After bad night in Brooklyn, Sixers know they're not 'amongst the royalty in the East'

After bad night in Brooklyn, Sixers know they're not 'amongst the royalty in the East'

Weird things tend to happen during an 82-game season. There are inevitably nights when nothing is falling from three-point range, when you can’t stop giving the ball away, when the opposition has 40 more field-goal attempts.

While Sunday’s 122-97 loss to the Nets in Brooklyn was, without a doubt, one of those odd, terrible nights for the Sixers, was it really an anomaly? 

Talking to reporters after the game, Brett Brown was honest about the state of his team, which is now 0-5 on the road and 6-0 at home.

To win on the road, you better not turn it over at the rate we’ve been turning it over. You better have an incredible focus on rebounding. Historically, those are the tenets of road wins — caring for the ball and finishing plays with rebounds. … I think that togetherness, that toughness, that ability to take punches and come out together on the other side, that is part of growth. We don’t have that right now.

We are not, right now at this present moment, amongst the royalty in the East, and we understand that. It’s a badge that we want. It’s in us. But at this moment, after 11 games, that’s not where we are. And that’s OK. This group does have fight, this group does have pride, and we will find a win to move on, move up, move forward, and that’s my job.

The Sixers are averaging 18.8 turnovers per game on the road, compared to 14.5 at home. They’re pulling down 47.6 rebounds a night away from the Wells Fargo Center, 51.5 at home. While those two areas stand out for Brown, there is, unsurprisingly, no major statistical category in which the Sixers are better on the road. 

The Raptors, Bucks and Sixers are the only teams undefeated at home in the Eastern Conference. And the basement-dwelling Cavaliers are the only other team in the East still winless away from home.

On the first day of training camp, Brown set the goal of an NBA Finals appearance. While he forecasted some growing pains over the first third of the season with the integration of Markelle Fultz into the starting lineup, the adjustment to assistant coach Billy Lange’s new defensive concepts, and the additions of Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler into the rotation, there’s no question he’d have expected the Sixers to have their first away win by this stage. 

His stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, expected much more of themselves as well (see story).

“I think we have to take it upon ourselves to really point it out,” Simmons said. “You’re either going to bring it or you’re not.”

Even if the Sixers’ effort is better moving forward than their anemic showing on Sunday, it seems unlikely that more intensity will be the solution for all their underlying issues. 

Fultz and Simmons have an 89.3 offensive rating in the 98 minutes in which they’ve shared the floor, the worst of any two-pairing with at least 47 minutes together on the team.

Though Dario Saric had his best shooting performance in the last few weeks against the Nets (3 for 6 night from the floor, 8 for 8 from the line) he still hasn’t had the breakthrough game the Sixers trust he eventually will.

Outside of Embiid, Simmons and Robert Covington (who quietly is tied for the league lead in steals and has the most deflections), the Sixers don’t have any strong individual defenders. That was also the case last season, when the team finished third in the NBA in defensive rating, but the lack of capable on-ball defenders has been glaring in this new, switch-heavy scheme.

At the end of the season, the Sixers still hope they’ll be the “royalty of the East,” with Sunday’s loss an early-season outlier. 

For now, even though it may be tempting to toss aside a defeat as ugly as Sunday’s, they know it wouldn’t be honest to just chalk it up as a bad night in Brooklyn. 

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Sixers at Pacers: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers at Pacers: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Updated: 6:34 p.m. 

The Sixers (29-16) will make their second trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season to take on the Indiana Pacers (29-14), who currently hold the best record in the NBA since Dec. 1. 

Here are the essentials for tonight's matchup:

• When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
• Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Indiana’s defense

The Pacers are one of the top defensive teams in the NBA this season, allowing the fewest points at home (97.0), with opponents shooting just 41.9 percent at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. On top of that, their 9.2 steals per game are third in the NBA and their 16.5 turnovers forced are fourth. The only part of their defense that’s not elite is defending the three (they allow 32.1 attempts per game), so a key to tonight’s game will be finding a way to keep that three-point shooting rolling like the Sixers did the other night against Minnesota.

Jo Jo threes

If it’s felt like Joel Embiid has been knocking down more threes, that’s because he certainly has. Over his past nine games (since Christmas), Embiid is shooting 44.1 percent from three, a huge increase from 27.6 percent over his first 33 games. Brown said in a perfect world, the Sixers would want Embiid to play inside more, but that’s just not the reality of the NBA, or the reality of their team when Ben Simmons also has the freedom to play inside. Brown has been really happy with Embiid’s commitment to shooting better from the perimeter and attributes it to a better balance he’s been able to find.

Wilson Chandler at the wing

Expect to see Brown continue to experiment more with Chandler at the three, like we saw against Minnesota. Brown said he thinks Chandler seems to get more involved on the wing and that the Sixers are a better rebounding team with him at that position. The tough part is, play calls at the three and four are very different from each other, so that will be a learning process for Chandler as he interchanges between the two positions.

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This is the version of Wilson Chandler the Sixers need

This is the version of Wilson Chandler the Sixers need

When the Sixers acquired Wilson Chandler for “cash considerations” this offseason, it seemed like a great move.

The Nuggets, flush with young talent on the perimeter, were looking to get free of Chandler’s $12,800,562 cap hit. The Sixers, looking for a useful veteran, were happy to oblige.

Unfortunately, the Sixers hadn’t quite gotten the same player that they saw in New York and Denver through 29 games. 

There have been flashes — like the Christmas Day game against Boston — but no consistency. 

It’s been a tough transition for Chandler. Being traded from an organization you spent nearly a decade with isn’t easy. 

Nor is adjusting from being primarily used as a small forward for your career and now being asked to play more stretch four. Nor is getting used to playing alongside three All-Star caliber players.

“It’s been a tough process for me but I think I’m starting to figure it out,” Chandler said postgame Tuesday while sharing the podium with Joel Embiid. “Just playing off Jo and Ben [Simmons]. Knowing when to be aggressive and where to find my shots.”

There haven’t been many moments for postgame talks with the media for Chandler this season and Embiid made sure to bust his chops.

“You’re f------ trash,” you could hear Embiid jokingly whisper to Chandler while he attempted to answer a question about his fit. Chandler laughed before telling Embiid to “chill out.”

But all in all, it’s been a rough go for Chandler, who has missed 15 of the team’s 45 games. Every time it seems like Chandler might be able to start rolling, another health issue creeps up.

First, it was the hamstring strain that cost him the first nine games of the season. As he was recovering from that, he suffered a bruised quad that lingered. That was followed by the upper-respiratory infection that’s passed through the team.

He appeared to turn a corner in Boston, but in the seven games he played in following the overtime loss to the Celtics, Chandler averaged just 4.7 points and shot 31 percent from the field (23 percent from three).

In Tuesday night’s blowout win over the Timberwolves, the 31-year-old combo forward gave yet another glimpse of what he can provide this team. 

He scored 14 points, tied for his second-highest point total of the season. He shot 5 of 7 from the field and 4 of 6 from three. He also added five rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes, showing off the all-around game he can provide.

Even with Chandler struggling, the Sixers’ starting lineup was lethal. If he makes shots like Tuesday? Good luck.

A new wrinkle Brett Brown spoke about postgame was pairing Embiid and Jimmy Butler on the court more. An offshoot of that is that Chandler got to spend more time on the wing — something the 12th year veteran admitted he felt more comfortable with.

A healthy and comfortable Chandler could spell trouble for Sixers opponents. With a brutal stretch coming up, the Sixers will need this version of Wilson Chandler.

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