers have more in common with 08-09 Magic than they think


The 2008-09 Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic had a dominant big man, a 6-foot-10 forward who shared ball-handling duties and a three-point assassin acquired in free agency.

Sound familiar?

That year, JJ Redick was in his third season in Orlando with a front-row seat as the Magic shocked the NBA world by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“In theory maybe, but our style of play is completely different from [that team],” Redick said. “Like them, we’re building toward winning a championship for sure. But not a ton of similarities in terms of style. 

“Joel (Embiid) is a gifted scorer in the post, Ben (Simmons) is just sort of a unicorn. There haven’t been many players like him … ever … but if you look at us and any team in the East over the next three, five years, Boston, whoever LeBron plays for, Toronto … we’re positioned well to make a run. 

The Sixers beat Orlando, 118-98, Thursday night (see observations).

Even with a 21-point halftime lead, the 76ers didn’t let up. They held the Magic to 4 out of 23 from the field and extended the lead to 30 points by the end of the third quarter.

“I think that our third period was the thing I was most impressed with,” Brett Brown said. “We were able to maintain a sense of urgency and treat it as an opportunity … I think that was a statement period for our team.”

The Sixers can now clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Timberwolves on Saturday and are just one game behind the Cavs for the No. 3 seed in the East — exactly where Orlando began its run in ‘09.

Why not?

That’s the question the Sixers should be asking themselves. They’ve gone 16-5 after starting the season 25-25, and with seven of their last 11 games coming against teams with losing records, the Sixers have a realistic shot at the No. 3 seed.

Embiid has revived the role of a dominant center, averaging 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds. Simmons has nine triple-doubles, the second most in the history of rookie seasons. Redick is shooting 41 percent from long range and averaging 16.6 points per game.

“After we got the fourth position, we wanted to come out and let everybody know that we were going for the home court,” Embiid said. “After this game, I decided we have a new goal: I want 50 wins. If we can do that, that would be great. We will be pushing for that.”

Sure, the Sixers lost their first eight games to Toronto, Boston and Cleveland earlier this season. But wouldn’t you know it, they’ve beaten all three of them since then.

Maybe this team is a year or two away, but why not dream big this year?

Sixers clobber Magic to push win streak to 5

Sixers clobber Magic to push win streak to 5


ORLANDO, Fla. — Joel Embiid threw up a three in the waning seconds of the first half and didn’t even bother to see if the shot went in.

He took off fist-pumping his way down the court as the ball swished in, giving the 76ers their 70th point of the half. You can’t blame him because the game wasn’t worth watching anyway.

“I heard all my teammates and the whole bench went, ‘Watch out, watch out,’ and I was like, ‘F this, I am going to shoot this,’” Embiid said. “As soon as I shot it, I knew it was going in. I felt like Steph Curry.”

The Sixers led by nine after one quarter, 21 after two, 30 after three and essentially dribbled the clock out in the fourth to a 118-98 win over the Orlando Magic on Thursday.

The victory was the Sixers’ fifth in a row to move their record to 41-30 and guarantee their first season of at least .500 ball since 2010-11.

• Six different players scored in double figures led by Ersan Ilyasova’s 17. Ben Simmons barely missed out on another triple-double. He had six points (on just four shot attempts) to go along with 11 rebounds and 10 assists in only three quarters of action. Embiid added 17 points and nine rebounds in only 20 minutes.

• The Magic were led by Rodney Purvis’ 19 points off the bench.

• The Sixers are now only one game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

• When the 76ers showed up for breakfast Thursday morning in Orlando, there was a giant poster of the Eastern Conference standings on the wall.

Coach Brett Brown put it there and said his players knew its significance.

"We're aware of where we're at," Brown said. "We control our own destiny. We aren't reliant on other events. I see the goal of home court and winning in the playoffs a lot more clearly."

Brown said the goal is to keep the current run of five straight wins going through the remaining three weeks of the season.

"We don't intend on letting what we built so far go easily," Brown said. "We want to go into the playoffs in rhythm and trending in the form that can equate to trying to win in the playoffs."

• Brown was asked a simple question in pregame: “Are rookies coming in better prepared on defense?”

He gave a simple answer: “No.”

Brown then elaborated saying that with the arrival of sports science and analytics, NBA rookies are overwhelmed.

“So, you take a 19-year-old kid and throw him into a man’s world with the strength and analytics and scouting and preparation, and they are floored," Brown said. "It’s a different sport, the language, the rules, the duration of the game. It’s not the NCAA, and it’s not FIBA, so no — and like an adamant no.”

• The Sixers play seven of their final 11 games against teams with losing records, but next up is Minnesota (41-31) on Saturday. It will be the second leg of a back-to-back for the Timberwolves, who travel to New York to play the Knicks Friday.